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One of the funny things about working in advertising as long as I have is that you constantly run into people who tell you about great advertising they have seen.  More than half the time they cannot, for the life of them, tell you what the product is.

While they are entertained by what they have seen, it isn’t good advertising.  Advertising’s goal is to convince you to buy into a product, service or idea.  If you can’t remember what it was, it fails as effective advertising.

These folks are just voyeurs of advertising.  They are constantly exposed to it and therefore consider themselves to be somewhat experts.  Proximity does not create expertise.

Each year, I find my patience with advertising voyeurs is waning more and more.  They seem to think that advertising is some kind of entertainment.  It ain’t.  If it entertains, fine, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of achieving its objective.

Inside the industry we have a different kind of uninformed.  These are the poseurs, who, by strength of personality, charisma, or politics, are in a position of authority or decision making in the communications industry.

These people think they understand advertising by reading the industry press – which it like learning colour appreciation from the blind.

A poseur, says the dictionary, is “a person who habitually pretends to be something he is not.”  A lot of people pretend to be experts in advertising.  I once had an interview with a person who had been an agency president who claimed that his way of determining great advertising was “I’ll know it when I see it!”  I immediately thought this guy was full of… well a political player with no technical knowledge of advertising.  Well, with international

Without criteria for assessment, it is a personality or authority test more than one of assessing ideas.  A poseur.

Years ago I was working on a brand in New York.  The client had cancelled all advertising until the agency could come up with a great idea.  The agency was striking out.  Three campaigns went for quantitative testing.  Two were abject failures, the third barely squeaked into being nearly average.  It was below average, but not enough below to be eliminated.

We had been off the air for nine months and decided to give this advertising a chance while we continued to come up with the “great idea.”  Besides, the advertising featured minority talent and there was concern that the public would not be inspired by it.

The advertising went on and sales immediately went up 25% on a long established packaged good.  “Must be the promotion” said the client.  Must be.

We decided to do some quick focus groups in Atlanta to get feedback on the advertising and find out if something was happening.  We started our focus group with participants speaking about the category and then focused in on the advertising.  The moderator showed one of our commercials.  The lights came back on and she was about to ask for discussion on the commercial.  One participant raised her hand and asked “can we see the commercial again?”

“Of course” said the moderator.  And then, with continued requests, showed the commercial five or six times.  The participants smiling, chuckling, and feeling better and better each time.

Behind the one-way mirror, I knew we had found gold in the advertising.  A commercial that had almost not made it to air because of weak quantitative scores.  A commercial that we did not recognize as a great idea.

Yet it was a campaign that brand used successfully for more than 25 years.  It was a campaign that became more important than the brand because it allowed line extensions and ended up embracing the client’s category line not just the one brand.

Clara Peller (r) Exclaims "Where's the Beef?"

The campaign I am talking about is the Jell-O Pudding advertising featuring Bill Cosby.  One that textbooks quote as a great marriage of personality with brand.  But it took the market place to prove it worked, not the experts, including me, in the meeting rooms.

So when some poseur tells me “I’ll know it when I see it,” I know they know nothing.  The market knows.  We can only put together the best elements.

I have been involved with other advertising that became notoriously effective and was still memorable twenty years after the fact.  The Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?” and Subway’s bad penny, Jared.  No one saw them coming either.  We weren’t all stupid.  But the truth is the market knows more than the experts, real or poseurs.

The fact is: Great advertising has to pass a sniff test of being clear, provocative and persuasive.  It takes years to put those pieces in a nice package.  People outside the industry have no clue how advertising works.  And many in the industry, who can pontificate on their innate ability to know good advertising when they see it, don’t really know either.  They don’t know where the beef is.

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