How To Create Modern Advertising That Sells

What we can learn from an advertising legend in the midst of an existential crisis in advertising:

Who Was The Socrates Of San Francisco?

Howard Luck Gossage was an unusual man. He was an innovator and great thinker in the iron age of advertising.

He was dubbed “The Socrates of San Fransisco.”

His agency took home in the building of an old fire house downtown San Fransisco. His thunderous laugh and constant influx of great minds kept the old firehouse as loud and heated. He himself was the fire.

The firehouse would become a salon to many of that era’s influential thinkers: from John Steinbeck to Stan Freberg to Buckminster Fuller.

“I long for the day when advertising will become a business for a grown man.”
Long form copy is vastly underrated in today’s world of pop up and banner ads.

But, I had only heard of Howard Gossage until two weeks ago.

I’m willing to bet this is the first time you’ve ever heard of him too.

Most people will go their whole lives never knowing his name, but if you do come across his work, his insights will change the way you look at business.

This past week, I went through the special collections in one of largest libraries in the nation to dig up the most I could on the great man.

Here’s what I found:

People Don’t Read Advertising

Howard’s most famous quote is his most simple, but most important:

“The real fact of the matter is that nobody reads ads. People read what interest them, and sometimes it’s an ad.”

This is a pretty agreeable statement — but it’s the application of this statement that makes the world of difference.

For example, most advertisers and marketers ask themselves the question:

“How can I make this advertisement convert well and accomplish our goals?” instead of “What will this audience finding intriguing and valuable?”.

Creating a great ad isn’t about creating a great ad.

People don’t read ads. When was the last time you actually clicked on banner ad? People click on what interests them.

The role of an advertiser is to create compelling content that builds brand equity and provides value to the audience they are serving.

A great ad compels the reader to take action on some sort of offer. An offer that is truly relevant to them and makes their lives better. A great ad should never feel like an ad.

Content marketing is the only marketing left.
— Seth Godin

Great advertising is like a sniper rifle. Even if your total addressable market is enormous, you can only devour a whale one bite at a time.

The Death Of Banner Advertisements

Think back to the days of early television.

Nobody really had the freedom to escape an advertisement. But more importantly, everything on TV at that point was interesting.

It was a shiny new platform.

With the absolute freedom consumers now have, nobody ever sits through a television ad. Nobody ever clicks on banner ads.

Pop up ads exist so we can see how quickly we can exit out of them.

Apple introducing ad blockers to it’s walled iOS garden is the direct result of lazy advertising and lazy marketing.

Banner Ads are making webpages obsolete on mobile.

The attention of consumers have moved to new platforms with interesting content. Snapchat, Instagram, WeChat, Medium, Facebook, & new niche platforms are emerging every day.

The insight isn’t to be advertising on these platforms (but yes, DO).

The key insight here is to be creating relevant content that grabs and the attention of the reader, keeps it, and compels them to take action on an offer.

And the offer should seldom be directly in the face of the consumer.

How can you help them do what they want to do instead of being an obstacle like it is today?

Native Advertising

& The Rise of The Full Stack Advertiser

Facebook is in the business of showing users relevant content. Sometimes, it’s an ad. In fact, Facebook makes advertisers pay more for ads that aren’t relevant.

No matter what platform you’re using to engage and market to your audience, you’re going to have to learn how to produce content for that specific context.

6 Second Videos. Infographics. Landing Pages, The whole sha-bang.

The Rise of The Full Stack Advertiser

In marketing circles, the terms “growth marketer”,“full-stack marketer”, and “content marketer” have been growing in use over the past couple of years.

These terms have emerged out of the problems of modern day marketers. Most modern day marketers and advertisers are unable to create great media content that influence, seduce, and convert. But the danger of calling all of this “content marketing” is that it implies that all you need is to produce “content”.

In reality, it’s just advertising done right.

Modern day advertisers need to be able to SELL and be able to CREATE in relevant technical mediums in compelling ways.

What businesses today really need are Advertisers that have the ability to create in modern day mediums.

They need to be able to build static pages for readers to land to, edit video on the fly for Facebook video, & write copy on Instagram captions that compel the reader to click on the link in your bio.

No matter what the medium is, the idea is the same:

People Read What Interests Them.

Sometimes, it’s an Ad.

What Can We Take Away?

  1. The key to creating a great ads is deeply understanding what makes the audience tick in a medium they are paying disproportionate attention to.
  2. Study Old-School Advertisers. They can articulate clearly what makes and keeps people interested, and how you can get people to take action.
  3. Remember: Good content doesn’t produce results. Great content produces good results. Phenomenal content produces great results.

The Socrates of San Fransisco died early in 1969.

“To explain responsibility to advertising men is like trying to convince an eight-year-old that sexual intercourse is more fun than a chocolate ice cream cone.”
- Howard Gossage

Howard Gossage can’t save today’s advertising industry from itself.

But, just maybe, we can help make it an industry finally worth pursuing.

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