A Few True Golden Rules: Keep Current, Be Curious, Never Stop Listening

Advertising — What It Takes

I have a fairly broad definition of what I believe advertising is. To me, it's a compendium of all communications that a consumer sees, feels, touches, hears, smells, and so on. If they're walking through a store, the packaging on a particular product is advertising. If they are at home, the direct mail they receive in their mailbox, the e-mails and pop-ups on their computers, or the images they see on television are advertising. The logos on the NASCAR autos or even the T-shirts with every name known to mankind are advertising.

I do not believe there are any specific golden rules for successful advertising. I think whatever rules do exist should be broken, because once you set them down on paper and decide to follow them every time, you create the same vanilla message over and over again.

The essential skills for success in advertising include being eclectic and covering different types of ground, because being curious about the world is probably one of the best traits that anyone can have if you want to succeed in marketing and advertising. You must passionately try to understand why people do things, what triggers them to make their purchase decisions, how they use these products after purchasing, and always have empathy for people who like different things than you do.

Advertising is a fine balance between science and art. The science part is consuming information, but the true challenge is translating these facts into a relevant strategy, into an original, creative execution, and generating the right communication stream. I passionately believe that the physical, creative part of what we do is art, an exceptionally true craft. An individual sitting down with a blank piece of paper and coming up with an idea, a look, a feel, a word that captures the essence of what that brand means to a consumer or what problem it solves for the consumer is able to do so because it is inherent within them. There is something in a soul that allows you to create wonderful, effective advertising.

The one crucial element in advertising is to never stop listening. Keep looking at the entire world and what goes on in it. Change is all around you, and if you stop noticing it, you're dead.

Executing the Campaign

To build a brand, you first must have a great product with good distribution. The quickest death for a bad product is good advertising, because people try it and never come back to it. It takes having a great product, then developing the trust and belief of brand managers or senior-level clients who allow you to create the communication and advertising that can make a difference in the marketplace.

To break through, your communication must be relevant. It has to be memorable in some way and hit a specific part of the consumer's psyche. Consumers should say, “Wow, I didn't know that about that brand,” or “Wow, that brand really does something for me or says something about me,” or “That brand is something we need.”

Having one consistent message through all forms of media is good mantra to follow. The consumer must always be handled with a healthy dose of respect. The idea of integration of message and brand essence is very important.

A product's sustainability can bring an advertising campaign to life. You want to be able to nurture and massage that communication stream over time. Without that, you have too many tactical executions that may have little blips of sales, but are very difficult to sustain preference.

There are major pitfalls to avoid in any advertising campaign. First, always refrain from using the word “I,” because a team gets you there. Never be reluctant to embrace a person who can help you get to the end result.

Next, never show arrogance or disrespect in your campaign, because it will turn too many consumers away from the brand. Another pitfall is failing to listen and adjust. You must stop and see the reality of the world around you.

Finally, have a high degree of well-placed confidence. Rejection will happen, whether from the client or the consumer.


Initial success in a campaign doesn't mean you put your feet up. Your franchise is comprised of hundreds of segments that see and use your brand for a myriad of reasons. This is to keep the brand fresh. You have to stay close to the consumer.

Reinvention, or evolution, has become much harder in recent times, because the world is becoming harder to live in. It's much more global with constant information bursts and choices.

Some would hope a brand could live forever. I believe a brand can keep going as long as there's a need for it and as long as it's fresh.

The Business of Advertising

Risk is a significant part of advertising. Advertising has become way too safe. That is not the fault only of those at the agency developing the advertising campaigns, it is also driven by people on the client side who don't want to take a short-term risk or assume their MBAs give them a world of experience.

Evaluating risk is very difficult. To suggest and try change, you must be prepared to be rejected at times, because people really do not want to change. You have to study the palette from the left to right, the individual's rainbow of color you can choose from to describe life. Sometimes it's best to take a wide swatch quickly, try something new and different, and see if it works. But, you also must have the ability and guts to admit it's not working and make necessary adjustments or kill the campaign or product.

Advertising will always be dependent on a brand's budget to some degree. Having inadequate money to spend puts undo pressure on the advertising. There has to be a return on their investment in the marketing and sales arenas.

One can measure return on investment in a myriad of ways. It has to be trackable, accountable, and make a profit. Whatever the costs of an advertising campaign, start with what your client's expected returns or results are, then match the results in the marketplace from manufacturing to sales to distribution to product results against those expectations.

Everything within a company has to work together, but not many companies can be successful for any length of time without having great marketing and advertising to go with the great sales and distribution behind it. Marketing, sales, and advertising are the soul of the economy.

Industry Insider

Over the next three to five years, the larger holding companies will start to shed assets. They've been terrific in terms of bringing a wide variety of experiences to the so-called “same page,” but they have not always been structured for the client benefit. Let's face it, they're for the benefit of their shareholders. As a craft, advertising must return to the essence of creating great communications and memorable moments. I do not believe that the holding company environment fosters this type of behavior. Creative and design boutiques, smaller more facile organizations that punish bureaucracy will be the next winners.

Over time I also think you'll see longer spots and a more continuous communication stream. With broadband, a 30-second spot can drive you into longer communication if you want it to. You may be giving permission to that brand to communicate with you in more interactive, personal fashion with product line. The consumer is in charge.

Technology will continue to change the way we do things. The globalization of the brand has been both good and bad. The essence of being able to go to Sweden, Sao Paulo, or San Francisco and buy different products based upon the local craftsman doesn't exist in that pure form anymore. We have to take that global thought and break it down to the charm of the nationality it belongs to.

Flexibility will be paramount for success in the advertising world. Considering the speed with which we are being asked to create, I hope we don't lose the thought that real, original creativity, takes time. Michelangelo would have had a tough time doing that ceiling in two and a half days.

This is excerpted from “The Art of Advertising — Industry Visionaries on Generating Creative Campaigns & Building Successful Brands,” published by Aspatore Books. Steve Dapper is founder and chairman of Hawkeye Worldwide Communications. For more information, go to www.hawkeyeffwd.com. Copyright Aspatore Inc.

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