Alright, I'm a big boy and I've long since learned that the mainstream media will almost always regard direct marketing with condescension. (Rare exception: Malcolm Gladwell's brilliant 2001 profile of Ron Popeil in the New Yorker)....
Traditional brand advertising earns grudging respect for the occasional commercial that bows before Baby Boomer vanity (Chiat's vastly overrated "Big Brother" ad for Apple), and for producing characters, like David Ogilvy, who lend a sheen of sophistication to the otherwise filthy, dirty enterprise of selling stuff.
Case in point: Sunday's "Pointed Copy" piece, Rob Walker's "Consumed" column for the last NY Times Magazine of 2006. At first, I was pleasantly surprised that a direct marketing copywriter, the late Arthur Schiff, was among those honored by the magazine's annual tribute to the year's notable departeds.
Schiff was the man behind the famous/infamous Ginsu knife and its much-parodied commercials. Like the Mr. Whipple and Bounty ads, the Ginsu spots have earned their place among the pantheon of widely despised ads that were, nonetheless, wildly effective.
But this is where Walker's pointed piece goes dull. "Getting people to take notice remains the central mission of marketing today," says Walker. Wrong. Dead wrong. The central mission of marketing has been, is today, and always will be to get people to buy something .... be it a product, idea or even a "brand."
This core misunderstanding erodes the rest of the column. Walker goes on to mock-celebrate the Ginsu ads for their famous tropes: the karate-chopped tomato, the key sawed in half. To these he attributes the success of the ad .... they got attention.
But that's not why the ads succeeded. Sure, getting attention was an important part of the game. But the reason the ads stayed on the air, year after year, was because they moved tons of knives. And the reason they moved tons of knives .... a reason Walker completely overlooks .... is because they memorably promised something people wanted: cheap knives that cut anything and everything without losing their edges, yet never need sharpening.
So what? The problem is, too many people who go into advertising (and marketing) make Walker's mistake. They focus their efforts on getting attention rather than generating action. Then they confuse sophistication with success, and fail to recognize the value of the "stupid" idea that does what marketing is supposed to do .... sell stuff. Anything less misses the point.
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