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Memorable Advertising
What Small Businesses Can Learn From Giant Ads

Posted by Charlie Recksieck on 2022-11-17
In an alternative universe, I worked in advertising. If you ran a simulation or modeled my life starting with the data points of me at college age, probably 45 times out of 100 I would have ended up as an ad man.

I was born and raised with the skillset needed to be an advertising "creative" - and none of the sales skills needed to be an "account man" (except for a solid ability to hold my alcohol). Having a facility for puns, catchphrases and musical experience all made me an ideal person to be working in advertising. And on the marketing side, I've got enough P.T. Barnum in me to blur the lines among "public relations", "lying", "spin" and "glass half full".

My dad was in advertising for the majority of his career - for a while with landmark firms like McCann-Erickson then his own boutique agency later in San Diego. I wrote an article about his career and things I learned about advertising by osmosis from him three years ago.

With all of that in my background, I really am fascinated by the industry, individual ad decisions, and the history of publicity. So, I wanted to revisit advertising this week - look at what I consider to be the most effective ads of my lifetime, some of my dad's advice for national campaigns and brands and how some of the same tenets might apply to a smaller business or even more B2B businesses instead of just B2Cs.

My Dad's Tenets

I summarized the advertising principles from my dad in that previous article. I'll take a few of them here and add how each larger principle could relate to a smaller, cheaper campaign with a practical real-world example.

What Is "Successful"? - If you were going to look at articles out there celebrating "successful" campaigns, it's going to be misleading (in my opinion). Lots of celebrated campaigns are famous over the years for winning Clio Awards. But if they didn't actually sell more product or create brand awareness. People in the 80's loved the "Joe Isuzu" campaigns, but funny commercials don't move the needle when people are making a major purchase like a car.
Small Business Advice - When running a small campaign like Facebook and Google Ads, stick to your goal - both in its content and where you run the ads. An immigration law firm client of ours doesn't need worldwide name recognition, just within a small sliver of a market. In their case, Human Resources people needed to know the name; and think of our client as experts in their field. Which is why a lot of advertising didn't go to their home page, but to their knowledge/info pages.

What's The Goal? - Some of the most famous campaigns like the fast-talking FedEx guy in 1970/80's (advertiser Joe Settlemeyer with actor John Moschitta - and I shouldn't admit that I know those names off the top of my head, not looked up) aren't necessarily about generating near-term sales. In the case of FedEx, the whole concept of using anybody but the U.S. Post Office was a new idea. Those Fedex ads had a primary goal of just introducing the concept.
Small Business Advice - We were running small campaigns in a variety of markets for an online radio station and app which was part weekly radio show AND a streaming music service. The heaviest lifting we were doing in ads was to explain and clarify what the service actually was.

Name Recognition - Similarly to a new concept, with a large advertising budget the goal is to make the brand name familiar, while other big dollars are spent elsewhere putting the product everywhere. The Miller Lite ("tastes great, less filling" or "you can call me Ray") campaigns and even the Nike "Just Do It" promotions were one part of a larger and massive-expensive effort to put your new product everywhere.
Small Business Advice - We’d been working with a Down syndrome charity here in San Diego that didn’t even have much awareness in the local Down syndrome community. Getting the name in front of families was our initial goal through ads, social and lots of community events with the San Diego Padres. The stats showed improvement; although it’s hard to separate the efficacy of the effort vs. the fact than effort was made no matter what it was.

When They Zig, You Zoink - There's a great interchange in the sitcom Modern Family about not only zagging when people zig, but the next level of "zoink". My dad drilled this one into me: If every other radio spot on the stations you're about to advertise on is noisy to catch listeners' attention then my dad would run a quiet spot with silence or crickets or a soothing voice. It works.
Small Business Advice - If you are thinking of running print ads in a trade publication (or website), look at the existing ads. If they are cluttered and busy, then simplify your message and run yours with a lot of clean, blank space.

Nothing Is Too Stupid - We all think the Geico gecko and "Flo" Progressive insurance ads are annoying. Most of us decry them as being too stupid and wonder why the ad execs are so bad at their jobs. But the stats are in that annoying and corny works in advertising. People remember being annoyed more than they remember being truly amused.
Small Business Advice - We've got a client that does diamond appraisal (plus buying/selling). You would think that it should run staid ads, but they've gone the other way with a cartoon caricature of the owner and they have hard data that it's worked.

Unforgettable Ads

Here's a few campaigns that I particularly remember as being effective over the years.

Nike "Just Do It" - I think it's the best slogan I've ever heard. Their audience was runners. If you're an everyday runner, you don't wake up and decide whether or not to run. You do it every day. Just do it. And if you're not feeling it that day, it does you no good to stall or postpone. Just do it.

Head & Shoulders - Fear is a hell of a concept in advertising. Fear that your party guests don't want a full cup of your coffee haunted social hostesses for years. And for every young man in the 80s who watched a beautiful girl in an elevator give a guy the cold shoulder because his head scratch may been an indication of dandruff? I still know several guys that are terrified to scratch their head in front of a woman.

Thomas’ English Muffins - Madison Avenue specializes in turning made up B.S. into an essential attribute of a product. I can't think of a better example of this than the Thomas' English Muffins talk of the "nooks and crannies" in their muffins as the standard of breakfast elegance. It still persists to this day when Thomas' are the fancy ones in your grocery store.

The Takeaway

When it comes to famous campaigns, for every truly effective slogan like "Every Kiss Begins With Kay" there as another celebrated one that actually could be overrated like Budweiser "Wassup"; just because it became a catchphrase, doesn't mean it sold more beer. Bud advertising worked more because of the massive longterm commitment to huge ad buy dollars than any of their particular spots.

And even the famous "1984" Apple Super Bowl commercial was overrated. They got a lot of free media for it over time. But their product was revolutionary and would have succeeded anyway.

Keep it simple when it comes to your advertising. Set a real goal for your first two campaigns and make them more realistic than "after running a few ads, it goes viral, everybody sees our website and our sales go up by 400%". Strategize a real goal, which might not even be measured in sales dollars, then create the ad and the ad buy that you think can make it happened. As anybody smart in the stock market says: go for base hits, not home runs.