101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising by Bob Hoffman

101 Ideas About Advertising

RATING: 8/10
A complement to the Ad Contrarian. The basic philosophy of this book: We don’t get them to try our product by convincing them to love our brand. We get them to love our brand by convincing them to try our product.” Nuff said.

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And so we have created an ongoing hysteria-fest called The Thing That Will Change Everything. The object is to keep marketers in a constant state of anxiety about the future. The more we can convince them that everything is changing around them — and they need us to interpret the changes — the longer we stay employed.

No matter how complex a marketing or advertising problem seems to be; no matter how much research has been done; no matter how many conflicting opinions there are; no matter how many account planning insights have been concocted; no matter how many decks have been written and Powerpoint presentations have been made, remember what Uncle Albert said — the correct idea, when found, will be simple.

In order to sell great work, you must do everything in your power to avoid The Big Show. You must avoid the conference room. You must avoid pastries and agendas.

The best creative work happens when the real decision maker and the real creative leader have a good relationship and work closely together. The worst creative work is always the result of layers of people supervising layers of people.

The web has turned us all into liars. We pretend the web has opened up huge new advertising opportunities when we secretly know that, aside from search, it has mostly been a disappointment as an advertising medium. We cling to the few big successes and argue from the extreme. We pretend we know how to do it all, but we don’t. We pretend to be “media neutral” but secretly are either broadcast-centric, print-centric, or web-centric.


Specialize: Go against the grain. Every agency is trying to convince clients that they can do it all. Instead, be an agency that does only one thing really well. Specialize in retail, or become expert in marketing to Mid-Westerners, or only work on luxury brands, or only do creative work. Find something you can be famous for.

Get small and do it yourself: The economics of the ad industry are going to hell. It’s hard to make money. Soon big agencies may realize they can be more profitable by outsourcing to smaller, nimbler entities. Become a small, nimble entity. Have your own clients and do contract work for BDA’s.

Confederate: Form a confederated brand with other small, nimble entities. One does strategy. One does creative. One does media planning. One does promotions. You are independent, but you work cooperatively. You provide clients with a single service or a suite of services.

Something completely different: This is the most likely answer. The next model for the ad business is likely to be something we haven’t even thought of.

Creativity is very important in advertising. Strategy is very important in advertising. But, I’m sorry people, there is something much simpler and much more basic that is more important in producing persuasive ad copy. It’s this: Be specific. 


-There are a lot of good Italian restaurants in my neighborhood. But I go to one regularly because I love the bread.

-My favorite pair of sneakers aren’t the ones that look the nicest or absorb shock the best. They’re the ones that are the widest.

-My favorite recording isn’t of the best song I ever heard, or have best vocal I ever heard, but it does have my favorite sax solo.

Many have thought that the bigger and more ambiguous the promise, the bigger the payoff. It is usually the opposite. The more specific the promise, the more salient the proposition. 

Creativity is unrelated to strategy. Let me say that again — creativity is unrelated to strategy.

Creativity is what happens after the strategy is done. Creativity is the process that transforms a strategy into a terrific ad. Or, more commonly, the absence of creativity is what transforms a strategy into a smelly turd.

Great creative people are smarter than us. They will challenge everything we say, they will scoff at the pathetic strategies we come up with, and they will make trouble and annoy the shit out of us. They will also — under the right circumstances — make us rich and famous.

I’ll bet if you hooked people up to an emote-o-tron and measured responses, you’d find as much emotional response to “15 minutes can save you 15%” as you would to grandma baking cookies.

 It is true that humans are not logic machines. But, remember, emotion is a response. Not a stimulus.

It is never a good idea to try to be the second best Anything. It is far more compelling to be the best Something. 

Comedy is a funny thing. It’s easy to be funny over lunch. It’s very hard to be funny standing up in front of a hundred people. It’s the same in advertising. It’s easy to have a funny idea. It’s very hard to make a funny spot.

People spend money to acquire things they think will make them feel good. 

Apple Store Policies:

“…A look at confidential training manuals, a recording of a store meeting and interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees reveal some of Apple’s store secrets. They include: intensive control of how employees interact with customers, scripted training for on-site tech support…and anyone caught writing about the Cupertino, Calif., company on the Internet is fired…”


– Apple spends a ton of money on traditional advertising, in particular TV and outdoor.

– Apple’s advertising looks much the same as it did 10 years ago. Apple’s advertising is always product focused. The product itself is usually smack dab in the middle of the page or screen. There is never any “lifestyle” or “branding” nonsense.

– From what I can see, Apple spends next to nothing on social media and almost all their online ad budget on something that actually works — search.

– Apple’s “engagement” strategy with customers is not built around dopey online gimmicks but with well-controlled, tightly managed, face-to-face communication between people and customers.

– Apple fires those who engage in online “conversations” about the brand.


“There is a huge problem in America where the people making decisions, who grew up in comfortable homes, went to expensive colleges and landed relatively plush jobs, think that the Average American is just like them. It just isn’t true but this mindset frames enormous decisions in many industries including media.”

-So, please, do yourself a favor. Go to your nearest non-leafy DMV and spend an hour. And see if you come away still thinking that America is on line having “conversations about brands.”

I think people will do anything to avoid boredom — they’ll jump out of airplanes, they’ll wrestle alligators, they’ll go to social media conferences.

Having a social media marketing strategy is a good thing. But if your strategy is contingent on the idea that consumers want to have a conversation with you, create a relationship with your company and engage with your brand, you may be living in a dream world.

If you want to avoid the digital dream world, build your strategy on a foundation of reality. Give people an interesting way to connect with each other, and then give them something for nothing. It’s not all that complicated. But just like the last time around, the lesson the ad industry is resolutely committed to not learning is that in the digital world people are passionate about interacting with each other. Not ads. Not brands. Not you. Not me.

So far, there has been one type of online advertising that has been a clear and unqualified success: search. But search is limited. Mostly, we use search once we have already decided to buy, much like we used the Yellow Pages. Search fulfills demand; it doesn’t create demand.


As a result of my research project, I have come to the conclusion that what consumers rely on mostly is their own freakin’ experience. Can it be that the personal experience of enjoying a product is even more powerful than the triumphant voices of all the twittering “like-minded consumers, journalists, and objective reviewers?” Can it be that we’re not all slaves to what others “like?”

And that’s where copywriters come in.

The job of the copywriter is to persuade us to experience a product. It’s a job that requires a good deal of artistry, finesse, and tact — characteristics rarely encountered in the silly jabber of web zealots. 


There is a lot to life beyond the computer screen. There is food and music and art and friendship and talking and laughing and flowers and sports and, as you say, an argument down at the pub. To say that the internet changed everything is simply an alarming assertion for an intelligent person to make. You are spending way too much time in front of a computer screen.

Tinkering with “the brand” is so much more pleasant than fixing the problems. But, unfortunately, after the money is spent and the naval-gazing brand babblers have gone home, someone still has to sweep the floor and paint the walls.


The most powerful force in marketing is not price, quality, distribution, advertising, or branding — it’s the resistance to change. 

We want to engage consumers. We want to have conversations with consumers. We want to have relationships with consumers. And in the process, we have forgotten the essential purpose of advertising — to persuade consumers. 

You don’t sell someone something by engagement, conversation and relationship. You create engagement, conversation and relationships by selling them something.

You have to realize that successful brands are by-products. They don’t come about by “branding.” They come about by doing lots of other things well. Like making great products; satisfying our customers; differentiating our products in advertising.

As far as we’re concerned, the philosophical underpinnings of a virtuous life can be summed up very briefly — do it and shut the fuck up. 


Top-down branding works in a few categories — fashion, soda, booze, cigarets and some luxury goods.

In fact, about 95% of the stuff we buy is not fashion, soda, booze, cigarets or luxury goods. It’s mayonnaise and toothbrushes and shower curtains and socks.

We don’t get them to try our product by convincing them to love our brand. We get them to love our brand by convincing them to try our product.


Social scientists, on the other hand, are completely unreliable. They use the language and trappings of science, but their studies usually produce opinions, not facts. Consequently, I believe experts in the physical sciences really are experts, while “experts” in the social sciences are frequently just people with credentials and noisy beliefs.


So you needn’t bother telling them that your product works better, or is cheaper, or looks nicer. That’s just a sign of failure. It’s just a sign that your relationship is failing.

These new humans live in a wonderful world. It’s a world in which their minds are free to evaluate the relationships they have with all these companies. They don’t have to worry about their jobs, or their children, or how they’re going to pay the mortgage.

They don’t need to wash their bath tubs, or have mammograms, or go to work, or apply for loans, or bail their kids out of juvenile hall, or fold the laundry, or take their parents to the doctor, or vacuum, or make dinner.

“We must create content that changes the world.” 

-How about creating content that sells some shit. Wanna change the world? Join the fucking U.N.

Baby boomers dominate 94% of all consumer packaged goods categories. 5% of advertising is aimed at them.

SARCASM on USING SWEAR WORDS IN WRITING: The ability to express complex concepts in a censorship-free environment is what makes the web great.


The advertising press is like that. They think every ad has a significant social context. So if the economy is lousy, they suddenly notice that there are price ads in the world. If times are good, they brilliantly perceive that luxury goods are for sale.

DO SHIT: Justification has become the business. Ads have become the by-product.

I once asked marketing icon Jack Trout how much of his success was due to his process and how much to inspiration. He said 95% inspiration.