The Calgary Marketer

Updates, commentary & more about marketing from Art Graddon

No one has ever captured the importance of brand awareness as brilliantly as this 1958 print ad.

That brilliant McGraw-Hill ad

I am not sure when I was first introduced to this classic and revered ad from McGraw-Hill Magazines. I think it was in David Ogilvy’s “Ogilvy on Advertising”.

The original ad appeared in 1958. It was created by Henry Slesar of New York ad agency Fuller & Smith & Ross. In 1999, it was named the “Best Business-to-Business Ad of the 20th Century” by Advertising Age’s Business Marketing magazine.

The text of the ad reads as follows:

“I don’t know you.
I don’t know your company.
I don’t know your company’s product.
I don’t know what your company stands for.
I don’t know your company’s customers.
I don’t know your company’s record.
I don’t know your company’s reputation.
Now, what was it you wanted to sell me?”

It concluded with this:
“Moral: Sales start before your salesman calls – with business publication advertising.”

Created to help sell American business on the concept of print advertising, this ad brilliantly captured the essence of key marketing concepts. And its relevance to today’s environment remains amazingly sound.

Never have I seen a more cogent argument in favour of building awareness and defining one’s brand. Put away all of the mumbo-jumbo theoretical presentations on why and how to bring a brand to life. Show them this ad. If they don’t get it after this, well…

I recently met Perry Keegan, a Calgary-based sales & marketing consultant & coach, when he was presenting at a Canada Post series of seminars across the country. Perry talks about how the results-oriented appeal of conversion marketing — especially Pay-Per-Click and Pay-Per-Lead advertising, has led advertisers to focus a lot of their spending in such click-thru media. And they have correspondingly reduced their spending on brand awareness advertising in both online and offline media.

Why not, he says. Doesn’t it make sense to make sure you get some kind of measurable sales action or leads for the money you spend? After all, it is difficult to measure the direct impact of awareness on sales. It’s all about optimizing!

But Perry points out that his work has shown there has been a price to be paid for this short-term thinking. All forms of digital advertising have been eroding in their effectiveness over the years. He believes it is because of the simple premise that the fewer targeted consumers there are who are aware of a brand and what it stands for, the fewer clicks its ads will get. Perhaps not immediately, but over time.

Why? Because the initial clicks come from those who are in fact already aware of the brand and want their deal. But it is only a matter of time before the brand runs out of these consumers if it does not invest in its long-term brand awareness. The pool is finite, he says.

Perry says he has repeatedly run programs that demonstrate what happens when he rejigs a brand’s spending to increase the amount invested in awareness media. Despite reduced spending on conversion advertising, the click-thru rate increases and stays more steady.

Perry’s premise immediately reminded me of this McGraw-Hill ad. Some 60 years after it was first published, it accurately captured the essential purpose of brand building. Quite simply, it opens more doors to what you have to sell. How easy it is to forget that.

And thanks to people like Perry, we’re relearning what we probably should have not forgotten.