All I Said Was…

Posted by on August 19, 2013

A Monday Morning Memo from The Wizard of Ads

I make a simple statement; “It’s not who you reach, it’s what you say that makes the difference.”

But you should see the anxiety! First the startled eyebrows and slackened jaw. Then, almost imperceptibly, the eyebrows descend and the chin moves slowly upward until dawning realization becomes clearly visible discomfort. Angry thoughts now gather like storm clouds behind the eyes as the words of rebuttal are chosen. Finally, the eyes are slits and the jaw is tight. “Do you mean to say…” is then followed by an absurd example obviously meant to put me in my place.

This is my most difficult moment. If I modify my statement or weaken it, you can be sure that I have done the listener no good. His religion of “reaching the right people” is so deeply ingrained that he will do virtually anything to justify his continued belief in it. If I am honest and say, “Of course it matters a little,” he will continue on his search for The Right People like a knight on his quest for the holy grail. Upon finding The Right People, he will triumphantly deliver to them his weak and unconvincing message.

I’ve got to make him understand the overwhelming importance of saying the right thing. So I resort to overstatement.

The truth is that it does matter who you reach. It’s just that finding the right people is ridiculously simple. I’ve never once met an advertiser whose failure was due to reaching the wrong people. Yet I can name countless instances where miracles were wrought through a simple change in message. These advertisers were already reaching the right people. They just weren’t saying the right thing.

The attraction of The Right People is that they are easily identifiable and quantifiable. Searching for The Right People allows an advertiser to design his ad campaign with all the confidence of a vacationer studying a road map.

“Saying the right thing” is an altogether different issue. In this, there are no rules, no road maps, no intellectual evidence. No way to justify why you did what you did when things don’t turn out as you planned.

Most advertisers continue to cling to their religion of “reaching the right people,” because acknowledging their inability to say the right thing makes them feel incapable and uncomfortable.

Frankly, it scares the hell out of them.

Roy H. Williams

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