America has changed a lot since “Honest Abe” ran for president. There were no Madison Avenue types involved in politics in his day, no spin doctors, no data mining, psychograpics, demographics, Facebook graphs or Google Zeitgeist- a politician had to be convincing, charismatic, trustworthy and most of all honest.
There was a lot of door knocking, face-to-face time, speeches on town squares and debates- true debates. The candidate didn’t know his numbers- he knew people. His word (and yes his- there weren’t female politicians in Abe’s day) was his bond.
As advertising as we know it today was in its infancy, one agency, which grew to be the largest in the US- McCann, introduced its tagline in 1912- “Truth well told” which is still in use today. When it comes to great advertising, the most powerful tool at a copywriters disposal is still the same- find the one unique, universal truth about your client- and hoist it as high as you can. If there is one thing that consumers are on to these days its when they are being lied to in advertising (unfortunately- they haven’t figured out how to do it in politics yet).
Yet, a few days ago, I was a speaker at a social media conference- and looked around the room as I watched the back channel twitter stream fill with those buzzword bingo winners that spew out at an amazing rate of about 1 every 3 minutes. These “Big Ideas” get condensed down to 140 characters or less and copiously get sent into the twitterverse to have a half-life of about half a day (yes, Twitter is very temporary- as the service has grown, the length of time your tweet remains in their system has shortened exponentially- see this post of ours “Note taking at tech conferences is passé”) and include such nuggets as “EC=MC” which translates to Every Company is a Media Company- which all sounds great and wonderful, except that “EC≠MC” in my experience- which is Every Consumer is not a Media Consumer.
How do I arrive at that? I’ve run for office, something few people in advertising do- but lots of politicians are becoming more media savvy than us advertising folks- and here’s why:
We have reams of research and data telling us exactly what consumers are like, but it’s easy to get caught up in myths of popular culture — the focus-group-of-one trap — and assume just about everyone owns an iPad, tweets from their phone and times shifts TV.
Because everybody needs a reality check sometimes, we decided to take a decidedly non-scientific look at some Madison Avenue myths.
And yes- I tweeted a link out on this story as yet another social media experts (the biggest lie of all- as this has become so big, so fast that no one can truly wrap their head around the whole thing) tell us more about how our strategy should include at least Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Foursquare, Linkedin, Slideshare, blogging, and whatever else is trending that week. No less than 5 speakers used both the new Gap logo gaffe (it was in the last 3 weeks) and the Old Spice “Hello Ladies, I am the man your man could smell like” which ended with the hopelessly odd- “I’m on a horse” line.
Yes, you can now be a cowboy that smells good- the flipside of the classic Marlboro campaign I guess, yet- if you read about this amazingly “successful viral campaign” you find one set of stats saying sales are up 107% and others saying that the sales bump was caused by deep discounting via coupons.
Yet, despite all it’s success at viral exposure- as I walked through WalMart (where real Americans do shop- as we “on Madison Avenue” hate to admit) there was a video screen mounted vertically with the man on the horse running an endless stream of “Hello Ladies, I’m on a horse”- driving home the message at the last inch of the sale.
And all those people in marketing and advertising, who have an iPad, smart phone, eat organic, sip latte from Starbucks, has friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter- haven’t actually met mainstream America- up close and personal- like a politician knocking on doors, shaking hands and kissing babies. As an ad man who has, let me share this insight (and remember, I was only knocking on doors of those most likely to vote, because I’d be stupid to knock on every door)- there is a digital divide in this country- where people don’t have computers, don’t use them at work, don’t even have an e-mail address. Our country still is embarrassingly strong in illiteracy (even though we have “no child left behind” we’ve forgotten about all the functionally illiterate people we’ve produced over the last 60 years- the US is 27th out of 205).
Those “consumers” that we know so much about- don’t have health care coverage- so all those direct to consumer drug ads may fall on deaf (and illiterate) ears, they can’t jump online to get a custom video from Mustafa-they don’t time shift shows on their DVR, or order Blu-ray quality video from your streaming server.
What they do have is an increasingly smaller wallet (the economic gap in the United States has grown at an alarming rate thanks to our slick media spinning political types) and a tighter grip on their cash. They may be fooled once, but they won’t be back to buy your body wash twice if they don’t end up with the same magnetic personality of “The man your man could smell like.”
Unfortunately for marketers they don’t enjoy the same return purchase habits that politicians do- once selected, an incumbent product doesn’t almost automatically get re-selected again and again. There has to be something more in the equation to buy- like “truth told well.” That’s why this ad agency, with its worn shoe leather leader, has the insight to get buyers to buy more than once with your marketing budget. We know our mission statement has one extra word- “Create Lust • Evoke Trust” than McCann’s and that our promise to “Make you more money than you pay us” seem to come from the less is more school when compared to the mega-global agencies, but we still believe that “the consumer isn’t stupid, she’s your mother” (attributed to David Ogilvy) and that in all this social media mess of buzzwords and “new media” things haven’t changed much since Honest Abe.