The man who changed advertising

The man who changed advertising

“The truth isn’t the truth until people believe you, and they can’t believe you if they don’t know what you’re saying, and they can’t know what you’re saying if they don’t listen to you, and they won’t listen to you if you’re not interesting, and you won’t be interesting unless you say things imaginatively, originally, freshly.” – Bill Bernbach

Before Bill Bernbach advertising was a wasteland. It was WASPy, repetitive, and formulaic – imagine Mad Men without the sex appeal or nostalgia and the boring bits left over would be pretty close to what advertising was like. It was Bill Bernach and DDB, the agency he helped establish,  that started the creative revolution and gave advertising a more glamorous air.

Perhaps the best way to capture the effect they had on advertising is to compare their ads with other ads from the same time period. As Luke Sullivan says in Hey Whipple, Squeeze This, VW’s iconic “Lemon” ad debuted when other ads said things like: “Chevrolet’s 3 new engines put new fun under your foot and a great big grin on your face!”

The ad that changed advertising
The ad that changed advertising

What a change it is! The Chevy ad’s substancelessness is somewhat typical of the time period, which alternated between an over-reliance on emotional appeal or on broadcasting the unique selling proposition. DDB, on the other hand, often used sparse artistry to attract attention and then followed it up with snappy copy. In this case, that copy prominently featured a defective product and turned it into a selling point – finishing with the memorable “We pluck the lemons; you get the plums.”

Noting the artistry of Bernbach’s creative revolution is important. As he put it, “If your advertising goes unnoticed, everything else is academic.” But the creative revolution wasn’t simply about making advertising more visually appealing. In fact, it was about making sure the art fit the ads. As odd as it would seem today, Bernbach was the first to pair copywriters and art directors on projects – ensuring that both aspects worked together rather than separately.

Other famous DDB ads from the period show this. Take Levy’s bread, VW’s Think small, and Chivas Regal’s Give dad an expensive belt. Most impressively, 50 years later they still feel current. They could probably still garner press and generate sales.

So what we mean to say when we talk the creative revolution isn’t just that Bernbach married the art and the copy, or that he found ways to advertise using negatives, or that he made great use of humor. It’s that he turned advertising into pop culture. Bernbach made ads that people talked about – that truly changed buying behaviors and consumer attitudes. In some way, you could say the creative revolution that Bernbach kicked off made ads a part of our culture rather than a reflection of it.

With that, I’ll leave you with the DDB’s Avis Tries Harder campaign. An excellent way to turn the number two position in a product category into a sales advantage.

An excellent ad repositioning Avis' second place into an advantage
An excellent ad repositioning Avis’ second place as an advantage

Weekender: Best of the rest

The week’s best articles in advertising:

  1. A man posed as a Target social media rep and trolled angry consumers. He lasted for 16 hours before the account was suspended.
  2. Female designers from around the world edit a photo of a woman to make her more beautiful according to their societal standards.
  3. This inspiring story of a teen model with Down Syndrome
  4. I’m not sure what made them think this was a good idea.

In case you missed it: Why Kleenex wants you to call it a tissue (kinda)

Our most popular story : Celebrity Endorsements are the worst. Why do so many companies use them?

Next week:

Samsung’s Brilliant Galaxy S3 commercial, Cognitive Biases in Advertising, and How World War 1 Changed Advertising

Enjoy the weekend!

Celebrity Endorsements are the worst. Why do so many companies use them?

Celebrity Endorsements are the worst. Why do so many companies use them?

If you spent any amount of time in front of a screen today you probably saw a celebrity endorsement. Chances are you were also completely unaffected by it. While celebrity endorsements are an extremely popular advertising technique, they are also generally ineffective.

This should feel a little odd. Advertisements with celebrities are more likely to be shared or talked about so they’re likely to have increased viewership. So what do they do wrong? Well, actually, there are a few of things. Advertisements with celebrity endorsements do achieve higher engagement than comparable non-celeb ads, but they aren’t any better at helping consumers remember the brand. Basically, celebrities draw attention to the ads, but they typically draw attention away from the product and to themselves. This is known as the ‘video vampire’ effect.

Another psychological consideration is that consumers attribute the celebrity’s endorsement to the money paid to the celebrity instead of to underlying qualities in the product itself. One assumes this is particularly true when celebrities and brands occupy very different positions in our brains and that is often the case. Rob Lowe and DirecTv, Ozzy Osbourne and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!, and Penelope Cruz and Nintendo are all good examples of this. Ozzy Osbourne in particular was probably chosen because the randomness would generate buzz, but since he doesn’t share many attributes with the brand that buzz probably didn’t convert into long-term product recall or improved sales.

The inherent “otherness” conveyed by celebrity is another drag on success. Social proof states that in uncertain situations people pay attention to others who are similar to themselves for tips on how to behave. That’s why brands often include actors in their commercials who are similar to their target market. When a celebrity and a brand (or the brand’s target audience) are mismatched it feeds the wrong information to potential consumers. Think about that in the context of Gameboy and Penelope Cruz. Gameboy’s target audience is presumably young boys. Ignoring her celebrity, the message Nintendo sends by using her is that the product is for middle-aged women. That, in itself, is mistaken, but if you add in the layer that she is a celebrity you have to take the mismatch one step further.

This isn’t to say that celebrity endorsements can’t be effective. In fact, that extra step can be a good thing for aspirational marketing. But, as in Nintendo’s case, brands often make a poor choice of endorser and the advertisements are more expensive. A more careful selection of celebrity (one who doesn’t endorse anything else, will stick around for a long time, and who closely matches the existing brand identity) will help these campaigns. Audi’s Grandpa Bode commercial is one I’ve always liked because it intimately relates the traits we identify him with to the product benefits conveyed by the advertisement.

Still, even with those changes, it might not be worth it for most brands. After all, as I’ve previously written, brand mascots (e.g. Verizon’s “can you hear me now” guy, the Geico gecko, or Flo from Progressive) play a similar role for businesses and they don’t present the same worries about potential legal trouble. It’s also worth noting that non-celebrity endorsements (AKA testimonials) are effective, and cheaper than celebrity endorsements.

In summary: Celebrity endorsements are dumb, but don’t expect them to go away any time soon.

When you can’t talk about taste – An Analysis Of Coors Advertising

You know what you don’t see much of when you watch a Coors ad? Comments about taste. Advertisement after advertisement focuses on the bottle, or the temperature of the beer or, if they’re feeling really adventurous, on the bottle that can tell you the temperature of the beer.

Of course, there’s a reason Coors avoids talking about it. The product doesn’t taste very good. The beer snob in me loves to rip on Coors’ advertising, but the advertising analyst in me appreciates their strategy. While Coors’ doesn’t talk much about their taste they still try to convey the idea indirectly. For instance, their ads bring up Coors’ long history to imply expertise and give credence to their beers’ quality. In other ads they’ll mention that they use pure Rocky Mountain water, another mark meant to confer quality.

In fact, it’s only when you begin to place all the ads together that you see the tremendous gap in their advertising. But leaving that gap is an intelligent choice. Few people are going to be convinced that Coors is delicious (or, you know, even good). But, taste isn’t the only important aspect of beer to consumers. Beer is also viewed as something that refreshes and relaxes us, and Coors’ advertising targets those areas. What could be more refreshing than an ice cold beer? Well a Coors of course – it’s brewed with ice cold water from mountain snow and the bottles tell you when it’s ready! The can’s designed to get you refreshed quicker than the competition! 

More or less, Coors strategy is understandable. But, I also want to look at it with respect to rest of the market and build off the topic of repositioning discussed previously. Why hasn’t another huge brand like Budweiser attacked them? The big producers are being squeezed by craft breweries, so taking market share from each other may be the key to maintaining or growing revenue. Just from a game theory perspective you’d think it would make sense. When you think about it Budweiser, has a history just as rich as Coors’ and operates in a pretty similar fashion. It also has the same losing proposition against craft beers (even though for some reason that’s who they attacked in their super bowl ad). So why don’t they seize this opportunity to reposition Coors as a beer that needs gimmicks?

Well, Budweiser also may have qualms about focusing too much on taste, but at this point I see it almost as a binary choice for consumers between those brands – they aren’t competing against craft beers anymore. That battle was lost. Instead, they’re competing against each other. It would be pretty easy for Budweiser to run that kind of campaign.

Here’s a simple tagline:

“When you make good beer you don’t need to talk about the bottle it comes in.”

Edit: an astute user pointed out that Schlafly had an ad that made fun of bottle technology a few years ago. It’s not exactly what I’d advocate for, but it’s still worth a look.

Tylenol repositions the competition

“For the millions who should not take aspirin”

As anyone in marketing can tell you, unseating category leaders is difficult. That’s why Pepsi has trailed Coca-Cola for decades and why Tide has remained the leading detergent since the 1940s. It’s not impossible though, and one of the best ways to advertise against a category leader is to use their brand presence in your own favor. The best way to do that is to run a repositioning campaign.

In essence, repositioning the competition requires comparative advertising, but it is not simply comparative advertising. Comparative ads evaluate products side-by-side. Repositioning ads try to take an attribute of the competitors product and shift it into a weakness.  Then they show how their own product fills that gap. Most of a repositioning advertisement should be devoted to your competitor’s product, and not even the product as it exists in reality, but as it exists in the mind of consumers. Only once the ad has succeeded in framing their competitors’ products attributes as weaknesses do they introduce their own product. One of the most famous repositioning campaigns was done by Tylenol. In this advertisement Tylenol isn’t even mentioned until the third paragraph!


Let’s take a closer look at the ad. “For the millions who should not take aspirin” is a very interesting line. Many people today are still unaware of the differences between over the counter analgesics, before this ad even fewer were. It’s interesting because it’s alarming enough to draw in the uninformed. Notice, too, that the ad doesn’t say Tylenol is better than aspirin. It doesn’t even directly say that Tylenol is better for the stomach. Right now, it’s only saying some people shouldn’t use aspirin. It’s avoiding those comparative statements because comparative statements can conflict with consumers pre-held notions, and if they do they are likely to get dismissed.¹ Instead, the ad tries to convey new information – the instances in which taking aspirin is detrimental and, as it builds that case, it lets the consumers decide for themselves that Tylenol is better. That’s the essence of repositioning.

Remember, Tylenol was doing more than just creating niches for itself to occupy, which can also be an effective way to gain market share. Instead, it went beyond that strategy, put those holes together, and used them to reposition aspirin as a brand that was harmful to the stomach. In fact, Tylenol was so successful in conveying this information that it gained considerable market share and eventually the product actually displaced the aspirin-based medicines and became the best selling analgesic.

1. This is the result of confirmation bias which causes people to seek information that confirms their opinions and to dismiss information which contradicts them.