ROSSER REEVES HAS BEEN NAGGING AT ME
Never mind that he's been dead for over 30 years and we never knew each other.
If you don't know who Mr. Reeves was, the quick answer is that he's considered the model for Mad Men's Don Draper.
The slightly longer answer is that Mr. Reeves is a man who ended up in advertising by accident.
He had been kicked out of the University of Virginia during Prohibition after wrecking a friend's car while driving drunk.
However, Mr. Reeves had just won a hundred bucks in a state-wide chemistry contest with an essay called Better Living Through Chemistry. (That $100 would be about $1,400 adjusted for today's inflation. And yes, that title of that essay resurfaced later as a slogan for DuPont. Thank Rosser Reeves for one of the longest-running, unintentional jokes of all time.)
IT'S IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT MR. REEVES ALSO KNEW NOTHING ABOUT CHEMISTRY
He had apparently spent most of his Chemistry 101 semester drinking, dancing and gambling.
Hired by a bank that was scooping up contest winners, Mr. Reeves found that he and banking were lousy bedfellows.
But he also discovered he had a gift for turning a phrase.
Mr. Reeves ended up moving to New York and helping Ted Bates found the agency Ted Bates & Co.
If you watched the series Mad Men in its entirety, Rosser Reeves's history and that of Don Draper seem parallel--right up until Don Draper gains "true enlightenment" in the series' final scene.
Add in that Ted Bates was a dyed-in-the-wool New England preppie and Yale grad, and it's easy to wonder if Mad Men's Roger Sterling wasn't based on Bates. But I digress.
A REEVES QUOTE HAS RECENTLY BEEN A BURR UNDER MY SADDLE
Mr. Reeves once said, "Unless a product becomes outmoded, a great campaign will not wear itself out."
This is an assertion which I've believed wholeheartedly long before I ran into the quote.
Certainly, the faithful reader is sick of your relentless scribe banging the drum for Motel 6 and the ad campaign that has been leaving the light on for you for 30 years--and mainly on radio.
That ad campaign helped a struggling budget motel chain reverse an occupancy void virtually overnight and turn it into what is now a $2 billion property.
The Nike "Just Do It" campaign has been running about the same length of time. It made Nike a dominant force in the category, propelling its sales figures out of the millions into the billions.
Absolut Vodka may have the longest running ad campaign of all time, with its "Absolut _________" conceit. It started around 1980 and continues to this day--and took the brand from less than 5% of the U.S. vodka market to almost 50%.
HERE'S THE IRONY
While these campaigns lend credence to Mr. Reeves' assertion that "a great campaign will not wear itself out," they also blast a hole in Mr. Reeve's imperative that all advertising be USP-based to be successful.
Yes, Rosser Reeves is the man who gave us the USP--the Unique Selling proposition. USP is based on three principles:
The advertisement must make a proposition, to wit: "Buy this product and get this benefit."
The proposition must truly be unique, and unattainable through a competitor's product.
The proposition must sell, meaning the prospect has to really want it.
And Mr. Reeves most famous ads are sterling examples of USP-based classics:
M&Ms, "It melts in your mouth, not in your hands."
Anacin, "For fast, fast, fast relief."
Colgate, "Cleans your breath as it cleans your teeth."
THE LIST GOES ON...
...with ads that seem incredibly hokey by 21st-century standards.
And certainly, if you look at Motel 6, Nike and Absolut, the ads do nothing to sell anything like a USP.
Motel 6 will certainly sell features and benefits of its chain, and the USP is typically buried somewhere in the message: the lowest price room of any national chain.
But the real Motel 6 hook is in the intangible, poetic hook of "We'll leave the light on for you."
Nike's hook in the advertising is the idea of just getting your ass out there and
Absolut's hook is little more than the emotional peg of the bottle elevated to the level of art.
The USP argument is largely shot to hell by some of the longest-running, most successful ad campaigns ever.
MAKING ROSSER REEVES, BY HIS OWN DEFINITION, A PRODUCT THAT BECAME OUTMODED
Because at its core, USP is a fine idea.
Any brand is going to be made stronger with a USP. It helps provide justification for purchasing.
But as a basis for influencing the prospect, it ignores a fundamental truth of human decision making: the influence of emotional resonance on the final decision.
Motel 6, Nike and Absolut all put USP not even in the backseat, but in the trunk.
They've raised the game by putting something else front and center: a Unique Emotional Proposition.
YES: UNIQUE EMOTIONAL PROPOSITION
The Fabulous Honey Parker and I were convinced we had just invented this innovative term.
Seems we're a day late. Some people much smarter than us had already thought of it.
No matter. They are smarter than us with deeper pockets and empirical evidence that supports our case.
The important thing here is to recognize that you can have a stronger, better, more effective brand by having a UEP.
Don't kick USP to the curb. It's valuable.
But when implemented against a killer UEP, a USP message is likely to come in an also-ran.
And never kill an effective ad campaign before its time.
Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.