The Laws of Advertising

The Laws of Advertising,

Surely advertising cannot have ‘laws’! It is a creative endeavour where all copywriters and art directors (and even the servicing people, the ‘suits’) have to be encouraged to be mavericks, to shun formulae, to go where no one else has ever dared.

However, there are universal truths in everything that we do, even advertising. Sure, someone will come along with a great campaign that does not conform to some of these universal truths. Frankly, such campaigns will be few and far between because many of the laws talk of the importance of being different and non-conforming.

In ‘The 22 Irrefutable Laws of Advertising (And When to Violate Them)’, Michael Newman tried to highlight some truisms about advertising, ‘laws’ that can contribute to the development of good advertising. Actually, Newman has not even written 21 of the 22 articles that form the basis for the book; each article has been written by a well-versed industry expert who has provided a particular point of view. Newman has converted these into ‘laws.’ In reality, these are not even laws. But they do make a huge amount of sense and if you were to follow them, you are likely to create good advertising; and if you are not one of the ‘creatives’ you will certainly be able to evaluate advertising ideas and recognise the good amongst them.

So here are the 22 irrefutable laws of advertising:

  • The Law of Simplicity. In today’s overcommunicated, jumbled world, it pays to be ruthlessly simple. Simplicity is a fool proof advertising technique.
  • The Law of Positioning. Al Ries and Jack Trout introduced the concept of positioning in the early-1980s and it changed the way people developed advertising campaigns. Elsewhere in BlueBarn, we have shared an article by Ries and Trout and have also written a tutorial on positioning. Essentially, you have to understand the consumers’ point of view about a category and the brands within it and find a ‘hole’ that will differentiate your brand vis-à-vis competitive brands. Your brand’s positioning must get a thumb’s up from the prospective consumers for your advertising campaign to succeed.
  • The Law of Consistency. I can state from experience that a company’s executives (its CEO and the marketing guys) get bored of their brand’s positioning, tagline and advertising before the consumers have even had a chance to internalise them. Some very effective slogans and campaigns have been junked for this stupid reason. For example, in 2003, Heinz got rid of its extremely successful ‘Beanz Meanz Heinz’ in England. Thankfully, the company realised its folly and reinstated the tagline after three years. Staying consistent with your communication is extremely important.
  • The Law of Selling. Good advertising must get the cash registers ringing. If your advertising campaign is not impacting sales positively, you have a wrong campaign, even if it ends up winning an Oscar; err, a Clio.
  • The Law of Emotion. If you think that we humans make rational decisions most of the time, you are dead wrong. Human beings think with their feelings and emotions. BBH, the famous UK ad agency, tinkered with the reason-centric Unique Selling Proposition (USP) to come out with the Emotional Selling Proposition (ESP) to appeal not just to the head but the heart. Do make sure that your advertising appeals to the heart.
  • The Law of Love. Love is a powerful word and brands must work towards making people ‘love’ them. Kevin Roberts, erstwhile CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, argued that the brands of the future had to become ‘lovemarks.’
  • The Law of Experience. You have to live before you can write (or appreciate) good advertising. People of experience find it easier of come out with ideas. People with hobbies and a wide range of interests are likely to come out with breakthrough ideas. So don’t be boring, lead a varied and interesting life.
  • The Law of Relevance. Your advertising must reach out to people. It must be relevant to them. It matters two hoots what a company thinks is relevant about its brand. What matters is whether the consumers think so.
  • The Law of Humour. Laughter, someone said, is the shortest distance between two people. Humour, if it’s really funny, can work in advertising. People are likely to respond positively to humour. But be careful that, in trying to be too funny, you lose relevance.
  • The Law of Disruption. Advertising agencies must always look for breakthrough, discontinuous ideas. In short, disruption, a term that was introduced in advertising by Jean-Marie Dru of TBWA. He strongly believed that ‘insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.’ He, therefore, argued that advertising must work towards breaking the status quo.
  • The Law of Jump. When you take a creative leap, you are jumping into the unknown. That is because if your idea is absolutely original, it will have no reference point. People like reference points and that is why many original ideas don’t see the light of day. Look for the ‘creative leap.’ That is what will make your brand stand out. If you are a client, don’t shoot down something because you haven’t ‘seen’ anything like it before.
  • The Law of Fascination. There is a tendency toward sameness in advertising. We all talk of differentiation but if you were to see ads of say, cars, the sameness would be quite astounding. Your advertising must aim to fascinate by being NEW. By being FRESH.
  • The Law of Irreverence. Business is serious business; after all, people are in business to make money. However, don’t always take your brands too seriously. A certain irreverence may actually work well with consumers. Learn to laugh at your business and your brand.
  • The Law of Taste. Most food and beverage advertising is obsessed with taste. And that leads to sameness in advertising in these two categories. Marketers must look for other points of differentiation rather than keep thinking of taste as the biggest benefit of their food and beverage products.
  • The Law of Topicality. In advertising, write about something that happened today. Real life creates the most compelling advertising.
  • The Law of the Silver Elephant. There is a lot of good advertising happening. But very little great stuff. Graham Warsop defines the Law of Silver Elephant thus: ‘Great advertising (powerful, distinctive, relevant work that increases sales and builds brand value) relies on the imagination of one or more individuals who have the desire: (1) to bring something into the world that never existed before (2) to do so in such a way that it surpasses what has been done before.
  • The Law of the Chat. Consumers don’t look for sales spiels, speeches, lectures, product briefings; they are looking for engagement. Brands that can engage with consumers will win in the long run.
  • The Law of Nice. Great ideas come from confident people. And great ideas need to be encouraged and nurtured. Agencies and clients have a duty to help good ideas grow in such a way that they help their brands. They have to become nurturing, be nice.
  • The Lore of Negativity. Clients are obsessed with the positive, they just don’t want anything remotely negative creeping into their ads. Yet, some of the most successful ads have used the negative very effectively. Look at the great Volkswagen ads of DDB that ran in the 1960s – one of them was headlined ‘Lemon’ and another ‘It’s ugly’. Many clients just won’t have the guts to run ads with these ‘negative’ headlines. Yet, many times, saying things in the negative is far more effective than saying it in the positive.
  • The Law of Execution. Selling an ad campaign does not end when the client buys the concept. The campaign is really ready when the final products are created. Advertising is collaborative and everyone should be involved in creative the most effective final product. The right location, the right director, the right photographer, the right casting – they all go in creating memorable campaigns.
  • The Law of Evolution. In today’s fragmented media, it is just no longer proper to think just TV (or print). With the increasing influence of the internet and social media, marketers and ad agencies have to adapt. Every campaign must move out of the traditional and embrace the new.
  • The Outlaw. Differentiate. Differentiate. Differentiate. That is something that all marketers and advertising agencies talk about. And rightly so. And you can differentiate only if you are an outlaw, a non-conformist, a breaker of rules.

You may or may not agree with the above points being called laws. However, what is indisputable is that they are all important in understanding what it takes to create good, nay great, advertising. Whether you are in creative in advertising, or a planner or a client servicing person, or a marketing manager, keeping the above twenty two points in mind will help you create (or recognise) great ideas. And that will lead to the creation of great advertising campaigns.

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This article was written by andy

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