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:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (ver­sion 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Down­load the lat­est ver­sion here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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.


  6. 10 Advertising Tips from Joss Whedon | Jeff Sexton Writes on 03.25.2014

    […] the best time to con­vince peo­ple of how won­der­ful you are is BEFORE they need you. The idea is to have these peo­ple enter into the mar­ket — to start their use-case scenario […]

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge

WP-SpamFree by Pole Position Marketing