Advertising, Planning

If Paul Feldwick is God, where is his following?

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Image: darylfurr

The first time I read Paul Feldwick’s “Exploding The Message Myth” over a year ago I thought it was absolutely brilliant and my sentiments perfectly echoed those of Scamp – the planner hater – when he exclaimed “Is Paul Feldwick God?”.

Then, just the other day I stumbled across it again. And this time I got depressed.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s still brilliant. But what depresses me is that no-one seems to be putting his thinking into action. In the overwhelming majority of cases we’re still doing advertising in exactly the same way we’ve done it for the past fifty years, as if knowledge of human behavior, decision making, communication and what have you hadn’t evolved one bit.

What’s even more sad, is that what I’m whining about right now was the starting point in Feldwick’s piece, too. He asks why so few people in marketing act on the new learnings made in neuroscience and psychology in recent years, and offers a scorchingly insightful explanation:

“The answer I think is we can’t really respond to a new theory until we are prepared to acknowledge and to criticise our existing theory. The problem is, most people in marketing and advertising (and I worked in an ad agency for over thirty years) don’t really believe that they have a theory as such. They think that what they do is just common sense.”

Common sense. How I despise that phrase. It used to be common sense that the world was flat and that women shouldn’t vote. “Common sense” is nothing but short-hand for “don’t bother, we already know everything there is to know, now let’s go burn some books”.

Anyway, back to Feldwick. His argument can be summed up thusly:

  1. What makes people buy a brand has very little to do with a rational process based on a comparison of selling propositions.
  2. Therefore, the effect of advertising has very little to do with messages being transferred from sender to receiver.
  3. Instead, it has a lot to do with associations (to the brand) and relationships (between brand and consumer).

So, to quote Scamp, “no more briefs about hops and barley and shit”. The brief should be built around the desired associations, not around propositions, product benefits and information.

Still, it almost always is. Which makes me wonder why.

Is it because we are ignorant?
Are advertisers and ad agencies stuck in an old theory, and don’t even know it?

Is it because we are lazy?
Do we in fact know, or at least suspect, that advertising doesn’t work the way we thought, but figure it’s too hard to change our approach? There’s a lot of vested interest in research methodologies and work processes built on the old theory.

Is it because he is wrong?
Or could it be that Paul Feldwick is wrong? That advertising first and foremost is about transferring messages, information and product benefits?

Very confusing. So confusing, in fact, that I’ll stop right here and sleep on it. G’night.

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