Thinkbox has posted a transcript of a speech by Paul Feldwick, who is the author of The Anatomy of Humbug: How to Think Differently about Advertising. “I worked in a very successful agency for over thirty years but looking back on it, the successful campaigns that we produced happened not because of this message model, but in spite of it. And I think companies that apply this message model make it far more difficult than it needs be to create successful brand-building advertising.”

“Here I’d like to offer you two ideas which I personally think might be a lot more useful. One is the idea of ‘associations’, the other is the idea of ‘relationships’. Associations are connections in the brain that link together ideas, images and feelings. The point about associations is that they don’t have to be conscious, they don’t have to be verbal. It’s actually a very ancient idea…. But Damasio’s work on engrams and somatic markers I think has given it a new scientific respectability by at least giving us a working hypothesis as to how this happens.”

Feldwick quotes quotes  Timothy Wilson, author of Strangers to Ourselves, Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious: “‘The causal role of conscious thought has been vastly overrated. Indeed, it is often a post hoc explanation of responses that emanated from the adaptive unconscious.’ And this experiment shows with rather shocking clarity the huge difference that can exist between the way we think we choose things and the ways that we really choose. We are quite capable of feeling a strong preference for something for reasons which we’re totally ignorant of, but we are good at disguising this to ourselves because we automatically tend to create an apparently rational cover story, which we then believe in.”

“The rational product claims that people gave us for their brand preferences, are really entirely spurious… But the strength of those brand preferences is real enough.”

“Whatever we do or whatever we don’t do, intentionally or unintentionally, we are sending out signals for others to make sense of. In fact everything we do then is communication. Psychologist Albert Mehrabian calculated that between 55 and 95 percent of all human communication is non-verbal. That means not just tone of voice and gesture, but the clothes we wear, the place we stand and many other contextual clues. So everything about a brand communicates and every aspect of a commercial communicates. Not just the words and not just the message.”

“It was all explained to me many years ago in far simpler language by my first boss Martin Boase, who used to put it rather like this: ‘We believe that if you are going to invite yourself into someone’s living room you have a duty not to shout at them or bore them or insult their intelligence. On the other hand, if you are a charming guest and you entertain them or amuse them or tell them something interesting, then they may like you a bit better and then they may be more inclined to buy your brand.'”

“The old model which is based on the message myth positions creativity essentially as a set of tricks for getting attention and increasing memorability: so that leads towards advertising which fights for the viewers’ attention. It leads to advertising which is creative in a purely intellectual way, often inventing an elaborate scenario in order to dress up an essentially intellectual idea. And such advertising very often fails in the marketplace because people in real life don’t process it with the full attention that would be required to decode the message. And even when they do, the message in itself is rarely a motivation to action.”

“Successful and truly creative ads, I think work in quite a different way. If we pretend that advertising is predominantly digital, then we’ll feel justified in thinking of any ad as being reducible to an intellectual, verbal construct, a message or a proposition or an idea. But if we understand that the important relationship building communication is taking place through the analogue mode, then we should really change our focus away from this abstract digital idea, back to the visual, visceral power of the entire advertisement; its colour, movement, music, timing and every detail.”

“TV ads… don’t have to have much to do with a single reductionist idea. They work as aesthetic wholes.”

“Well, as you can tell I’m very opposed to this idea that ads are somehow based on the creative idea. I don’t think they are. I don’t think there is a creative idea behind a painting by Kandinski, or Bach’s B Minor mass, or almost anything else you can think of. A picture may be in some sense original but I don’t think that that is what makes it a great work of art.”

“As Bill Bernbach of course said, ‘Is creativity some obscure esoteric art form? Not on your life. It’s the most practical thing a businessman can employ.’ Bernbach understood that creativity was essentially about artistry, the tiny details which obey no logic and can submit to no analysis but which make all the difference to our emotional responses.”

Feldwick quotes a headline written by Raymond Snoddy in Marketing: “Ads must aim for the heart, not the head.”


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