Inspiring belief. Making myths. For precious few brands it’s a Godsend.

November 11, 2008

images-11The Gods of Advertising are stingy!

I recently guest lectured at Depaul University about myth making in advertising. I’ve been captivated by the topic for years, ever since I experienced, first hand, a “curiously strong” myth of my own. With the Altoids campaign, we created a brand story far more powerful than any rational messaging ever could. After that, mere copywriting was no longer enough. Trying to find the “curious strength” for every client became my job. It’s difficult but that was the mandate.

People are no longer moved by a product’s “unique selling proposition” or USP. And they haven’t been for years. Facts alone don’t move products like they used to. Probably because facts don’t move people like they used to. We’ve wizened up to the come-ons and bullet points. We’re either bored by them or cynical. And the more saturated the marketplace the more indifferent we become. If people want facts about something they Google it.

In my view, to be truly great, advertising must inspire belief. More than just get people to buy something, advertising must get people to buy into something: a belief about the goods or services that transcend its practical use.

This is hardly a new theory. Most of my peers have been extolling similar notions for years. Remember when ad folk tossed around the word “branding?” A bad word now (sort of like “awareness”), agencies used to flaunt their amazing ability to build brands. They weren’t wrong. Unfortunately, it was and is easier said than done. Especially when clients are impatient for results.

Still, it’s amazing how few advertisers get it right. Apple. Nike. Name five others. At my agency Potbelly Sandwich Works has a cult-like following, albeit mostly regional. And if we’re lucky and wise, Effen Vodka could get there. They have magic in their DNA. I’ve gone on about Canadian Club’s marvelous print campaign from Energy BBDO. Can their “Damn right” myth grab a hold of America’s men? The Minicooper campaign was on its way, though lately it seems to have driven off course. Regardless, these are tiny, tiny examples. And highly debatable.

Where are the Zeus-like creations of modern marketing? Not just the big ones. The mythic!


7 Responses to “Inspiring belief. Making myths. For precious few brands it’s a Godsend.”

  1. SRP said

    Robert Leung inadvertently posted this comment on bio portion of blog. I had to move it here so others could read:

    Just read the blog. Advertising as religion. I see from whence the idea for your book arose. It now seems such a logical extension. I agree. USP is not enough. I have always believed that people make all decisions based on emotion then rationalize their decisions after the fact with logic. That being true, belief and inspiration, and I would add feeling, are critical components. I use to talk about learning about a clients product required immersing oneself in their culture. Drinking the Kool-aid so to speak. It is like learning a new religion each time. It’s hard to thrive if you’re a non-believer. Our industry ne the world needs hope and inspiration. This is obviously why we had the historic results we have had in this last election. Advertising has played a big role in regenerating hope and change in this country. It would be nice if we believe it too. I think your book is a step in that direction. It has already helped change my perception of what we do, and what we can do. Thank you.

  2. Voice of Reason said

    “Branding” is still the right idea. it’s out of fashion for various dumbass reasons. clients better figure it out or we’ll all be “saved by zero.”

  3. Brendan said

    What about Starbucks?
    They are an out and out addiction for many people.

  4. Steffan, as I’ve told you before, I’m in complete agreement with you on this issue.

    Humanity maintains a peculiar delusion that we make decisions based on fact and rationality. And that what we perceive as reality is “true.”

    Everything we believe is true is constructed by compelling storytelling and symbolism that tugs at our instincts and our heartstrings. Of course, there may be a few scientifically-proven “facts” thrown in there but that is the exception and not the rule.

    At its best, advertising uses the same methods that build successful mythologies, religions, cults, political parties, belief systems, and models of the universe.

    The reason why I enjoy this business so much is because at its best, it taps into the same creative spirit that drives all human evolution.

    Conversely, I feel our biggest challenges come from those who feel it’s their duty to yank all the spirit out of our work.

    Let’s keep dreaming. Mark

  5. Andy Webb said


    You might dig this quote from inner space explorer John Lilly:

    Within the province of the mind, what I believe to be true is true or becomes true, within the limits to be found experientially or experimentally. These limits are further beliefs to be transcended.

  6. SRP said

    That’s officially the heaviest quote to grace my blog.
    Well done!

  7. Andy-

    Dr. Lilly was a good guy, thanks for the quote.

    I wonder what concepting in an isolation tank would be like?

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