One of my most-valued books is called Is There Any Hope For Advertising, by Howard Gossage. You can find it in the Book of Gossage. It’s out of print but well worth getting your hands on.
Gossage ran an ad agency in San Francisco in the 1960’s. He is famous for the indirect approach of his ads, and his interactive use of coupons to measure engagement.
How, for example, do you promote a brand of gasoline who has nothing intrinsically better about the gasoline they sell than anyone else?
Well you start off by saying that. This is the first ad in the series.
Notice the copy starts: “The oil companies are already adding additives to additives in their efforts to win motorists’ favour in this highly competitive field. They have added extra ingredients to everything associated with an automobile except the air that goes in the tires”.
Gossage knew there wasn’t anything different about the gasoline itself, so he created the spoof additive ‘pink air’.
Notice also that while the ads barely mention gasoline, each ad signs off “so the next time you see a Fina station you’ll recognize it. And if it’s on your side and you don’t have to make a U-turn and there aren’t six cars waiting and you need gas or something, please pop in.”
The ad series continues:
Here Gossage is illustrating that Fina is a trusted national brand, with filling stations right across the United States. (Don’t be misled by the pink air, that isn’t the point of the ad!)
The next ad looked like this:
At first glance you might think this approach is somewhat silly, but it turned out to be novel and interactive to an American audience who desperately wanted to be entertained. Notice this ad also includes a coupon so engagement could be measured.
Once the pink air theme had run its course Gossage moved on to pink asphalt:
What we are looking at here is an early autoresponder series, where the ad leads you in to the message with a flamboyant story. Gossage would write one ad at a time, measure the impact and go from there.
This is exactly what modern email marketing tools like Infusionsoft allow you to do. Create a few emails at a time, measure the impact, and go from there.
Don’t be mistaken though, the message is still present and very deliberate.
This is exactly what I teach with my story-telling work. We aren’t telling stories to merely distract or entertain. We use stories to take a less obvious, more intriguing approach to getting our message across.
Howard Gossage bemoaned the state of advertising in 1967, and he would bemoan the state of advertising today if he too tried to watch the French Open on ITV4.
There are always creative ways to get entertainment into your messages, and entertainment is what gets people’s attention.