Monday, November 28, 2005

Advertising 101.

When I entered the Marketing world as a graphic designer, I dreamed of getting my work shown in a Print or Communication Arts design annual. As I leafed through these slick tomes I was alternately inspired or dismissive, thinking I can do better than that! I loved great design, so these pubs would be my validation as a great designer. I would be admired by my peers. Being feted by other designers was my goal.

After about two years immersed in Photoshop and French Paper Co. samples, I decided that my original goal sucked. Success wasn’t defined as appealing to designers – it was appealing to my audience. Did a busy homemaker open my mailer or toss it in the trash? Did my ads draw in a reader or did he quickly turn the page? Did my brochure make a complex government program easy to understand? Design professors were irrelevant to my success. Moving units was all that mattered.

That basic revelation changed the way I viewed myself and my work. And since then, I’ve warned art departments about the dangers of “designers designing for designers.” Sadly, advertisers fall to the same temptation. Awards are great – it's a blast to be recognized by one’s community. But if you aren’t selling product, you have failed miserably.

The Basement offers a elegantly simple test:
Watch some ads on TV with friends or family. After an ad, ask the open question "What did you think of that?" and point to the TV. Don't mention the product and don't use the word "ad". If the response is "That was a (good, funny, interesting, etc.) ad." then the ad wasn't marketing. If, on the other hand, the response is "That's a (cool, neat, interesting, useful, etc.) product." then it's marketing. If they actually want the thing, then it's good marketing….

Lesson to Marketers: After watching a pitch for a new campaign, ask yourself, "if we run with this, will people say 'great ad' or 'great product'?" If the answer is the former, fire you ad firm and start over.
An award-winning ad that doesn’t move units is the great quarterback who can’t win a game, the pop idol that can’t sell albums, the tennis star that loses every tournament, or the brilliant politician that can’t win an election.
More bluntly, it’s a loser.

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