Advertising, Books, Marketing, Planning

A very spontaneous list of the best books in marketing

Image: Norma Desmond

Now that started out a bit pompous, didn’t it? It’s not going to be “the” best books in marketing but rather my favorite ones.

Anyway, I often get asked to recommend books for those seeking to learn more about marketing, planning, brands, etc. Of course, there’s a huge, long list of good reads out there but, hey, since you asked…here are the books I’d recommend off the top of my head.

Some day I’ll sit down and do a proper list. Promise.

1. Simply Better – Barwise & Meehan
Because I love myth busting and this one busts the differentiation myth (sort of). But most of all because it’s spot on and puts what any marketer is doing into perspective.

2. Marketing in the Era of Accountability – Binet  & Field
Sure, this is not really a “book” (more of a booklet), it’s only about one slice of marketing – advertising – and it’s hideously expensive. But it’s such a goldmine of insight, thinking and facts rather than opinion, that it’s a must.

3. Strangers to Ourselves – Wilson
The analogy of the conscious mind being the tip of an iceberg is wrong. It’s more like a snow ball on the tip of that iceberg. The rest is non- och semi-conscious – or what Wilson labels “the adaptive unconscious”. A fascinating read into what really determines our behavior to a large – no, huge – extent.

4. Eating the Big Fish – Morgan
Nice book on challenger brands, with lots of thinking and neat tricks you can employ even if you’re not necessarily a challenger brand.

5. Marketing and the Bottom Line – Ambler
I cannot not include a book by one of my all-time favorite thinkers, Tim Ambler, on the list. Connecting marketing and branding to cash flow and other financial metrics is still a black hole in many marketers’ minds. “…on average, meetings of top UK management devote nine times more attention to spending and counting cash flow than to wondering where it comes from and how it could be increased.” Sends shivers down my spine every time.

6. How Brands Become Icons – Holt
An iconic book in itself within the cultural perspective on brands and branding – all that mushy, soft stuff that square types so detest but that has the power to leverage shareholder value in astonishing ways if you know how to use it. Of course, it’s pretty damn hard and requires not only brains, but balls.

And for you Swedes, there’s a new book out by Sara Rosengren & Henrik Sjödin at the Stockholm School of Economics: “Reklam: förståelse och förnyelse” . It’s the best introduction I’ve seen to the three main perspectives on advertising – business, consumer and society. So buy it, read it, and then read the rest.

Advertising, Planning

Paul Feldwick does it again

Image: Dunechaser

In the February issue of Admap, Paul Feldwick makes a brilliant bulls-eye comment on the supposedly “new” age we’re living in as marketers and advertisers. Essentially, he says it’s all bullshit. But he does put it a bit more eloquently than that, and since I can’t express his point nearly as good as he does himself (even though I have tried), here are a few excerpts from the article:

“There is a widely repeated narrative that goes something like this: the internet has changed everything. The new generation of consumers is sceptical, ’empowered’, and no longer susceptible to advertising as we have known it. All previous marketing knowledge is irrelevant.”

“But what evidence supports this huge leap to the ‘radical new psychologies’ that supposedly make this group immune to advertising and brands? Are we to believe they no longer buy coffee at Starbucks, drink Coke or PG Tips, wear clothes from Primark or Uniqlo, fly Virgin or aspire to drive a Porsche?”

“A key part of such ‘world has changed’ narratives is the implication that everyone before the present generation (who miraculously appeared last week) were obedient patsies, who responded uncritically to every ‘message’ they received. But I don’t believe yesterday’s consumers – people such as me, you and Richard Scase – were much more credulous or naive than today’s.”

“Let me suggest, instead, that advertising as always worked by a more complex process of suggestion and seduction. Successful advertising may have influenced our choices, but it never ‘told us what to buy’. We may choose a brand that comes readily to mind, or one we associate with positive feelings: these factors can be influenced by advertising.”

Read that last paragraph again. Please. And please repeat it to anyone in marketing who doesn’t understand it already. Which seems to mean pretty much everyone in marketing these days.

Advertising, Planning

Here’s your missing half, Mr Wanamaker

John Wanamaker was a genius. He pioneered the concept of the department store, he was the first to systematically employ truth in advertising and he invented the price tag – believing that if everyone was equal before God, then everyone should be equal before price.

Nowadays, however, he is most widely known for the quote “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half”. And who could blame him for it? After all, this was over a hundred years ago. Since then, mankind has learned to master heart transplants, invented the computer, eradicated smallpox and walked the surface of the moon. And, believe it or not, figured out a great deal about how advertising actually works.

What’s more, the thing is that Mr Wanamaker firmly believed in advertising and it was absolutely critical to his empire-building.  So I would interpret his quote not as meaning that advertising is a waste of money but rather as “advertising is so crucial that the advertising budget is the very last thing I’ll cut – no matter what”.

So I’ll say it again: Mr Wanamaker was a genius and should be admired for his achievements. Fast-forward to today and I’m not as impressed. Depressed, would be a more appropriate sentiment. Why? Because you hear the Wanamaker quote being thrown around even to this day, not only by cackling digital cockerels – which comes as no surprise – but also by people actually in advertising and marketing.

Well, I have two words for you: Blame yourselves. If in this day and age you don’t know better than to think that a big chunk of your advertising investments go to waste it’s nobody’s fault but your own.

Firstly, you don’t know whether your ad investments pay off because you don’t know how to measure them correctly. Advertising effectiveness always has to be evaluated both in the short term and long term, since the main thing advertising does is that it affects the brand being advertised, which in turn influences purchase behavior. The model for how almost all advertising works is thus Advertising -> Brand -> Sales and not, as most people still seem to think (probably because they even haven’t thought it through), Advertising -> Sales. In spite of this, the most common, and a lot of the times the only, way marketers measure “effectiveness” is by means of ad recall, ad liking and ad-induced purchase intent. I’m sorry, but that’s just plain stupid – and of course it will lead you to thinking that most of your ad money is wasted.

Secondly, and more importantly, you probably are wasting your money. But, again, that’s not advertising’s fault, it’s yours. You’re wasting money because you are stuck in an outdated model of how advertising works. You still sing praise to AIDA (born in 1896 as a model for personal selling and never meant for advertising) and still think advertising is about information processing, i.e. about transferring messages from sender to receiver, when, in fact, it works mainly through creating, altering and strengthening brand associations and brand relationships.

The reason behind this misconception is that marketers seem to be the only professionals on earth who still think that people are fundamentally rational beings (and also that they’re actually interested in actively decoding and responding to advertising). Ok, so it’s not enough for you that every psychologist, neuroscientist and behavioral scientist agree that’s not the case – so be it. But for heaven’s sake, when even the disciplines of economics and finance, which used to be all about rationality, are adopting the fact that people’s behavior is primarily irrational and emotional, don’t you think it’s time for you to rethink your position?

Probably not.

Because at the heart of the matter is an even more depressing fact: Most marketers aren’t all that interested in how advertising works and in how it should be used to sway people’s decisions in their favor. They have never read a book on the matter, never downloaded a research paper, never attended a conference or engaged in a discussion on the topic of how advertising works. And it doesn’t stop there. If they were merely passively ignorant, things would be ok. Not good, but ok. However, not only do most marketers not understand the fundamentals of communication and aren’t very interested in it; to make matters worse they insist on sticking to their obsolete models, mostly based on the despicable notion of “common sense” (of which Einstein said “common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen”), thus making it difficult and sometimes damn near impossible for people whose job it is to actually know and master these things to, well, do their job.

And then, at the end of the day, after all the nonsense, they still have the nerve to blame advertising, e.g. by firing away platitudes to the effect that half the money they spend on advertising is wasted.

So, Mr Wanamaker didn’t need it and may be excused for living a hundred years ago, but for anyone wanting to work in marketing in this century, here’s a piece of advice:

Take a look in the mirror. Read a book. And grow up.

Advertising, Observations

Why do you sales people think you’re bloody neuroscientists?


Bloody news flash: you’re not. Yes, I fully respect the fact that you’ve been in a gazillion sales meetings with clients and therefore (hopefully) know something about what makes them tick and how to get them to buy what you want to sell. But no, you don’t have the full picture. Far from it. Far, far from it. You seem to have no bloody idea that people make all their decisions – small, large, B2C, B2B, private, corporate – using emotion, not fact, as a starting point. In essence, we are feeling animals who think rather than thinking animals who feel. Or as Tim Ambler put it: “When nothing else works, we think”. And Daniel Kahneman even won a Nobel Prize showing just that, for heaven’s sake.

And since you got all this backwards you also have no idea what the role of advertising or other forms of market communication actually is in the context of the sales process. You either hold one of two cosmic misconceptions: you think that a) clients are bloody robots and advertising’s role is to program that robot by means of facts, figures and rational benefits, or that b) clients are bloody robots that can’t be influenced by advertising, base all their decisions on price and personal relationships and for whom advertising is therefore pointless. You seem to think that theirs is an existence taking place in a bloody vacuum, cut off from the rest of the world. You just don’t get that advertising is about tilting people your way by creating familiarity, associations and brand relationships.

You do great work in the field, I’m sure, but if you ever want your job made easier by advertising, here’s my advice to you: Read a bloody book.


Can you sell the truth?


Image: ajgelado

“There’s a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.”

Those are the words of Dan Pink in his wonderful TED talk on human motivation, where he makes the case that although scientists have long known that the carrot-and-stick approach to motivation increasingly works much worse than intrinsic motivators (a sense of purpose, autonomy, etc), most business people either have no idea or simply can’t be bothered. Mr Pink again: “Too many organizations are making their decisions based on assumptions that are outdated, unexamined and rooted more in folklore than in science”.

Outdated. Unexamined. Rooted in folklore. Sounds like the advertising business.

In fact, it’s a spot-on description of our industry, where we – clients and agencies alike – still base most of our decisions and work on foundations we take for granted but really have no clue where they come from. Or if  they’re even true. Let me just give you three very quick examples of what I’m talking about (there are many more):

  • It is still commonplace to assume that the audience will only take out one single message from a piece of advertising – hence the focus on a single proposition or “what is the message?” – even though there is no evidence for this whatsoever.
  • We still view advertising recall as a general proxy for effectiveness (some people are even dense enough to equate it with effectiveness) but there is no evidence for recall, or advertising stand-out, being a prerequisite for influencing people’s behavior.
  • Many people still see the AIDA model as valid even though it completely ignores the most important of all factors in human decision making, prior experience.

This raises two questions. One with a simple answer and one with a possibly depressing one.

The first is why. Why are most people in our industry still in a state of darkness? It’s not that there’s no science to learn from. Advertising has been extensively researched from Berkely to Bombay and there is no shortage of experiments, conclusions and facts to be enlightened by. However, there’s an obvious answer here: Most people aren’t really interested in hurting their brains. They’d rather carry on like they’ve always done than challenge their dogma. It’s only human.

The second question is much more disturbing: Is the truth even sellable? As consultants we are supposed to offer advice to our clients based on what would be best for their business and that in turn requires knowledge of, among other things, human behavior, decision making and how people are affected by advertising. In short, of the truth. And there we go again – most people aren’t interested in what’s true but in what’s convenient, remember? So trying to convince them of the truth is always hard work and often makes you unpopular.

So I’m thinking that maybe it would be best to give up seeking the truth and just sell that which encounters the least resistance, i.e. things that fit most clients’ established world view rather than oppose it.

See what I mean by depressing?

Advertising, Planning

If Paul Feldwick is God, where is his following?


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.


Oh, and then there’s that little nuisance called the real world

The other day when I wrote the post about Johnnie Walker I completely forgot something that was pretty big on the net a couple of months ago when “The Walk” was released, namely this:


Image: Kilmarnock Standard (but why does everyone look so happy?)

Yes, you remember it correctly: Diageo, the owners of Johnnie Walker, accounced they will be closing down the historic Johnnie Walker plant in Kilmarnock. Bad business, bad timing or bad luck? Or just another case of the marketing department leading a life of their own, ignorant of the connected world we all live in now where it’s getting increasingly harder to play make-believe and hope no-one notices?

(Thanks for reminding me, Peter!)


Is Johnnie Walker really where advertising is at?


Image: jpeepz

There’s walking and there’s talking. Robert Carlyle is doing the walking and there’s not much you can say about it except that he does it brilliantly.

Then there’s the talking going around in creative circles that “The Walk” is da shit. The best film of the year. A clear Cannes winner. Get-down-on-your-knees-and-worship material.


First of all, isn’t it just plain old celebrity endorsement, no matter how well made? Robert Carlyle is as cool as they come and he’s the reason the film is watchable. Would it have been as heralded had it starred any old Scotsman? I doubt it.

Secondly, I don’t get the whole five-and-a-half minute thing. I was under the impression it was made for earned media, i.e. the net, for people to pass around. But then BBH pulls it from YouTube “due to a copyright claim”…? Surely they must know that kind of behavior is pointless since once it’s out, it’s out? And wasn’t the whole idea with the film that people should, umm, watch it? Very confusing.

Maybe it’s a good ad. Maybe it will get a few clueless people to jump on the Johnnie Walker wagon. But is it new? State of the art? Exciting? Interesting to anyone outside the ad industry? I love BBH; they’ve always been one of my top three favorite agencies. But this time around I have to agree with Miko:

“It is lovely. It is boring. Kind of like a long walk in the country.”