2012-02-04_1333It’s easy, even fashionable, to be anti-creativity in advertising. Who doesn’t want to slam on the idea of award winning ads that don’t sell anything?

And in an online world dominated by Direct Response, reason-why advertising, creative, “branding” ads often do seem utterly indulgent wastes.

But for all that, creativity remains important. Branding remains important. And they remain important because of the following basic truths of real-word marketing:

1) People don’t make buying decisions rationally.

2) Some messaging can only be credibly delivered BEFORE the prospect is in the market for the product or service

3) Getting people to pay attention to messaging for products they’re not buying now requires ads capable of interesting them with something other than the sales offer itself

Combined, this means that hitting potential, at-some-point-to-be prospective customers with recurrent, emotionally resonant messaging that will sink in BEFORE and be “reactivated” or “recalled” WHEN they are ready to buy works in ways that direct sales messages don’t. But that kind of advertising requires creativity.

So let’s take these one at a time, in greater depth:

People Don’t Make Buying Decisions Rationally

column-murketing2LG_0I was on the phone the other day with the owner of a B2B Lead Generation company. I won’t say exactly what he sold, but it definitely falls into the realm of big-ticket, considered purchase equipment. And according to his considerable historic data, most companies compiled their “short list” of possible suppliers based on gut feel.

Here’s a feel for how that works:

  • There are a handful of tier 1 behemoth’s that most people put on the list, following the “nobody ever got fired for going with IBM” mentality.
  • There are a score or so of smaller tier 2 suppliers that may well be better options than the 3 or so tier 1 providers. Due to the amount of these tier 2 providers and the very nature of being tier 2, it’s likely that either none of them, or only 1 or 2 of them will make the list.
  • The decision of which tier 1 providers to put on the list and which tier 2 providers to add to that list gets made in conversation over a few minutes, mostly off of reputation, gut feel, and sales relationships. It almost never gets made from exhaustive analysis, reference to specifications, pricing, etc.
  • Once the short list is made, THEN the research gets done, the bids go out, etc.

Anybody who understands this knows that the real battle for any Tier 2 provider ISN’T a battle for specifications or price. The real battle is the battle for the short list. And if 20 potential vendors are narrowed down to 1 or 2 in a matter of minutes, then it’s a battle determined almost entirely by Top of Mind Awareness and Gut-Level reputation.

Also, keep in mind that this is the buying process for a very dry, technical, considered purchase. If that doesn’t get bought in a rational manner, what does?

Now, most people use Blendtec as an example of “Viral Marketing” or the power of YouTube. Frankly, I think that represents what Bob Hoffman calls, “arguing from the extreme” — as in what percentage of videos go viral? And what percentage of those are commercial in nature? And what percentage of those actually manage to impact sales?  Do the math and you’ll find that Blendtec is a veritable freak of nature, and not a representative example of any sort.

But as an example of winning the battle of the short list through creative advertising, Blendtec is right on the money. Very few people probably saw those videos and rushed out, on the spot, to buy themselves a Blendtec blender, in some sort of direct response frenzy. Operators were NOT standing by, after all.

What DID happen, though, was that people saw those videos, filed that attention-grabbing demo away for future use, and ended up putting Blendtec on their short list when it did come time to shop for a high-end blender. A neat little trick that more than doubled sales. And a trick that wasn’t done with spec sheets and data points, but through a creative, whacky demo.

Some Messaging Can Only Be Credibly Delivered BEFORE “Go Time”

Few people want to believe they’re “susceptible” to advertising, that they can’t immediately discount a paid for message as obviously biased. And intel­lectually, they’re right, at least in the short term.
When we first hear an ad message, we take all claims with a large grain of salt in light of the obvious self-interest and bias involved in the message.
But what happens over time?
Accord ing to psycho logical research, over time the emotional bias imparted from the advertising sticks while our intellectual discounting of the message wears away. Over time, (intelligently crafted) advertising affects our internal brand hierarchy.

2011-01-02_22101-300x247Few people want to believe they’re “susceptible” to advertising. Nor at first glance, should they, as most of us DO discount paid-for message in light of the obvious self-interest and bias. But that’s only in the short term, while we’re consciously thinking about it.

But that’s not what happens over time. The latest psychological research shows that over time the emotional messaging imparted from the advertising sticks while our intellectual discounting of the message wears away. So over time, intelligently crafted advertising DOES affect our internal, gut-feel of the brand.

Get it?  Tell me you have the ideal solution for me when I need what you sell, and I’ll discount your claim. Convey that same claim to me through your ads, before I need what you sell, and — with some luck and skill — I’LL have a gut-level feeling that you’ll be the best provider to buy from.

In other words, the battle for the short list has to be won BEFORE the battle – with creative advertising! Or as Leo Burnett would say, “Before you can have a share of market, you must have a share of mind.”

If you can’t grab their attention with WIIFM, your ad had better be INTERESTING

2012-02-02_1738Since I just quoted Burnett, let me also give you Bernbach quote to go with it:

“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.”

In other words, without some amount of creativity — the “imaginatively, originally, freshly” part — you’re sunk.

And that makes sense, doesn’t it? If I’m talking to you about some product or service you’re currently ready to buy, I’ve already had a certain amount of relevance given to my messaging just based on circumstance. If you’re already in the market for a high-end blender, a headline for 30% off on a Vitamix would grab your attention.  But if you’re NOT currently in the market for what I’m selling, then my messaging has to gain your attention through some other means. That’s where creativity earns its place. In the mixer example, creativity in the form of a whacky demo gets me to willing watch the Blendtec videos, even though I have no current desire to buy a blender.

Creativity also factors into making a point felt, rather than just understood, which is sort of important if you’re trying to impart a “gut feel.”  If you’re message doesn’t make an emotional impact, I won’t remember it.  And if I don’t remember it, I won’t help you win the battle for the short list.

Want an example of all this?

OK. Here’s a radio ad from my colleague Chuck McKay. It was written for a firm of divorce lawyers. Take a listen and see for yourself just how much creativity is or is not a key factor in the effectiveness of this ad:

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P.S. Chuck will be doing a “Free Consulting Friday” promotion tomorrow. Want a chance to pick Chuck’s brain for free?  Drop him an e-mail telling him your marketing problem/question, and he’ll schedule a phone call with you.


  1. Whitney on 02.02.2012

    Hmm. Never thought about that. Usually, I am of the “If the ad doesn’t sell sell sell…” school.

    I work at a 40-employee startup that competes with HootSuite (which is the big name in our space). At what point is a business big enough where they can afford to pitch future, potential clients with creative advertising instead of focusing on making money right now?

    Surely, your focus (in the beginning) should be to focus on people who are already in the market? But then again, I guess I should be considering the short list argument.

    Confused. Must process.

  2. Donnie Bryant on 02.03.2012

    I’m a bit embarrassed to say it, but this is revelatory for me.

    Profound. Simple. Brilliant.

  3. Pep Subirana on 02.04.2012


    Hi Jeff,

    I DON’T AGREE: Blendtec’s viral video clearly promised a superior benefit. Robustness & Power. Doesn’t break, blends everything.

    As Ogilvy said “advertising that doesn’t promise a benefit doesn’t sell”. It might be useful to stay top-of-mind as you say, but it’s better to stay top-of-mind relative to a particular benefit for the consumer, don’t you think?

    Even Rosser Reeves ’61 (in Reality in Advertising) admonished that each ad must make what he called a proposition “buy this product and you’ll get this specific benefit.”

  4. Jeff on 02.05.2012


    If you go back and re-read the article, you’ll find that there is actually nothing in what I wrote that discounts the importance of a Unique Selling Proposition or promised superior benefit.

    What I said was that in a world dominated by a direct response mindset it’s often times easy to lose sight of the fact that:

    a) Branding can and does work
    b) There is more to great advertising than just being able to make a promise of superior benefit — you have to present that promise in a way that’ll make the point felt emotionally, as well as understood intellectually.

    In other words, reason-based ads need some emotion and creativity and vice versa.

    That said, if you go back and look at the Blendtec Ads, they are patently NOT going into comparisons, features, and any kind of direct, hard-sell sales pitch. Yes, they are making a creative and amazing demonstration that certainly carries with it an implied promised benefit, but the campaign itself — and the very fact that the videos ARE a campaign, should tip you off that they are essentially branding-focused — serves only to put Blendtec onto your radar screen if and when you should find yourself in the market for a new blender.

    – Jeff

  5. pep subirana on 02.05.2012

    Thank you for the clarification Jeff. What you say makes sense. Now I get it.


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