“There is far more opportunity than there is ability.” –  Thomas Edison

Some major manufacturers are smartening up about traditional (image) advertising.

“Despite spending billions on traditional advertising,” The Wall Street Journal reported, Procter & Gamble believes that the 10 seconds when a customer sees the product on the shelf may be one of its most important marketing opportunities.

P&G’s viewpoint, the Journal says, is spurring a more general shift among larger product makers to put more emphasis on in-store marketing. This is parallel to the other major shift we’ve been reporting on: the growing preference for direct marketing.

Till now, both direct marketing and in-store advertising have been treated with scorn in business schools and viewed negatively in the advertising world. “Now,” the Journal says, “executives with retail [and direct marketing] expertise are gaining clout as the world’s biggest advertising firms build up departments to handle [areas] in which they have little expertise.”

Judging from what I’ve seen, this change is coming slowly. Despite overwhelming proof that direct and point-of-purchase (POP) marketing is more effective then image advertising, most advertising executives don’t get it. And college graduates, fresh from four years of marketing classes, don’t want anything to do with this side of the business.

I had a conversation with one such man last month. A friend of Number Two Son, he was interning in New York City for a large advertising firm. He told me he intended to be a copywriter, which brightened me up. But when I found out what he meant by “copywriter,” I was disappointed. To him, a copywriter is someone who comes up with ideas for television commercials – ideas that are clever and win awards. I asked him what he thought about the direct-marketing industry. “I’m more of the creative type,” he said.

All forms of selling require creativity, image advertising included. What distinguishes what this young man wants to do from direct-response and POP advertising is that the purpose of the former is to sell corporations on spending money for ads … while the purpose of the latter is to sell consumers on products.

Since you can’t measure the results of image advertising, it lends itself to a lot of ego-driven bullshit. Since the results of direct and POP marketing are measurable, they tend to stick with what really works.

Getting the customer’s attention is always the first requirement of advertising – whether it is image, direct, or point-of purchase. But what you do after you get their attention is critical to marketing success, regardless of which form of advertising you are using. This part of the marketing equation – post-hook, as it were – is where every marketing campaign must distinguish itself.

Fifty years ago, we all agreed: You need to create in your prospect the desire to buy the product. And the way you did that was by showing the product’s benefits.

Today, most image advertisers think that kind of marketing is beneath contempt. Their mission, as they seem to see it, is to engage the prospect’s imagination with creative little movies. The idea, one supposes, is that the prospect’s mind will make some association between the creativity of the advertisement and the quality of the product. As in, “Gee, that was a funny commercial about tipping cows. I should really buy a Dell computer.”

Direct and point-of-purchase marketers are suspicious of that approach. Since we have to cost-justify every ad we place, we are tethered to doing what experience tells us has worked in the past to make sales.

What has worked so far – since advertising was created, that is – is to eschew cleverness in favor of showing benefits. Unfortunately, it looks like Number Two Son’s friend, educated in the cloistered halls of academia, is going to go for cleverness.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]

Mark Morgan Ford

Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Wealth Builders Club. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.