Someone recently said to me, “Advertising is simple, it’s just about selling more stuff.”

Well for me that’s a bit like saying, “Shakespeare’s job was simple. It was just about writing great plays.”

Or, “Napoleon’s job was simple. It was just about winning battles.”

Or, “Ferguson’s job is simple. It’s just about winning more games.”

I think we can assume that.

I don’t think that’s an insight.

I think most people in advertising can agree on that.

What most people struggle with, is how.

Or when.

Or where.

Or to who.

Or even why.

Because there isn’t a simple answer that works for everything, everywhere, always.

For instance, is your product an FMCG, or a consumer durable?

The rules are very different.

FMCG stands for ‘Fast Moving Consumer Goods’.

Pretty much everything you see on the shelves at the supermarket.

They’re called fast moving because they have to replaced regularly.

Sometimes, like confectionary, you use it once and it’s gone.

They’re usually comparatively cheap.

So you don’t spend ages thinking about the purchase decision.

It’s much more right brain: emotion.

Do you fancy it?

Yup, fair enough.

It’ll probably cost under £1.

So you buy it and try it.

If you like it you buy another one tomorrow.

If you don’t, no big deal, try something else.

You don’t need to think about it too much.

It’s usually about short-term sensory enjoyment.

So branding is much more important than product performance.

No one really cares if the flavour lasts 12% longer.

Or it’s got 7% more bubbles.

Or it’s easier to grip, convenient to use, and comes in a resealable container.

You’re buying a brief period of sensory enjoyment.

A taste, a feeling, an emotion.

But a consumer durable may be exactly the opposite.

Durable means it’s going to last a long time.

So you need to choose the right one.

And it’s probably a lot more expensive.

Like a car.

Or a washing machine.

Or a TV.

If you make the wrong decision it costs considerably more than £1.

And you can’t just buy another one tomorrow.

So that’s very different to an FMCG.

Britain’s car industry died because the people running it thought it was ‘just about selling stuff’.

So they made the cars cheaper and cheaper.

They were chasing volume.

Eventually they were only making about £50 per unit profit.

Mercedes meanwhile were all about build-quality.

So they could sell fewer cars for more money.

They were making around £1,000 profit per unit.

Which meant, to make the same profit as a single Mercedes, British Leyland needed to sell 20 cars.

Not a sound business model.

So again, it wasn’t just about selling stuff.

But sometimes it is.

Take newspapers.

In order to take sales away from The Mirror, Murdoch cut the price of The Sun to 20p.

Then he cut it to 10p.

Isn’t that the same thinking that put British Leyland out of business?

Chasing volume.

Well not quite.

The Sun is similar to an FMCG.

British Leyland was a consumer-durable.

Very different markets.

With a paper you’re building trial, which should turn into a daily habit.

With a car it’s one sale, one profit, finish.

Repeat purchase won’t happen for years.

Plus which, something else Murdoch was the first to spot.

Newspapers have advertising.

The more readers he could claim, the more he could sell the advertising space for.

That’s how the daily free sheets work nowadays.

And that’s what Murdoch did.

Build up the circulation by charging less for the product.

So he could charge more for the advertising.

The model that would kill off a consumer durable works well for a newspaper.

And there’s another interesting area.

Distress purchases: things that you don’t want to buy but you have to.

Like insurance: car, medical, travel, house, pet, etc.

Or electricity, or gas.

Or credit cards.

Things where product performance may be more important than brand image.

Sometimes the answer may not even be in the product.

It may be in the customer.

Take mobile phones.

If you’re selling to a teenage boy he wants something very different to a businessman.

A young girl wants something very different to a housewife.

Sometimes we can find the answer by looking at the consumer a different way.

Sometimes by looking at the product, and what it does, a different way.

Sometimes by looking at the brand a different way.

Sometimes by looking at the entire market in a different way.

Spot the common link.

We can’t go on autopilot.

We have to be prepared to think differently each time.

And we won’t do that by approaching each problem the same way.

So it’s true, “Advertising is simple. It’s just about selling more stuff.”

But that doesn’t really help us much.

The question is how.