To explain why some advertising campaigns were successful and others were not, legendary ad man, Rosser Reeves theorized that the difference was successful ads had a Unique Selling Proposition. The theory was composed of three elements. First, the advertisement must be honest, without empty words, and the ad must clearly state what single benefit the customer will enjoy for the product or service. Secondly, the proposition must be unique; no other brands can already be making the same claim. Lastly, the proposition must be powerful enough to motivate the masses.
Regardless of its age, the merits of Reeves' unique selling proposition haven't eroded over time. In fact, I'd argue that the theory is even more important today, as marketing noise grows. In order to be heard and still be effective, marketers must convey the specific benefits that are unique to their brands. Yet, many marketers are using very vague and tired terminology to sell to consumers.
Quality is one of the worst, most overused marketing terms. Perhaps the biggest offender is the automobile industry. Auto executives want consumers to believe that their brand is quality. But how they go about saying so is very important. Often, they simply emphasize the quality. Sometimes, they work around the word by highlighting the latest resale valuations or Consumer Reports rankings. However, in a recent round of ads, Toyota specifically related quality to the car's longevity; 80 percent of Toyota's purchased 20 years ago are still on the road today. That's a fantastic line that gets reinforced every time an old, beat up Toyota is seen on the road.
Another empty adjective marketers use often is fresh. Sandwich chain Subway has built its brand around fresh-baked dough and ingredients. Its latest attempt at nailing down fresh is, of course, "Eat Fresh." However, its refrain of fresh remains unsubstantiated. How are the fixings at Subway more fresh than the deli down the street? Who knows. On the other hand, Canadian doughnut shop Tim Horton's found a way to define fresh during its battle with Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, and McDonald's for the king of coffee. They specifically advertise that their coffee is brewed every 20 minutes, 24 hours a day. In the coffee ad war, this should be their only rallying cry.
Of course, this can and should be extended to product packaging, as well. For example, instead of simply saying healthy or all natural, Naked Juice smoothies specifically but simply tells customers what's in the bottle. For instance, a 15-ounce "Red Machine" contains 13 raspberries, 11 strawberries, seven grapes, three cranberries, one and a half apples, a quarter of a pomegranate, a third of an orange, and half a banana. Now, we know it's healthy.
Reeves' Wikipedia page says that his techniques began to fail after the Creative Revolution began. However, I would argue the finest creative work is specific and definite. And is also telling the truth.
This post also appeared on Talent Zoo Media's Beyond Madison Avenue.