When I was young, I had a stack of comics several feet high, mainly American as most comics were then: cowboys, detectives, soldiers, explosions, fights.
(Think of Roy Lichtenstein’s pop art paintings in the Tate gallery.)
In Barking, there was a big indoor market with a large, second-hand book stall.
At one end was the comic section, you could sort through piles of them, usually about two or three old-pence each; I could buy ten for the cost of one new comic, they were a bit beaten-up, but that didn’t matter, I’d read them and next week sell them back for half what I paid, and buy more comics with the money.
The larger part of the stall was always crowded with grownups buying second-hand books.
The curious thing is, there was a big public library in Barking and of course that was free, but hardly anyone ever went into the library.
The question for us is: why would people pay money for books they could get for free?
There’s a lot of learning for us in the answer to that question.
The library was free but it was formal, it felt like you had to wear a suit and tie to go in it.
There were signs everywhere saying SILENCE, books were rigidly stamped, there was a penalty for lateness.
All the books were lined up in rows, they all looked identical like troops on parade, they were all hardback with no pictures on the covers.
The entire atmosphere of the library was designed to put ordinary people off, like being interviewed for a job in the Civil Service or a bank.
So no one went into the library, except academics or intellectuals, people who weren’t seduced by the same things as normal people.
Normal people liked the colourful fun of the second-hand book stall, everything was paperbacks, the covers were exciting, designed to make you want to read it, like a movie poster, it was welcoming instead of off-putting.
The exact same books, the same words arranged in the same order, were available inside the library for free, but there was no attempt to appeal to the audience.
This was fine for people who had been to university and were used to libraries.
But libraries were designed to exclude the hoi-polloi in case we spoiled their precious books with our dirty hands.
Whereas, at the second-hand book-stall the books weren’t precious, they were dog-eared and used, so it wasn’t off-putting and, as you’d bought it, if you dirtied it, it didn’t matter.
As we grow, we are conditioned by our upbringing.
People I know who went to university, love to keep their hardback books pristine, and they use bookmarks to keep them in perfect condition.
I prefer a dog-eared paperback that fits in my jeans back-pocket and can go on the tube, the park, Starbucks, the pub; I like my books to look like I’ve had a fight with them, not like they’re dressed for a formal reception.
The learning is, when you’re doings ads, it depends who your audience is.
Some people like acres of long, beautifully written, witty, erudite copy.
Copy that rewards careful attention, and involvement, and respect.
Copy that you need to sit down and quietly read with a glass of sherry.
Some people, like me, want their ads bold, and garish and crude.
Ads that work as you drive by them, or even when your back’s turned to the telly.
Like second-hand book stalls versus libraries, it depends who your audience is.
You wouldn’t do my kind of mass-market advertising for Audemars Piguet watches.
And you wouldn’t do thoughtful, long-copy ads for motorway posters.
You wouldn’t enter Garry Kasparov in a boxing match, and you wouldn’t expect Dame Darcy Bussell to win the Snooker Masters tournament.