According to BBH Labs the three greatest ads of all time are Guinness - “Surfer”, Nike - “Just do it”, and Apple - “Think Different.”
We can debate BBH Labs choice - and the most popular ad ever in the UK was recently judged to be a Hovis bread ad from thirty plus years ago - but there are a few common threads with all these ads.
One is that they’re all beautifully, thoughtfully, and intelligently written.
The other is that they are all beautifully produced.
Another common thread is that they were all made in the last century, which raises a big question about the quality of today’s advertising and how far it has fallen.
The last - and probably the most important common thread - with these ads is that they all have a clear ‘USP’ - a unique selling proposition - or a ‘single minded proposition’ or a ‘unique selling personality’ or whatever ever you prefer to call it.
Choose your own term. They all made it clear what they were all about. And they didn’t cover it up with huge amounts of additional or extraneous information.
An article about the need for a USP? Really? Well, yes. You might think it’s old hat, but it’s one of the first things you learn as a trainee in advertising, and in recent years it seems that advertisers and their agencies seem to have somewhat misplaced this very simple mantra.
Just because it’s been around a while doesn’t mean it isn’t still 100% true. In fact, the term ‘Unique Selling Proposition’ actually dates back to a book called Reality in Advertising by Rosser Reeves in 1961 and it is still referred to today in universities around the world. We ignore the advice in that book at our peril.
Reeves world-changing idea was that the product or brand should show off the one reason it needed to be bought or was better than its competitors. Whether it was a slogan or brilliant copy, it focused on selling one unchallenged benefit. Just one.
What’s more, it had to come from a truth about the product or service, and the product or service itself had to be remarkable. The book also argued fiercely that the uniqueness of a brand/product cannot be just made up from thin air as the consumer will eventually discover the deception, and sales will decrease.
In advertising agency parlance this thought was soon translated into the famous saying, “You can sell any crap once.”
In other words, finding and promoting the USP wasn’t some “advertising gag” or trick, it was grounded in the reality of the marketplace,
The theory was also that swanky advertising for an average product would only increase the number of consumers disliking or bad mouthing the brand.
Anyhow, Reeves theory was extremely successful as demonstrated by a number of famous campaigns he created including M&Ms - melt in your mouth, not in your hands, Bic Pens - It writes the first time, every time - and Anacin headache remedy - fast, fast, fast relief. - to name just a few.
The issue these days is not that we’ve completely lost the understanding of the power of a unique selling proposition but that brands constantly want to change their brand expression, making it something new every year, and the USP can very easily get lost in that process. But the theory was that once you have that ‘one thing’ it should not be changed willy-nilly but used over and over again until it sticks in consumers’ minds like glue.
Apple is still remembered as the “Think different” brand even though the campaign ran in 1989. As for “Just do it”, well, need I say more?
There is no doubt Reeves theory is still relevant, and it works. Being single-minded in anything you do is the easiest way to communicate and achieve results. (Not just in advertising but in life. And advertising should mimic life!)
Take the principle outside of the ad world. Football greats dedicate their lives to one sport to achieve greatness - David Beckham, one of the most successful round ball footballers of all time, used to stay on the pitch practising crossing the ball into the penalty area for hours after his teammates had gone to the showers. Johnny Wilkinson, the greatest rugby dead ball kicker of all time, did the same. They didn’t just one day decide they’re going off to play hockey …. to give people a change. The reason? They were consistently giving people exactly what they wanted, advertised every week by their performances. And they would probably suck at hockey.
So why then in advertising do we constantly need “change”? Creating a good campaign and sticking to it for years might just be the key to getting real market-changing results. Because creating and then sticking to your unique selling proposition gives you the upper hand against your competitors.
Why do we forget this simple truth? Well, a lot of today’s marketing failures are about chasing short term sales to the detriment of a brand’s carefully considered positioning. Never a good idea.
So find your unique selling proposition and stick to it, it may take longer to see the results but when you do, your brand will be ‘unique’. And if you’re not sure what your USP is, well, start by working that out.
Written by Pat Langton - Creative Director/Partner at Magnum Opus Partners
Also read Sure You Want To Change That?