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Once Upon a Time

Pretty much the first thing I was taught when I started in advertising was never to call them 'adverts'.


I remember a creative director pausing for effect when telling me: "Richard - we call them 'ads'."


Since then, Adland has persuaded us all to use their term, although the irony is how little people talk about ads these days.


If they ever did, that is.


That’s another thing I learnt to believe, that people liked discussing the latest campaigns in the pub.


And they got enormous pleasure from decoding the metaphors and puns.


And ads had to be sold to clients in case they didn’t appreciate how brilliant they were.


And how bigger logos signalled a lack of confidence. In fact, best was no logo at all, very cool.


The problem was I fell in love with advertising, the wit and the cleverness of it, and so I was blinded to the obvious truth.


As Sarah Carter puts it: “Planners should have Post-it notes on their desk saying: ‘They really don’t give a shit.’ People’s indifference to brands and advertising should be the starting point.”


Sadly, Adland and I broke up. I headed off to the Brandlands. It helped being older, so I was warier around all the hokum.


I was still drawn more to emotional than functional benefits, although I knew both mattered.


But when ‘brand love’ sashayed its way onto the dance floor I could see through to the absurdity, even if there was a truth in there about emotional connection. All brands need that.


As the marketing pendulum swung the other way, I did find myself talking more about mental availability. I started doing separate charts on assets and associations, even though the point of assets is to trigger associations. Everything is interconnected.


When brand purpose rode into town, though, I kept my distance. It soon became clear that when those in the Brandlands talked about purpose, they meant a social purpose. Those running companies didn’t necessarily. For them, it was the same as your mission.


And most importantly, it was something to be used internally, to give everyone in the company a sense of direction and, yes, purpose.


Then the idea took hold that people outside wanted to know what your purpose was too. Best of all is if you told them you existed to transform their lives or change the world. Then they’d be in heaven, as would you.


Why do we fool ourselves so?


I think the answer lies on a Need Map, but then again I would.


Folk in Adland and the Brandlands tend to be more on the left hand side, with needs like Adventure, Stimulation, Individuality, Discernment, Sophistication. Maybe even Control.


Real people in the real world spread across the map, but there will always be more of them on the right hand side, wanting Familiarity, Safety, Togetherness, Harmony. Maybe even Freedom.


Like Freedom from us lot on the left. Because let’s face it, we can be annoying.


As Nick Asbury says in his post on purpose: "Whatever brand you are, however visionary and disruptive you consider yourself to be, you’re still essentially a door-to-door salesperson, interrupting someone’s day to sell them a vacuum cleaner."


But people do need vacuum cleaners. They suck up dust, so you know it’s gone and you’re happy having people round. They’re worth it.


It all takes my mind back to one of my first advertising clients, John Walford at the Multiple Sclerosis Society. We ran fund-raising ads in national and local press for the charity and he always wanted to know how each and every one of them had performed.


I remember one ad that paid for itself many times over: “If everyone else gave £1 to help cure Multiple Sclerosis, we wouldn’t need to ask you.”


John also insisted on paying full commission. The cause may have been noble and it made the agency feel good working on it, but for him this was business.


Lesson learnt.


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