Minds of Miller: Advertising Tips from the “Socrates of San Francisco”

Posted in Marketing, Miller Public Relations | February 18,2019

By: Seb Barnes

We love to read up on new trends and happenings in the world of advertising, but sometimes you need to look back to move forward. To keep our marketing minds sharp, we share our favorite articles around the office and this week we’re looking at this one from Medium.

The history of advertising isn’t always pretty, but one man that we’re proud to look up to is Howard Gossage. Not as famous as some from the “Mad Men” era, we believe he deserves much more praise for his ability to predict current trends in advertising. From asking people to respond to ads for the purpose of tracking to championing marketing for causes like environmental protection, Gossage was a trailblazer.

Looking at Gossage’s career makes it clear that he had his finger on the pulse of advertising. So what can we learn from the so-called “Socrates of San Francisco?”

There are 3 major takeaways:

1. The key to creating a great ad is deeply understanding what makes the audience tick in a medium they are paying disproportionate attention to.

Gossage’s most famous quote is unquestionably, “The real fact of the matter is that nobody reads ads. People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad.” And it’s true. Successful ads are sharable, meaningful and speak to an individual. People want to find truth in the stories they hear, so when ads don’t make a direct connection with an individual, there is no way to connect with the ad.

We commonly encounter fear that an ad will have too narrow an audience to create an effective campaign around. The truth is that an ad that is deeply moving for a single person is more likely to create response than an ad that everyone can understand but resonates with no one. Even if only a handful of people directly connect with an ad, making a solid connection with a specific group is something people can understand, recognize and appreciate.

For example, here at MPR, we encourage all of our medical clients to collect and share patient stories. And by patient stories, we mean a deeper look at the why and how a procedure has changed/improved their life. Asking a patient if they’re happy with the results of a procedure only goes so far. Compelling stories come from understanding and motivations. What drives the passion in your life? Why did that passion push you to have a procedure? How did this change your life?

When you ask patients personal questions like those, you’ll rarely hear the same answer twice, and yet when people hear those stories, they are moved.

2. Study old-school advertisers. They can articulate clearly what makes and keeps people interested, and how you can get people to take action.

The old school has a number of things to teach us. For one, a focus on copy. While there has been a major shift in marketing to a visual focus, the written word still holds power and reading “Mad Men” era ads can show exactly that.

You can see the striking power of a well-written ad here.

In a world of constant ad output, agencies could benefit from stripping back to a simple idea, presented well. It is tempting to produce content non-stop to make sure you’re on the front of the talking points, but old-school marketing recognized that a marketing team shouldn’t react to talking points; it should create them.

Examples abound; from the most popular ads of the big game (you know the one we mean) to Gossage’s promotion for an Australian airline where the company gave away a live kangaroo. An idea that gets people talking is much more valuable than what a spreadsheet says millennials are doing moving into Q2.

3. Remember: Good content doesn’t produce results. Great content produces good results. Phenomenal content produces great results.

This one is pretty straightforward. To get results, your efforts should be well-conceived, well-executed and well-targeted. Anything less is meaningless noise in an incredibly noisy world.

Miller Public Relations is an advertising and public relations agency with a 25-year history. Small but forward thinking, we’ve made our mark in medical marketing with the goal of finding the truth between the treatments. The scope of our agency has grown to include retailers, restaurants, political campaigns and software suites, but through all that, our focus on combining the big and small picture has remained. Contact us to learn more.