Advertising is all about selling

April 22, 2020

It's been a while, sorry about that! But like most owners of Australian businesses, we have been battling the side effects of the Australian Bush Fires and now COVID-19. 

 

I sometimes follow a guy called Mike Teasdale. I just came across this piece he wrote in February.  Take a read. He's a bit of an old warhorse but he makes a really good point about what it is that we do for a living. Advertising is about generating sales and I like what he has to say. 

 

If advertising – and its planning – is about anything at all, it’s about selling, says Mike Teasdale, and we would do well to remember this as an industry.

 

Attitude, much more than aptitude, will determine altitude.

 

That sounds corny, but it’s true. It’s certainly true in the ad game, where you need your glass to be half full, you need to be enthusiastic, and you need a big dose of oomph to go from try to triumph.

 

One attitude that I always urge young ad agency folk to exude is the mindset of selling. Our primary task is to sell something, even if it’s only our point of view. Advertising is simply a way of selling. Yes, it wraps itself in the creation of ideas, but only in order to sell.

 

There are a multitude of ways in which advertising goes about the business of selling. It can lift an ordinary product out of the ordinary (think Stella Artois), it can layer emotion onto a rational proposition (think Levi’s), it can spread new news quickly and widely (think the iPhone launch), it can broaden the appeal of a niche product (think The Economist), it can wave a corporate flag (think BA), it can even go so far as to achieve mass social engineering (think BT back in the It’s Good to Talk days).

 

But, at the end of the day, it’s all about selling. So, by all means continue noodling about agency purpose or culture, continue fretting about agency diversity or inclusiveness, continue worrying about climate change and our industry’s impact on it, continue pretending to care about agency ageism… but don’t lose focus on how you can sell more of your clients’ stuff.

 

Every client, no matter what stage their brand and market are at, wants to grow market share and drive profitability. If you don’t help them do that, you will be fired. And rightly so.

 

A focus on selling does not mean you can ignore brand and longer-term issues. Quite the opposite in fact. In order to be more effective as a salesperson you need to be more grounded in the brand and in the longer term.

 

That’s why the new global ad campaign from Burger King (the one featuring decomposing burgers) won’t sell more burgers. Yes, it’s highly salient but it achieves short term stand out at the expense of longer-term brand image. It’s just a noisy stunt, one that will be beaten in sales return by more enduring brand-driven work that makes you salivate not regurgitate.

 

Talking of burgers, I met a young planner recently who told me they were so committed as a vegan

 that they would not work on any meat-based advertising projects. I’ve never understood this kind of logic. If it’s legal to sell a product then we should have no qualms about doing so. Our mission as ad folk is to shine the apple, not question whether selling it is a morally acceptable thing to do. Leave the moralising to politicians and focus instead on selling.

 

Why a focus on selling is so important is because the likes of Google and Facebook are going to make us redundant as a species. Once AI fully drives purchasing decisions then what is the need for the likes of you and me?

 

Think about it, if you can ask Google what you should buy and if, based on all it knows about your preferences, it can give you a satisfactory answer then what role do the likes of you and me have to play in the purchasing decision chain?

 

All we can do as mere humans is manipulate feelings and leverage product truths; how does that stack up against an AI that can perfectly tailor its recommendation to your specific needs? Can we really elevate a brand above an AI choice matrix? Maybe for an expensive purchase or very important decision or frivolous treat purchase, but for any day to day choices which can be mentally outsourced (and most purchasing is in that category) the AI power will be too strong to resist in the long run.

 

Our only hope in the short run is to be better than AI at sparking and nurturing opportunities for creativity, and that requires us to empathise with people’s needs, hopes, and fears.

 

People are still focused on the same things people have always been focused on. Like food, security, sex, feeling good, parenting, and status. We need to tap into those unchanging motivations in new and different ways. We need to use emotion to do so. And we need to use broadcast media to reach lots of people.

 

That’s because we need advertising to be about more than just narrow cast micro impact AI-generated branded content; we need it to also be about broadcast macro impact human-generated empathetic campaigns that sell.

 

We need to sell, or else the bots will replace us even sooner than they are already going to.

 

Mike Teasdale is a strategic problem solver. He is Director at Left-Handed Planning Ltd and provides consulting, writing, mentoring, and facilitating services. His background is in ad land, with 28 years of experience as a strategist in agencies like BBH, BBDO and Lowe. This article was published in WARC.  

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