An Uppercut from ’38

The W.E. Long Company used a newsletter to communicate in the 1930’s to their associates called THE ROUND TABLE. In a 1938 issue that happened across my desk awhile back, an article was published “In Other Words…Pictures,” which talked about outdoor advertising being like a prize fight.

After reading it, I thought I’d review some of the highlights of this piece. Because what they say about outdoor advertising, in fact, has unbelievable relevance in today’s age of digital communications.

For example, the article pointed out that “a one-punch fighter might win in one round or more often, miss completely and get knocked out himself. The best fighters win on points.”

This is the argument for frequency in advertising and in communications itself. While you can get a knockout with an award-winning campaign, how many Volkswagens were sold because of a little boy in a Darth Vader costume in 2011? Do you even remember that was the campaign? Experts tell us the average human attention span decreased by almost 25% from 2000 to 2015. What do you think it is today?

Great brands go for advertising with frequency AND continuity. Or, as Thomas Denton wrote in the 1938 article, “Giving and taking, they (brands) carefully protect themselves from lasting injury…A top notcher piles up scores in every round.”

Why should I think anyone from 1938 is relevant today?

At a recent alumni event, I sat with my wife at a table. There were three other men also at the table. We got into a discussion about jobs as everyone does. I asked as I always do, “Are you happy doing what you’re doing?”

The young man sitting on my left said, “What does happiness have to do with it?”

I said, “Well, Aristotle said that is the goal of all human behavior – to be happy.”

The young man gave me a look of disbelief. “Why would you read someone who is 2,000 years old?”

I paused also in disbelief, and said, “Well, because he stood the test of time. His thoughts pretty much were the foundation for civilization for almost 1500 years after he put them down, so I would say we should all have an idea what he said. Even if some of his stuff is far out and has been proven wrong, he actually teaches you to think straight.”

I don’t think he believed me.

I was probably one of the oldest people there. But his question about Aristotle made me think, and as Camus said, it’s not the soundness of the argument but for it to make you think that counts.

Why Read Anything,  even Aristotle?

What Are You Reading fir? was my blog I published that continues to get good readership on our website. I probably should have directed the young man to it, but his question was specific to Aristotle.

The same argument for reading Aristotle applies to reading newsletters from 1938: for the argument to make you think! So let’s review some of the other tidbits Mr. Denton pointed out that make so much sense today (perhaps more than ever as we try to break through the clutter). Hopefully, they will make you think!

1. “Since the prospect is away from a phone, and away from a store, the outdoor advertising message must be remembered…must throw its punch in a flash –must be strong enough to make an impression.” Do you wonder about the growth of mobile? When you look at your phone, isn’t that a mobile “outdoor” message you are consuming?

That mobile device we carry connects us constantly to the outside world. We are bombarded by messages each minute. According to experts, the average US smartphone user spends around 26 minutes per day texting. And, 1 in 5 smartphone users spends upwards of 4.5 hours on average on their phones every day.

What Denton said about outdoor advertising is completely relevant today about CONTENT, period. Standing out takes frequency, impact and continuity. When Denton says “the picture and copy line must be delivered with a real ‘sock,’ quickly, imperatively, definitely,” isn’t that true of any communication? Think about the useless subject lines in emails you receive each week!

To break through clutter, you have to be different – not just different for being different sake – but truly unique. A little Vader is cute, but do sales rise because the force is with you – or him?

2. “Both the first round and the last round in the advertising battle are fought wherever the purchase is made.”
Today, that’s online! Who can doubt the importance of today’s e-commerce websites, the first and final rounds of an increasing number of purchases (Vangelis Kotselas wrote a nice piece for CEO World called “The impact of e-commerce on business.”)

But, what about the “considered” purchase? In B2B, the purchasing channel is populated with “value-chain participants” – people who have influence, but take a lot of time and have a lot to say on what is and is not purchased. Indeed, most manufacturers in B2B still hesitate to open “stores” online (though many are moving into the parts supply arenas), for fear of disturbing their distribution channels, which flock to the web for their storefronts!

This channel confusion complicates things, but shows the relevance of CONTENT, which is the “product” on any website, e-commerced or not! You never know WHERE someone is reading, or about what, and hence, CONTENT transactions are where to put your focus. This begs the question: how good are your content transactions?

In B2B Never Sleeps (just Google “B2B Never Sleeps”) you’ll see just how important content is on your website! People are looking for solutions, reviewing you, rejecting you, and you probably are not even aware of it!

Print is Probably Dead

As a print guy most of my life, it’s hard for me to admit this. But a story from the past (not as past as 1938, but 2001) will demonstrate how print killed itself. One of our clients received a call from one of their successful sales representatives saying that they really needed to re-print the entire catalog. The problem was that we had just went over the pro forma showing that the entire catalog didn’t need to be reprinted (it was 700 pages): only one-third of it changed. Our strategy was to reprint some”chapters,” and have the rep deliver that content into the customers’ offices, open the binders, and remove and replace. However, the representative told our client that there was no way he, or the other reps, would be going into customer offices and “updating” the catalog (blowing, by the way, a perfect sales call). This “comment” was enough to convince the client to re-print the entire catalog – a significant investment.

And waste, since the sustainability movement was just kicking in!

The point of this story is that it depends on who you talk to, and you have to be talking to everyone these days! Digitally, that’s not only possible: it’s imperative if you are going to win the right.

The fight is really unlimited rounds when the fight is digital. The rounds in between the first and last round of a fight in B2B are what drive business toward the eventual sale.

Unfortunately, a company has to be everywhere and all the time, or as Denton put it: “The prospect may hear about your product through radio, read about it in the newspaper or magazine, be told about it or see outdoor posters, but the sale is made at none of these places.” Sound advice – because the website becomes, then, THE store! As a matter of fact, your website should be your single focus, with EVERYTHING driving people back to it! Because the website is the radio, newspaper, magazine, outdoor poster AND the website itself!

3. “Store advertising isn’t easy to place. There are too many people trying to do the same thing.” You would have to be living in a cave not to have heard about the battle between digital and real stores. For real stores, even today, Denton is right. UBS is now projecting between 40,000 to 50,000 retail stores in the United States closing over the next five years out of about 880,000 total retail stores that the firm tracks nationwide, excluding gas stations.

Why is that?

Probably the core reason is the way people shop. That includes whether in B2B or B2C.

In one of proprietary research studies by Accountability Information Managment, Inc., most qualitative and quantitative resondents said they purchased their product online at Amazon. Consumers did extensive research online AND offline BEFORE they purchased. Ease of Ordering and Price were the rasons to dexcribe why they ordered online.

But every manufacturer who has a website has a store! That website houses CONTENT, and content is the product that is being sold, used, created and consumed! They are “content hubs,” that offer places to “message” an audience.

So here is the question: in today’s content-rich environment, let’s re-phrase Denton’s statement to: “Website advertising is easy to place. There are many people trying to do the same thing.” The question is: what are you going to do? Continue to buy digital ads, or invest in making your own website a billboard for your products!

It’s funny how things don’t change, isn’t it?

Thanks for reading. Let us know how we can help.

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