Do you know how to advertise? What a silly question. Of course you
First, you extract as much money as you can from the people in charge,
based on any of a number of vague criteria. These will almost certainly
not include the only sensible one - the long-term value of a customer -
because you don’t know it.
Then you spend weeks, even months, talking to good-looking, persuasive
people from ad agencies about your plans. Finally, you choose the one
that seems best, usually on the evidence of elaborate and detailed
proposals from people who cannot possibly understand your business. If
you have a big budget you will garner from this tiresome and confusing
process a photo and story in this or another magazine accompanied by a
few words of vile sycophancy from your new agency’s boss.
Then, nine times out of ten, the speculative campaign which so enchanted
you will be discarded as impractical and you will never see the people
who did it. They will be working on another new business pitch, as will
the charmers you met, and you’ll be handed over to the oily rags who
will do the real work.
You may wonder if they know what they’re doing, because a few months
later you’ll either be collecting awards and a bonus or the address of a
good executive search agency. In fact, do you ever wonder if you know
what you’re doing? I don’t ask that maliciously, because most people
have very little idea. A few years ago, when David Ogilvy was asked for
his advice by James D Robinson III, the (about to be fired) head of
American Express, he said: ’Why don’t you hire someone who understands
These thoughts are provoked by re-reading an excellent book called How
to Advertise, given to me years ago by one of the authors, Ken Roman,
former head of the Ogilvy Group. It will save you a vast amount of
indecision, heartache and financial disaster, because it covers a huge
range of topics clearly and with admirable brevity.
They include weighty matters such as why, when and how often you should
change a campaign, which media are suitable to which products, and false
assumptions about integration. But it also includes wise words on
lesser, but still perplexing, subjects including what research reveals
about jingles, the right way to read a radio script, what to bear in
mind when using a celebrity and how big the letters should be on your
The book has been revised and reissued as The New How to Advertise.
You’ll be impressed by how well it is written, which is why you should
do yourself a huge favour and buy How to Write Better, also by Ken, but
with a different collaborator - Joel Raphaelson. It is the best and
shortest book on how to write good business English.
Give it to your staff: it could save you countless tedious hours trying
to wrench sense from their sloppy prose.