I saw an ad I liked on TV, so I posted it on Twitter.

Mark Denton commented: ”LOVE IT, a good old-fashioned ad”.

A few people replied: “So what if it’s old-fashioned, it can still be good”.

And I realised it was a misunderstanding about what the term ‘old-fashioned’ meant.

To my and Mark’s generation (boomers) old-fashioned is a compliment, meaning: properly made, solid, how it should be done, a bit like the term ‘old skool’.

It’s the opposite of fashionable, which to us means trivial, short-term, flimsy, shallow.

But I realise many young people in advertising aspire to being fashionable simply because they think that’s what advertising requires.

They never studied the history of advertising, its foundations, what it is supposed to do, or even why it exists. So for these people, anything that was around before they came into advertising is old-fashioned, i.e. bad.

It’s not their fault, no one taught them any better.

But for my generation, old-fashioned was how the craftsmen we learned from did it (Bill Bernbach, David Abbott, John Webster) it’s classic and timeless, the proper way to do it.

An example of this is a book I’ve just read: Reality in Advertising by Rosser Reeves.

It was written in 1961 and it’s full of the lessons most people still haven’t learned.

It begins by debunking the delusion that advertising should only be judged by sales: “It’s a good campaign if sales go up. It’s a bad campaign if sales go down.”

Reeves gives an entire page of reasons that may affect sales other than advertising.

Next, he gives examples to convince us that most people don’t even notice our ads, so impact must be paramount.

He explains why changing a campaign too often is wrong and wasteful.

He explains how crucial single-mindedness is to communication.

He explains the difference between an advertisement being merely decorative or functional.

Most importantly he explains where most advertising goes wrong (and remember this was written 60 years ago).

“The fashionable, fallacious argument goes like this:

  • Advertising (not the product) must compete with a tremendous number of other advertising messages.
  • Therefore, the advertisement (not the product) must get attention.
  • Therefore a given advertisement (not the product) must be remembered.”

This explains why most people don’t know what we’re selling or why:

“There is a finite limit to what the consumer can remember about 30,000 advertised brands. They cannot remember all the advertising they see any more than they can memorise the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica”.

The answer to this is the USP, a term which (being seen as old-fashioned) is very much frowned on today.

But USP simply stands for Unique Selling Proposition, we would say point-of-difference.

He makes it clear that the USP can be rational (product) or emotional (brand) but there must be a point-of-difference.

Otherwise, it’s like running ads that say, ‘Our product or brand is exactly like everything else in the market’

And yet agencies today frown on this thinking, because it doesn’t incorporate the current vogue for heuristics, biases, aversions, rules and fallacies.

Instead of behavioural ‘science’ this book concentrates on actually selling.

Which is why young people in advertising never read books like this.

Not only were they written years ago, but they talk about selling products or brands.

And that’s just old-fashioned.