Revisiting Reality in Advertising

reality-in-advertising-reevesBy Guy Mastrion

Published in 1961 by Rosser Reeves, Reality in Advertising may be the greatest book ever written on the subject.

It seems the ever-present debate about how to value advertising is just about as old as the medium itself and the sublime beauty of this little book is that it perfectly unpacks all the baggage we carry along with us in every serious discussion about advertising and its effectiveness.

I received a copy of this book from a friend while working together at Bates in NYC many years ago.

You might know Bates, formerly Backer, Spielvogel, Bates, the USP agency. The Unique Selling Proposition, or USP, is another gem of an idea that has since been re-packaged, reclaimed, and generally abused by countless pundits trying to make it their own.

A quick dip inside Reality in Advertising will give you the full historic relevance and a deeper understanding of the significance of the USP on advertising today and why so many try so hard to reinvent the wheel. And sadly, in attempting to reinvent it, destroy and convolute its simplicity and its genius.

Now maybe more than ever, the USP is a powerful answer to the challenge of selling, especially in todays marketplace. Too often we act like children in the schoolyard with a new toy, getting ourselves all wound up on new media and technology, as if that alone will solve the ills of our brands and ignite our consumers.

Technology is not enough. Ideas are the answer, smart, big ideas that sell, stimulated by insight, gleaned from inspired research, nothing more, nothing less.

The notion of integrated campaigns is nothing new its an old saw thats been playing as long as technology has been advancing communications. Today it seems there is little true understanding, at least in my view, of the importance of the USP, or whatever you wish to call it, especially in light of the current fragmentation of effective media.

The USP should be the glue that unites a well-targeted set of media that meets the consumer in all the contextual places they engage marketing communications. It is no different today and no more difficult than it ever was, with one big exception.

The tremendous increase in mass production and packaged goods perfectly corresponded with the innovative technology that was television. During its infancy, the novelty of having the device in your home and seeing a product promoted on the screen, then going to the market and seeing it on the shelves was astonishing. Television was the catalyst for the seemingly endless economic expansion. But as competition increased and the novelty wore off, it became harder and harder to differentiate your product and make the sale enter USP.

USP, immediately created differentiation and opportunity in an overcrowded, relatively fragmented and over-used media set, and the prosperity continued, at least for a time.

This unique and symbiotic relationship all came crashing down with the advent of the Web. But it was not a problem of USP, it was and remains a problem of the loss of a fairly centralized media audience.

As technology has dispersed media, so it has dispersed our audiences, and I fear that in chasing technology, brands have lost sight of what makes them unique; and uniqueness, more than any other attribute, will define a space for every brand no matter how diverse and disparate the marketplace.

For healthcare brands the Web and new digital technologies that allow for customization of message in context and more precise targeting offer great potential, even greater than television. The rules and regulations of healthcare communications in the US are a perfect match for these technologies. And much like the rise of packaged goods and television, I believe new digital media offers an almost endless opportunity set for the marketers of healthcare products that have a well defined USP.

Too often the marketers of healthcare products engage the market with a set of messages that lack clarity and uniqueness. Suffer the poor digital media as it allows for one to ramble on forever about ones brand with little additional cost, except that of opportunity.

Opportunity cost in digital media can be summed up as too much information TMI. Enter, once again, USP, there was never a more important time for brands to operate from a concise and effective selling platform as now.

In his book Reality in Advertising, Rosser Reeves defined advertising as, “The art of getting a unique selling proposition into the heads of the most people at the lowest possible cost. Although dated, I find this statement still very accurate, as it is still our job to do just that, especially in the context of a consumer centric media. For healthcare marketers digital media offers the holy trinity of targeted reach, high engagement and maximum efficiency.

What do you think, have we lost sight of the fundamentals of advertising?Do you know what differentiates your brand?

Are you well positioned to leverage the asset of digital media?

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