Part One

People don’t hate advertising. They hate bad advertising. Some people still watch the Super Bowl for the ads. Most people will actually welcome advertising if it’s just as interesting, entertaining or useful as the medium in which it appears. Bottom line, if you want somebody to watch, read or experience your advertising you better damn well make it worth their time.

Video is the best vehicle for creating work that’s interesting, entertaining and memorable. Until virtual reality matures it’s still the best medium for storytelling ever created.

Print is still important. If for nothing else it’s one of the best ways to focus a brand idea and distill it down to its very essence. (Billboards are even better.)

Traditional media executions work just as well in nontraditional media. To paraphrase Gossage, people watch, read and experience things they’re interested in. Sometimes it’s an ad online. Old Spice, Geico, Volkswagen, John West, Budweiser, Pepsi, Dove and even Google have had some of the top viral videos of all time – that started out as traditional TV spots.

Awareness and fame trump all other metrics. The world’s most successful brands shoot for fame and target everyone they can. Why? Because the more people that know about your brand, the more people that are likely to buy it. It’s really that simple.

Being memorable trumps being persuasive.

There’s no such thing as risk-free advertising. All marketing has some risk. Then again, anything worthwhile does. But even the riskiest marketing is less risky than not marketing at all.

If you don’t want to get negative emails, don’t bother advertising. Great advertising demands that a brand stands for something. Standing for something inevitably means some will be for you and some will be against you. Standing for nothing will result in no one being for or against you.

Long-term agency/client relationships are best. Geico’s been working with the Martin agency for over two decades. Ditto with Weiden + Kennedy and Nike.

There is no free ride in marketing. The return you get on user-generated content is usually worth exactly what you paid for it - nothing. Relying on people to endorse your brand and share your content on social networks is brandicidal. Fact is, 90% of people never share content.*

       *Karen Nelson-Field, Source: The Science of Sharing

Good agencies work for their clients. Great agencies work for their clients’ customers.

Great advertising happens more often than not outside of New York, San Francisco, Chicago and LA.

Inbound marketing is terrible at creating demand but really good at fulfilling it. 


Value in marketing is created by being consistent not by consistently changing. Instead of firing their agencies and CMOs and creating new messaging platforms every two years, the most successful companies consistently deliver the same message year after year. They keep the message fresh by conveying it through ever-surprising and different executions. The trick is to create a messaging platform so big it inspires hundreds of surprisingly memorable ways to express a core message for decades. Think Dos Equis’ The Most Interesting Man In The World, Nike’s Just Do It and Allstate’s Mayhem to name a few.

Almost every client I’ve worked with loves humorous ads…as long as they are someone else’s ads. That’s a shame because humor is most often the easiest way to overcome resistance to advertising.

It’s just as important for your marketing to motivate your employees, as it is for it to motivate your customers. Your brand promise is one thing. When it’s fulfilled by your employees it’s quite another.

Don’t believe the hype TV is dying. If you can afford it, TV is still the most effective way to advertise. It’s never been stronger. Case and point, take the launch of Google’s new phone the Pixel. Google is launching it with a TV campaign. Think about that.

The only absolute in advertising is there absolutely are no absolutes. No one can predict with certainty how a campaign will perform or whether one medium, tactic or execution will outdo another. There are exceptions to everything. Some companies will get great results from social media alone, most will not. Some videos go viral, the vast majority do not. Some banners generate great CTR, most perform horribly. Some user-generated content is effective, most is absolutely worthless.

Everyone is not creative. The idea that creative ideas can and should come from everyone is ridiculous. Sure anyone can be creative in how they get something done – place media, reduce costs, develop more efficient coding. However this is not the same type of creativity it takes to make advertising stunning, entertaining, interesting and above all – welcome. Only talented creatives – art directors, designers and writers can do this. The problem is too many accountants, managers and sales people think they can too. 

Before you hire an agency, make sure the people who created the work you love are still employed by that agency and are available to work on your account. Hate to say it but there are plenty of unscrupulous firms that have no qualms about presenting work created by people who no longer work with them. Case and point, there’s an agency out there right selling itself with campaigns I created – even though I haven’t worked there since 2009. Another shady practice is having senior teams pitch your account and then having a junior team run it after you sign a contract. Bottom line, don’t sign until you get a commitment in writing detailing exactly who will be working on your account and exactly what services they will be providing.

Your branding efforts should incorporate all five senses. The vast majority of marketers, however, only utilize sight-based branding cues – color, font, two-dimensional shapes, etc. The best brands define and incorporate all five senses into their platforms – sight, touch, taste, hearing and smell. With five senses defined, real world brand experiences – like office spaces, retail stores, point of sale, trade show booths, product design, collateral design, direct mail, packaging, etc. – become much more powerful and memorable.

The only real and differentiating value agencies provide is creativity. Every other service is a commodity that can be easily outsourced – research, analytics, media buying, account services, project management, coding – you name it. Original creative thinking is the one thing an agency provides that cannot be duplicated.

Leading with a rational, logical reason to buy a product or service is almost always inferior to leading with an emotional reason to buy. People buy on emotion and justify on logic. The vast majority of marketers leave money on the table by getting this one thing wrong.

Instead of assuming people want to have a relationship, conversation or deep interactive experience with your brand, it’s more profitable to presume they don't. The truth is, people care a hell of a lot less about your brand than you think. People are just way too overwhelmed with work, family and friends. In fact, just getting them to notice your brand is a major challenge – much less getting them to consider it. In my humble opinion, assuming your potential customers don’t want to have anything to do with your brand is a much more effective position to have. It will force you and your ad agency to produce a much higher standard of creative work that will result in much more compelling executions. Instead of paying through the nose for your customers’ attention it’s much more effective and profitable to earn it through work they actually enjoy seeing, reading and experiencing.

Agencies that don’t do good work are easy to spot. They are the ones trying to sell you on anything and everything except their ability to conceive and execute brilliant marketing solutions. If they don’t proudly display their creative work and case studies on their site – run away and don’t look back. The world’s best proprietary processes, data analytics, consumer research, media planning, strategic briefs, coding, account services, project management, etc., etc. are absolutely, unequivocally useless unless they are translated into exceptional creative executions that emotionally connect with potential customers and inspire consideration.Advertising does not work overnight. It takes at least six months and sometimes a year to start seeing big results. Having a long-term plan for advertising that delivers a consistent brand message in surprisingly interesting and entertaining ways over time works best. Here’s why.

Short-term campaigns leave clients short-changed. Work by Byron Sharp, Les Binet & Peter Field have shown that focusing on short-term tactics such as temporary price reductions, special deals, promotions etc. can have a negative long-term effect. Here’s a link to their findings.

Creatively driven shops generate the most money for their clients but not necessarily for themselves. Maintaining extremely high work standards takes time and money – two things most marketers demand their agencies cut. Instead of choosing an agency based on their size, industry specialty or price make your top selection criteria level of creativity and market performance.

Traditional offline advertising is almost always more predictable and effective than banners, inbound marketing, native advertising and other forms of online tactics. While traditional tactics like TV, radio, print and outdoor are by no means foolproof, we know they work because there are years and years of data, third-party oversight and facts showing they do. Despite all the data we’re collecting, we really don’t know diddly about online advertising*:

  • We don’t know where ads are running – we just have to trust they’re running on the right sites, at the right frequency and time
  • We don’t know whose seeing them – are they bots or humans?
  • e don’t know how many people are viewing them – there’s no consistent standard for what a view is
  • We don’t know who’s clicking on them – much less why
  • We don’t know if we can trust online experts because almost everything they tell us is wrong
  • We don’t know if there’s any correlation between sales and likes, views, shares and comments – even though these are key KPI’s many digital agencies use to 

         *Bulleted points above liberally plagiarized from Bob Hoffman’s post Data, Facts & Principles

There’s plenty more I’d love to share but that’s all I have time to jot down for now. Please feel free to send me your insights and share this list with anyone you think will find it useful. I’ll update it again later in the year.

Eternally Yours:


David Smith

Founder & Creative Leader, Immortology


When you're ready to outsmart, outlast and outdo your competitors