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A newcomer's guide to what advertising can do - and what it can't

A newcomer's guide to what advertising can do - and what it can't
Advertising can achieve a surprising number of fantastic things, writes Gwyn March - but making a bad product good isn't one of them.

New joiners to our industry may have been ribbed by friends with this old line “don’t tell my mother I work in an advertising agency; she thinks I play piano in a whorehouse.”

But they should stand tall and agree with Mark Twain: “Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.”

Advertising can do a surprising number of fantastic things, including:

1. Build brands. Coke is valued at 67 billion dollars, and that’s not because there are billions of bottles in their warehouses.
2. Bring issues to the public attention. The RSPCA ‘dog mountain’ picture showing the number of dogs the RSPCA had to destroy helped bring back dog licenses.
3. Increase staff loyalty. Tesco’s ‘Every Little Helps’ campaign resulted in improved retention of staff.
4. Change behaviour. Over three decades seatbelt campaigns gradually made it acceptable to wear one, first in the front seat, then the back.
5. Make money. The ‘Perception/Reality’ ads for Rolling Stone Magazine were described by the publisher thus: “It was like someone came in with a wheelbarrow of money and dumped it on the floor.”
6. Rectify misconceptions. Despite tasting so delicious McCain oven chips really are only 5% fat!

But be cautious, advertising can’t:

1. Lie. As Leo Burnett wisely said: “Regardless of the moral issue, dishonesty in advertising has proved very unprofitable.”
2. Force you to buy something. Especially not if there is a BOGOF on another perfectly decent product. As Ogilvy pointed out: “The consumer is not an idiot. She’s your wife.”
3. Target only those likely to buy. Even if you put your only advert on a caravanning website you won’t get everyone who wants to buy a caravan you want to sell. And you’ll probably get some people who aren’t even into caravans.
4. Make a bad product good. The creative Jerry Della Famina noted that “there is a great deal of advertising that is much better than the product. When that happens all that the good advertising will do is put you out of business faster.”

Finally, advertising can do something for you - give you a fabulous career, so welcome to the grads and apprentices of 2013! As  Jerry Della Famina put it:
“advertising is the most fun you can have with your clothes on.”

Join Gwyn for Demystifying advertising: what does everyone do all day at my agency? at the IPA in London on 8th November 2013 from 9am to 1pm. 

Last updated 23/09/2013

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