Everything You Need to Know About How Advertising Works

By The Cog Blog Archives
Cover image for  article: Everything You Need to Know About How Advertising Works

This week I was very flattered to be asked to address the annual conference of the Portuguese advertiser association, APAN. These comments reflect some of the remarks I made there.

If there is one thing about getting old it is the realization that you're never going to know everything. This may come as much of a shock to many in the digital advertising business who seem to believe, as I once did, that they know and have the answer to everything.

I cherish the memory of once going in to see a very senior figure (by his own modest admission) in the digital world at one of Havas' media agencies. I feel okay about mentioning them by name as I understand the individual has long gone. Anyway, before I started on whatever it was we had come to talk about this guy leant over the table at me and my colleague (a man with multiple start-ups and exits to his name) and said "Let me tell you everything you need to know about how advertising works."

What followed was largely garbage, built around his belief, no doubt forged in the white heat of his vast two years' experience in the business that the answer to every advertising problem was "paid search."

My presentation to APAN combined evidence from 1895, 1947, 1984 and 2015. Some was a bit weird. (I'm not sure if I would have included the original Punch cartoon in which the notion of the curate's egg was first aired if I was to do it again.) Other bits (like Bill Bernbach's amazing letter about why he wanted creative mold-breakers over what he referred to as advertising scientists in his agency) seemed highly appropriate to today's world.

My message was simple -- ignore the fads and stick to the facts. Use your experience, your brand knowledge and your gut feel and you won't go far wrong. This is not to advise advertisers to stay rooted in the past. The world of media and communications has of course changed out of all recognition. We all know that; we should always be experimenting, trialling, evaluating and learning.

The answer is always a blend. TV advertising, via whatever device, can still work wonders. (If you doubt me, read the IPA's effectiveness awards papers or the Field and Binet book The Long and Short of It.)

Online advertising is brilliant at many things -- especially in combination with media forms (like TV) that can add the emotional to the rational and can extend the message far and wide. But, like us all, it's not brilliant at everything, always.

It's not about Mad Men versus Math Men, or algorithms versus creative thoughts.

It's about both and all of everything.

Carry on learning; you'll be amazed at what you'll find and where it will take you.

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