How to Advertise: What Works, What Doesn't – and Why (3rd ed.)

Charles A. McMellon (Assistant Professor of Marketing, Frank G. Zarb School of Business, Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York, USA)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 1 August 2004




McMellon, C.A. (2004), "How to Advertise: What Works, What Doesn't – and Why (3rd ed.)", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 21 No. 5, pp. 365-366.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

First published in 1976 and now in its 3rd edition, How to Advertise is a short, easy‐to‐read, important book for those interested in effective advertising. It is a valuable asset to place beside its philosophical bedfellow: Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy. The book is divided into two parts: “What to say and where to say it” and “Getting the message out.”

Chapter 1 states that effective advertising is based on a great idea, not on production techniques or sidesplitting humor. Given this basic point‐of‐view, such topics as where ideas come from and how to create and protect them are discussed. Most important, are a few pointers on how to generate ideas like “relax and let go – ideas come from everywhere.” Idea generation tools are linked to well‐known marketing situations, such as looking for similarities and relationships from other marketing categories. Thus, when McDonald's examined the toy business and their focus on fun, they were able to develop the highly successful Happy Meals.

Chapter 2 begins with a discussion of brands and why they are important. Next comes strategy. “Strategies are the foundation on which brands are built. They keep the advertising and other marketing elements on track and build a clear and consistent personality. They represent the soul of a brand and a crucial element in success” (p. 12). Some tips for a successful strategy are also presented: Allow the strategy to evolve over time, strive for quality in the product, and put emotion in the strategy. Pitfalls are discussed in a series of don'ts: Don't lose sight of your consumer. don't rely on research alone, and many other such pearls of marketing wisdom. Each don't is illustrated with a practical marketing example. For example, when discussing attitudes and benefits: “Thousands of people buy quarter‐inch drill bits, not because they want quarter‐inch drill bits but because they want quarter‐inch holes. People don't buy products – they buy expectation of benefits. Don't confuse product attributes with benefits” (p. 17).

Chapter 3 covers the ABC's of research, starting with the difference between qualitative and quantitative research. Then, follows a discussion of Internet research. Chapter 4 defines the advertising campaign as consisting of ads having a similar look, voice, and attitude. They give us plenty of examples. An interesting case history of global advertising for IBM is placed here. It is the only case in the book and whets the reader≈s appetite for more. Chapter 5 covers the basics of media planning including ten ideas for a better media plan and budget determination. The authors' thoughts range from the very basic like be aware of clutter to a more insightful thought that media planning is a compromise.

In Chapter 6, target marketing is discussed. The authors divide a variety of market segments by attitude and demographics but omit the many other ways to segment, such as by usage or benefit. The attitudinal discussion includes age cohort, time needs, life simplifiers, new achievers, and premium brand users. Under demographic segments we read about Hispanics (they erroneously suggest that all Hispanics speak the same language while correctly stating that Japanese and Koreans speak different languages – duh!). Afro‐Americans get a half page. Here they border on glibness. We are told that Blacks respond to believable advertisments. They also discuss children, seniors, and gays.

Chapter 7 explores integrated communications, with the key point being to integrate strategy and creative down to every “touch point” between brand and consumer: advertising, direct mail, e‐mail, telemarketing, promotions, and any other “touch point.” This is accomplished by starting with a core concept that can be adapted to each program. Plus, you need to know your customers well and be committed.

Part 2 of the book, “Getting the message out,” starts with Chapter 8 and television. Some old news from the authors tell us there is clutter, fragmentation, and zapping. Fortunately, they include advice on how to overcome these problems. A set of guidelines discusses more effective commercials: Let the picture tell the story, grab the viewer's attention, be single‐minded, and register the brand name are a few of the many guidelines. Last, the authors tackle “How to control commercial production costs” with some important comments like make sure to shoot the approved storyboard or to speak up if you feel something is wrong at the shoot, but follow protocol by not speaking directly to the actors or director.

Chapter 9 comes straight to the point about magazines and newspapers. “Forget everything in this chapter but this one guideline, and you'll be ahead of the game: Put your message in the headline or visual of every print advertisement, ideally in both” (p. 93). This is good advice and there is more: “Don't let the copywriter read you the copy … try to react to the overall impression” (p. 94). There is also a discussion of what works well in print, but more interesting is what reduces readership, like lots of body copy or copy in reverse.

Chapter 10: one insight about radio and out‐of‐home is that most listeners or viewers are on‐the‐go. Some principles they consider are: focus on one idea, think about the environment where it appears, stretch the listener's imagination, mention the brand a lot, and use music.

Chapter 11 opens with a brief history of the Internet. Next is discussed Internet advertising. Again, it is back to basics: online and offline strategies should be consistent, and use search engines as part of your strategy. Some are so basic as to sound paternalistic, like define success, advertise where your target is, and do not be gimmicky.

Chapter 12 is about direct marketing. Hints are to develop relationships, and to test, and test some more. Next is a comparison of direct mail and e‐mail with some basic notions like “Be memorable.” And not one word about SPAM. At the end of this chapter is a good comparison between direct mail and email, suggesting that direct marketing is for prospects and e‐mail is for relationships.

Chapter 13 is on brochures, Web sites, and sales pieces, with a mixture of guidelines. For example, telling us to make sure your selling message is on the cover of a brochure is good advice while stating to avoid clichés is a cliché.

In Chapter 14, which focuses on sales promotion, begins with, “Just remember that a coupon is a price cut (and lowers the value of a brand).” They believe more in brand building with coupon promotion. Next, ten principles of value building are presented. Some are insightful, like pretesting and some are basic like tracking results.

Chapter 15 is a good discussion of truth and ethics in advertising. The five points of the law are discussed under responsibility, privacy, telemarketing, tobacco, advertising to children, and political advertising. Chapter 16 is a big, important chapter. It may be worth the price of the book. This chapter discusses how advertisers should deal with the agency to get great advertising. Rightly, the authors identify process as key: creating an environment where ideas can be developed. Also discussed are evaluating and compensating the agency and the unnerving task of hiring a new agency, but they could not bring themselves to discuss how to fire an agency.

Conclusions: this book focuses on advertising strategy and execution with a lot of information. It is sometimes simplistic, but perhaps we need to be reminded. It is informative and insightful but it is also paternalistic, a bit patronizing, and glib at times. The book is like a roller coaster. Some pages lift you up with great insights, other pages are flat with banalities.

This book appears written for two types of advertisers – the junior just‐out‐of‐college trainee who knows nothing about advertising other than what they remember from advertising 101 and the manager who likes easy‐to‐follow, simple guidelines. For the latter, this book should be read at the beach or the airport.

A quote from David Ogilvy ends the book with an important truism:

Clients get the kind of advertising they deserve.

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