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Monday, Nov. 17, 2008 at 2:38 pm

Sword Arms vs. (Semi) Scientific Advertising

By Jeff Sexton
November 17th, 2008

While most copywriters have avidly studied Claude Hopkins’ Scientific Advertising, very few have even heard of Theodore MacManus, let alone read his book, The Sword Arm of Business.  And yet MacManus was, in some ways, a more successful ad man, having:

  • Established his own (very successful) ad agency
  • Launched the Dodge and Chrysler brands
  • Hired and mentored Leo Burnett, creator of the Marlboro Man, Tony the Tiger, Pillsbury Doughboy, and many other advertising icons that made his clients rich
  • Turned positioning into a fine art form half a century before Ries and Trout even coined the term.
  • Helped establish Cadillac’s pre-eminence among early automotive marks
  • Wrote “The greatest ad of all time,” as voted in 1949 – an ad still listed in the top 50 of Ad Ages Top 100 Advertising Campaigns.

Interesting, but why should you care?  Because MacManus’s – and by extension Burnett’s – approach was the yin to Hopkins’ yang, and because MacManus’s approach still works today.

And what was that approach?

In a word, it was to position the client while dethroning competitors in the minds’ of the audience. He wanted to create, in the mind of the public, a deep-seated prejudice towards his client’s brand.

If, in the words of the legendary Gary Halbert, the biggest key to success is to sell to a starving crowd, then MacManus aimed to persuade the consumer that only his client’s product would fully cure their hunger, and then wait for the more-cheaply-persuaded and much larger mass audience to get hungry as their individual circumstances dictated.  This would be in contrast to targeting only hungry people and then selling to them via direct mail.

And so the two poles of advertising continue on to this day, as is clearly seen in the following comments by an extraordinarily successful brand builder, Chris Maddock.  Chris was responding to my request for his opinion on Google’s recent attempt to track the effect of offline advertising upon online sales/conversions.   Here’s what he had to say:


I think Google’s traditional ad analytics are interesting, sexy, and certainly useful on some level.  But I think the program could also be dangerous, in that it could give some folks faulty impressions of what is actually happening – or what is right – because it assumes advertisers know things they probably don’t.

Let’s say a local hardware store runs some print ads, and compares the online response to another time they’ve run radio ads.  If the print ads were for a short term offer, and the radio ad of a more institutional bent, the print ad could drive more traffic to the website and have the hardware store owner thinking that print’s the ticket.  The reality in such a situation is that the print advertising is impressing and motivating a tiny, albeit palpable, percentage of the market to respond and go the the website, while the time-sensitive nature of the offer makes the advertising all but invisible to the bulk of the market.  On the other hand the radio advertising is likely creating greater long-term top of mind awareness, yet probably not motivating as many to go the website.  Mr. Hardware likely thinks that the radio campaign was less effective, when in fact most category dominant businesses are those that eschew short-term sales, offers, promotions and the advertising tools that make them work, while leaning on intrusive media such as radio and television to push long-term awareness.  Over time, radio could likely drive many more visitors to the website – visitors who will likely buy.

So my worry is admittedly Hamiltonian.  Years of interaction with average business owners and traditional ad people has revealed a startling blindness to things like buying cycles, differences in long and short-term strategy, and proper media selection.

So these new Google analytics are cool.  I just hope the good people using them understand what they’re trying to make happen, and what the numbers returned really mean.

-    Chris

Do you see how Chris picks up the standard of Theodore McManus, Leo Burnett, and Roy Williams?  Although I think it is possible to intelligently and rigorously compare media, I can’t help but agree with Chris’s larger point.  Creating a prejudice in the mind of the customer before they’re hungry is often a more effective strategy than trying to only target hungry customers.*   But it requires a longer time horizon.  So if you are only measuring on the short term, you’ll likely come to the opposite conclusion and then deem your position to be “scientific.”  It’s a perfect example of one of the deadly sins of Web Analytics.

So what’s your time horizon?  And have you implemented a measuring/analytics system that will enable you to measure accordingly?

* To be fair, there are certainly also times when it pays to directly target hungry customers, rather than engage in a lengthier branding campaign.  I’m not necessarily advocating one over the other; I’m arguing that you shouldn’t base your decision on skewed metrics.

Add Your Comments

Comments (15)

  1. This is a superb post.

    I think one of the first people to understand and use both – the yin and the yang – direct marketing tactics as well as branding and anchor building tricks – was David Ogilvy.

    His ads for the Hathway tshirts are legendary – the eye patch made all the difference. (

    But even when Ogivly wrote a book – he focused on direct marketing and not branding. I think thats because its a lot easier to teach direct marketing (predominantly left brained field) first and branding second (right brained field).

    But as has been pointed out – both should go together.

  2. I find the bit about Google’s analytic software interesting. I find myself making assumptions about what people want, based on GA data all the time. It’s a fallacy to say the least.

  3. That list of ads is impressive. Its great to see Volkswagen being at the top of their game even in the 50′s.

  4. Agreed about analytics easily leading people to believe false things and we should be very wary of this.

  5. How can you tell if a branding ad, whatever the medium used, was effective? Given the defined long term nature of the advertising, is it possible to ever know if it had an impact on people or if it was money spent that has disappeared into thin air? And if you are not measuring immediate sales, what should you be measuring instead to understand the impact of the marketing spend as a indicator to future sales? I guess I am just asking questions here but I think all marketers will be made to be more accountable in the future for their spend, and just saying that the advertising will have a long term impact may not be a satisfactory response. It might well have been effective but how do you prove it?

  6. Excellent questions, Peter, and ones worthy of a longer response than I can give in a comment – so look for a post to address them in the near future.

  7. The questions about long term effects of adverising has been asked since that famous observation, “I know half my advertising is wasted. I just don’t know which half.

    One approach is to set communication goals and conduct research to determine if they are being reached.

    It is axiomatic that share of market follows share of mind, and that follows share of voice. So what do you want to happen when you speak (in advertising)?

    One goal is increased awareness. Another is increased preference. Another is increased sales. All of these are more or less measurable. But one must have the means and the stamina to test.

  8. I enjoyed this post but am most thankful for the link to the top 100 ad campaigns. this has already sparked some great ideas in my brain

  9. [...] So for intrusive or interruption-based media, great creative plus reach & frequency all go hand in hand for an effective ad campaign.  And I’ve said before that offline branding efforts can pair especially well with a solid online web presence. [...]

  10. Is there any way to bring him back? The brands he launched,Dodge and Chrysler, could seriously use his help right now …

  11. Art Jewelry,

    His techniques are alive and well, even if he is not. Though I’m not sure either Dodge or Chrysler would be willing to make the hard choices and commitments needed to make MacManus’s techniques work.

    – Jeff

  12. It’s somewhat difficult to knock the competition without seeming petty and making the site turn negative. I wonder/hope if this literature shows the artful way of blasting the competition without negative annotation.

  13. A variety of options is I have found the best format. Not putting all your eggs in one basket and concentrating on the overall campaign to assist in the branding process which is should regardless of whether you target the hungry, mix it up is all I can say!

  14. This approach may work for some, but creating a prejudice in the minds of consumer is not a healthy or positive approach to client loyalty. I am a firm believer, of demonstrating your own worth, without any reference to your competitors. Unless, it is to actually support the entire market segment. Passive -aggressive I guess you could call this approach. Our consumers are not to be treated as being incapable of making informed decisions. Good service and valuing client relationship will set you apart if your product cand stand the test of quality. It is not difficult.

  15. In my experience, only Quicktime export shows animations and transitions correctly on Windows.

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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