Saturday, February 4, 2012
One of the original ad research books
I’ve heard or read about this book on numerous occasions but never found a chance to read it until now. The last time it was reprinted was more than 30 years ago, so obtaining a hard copy can be difficult. After finally acquiring a copy and reading it, I’m extremely surprised it hasn’t been reprint within the last few years.
It was written in 1960 on the heels of the negative Hidden Persuaders (Click here to read my review) and was truly ground breaking in the formation of many advertising principles used today. I see the same concepts and principles Reeves outlines in the research I work on in 2012. Without a question, this book is a gem and deserves a rightful place in advertising and marketing research history. As would be expected, some references are dated, but Reeves’ writing style and principles are timeless.
In the book he sets the stage with some great quotes and discusses the role of advertising in business success and failures.
“After all advertisements are purely functional things, and therefore the criterion is their success as advertisements and not as art. Commercial considerations are their judges, not a panel of any number of distinguished gentlemen.” H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh, to the jury who selected the Layton Annual Awards for Advertising, in London, 1960
Reeves was careful and rightful to point out that sales cannot be the sole measure of success or failure in advertising. Dozens of factors spanning, product quality, service, business principles, etc., have as much of an impact as advertising.
After setting the stage for the premise of the book, Reeves outlines important principles in successful advertising using research and case studies. He first touches on:
“Too-frequent change of your advertising campaign destroys penetration.”
He then touches on the importance of have one focal point in messaging:
“The consumer tends to remember just one thing from an advertisement – one strong claim, or one strong concept.”
The supporting ad copy needs to tie back to the overarching claim and not divert from it as he references in later chapters. He calls these diversions “Vampires,” metaphorically sucking the life from the main point.
My first blog post/article touched on the importance of maximizing recall (as he calls in – penetration) and expected outcomes (what he refers to as usage pull). The only difference being is I unwittingly put his principles into one equation. I must have been channeling an inner Rosser Reeves I never knew I had.
In this book, Reeves gives a formal definition to U.S.P. (Unique Selling Proposition) and outlines its importance and application (again, truly groundbreaking in 1961). He also alludes to the principle of position refined in a book written by Al Ries and Jack Trout (Positioning) in the 1980s. The idea being, if a business is struggling to define a strong USP, at least be the first to communicate one. Perception can translate into reality.
Reeves never insinuates that advertising is the end all be all to a business’ success and always reiterates the importance of the product.
“He would be wiser to approach advertising more as a designer, say, of jet planes, who knows that the end result may still be beautiful, but that the plane must also fly.”
He succinctly defines advertising as “merely a substitute for a personal sales force – an extension, if you will, of the merchant who cries aloud his wares.”
…and even further with…
“the first salesman ever hired by the first manufacturer – to get business away from competitors.”
Reeves put a smile to my face by the end of the book when he focused on the importance of using research. Reeves uses the historical example of Galileo’s impact on the world of science when he demonstrated how the weight of an object does not impact the rate at which it falls from the Tower of Pisa. He includes a quote from Wendall Johnson:
“What Galileo demonstrated was not so much a fact about falling weight… as a new problem-solving method based not on the authority of age and prestige, but rather on the authority of observation and experiment.”