I learned a lot from my first advertising class, not at the time but later on.
We were being taught by two guys from Madison Avenue: Ken Charoff from Doyle Dane and Jay Wolff from DKG, both really good agencies.
They wanted us to launch WaterPik, it was a brand new device back then.
Instead of flossing your teeth, you filled WaterPik with water and plugged it in, then it electrically pulsed a jet of water between your teeth.
We didn’t have a brief, we were supposed to work it out for ourselves.
I’d never done an ad before, so I sat in my apartment at the kitchen table thinking about it.
I only had my intuition to go by, so I did two ads.
I was fascinated by how accurate the WaterPik was, I wanted to represent that so I had a visual of it looming powerfully towards camera and the headline: THE SNIPER.
Next, I thought it’s interesting that it removes food particles brushing won’t.
So I did an all-type ad with the headline: YOUR TEETH ARE ROTTING RIGHT NOW.
In the copy, I’d explain that if you didn’t use a WaterPik the particles left behind would be causing tooth-decay even as you read the ad.
When I went to class, we all put our ads up on the wall.
When they came to my ads, Ken said, “One of these ads is shit and one’s great, you know the difference, right?”
I thought I knew the difference, I thought the one with the strong visual must be the better ad because the other ad was just boring type.
But Jay tore down the one that said THE SNIPER and said “This one’s shit”, and he pointed to YOUR TEETH ARE ROTTING RIGHT NOW, and said “This one’s great, you know that right?” and that was all the crit I got.
Now I was really confused, the ad I thought had a strong visual was shit, and the ad I thought was just boring type was really good.
I left the class still none-the-wiser about why one ad was good and one ad was bad, so I had no real clue as to how advertising worked.
Luckily, the next guy who taught me was Mike Tesch from Carl Ally Inc.
Mike didn’t do ads by feeling, Mike did ads by logic.
And that’s how you teach people, teaching them logic is giving them the tools to work out why one ad is right and one ad is wrong.
Mike didn’t do it by gut-feeling as Ken and Jay had, just telling me what’s right and wrong and hope I’d eventually get it.
Mike took the time to teach me how an ad worked, like lifting up the bonnet of a car and showing me which bit did what.
Ken and Jay instinctively knew a good ad, but they couldn’t teach it, all they could do was tell you and hope you eventually got it.
Mike would start from the bottom up: what market were we in, what job was the ad supposed to do, who was it talking to, what was the competition, why should anyone care?
Mike would use logic to build up to the actual ad, so that the structure was sound.
I went back to look at those two ads I did for Ken and Jay, I took them apart the way Mike taught me, and it made much more sense.
You should always start by looking at the problem: we were launching a product so we’re talking to triallists, why should they be interested?
THE SNIPER doesn’t tell you what the product does, it doesn’t mention teeth, it doesn’t say why you should use it, it doesn’t say what it’s better than, it makes no sense as a launch ad.
As WaterPik is expensive, you’re obviously talking to people who already care about their teeth, brushing and flossing is the competition, so what does this do that they’re not doing at present?
The answer is it will remove more food-debris than brushing or flossing, debris that could cause decay throughout the day while you’re unaware.
So the line: YOUR TEETH ARE ROTTING RIGHT NOW speaks to that audience.
It explains why they should care, the benefits over the competition, it justifies the cost.
That’s why one ad was good and one ad was bad.
Thinking logically about advertising is something most advertising teachers never learned, so they can’t pass it on to their students.
So we have a whole generation of advertising creatives that never learned logic, which is why we are where we are today.
Luckily for me I had a teacher whose start-point was logic, so that’s how I was trained.
Exactly the same way the great people thought: Bill Bernbach, John Webster, David Abbott, Ed McCabe, John Hegarty, Helmut Krone, Tony Brignul, Car Ally, George Lois, Charles Saatchi.
To rewrite the old cliche:
“Tell a man it’s a good ad and he knows for a day.
Teach him WHY it’s a good ad and he knows for life.”