I don’t usually respond to articles in the trades, nor do I get into ranting, but I must say that Mr. Al Ries’s latest Ad Age column offers some pretty weak arguments in favor of hard sell vs soft sell.
For starters he confuses taglines with marketing. Taglines are simply expressions of a brand’s behaviors and beliefs. Ideally they sum up everything a company does and makes with a line that describes the product (The Ultimate Driving Machine), promises an outcome (Red Bull gives you wings), shares a compelling belief system (Real Beauty) or offers encouragement (Just do it.). But if the brands mentioned above prove anything, it’s that a brand’s behavior – products, service, accessibility, and inclusiveness – not its tagline that really matters.
Secondly, in an attempt to support his argument, he completely distorts one of the most brilliantly crafted marketing efforts of the last 20 years. Apple’s Think Different campaign. Ries argues the campaign was an utter failure, claiming its emotional appeal offered little motivation to buy products compared to A thousand songs in your pocket, the line that launched iPod five years later.
What Ries neglects to mention, of course, is that Steve Jobs launched Think Different right after returning to a company whose diminished stock price, demoralized work force, sorry product offerings and empty pipeline didn’t leave very many options.
But Apple did have a loyal community of believers who wanted the company to succeed. And Think Different gave them hope. The campaign was never designed to sell products. It was created to inspire the base, the market and the company’s employees. Which, of course, it did. When iPod emerged, it came from a company that once again stood for something worth believing in. One could probably argue that Think Different inspired the likes of iPod in the first place.
We live in an age when consumers are more media savvy than ever. They know when they’re being sold to. And they choose to consumer a company’s advertising just as they decide whether or not to buy its products.
The argument we should be having isn’t whether a tagline is emotional or feature driven. It’s whether or not a brand has a vision, the determination and resources to make products that deliver on that vision, and an advertising campaign that inspires people to take notice, play a role and care.
Sorry Al, but someone had to call you out.