Whose job is it to sell?


“Advertising isn’t a science its persuasion. And persuasion is an art.” Bill Bernbach, co-founder of DDB and creator of the legendary VW campaign

A planner asked me recently who Bill Bernbach was.
I said that “he invented modern advertising and the fact that you don’t know who he is should be regarded as a fireable offence”.

A planner asked me recently who Bill Bernbach was.
I said that “he invented advertising and the fact that you don’t know who he is should be a fireable offence”.
Of course this version of events isn’t quite right but along with David Ogilvy he certainly pioneered the discipline of creative persuasion – a form of salesmanship, yes salesmanship – that I am worried is being lost.
Few people in advertising really want to sell any more, least of all the creatives who used to be at the heart of the process.
Creatives have been progressively deskilled in the art of creative persuasion.
And we did it. Planners took away the role that creatives had in thinking about how a product or brand should be sold to consumers and left them to do the colouring in, or rather to dramatise other peoples’ selling ideas. Planning killed the selling instinct of the creative salespeople in advertising. Or maybe planners became the creative salespeople in advertising.
Or maybe they deskilled the creatives and didn’t properly fill their empty boots but instead minced around claiming to be the voice of the consumer or worse some kind of inspiration tool for creative teams.
So I am suggesting both a new role for planners and a new role for creatives. As you have come to expect its an extreme point of view designed to provoke you lot.
I think that planners (or half decent planners) are the natural airs to the legacy of Bernbach, Ogilvy and Abbott not the creatives. It is their job to devise a brand’s sales promise to the consumer and to prove the brands delivery against this promise. It is the planner’s role to be the salesperson. The planner is tasked with effectiveness.
This frees creatives up to present the promise and the proof in the most compelling way possible. The role that creativity plays is as the media multiplier that converts £X of ad spend into £Y of effect through attention, engagement, transference of meaning, memorability and desire to disseminate. In this world the creative is tasked with efficiency – getting more effect out of limited budget.
For all you delicate creative flowers out there this may sound like a mechanistic view of creativity but that is exactly the role that Juan Cabral, the Fallons creative on Sony Bravia is playing. Even though the paint on tower block ad is still in post production it has already generated far more conversations on and offline than the TV budget with ever deliver on air. That is the creative media multiplier at work. Let only hope that the planner has depth charged this work with a strong sales message.
So let’s embrace the new division of labour within the ad agency. Let’s here no more mumbling about creatives creating art not ads(being artful is their job) and lets stop planners hiding behind consumers or shooting the breeze with creatives rather than working.
Planners sell, creatives multiply.

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19 Replies to “Whose job is it to sell?”

  1. One of my favorite Bernback-isms is “Properly practiced creativity can make one ad do the work of ten.” This has never been more true and desperately needs to be applied.

  2. and who empowered planners to affect creatives in this way?
    Maybe the sponsored rhetoric of the 90s.
    I blame the acronyms, ‘groundbreaking models’ and the idiot who decided they could rewrite the advertising rule book.

  3. I saw his former creative partner speak ages ago at the D&AD. One thing that impressed me is that they actually invented the creative team. Before that art directors and copywriters sat on different floors. They did more to rewrite the advertising rulebook than most of us did in the 1990s.
    Another thing I liked was that their strategies were really much bigger than being about ‘persuasion’/’sales’/’promise’ etc.
    For instance the Mobil campaign which really made them famous was all about asking people to drive more safely.
    > the idiot who decided they could rewrite the advertising rule book
    (can I use this, I quite like it?)

  4. Was that Helmut Krone? Sometimes Bernbach gets all the credit but Krone completely revolutionised art direction – or perhaps invented advertising art direction as opposed to design. There is a post in the death of proper art direction you know – what with everyone seduced by the power of the designer to make the average look fantastic. But are we losing the skills of the conceptual art director?

  5. The joy of the Best of Bernbach is that it both sells and is art at the same time. That wonderful Beetle ad is so artistic, but it still sells.
    My magazine ad reading as a kid was brought up on ads laid out exactly like that. The large image with bar of copy; and I can still remember some great ads for the way they made me laugh or got a message across.
    I think there are plenty of creatives who are good at selling, but they end up stuck in more serious agencies making dull campaigns with bad planing. The planning has to be able to sell, and the planner must be able to make the creative understand the selling process. Its teamwork above all else.

  6. Did anyone see the Robert Brownjohn exhibition at the Design Museum last year? Time and time again I saw really powerful examples of the art of selling.
    The sort of things, you might actually want to stick on your wall, not because they were simply beautiful, but because they carried meaning. We do seem to have lost (or are) losing something.

  7. Good god – I go on holiday for a couple of weeks and come back and Richard is creating some of the best debate outside of our illustrious trade organs (ooeer missus…) I have come across for eons (love the non-specifity of ‘eons’).
    Good on you sir – hopefully I might even have something worthwhile to contribute! If you think Krone was good BTW – have you checked out George Lois’s canon? Worth a look Richard ;-)

  8. I’ve been thinking small ever since I was a little boy. That’s a Lupo ad kids!
    VW is the best client I ever lived, fought argued and hugged with. You know who you are Joe. Love ya.
    Lived is not a metaphor in this instance.

  9. “he invented modern advertising and the fact that you don’t know who he is should be regarded as a fireable offence” very true.
    Perhaps agencies should teach ad history?

  10. Why ‘selling’ became a dirty word in advertising, is beyond me – maybe too many creatives think it can only be done by featuring day-glo coloured starbursts or a shouting voice-over. The creatives that think this, need to be shot – hell even a down ‘n’ dirty retail campaign can be wonderful, look at Tesco’s for example.
    Saying that, Planners have a major role in helping create work that sells because they have to discover and express insights that actually MOTIVATES A CONSUMER ACTION – and that ‘ain’t just bloody birds in bikinis / blokes with their shirts off / price point.
    I think it was you that said there are no bad briefs, and while I don’t totally agree with that [try working in Asia, ha] there is always an interesting ‘motivation’ insight which not only will lead to truly interesting and differentiated work [if you have that other key planning trait, imagination] but something that actually motivates consumers to act in our clients best interests. [ie: help achieve their business goals]
    David Ogilvy once said too many creatives want to hear the ringing of applause rather than the ringing of cash registers and not only is this true of many planners [and the odd client] but the daft thing is you can actually achieve both if you are willing to look hard enough and imagine cleverly enough.
    Oh and to the guy who asked about Mr DDB – WHAT WAS HE THINKING?
    When did selling become a dirty word? When [1] companies stopped giving us time to find out what made people tick [2] when people started being too lazy to care what made people tick and [3] when advertising started banging on about awareness being a valid ‘business achievement’
    Thank you and ahem, goodnight.

  11. Oh … and I also believe planners have a role to play in helping sell the creative work. I might now be an old fart, but as far as I’m concerned, we’re all in this together and my job doesn’t stop when the brief [with motivating insight] has been written … that’s when it actually bloody starts.
    We’re the hardest working people in advertising … hahaha, that should stir up shit – especially with the colleagues I have in the company.

  12. PS:: Regarding the main theme of your post Richard, as a planner I see myself in a clear and crystal role – the one of the “facilitator”. Facilitator of insights, of ideas, of information, of ruminations … of time. Especially that, creatives earn time with your work.

  13. Facilitator? Yeah … I agree with that to a point … but sometimes facilitating is just to nicey-nicey in making things move forward so we have to be hard bastards – stop people just be happy flirting around the edges and make something powerful and amazing happen.
    But then that could be just me. I do look like a complete thug.

  14. Bernbach was a great planner – in a way.
    His greatest art director, Helmut Krone (auteur of the ad, ‘Think small.’ above) was an even greater one. If you want a great read on Bernbach, Bernbach vs Ogilvy, the birth of planning, the creative revolution generally, the birth of full-stops in headlines,etc., etc., try ‘Helmut Krone. The book.’ Little known – tho’ it’s been out a year.
    Too good to miss.

  15. Absolutely top choice. It is one of the books that I keep by my side and you’ll find a link in that category in the sidebar and in the adliterate book store. Expensive but the your worth it

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