Scientific Advertising
Shopper marketing

The house believes advertising should be more about science than art.
‘Scientific advertising’ is a loaded term in advertising history. It’s the title of a famous book by Claude Hopkins, the great copywriter, published in 1923. Hopkins was so valuable to his agency and its clients that he literally wrote his own pay cheque. He didn’t get a fixed salary. Instead, he decided how much he wanted each year, and his boss signed it off without question. That’s how good Hopkins was.

Let me quote the book’s opening paragraph:

The time has come when advertising has in some hands reached the status of a science. It is based on fixed principles and is reasonably exact. The causes and effects have been analysed until they are well understood. The correct methods of procedure have been proved and established. We know what is most effective, and we act on basic laws.

What’s not to like about that? The language is technocratic, business like and optimistic. Generations of clients and admen have been seduced.

To take just one example, in 1939 a precocious young man called David Ogilvy took part in a debate with a creative director. A debate much like this one. And Ogilvy wiped the floor with him. He`d been a door-to-door salesman and found direct response advertising worked the same way. He said, ‘In writing ads, act as you would if you met the individual buyer face to face. Don’t show off. Don’t try to be funny. Don’t try to be clever.’

The rules of scientific advertising, as the young Ogilvy promulgated them, make for grim reading. All ads must be the same as direct response ads. Only small type. Always long copy. No white space. No slogan. No expensive art work. No attempt at entertainment. The product, the product, the product.

If you want advertising to sell directly, that will work. It’s ugly, but it’ll get you there.

Or will it? There are two schools of thought about that.

The great Bill Bernbach cited Aristotle in support of his view that facts are not enough. People are not machines for buying products. People have egos, emotions, prejudices, urges and aspirations. There’s an art to moving people that can’t be reduced to rules about type size and white space.

Suppose Winston Churchill had said, ‘We owe a lot to the RAF’. Would that have been as persuasive as ‘Never did so many owe so much to so few’? Suppose David Ogilvy’s famous headline had been, ‘The new Rolls Royce is the quietest car in the world’. Would that have been as persuasive as ‘At sixty miles an hour, the loudest noise you hear in the new Rolls Royce comes from the electric clock’?

Bernbach himself was visiting VW’s Wolfsburg factory when he saw an inspector look at a car through a magnifying glass and send it back because he saw a scratch that you couldn’t see with the naked eye. Bernbach’s headline could have been, ‘The greatest inspection system in the world’. Would that have been as persuasive as ‘LEMON’?

Shakespeare got his plots from penny history books, but how he expressed them brought them to everlasting life.

Finding out what to say is the beginning of the advertising process. How you say it is what makes people look and listen and feel, and if they don’t do that, you’ve wasted the work that went into discovering what you should say. You can’t really separate execution from content. Great execution becomes content.

How to choose between these two very different models? By examining the evidence.

We now know that direct response can be uncreative and still sell, because the people who respond are actively searching. If you’re selling to people who are actively searching, follow Hopkins’ rules.

But the vast majority are not actively searching. We know that because response rates to direct campaigns are typically only 2 or 3% of the possible audience. The big marketing question is what will move the other 97 or 98%. The answer is creativity. And we can prove it, because advertising science has progressed.

We know more about effective advertising today than Hopkins, Ogilvy and Bernbach rolled into one. We have the greatest collection of effectiveness case histories in the world, based on entries to the IPA Effectiveness Awards. We can analyse them in a scientific way: which strategies produce the greatest sales growth? Which executions? Let me cite two findings in particular.

First, we now know that direct response campaigns have limited value. They are less likely to grow sales than campaigns that build brand fame. Let me repeat that: direct response campaigns are lesslikely to grow sales.

Email and search optimization, and all the other direct techniques, are worth doing but they don’t move the mass audience. The rules of direct response do not apply to all ads. Hopkins and the young David Ogilvy were simply wrong about that. The new science proves it.

Second, we now know that creativity makes a huge difference to sales. An average effective campaign increases the brand’s market share by around 1% point per unit media weight. An effective campaign that also wins a creative award increases market share by around 6% points at the same media weight. Other things being equal, creativity is the biggest driver of effectiveness.

Let me repeat that. Creative campaigns outsell average campaigns six times more at the same weight.

Why? Because creative campaigns are much more likely to be shared, passed-on, commented on and discussed. Creativity ignites a cultural bush fire through social and digital media. It gives the brand more exposure than the client paid for. It moves the mass audience.

Take that evidence to the bean counters! When the bean counters ask why you guys in marketing care about creativity, you have the perfect answer. Because creative campaigns sell more. When they ask why you don’t do more direct sales campaigns, you have the perfect answer. Because brand campaigns sell more. Science has given creative marketers some very powerful ammo.

So, to conclude, I invite you to vote in favour of the motion. Science progresses through conjectures and refutations. The old science of Hopkins said creativity was irrelevant to sales. He was wrong. The new science shows that, on the contrary, creativity is indispensable. Creativity drives 6% points share growth rather than 1% point share growth. Without science, we would not have known that art sells. If you value creative marketing over rule-based marketing, you should vote for the motion.

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