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  • Bob Hoffman

ADVERTISING IS A WEAK FORCE

Gravity is everywhere. Consequently, we think of gravity as a powerful force that keeps us glued to the ground and brings down huge airplanes. Actually, science tells us that gravity is a very weak force. In fact, it is the weakest known force in the universe.


To prove this to yourself, go to a children’s toy shop and buy one of those little horseshoe magnets. Then put a paper clip on the ground. Place the magnet near the paper clip. You now have two competing forces – the electro-magnetic force of the kids’ magnet versus the gravitational force of the entire planet.


The magnet wins. The electro-magnetic force is actually 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times stronger than gravity. But because gravity is all around us, we think of it as a strong force.


The same is true of advertising. We are exposed to thousands of advertising messages every day. Only a tiny proportion of them have any impact on us at all. As a whole, advertising is a weak force. But like the airplane falling to earth, every now and then there is a big advertising event and the ad industry takes it as proof of the extraordinary power of ads. In fact, it is proof of only one thing — the extraordinary power of great ads.


In fact, there are only two ways in which big advertising successes usually occur — great creative work or large expenditures of money.


One way to be successful at advertising is to spend a lot of money. Think about Toyota, and Pepsi, and Coors. None of them has done a memorable ad in years. And yet they remain at the top of their categories in part due to the force of their spending. If you are planning for great success through advertising, you better be ready to commit yourself to either doing great creative work or spending a lot.


Obviously, doing outstanding creative work is a far more desirable strategy. The problem is that doing great ads is way more difficult than it sounds. You’ve probably noticed that about 95% of all ads are crappy and derivative. And so are about the same percent of books, songs, and paintings. If you think all this crappy stuff is around because people aren’t trying very hard, you’re wrong. The reason is actually quite simple: producing great stuff is really, really hard. And there are very few people who can do it. Nobody sets out to create a crappy TV spot or a crappy book or a crappy song. They just turn out that way.


Creative talent is a very rare and very precious commodity. Not everyone has it. As a matter of fact, hardly anyone has it. That’s why our industry’s obsession with data and metrics has been so damaging. We’ve forgotten what got us here.


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