Good Advertising Doesn’t Sell: A Manifesto

In this brave new world, buying equals sales.

The ad business has always been a business of great pronouncements. The bigger your pronouncement, the more sweeping your theory, the better your claim that you could move the merchandise—and the culture—better than the next ad guy. Herewith then Adweek’s regular page for admen who think they know a better way to claim the consumer’s attention and reach into his wallet or her purse.

It’s time for ad agencies to get out of the selling business.

The old selling claim—that brilliant creative work and clever media placement could convince any consumer that he or she needed a product—was always pretty shaky anyway, especially since most of that sales message went astray. It was the age of the blunderbuss instead of the laser—the ensuing reach-and-frequency Frankenstein simply created more waste and expense.

Then, we were ruled by the logic of a linear world: I’m here. I project a message to you, over there. So, you go and do something about it. Over there. Maybe. I hope. But now, linear has become nuclear. No longer at the end of the brand message, the consumer increasingly lives at the center of the brand experience: I’m over here. If you make it easy for me, I’ll buy.

A new marketing principle reveals itself: A purchase mechanism at a website, or imbedded in a digital marketing strategy, is now at least as important as the sales message. A cool message may be a supportive part of an integrated marketing approach, but it’s not on its own likely to lead to more buying.

Shoppers worldwide are using their phones to rack up purchases that will shortly surpass $100 billion annually—nearly 8 percent of the total ecommerce market. Obviously, new and cheaper technology will geometrically increase the use of phones as a primary buying mechanism. By some estimates, nearly 70 percent of decisions relating to the more than $3 trillion spent in retail were made by a shopper standing at the shelf—that’s a customer who will surely be carrying a phone.

If you’re in an industry where brand choice is made close to the point of purchase (and stop kidding yourself that you’re not in an industry where brand choice is made close to the point of purchase), you simply must have a connection to your mobile buyer.

And that relationship will be exponentially more effective if it gives him or her the incentive and the ability to purchase on the spot.

It may not be simple, but it’s obvious: Even if you can afford the luxury of a big, reach-delivering TV brand campaign, it must be integrated into a plan driving the consumer toward tangible buying actions online or in-store.

For marketers selling things in stores, the future lies in this nuclear integration of the retail experience and mobile connectivity.

Smart agencies will recognize the paradigm-shifting opportunity to do great work while helping their clients unify the shopping experience with technology at the exact moment when the buying decision is made.

Smart clients will relieve their agencies of the burden of selling.

Because, in this brave new world, selling doesn’t = sales. Buying = sales.


Jim Smith is a partner at Wong, Doody, Crandall, Wiener.