This Is The Truth About People Who Work In Advertising

I read this great story from Drayton Bird over on his blog:
It is now over 50 years since I read the famous conversation between Max Hart of Hart, Shaffner and Marx and his ad agent,

Hart said he would never read long copy.
His agent said, "I'll just give you the headline of a full page all-copy ad. You would read every word."
"What is it?" asked Hart.
"This is the truth about Max Hart," his agent replied.
It reminded me of one of my favourite quotes, from Howard Gossage: "People read what interests them, sometimes it's an ad".

The thing is, these days people are always saying that people don't read or pay attention to advertising, I've met plenty of people myself who say that they never watch adverts or pay attention to them (although it always transpires later in the conversation that they can trip off a few recent ads or strapline, so go figure).

Indeed, within our own industry it's rife. But the basic human truth is this, people will read or watch, or pay attention to something that interests them. People are selfish like that, but that's just human nature.

But what happens a lot in the ad business these days is that agency folks just say people aren't interested in chocolate/cars/detergent/bottled water/insert other product here, and off they then pop to create some piece of barely related entertainment to stick the logo of the product on the end of.

As I've banged on about before, making good advertising is a simple business, but it takes hard work. One of the things that requires real smart thinking and insight is when you have a low-interest product (and let's face it, most products fall into this category to normal people), finding the thing about it that people will find interesting. And this doesn't mean interesting like a documentary about weird sexual habits, or interesting like Joe Pesci doing a robot dance naked in silver paint. But interesting in the context of the product and the potential customer's relationship to it.

These days, most ad people don't bother. The work either comes out workmanlike and uninteresting to the customer and goes unnoticed, or is entertaining but that entertainment does a poor job of communicating anything of interest that moves the prospect closer to buying your product.

If you're a client, how many times have you been made to feel like your product is uninteresting, and been presented with advertising that is just barely disguised sponsored entertainment? How many times have you felt that your ad people aren't really interested in finding something to say about your product that will interest your prospective customer?

It's just because the thinking is lazy. The truth is, if you find something genuinely interesting to say about your product or service, people will listen. Or read. Even if there are quite a few words.

The title of this post.

The title of this post is a bit naughty, because the information promised in the headline isn't delivered. That's not something I'd suggest you do in your advertising. But I'd bet fifty pence of someone else's money that if you work in advertising, you wanted to read on and find out what it said.

Which I guess was Max Hart's ad agent's point.
And Gossage's, come to that.


  1. totally agree. it is difficult because there are plenty of products that are not just low interest products but products that simply do not need to exist. or simply aren't as good or are exactly the same. in these cases it might be harder to apply some of these thoughts, maybe thats why the is so much complicated advertising out there.
    Cant think of any things just now to back this up, would be an interesting subject. top ten products that we really don't need in the world.

  2. Part of the problem, too, is that corporate management deals with the logistics of making the product to the point it's just there. They can't tell you why it is better, or more interesting, or anything to help you differentiate it. It just is. The key is to get off your butt and out of the boardroom (as advertising creatives)and talk to the people who make it on the production line, or sell it, or formulate it. Somebody somewhere will say something that you never knew and be the catalyst for you to see it your task in a whole new light. And then you can get excited and infuse that into creating good advertising.There is alsways something intersting about every thing and every body. You just have to dig for it.

  3. This reminds me of a great ad I heard about. The product was a Russian car. It had no redeeming features. It wasn't fast. It wasn't safe. It wasn't good looking. It wasn't aerodynamic, green, cute, spacious, small, reliable or economic. It was what it was, a crap Russian car.
    The creative team did some research and discovered that because it was designed in and for a cold climate it came with a snow shovel. So they created an ad around that:
    'Man digging his car out of snow, car drives past and second driver laughs at his misfortune and drives on. Later on russian car owner is driving along and sees his tormentor who has himself become stuck in the snow. He walks over with his shovel, and second driver thinks he is going to be helped to be dug out.
    Instead he hits him around the head with the shovel.'
    Brilliant product benefit, it just needed finding.

  4. I still like to believe BMP's old maxim.

    'Good advertising doesn't have to be bad', I think means that advertising can be entertaining AND effective.

    Speaking of people saying they don't read/fall for advertising, in social pschology, there is a name for it:

    The third person effect.

    More here


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