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Let Ads Bring Good News

  |  October 8, 2009   |  Comments

Is everything we need to know about marketing today actually spelled out by a Japanese business legend 25 years ago?

Is it possible that everything we need to know about marketing in today's insanely complicated, hyper-fragmented, totally digital world was actually published in 1984, the same year that brought us "Ghostbusters," the little old lady shouting "Where's the Beef?" and the launch of Sony's revolutionary storage device...the 3.5 inch diskette?

That's when Japanese business legend Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of the company best known in the United States for the Panasonic brand, wrote "Not For Bread Alone," his collection of essays on management.

Here's what he had to say about our business:

"It is the manufacturer's role, his very raison d'Être, to make quality products that people find useful and beneficial. With each new product the maker is obligated to explain to the consumer how it will help to improve daily life. That is what advertising is. The real purpose is not so much to push sales as to bring good news to people."

Now let's break it down to three parts and see how he captured many of the key trends in our business today:

"It is the manufacturer's role, his very raison d'Être, to make quality products that people find useful and beneficial."

The re-connection of product development and marketing is one of the most encouraging responses to the challenges we all face. Instead of making things and then figuring out how to sell them, companies are spending more time using consumer insights to develop things people really want.

Five years ago, there wasn't much talk about being "useful and beneficial." Today, the notion of utility is top of mind for many marketers, perhaps best evidenced by the explosion of mobile apps. Alex Bogusky's new book, "Baked In," and blog hit on this theme as well.

In our transparent world, you just can't fake it anymore. There has to be "there, there," and it all starts with the product.

"With each new product the maker is obligated to explain to the consumer how it will help to improve daily life. That is what advertising is."

The most important word in this passage is "explain." I wonder how many teams kick off a campaign asking, "How can we best explain this product to consumers?" Not (necessarily) entertain. Or trick. Or condescend. Or annoy. Just explain.

Earlier this year, Jeff Goodby took the industry to task for becoming "irrelevant award-chasers," making work for ourselves, not consumers. He wasn't suggesting advertising was all about explanation, but having an "explanation filter" is certainly a good way to ensure the work we make isn't just for us.

Starting with the goal of explaining how a product or service improves daily life is such a simple idea, and one that would lead to ads with specifics, not jargon. And as Bob Hoffman said, "I've never seen an ad that was too simple or too specific."

"The real purpose is not so much to push sales as to bring good news to people."

Marketers are hampered by a real sense of ambivalence when communicating with people online, especially within social spaces. We don't want to interrupt people because it creates a negative user experience and we wonder whether brands should even have a place within communities.

At some level, this reflects a marketer's guilt; if we felt good about the messages we were trying to share, there would be much less concern about the appropriateness of those messages in digital environments. If our ads were "bringing good news" to people, why wouldn't they fit in...anywhere?

The good news philosophy has the added benefit of counter-acting the consumers' ability to ignore advertising. We can't take away their power to tune us out, but with good news, the question becomes, what if they didn't want to?

To follow Matsushita's advice would mean the following:

  • Your product development and marketing groups would be aligned.

  • You'd be making things people really wanted.

  • You'd be telling people things they wanted to hear (and probably pass on).

Like any advice, you can take it or leave it. Just one more thing: while he's not a household name, Matsushita built one of the 100 largest companies in the world from scratch, so he knew a thing or two about how to satisfy consumers.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Cahill

Adam Cahill is the EVP, Media at Hill Holliday. You can connect with him on Twitter at @adamcahill.

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