What A Poet Can Teach You About Advertising
“Promise, large promise, is the soul of an advertisement.”
If I asked you to guess when this quote was published – would you guess a year in this century? Probably you wouldn’t because you’re picking up on the context clues and know that this is a ridiculously overt trick question – but let’s just say that you DID. If so, you would be wrong. The above was said by Samuel Johnson in the year 1759. Leave it to the man who was “arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history”* to sum up the past 400 years of the advertising industry.
Dr. Samuel Johnson – getting triggered by an ad, probably. By Joshua Reynolds, Wikimedia
“Whatever is common is despised. Advertisements are now so numerous that they are very negligently perused, and it is therefore become necessary to gain attention by magnificence of promises, and by eloquence sometimes sublime and sometimes pathetick.” – Samuel Johnson, 1759
If Samuel Johnson was annoyed by the “the magnificence of promise…sometimes pathetick” back then, imagine how horrified he would be to see Pepsi, Dove Soap or Nivea in the past few months. These brands created ads with big promises that were, indeed, pretty ‘pathetick’.
Move your business forward by endeavoring to make Samuel Johnson proud. If “whatever is common is despised”, try to steer your clients or brands towards authenticity (which is in pretty short supply across the board right now).
Think of it this way: social media can amplify the good and the bad moves that brands make. Facebook and Twitter directed ire towards the brands mentioned above, but they can also shine a spotlight on companies that have senses of humor, have fun with their fans or provide excellent customer service. None of these examples have a try-too-hard ‘magnificent promise’ that could potentially backfire – but by showing “eloquence sometimes sublime,” they represent their brands and advertise all the same.
So instead of trying to overextend and possibly overreach with a big and splashy branding moment, try to get your customer service and brand voice in line with your customer’s expectations first. This will help you understand your customers better while giving you little wins that could turn into big time marketing moments on social media.
And trust me, you do not want to be a brand deserving of the sick burns of Sam Johnson:
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* Rogers, Pat (2006), “Johnson, Samuel (1709–1784)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.), Oxford University Press, retrieved 25 August 2008