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Two Great New Reads on Advertising

Of the 20 books I’ve read on advertising in the past year, two stand out as must reads for anyone involved in dealership marketing. The first is ‘Cashvertising’ by Drew Eric Whitman, published in 2009 by Career Press. Whitman has taught the psychology behind consumer response for more than 23 years. He’s worked as a consultant for Amoco, Texaco, the American Legion and other organizations.

In ‘Cashvertising’, Whitman shares 100 secrets (which really aren’t that secret) of ad psychology applicable to just about any product or service. While most of the ‘secrets’ are really just restatements of age-old theorems, some of the ideas bear repeating. My favorite: “Many ad professionals aim to be clever, rather than focusing on their true purpose: to sell.” Some of the ad agencies with the most awards on their walls have the highest client turnover. It’s okay to be cute, funny and clever but you can’t put cute, funny and clever on your bank deposit slip.

One of Whitman’s best points: “If people don’t believe what you say about your product, they won’t buy it. Testimonials and endorsements help build credibility.” Amen, Amen, Amen. In research across every generational segment, testimonials and word of mouth of satisfied customers are the most powerful motivators a marketer can have in their toolbox. In our company, which has a fairly broad demographic representation, we have a ‘team’ email address that goes to all members of our team. Frequently I see email inquiries for recommendations for: ‘best place to eat’, ‘best place to have car serviced’, ‘best place to buy a TV,’ etc.

Whitman suggests every proposed ad be examined to see how well it answers the customers’ implicit question: “What’s in it for me.” Ads that don’t focus on specific customer benefits fall flat on both recall and reaction. Those benefits aren’t limited to the here and now, consumers will buy something if it promises them great returns in the future. ( Warranty? Future trade value? )

Another ‘secret’ Whitman shares in ‘Cashvertising’ runs contrary to the ‘award seeker’ mentality. Ads that appeal to people’s rationality have a longer-lasting effect on purchasing patterns than those ads that influence with pleasant images and associations. Consumers must be able to rationalize the benefits, especially in the case of a major purchase such as an automobile.

In 208 pages, Drew Whitman delivers an easy and interesting read on the foundational principles of consumer psychology as it relates to advertising. You’ll find out what ‘ego-morphing’ is all about. Find out that people still are ‘sheep’ with the ‘bandwagon effect’ that draws consumers to groups that share their values and ideals and status. And you’ll learn more about marketing ‘triggers’ that psychological consultants have been employing for over 100 years.

My second recommended Advertising read is a slightly larger book (256 pages) by Martin Lindstrom titled ‘Buyology’, published by Broadway Business (Random House) in 2008. For psychology students like myself, ‘Buyology’ is a fascinating read on the science of subconscious, emotional and sometimes irrational purchase decisions we often make without really understanding the underlying motivation for such purchases. Subtitled ‘Truth and Lies About Why We Buy’, Lindstrom spends a good deal of time talking about neuromarketing, where researchers measure brain activity to gauge association with marketing messages. Why should that be important to an advertiser? Because people’s brains are on ‘autopilot’ some 85% of the time, encouraging the attached motor functions to make decisions based on emotions, habit, superstition, ritual and impulse. I recall psychological studies dating back to my own school years on the basic premise of auto-responses detailed in ‘Buyology’. In the earlier research, the theory was that conditioned response-macros were the result of repetitive learning and experiences that allowed humans to react with much greater speed and efficiency to certain situations. For instance, the response to greetings from known friends and relatives or responses to anticipated situations. Nestled deep in the brain are templates to expedite orchestrated activity based on certain triggers. Neuro-theorists believe that as humans are subjected to more and more information with a faster pace of life, the brain develops more auto-response macros to aid in decision making.

Of course the basic idea of neuro-marketing runs counter to practical thinking suggested in the previous read I mentioned in this article, Cashvertising, where subliminal or neuro-conditioned responses obscure rational decisions. Yet, the best thinking on this issue holds that the human subconscious will balance the weight of rational vs. irrational decisions in more expensive product decisions. Whereas we might grab for a certain brand of soap or chili based purely on a conditioned neuro-directed response, we may force our brain to slow down and more rationally evaluate a $30,000 vehicle purchase decision. Yet, many product psychological consultants contend that subconscious decisions may be interpreted as a sixth sense (or gut feeling) with compelling force to undermine the rationality if the subconscious can make a strong enough case. And vice versa.

Re-read the previous paragraph. Think about this concept on a practical matter in your own business. How often has a customer walked into the showroom (or called or emailed) with a pre-determined body-style, color, price range, etc., only to change their mind when presented with a set of rational (or irrational) ideas resulting in a completely different choice. Often, a more profitable choice for the selling dealer because the customer was only comparing the pre-determined choice with similar choices at other shopping alternatives prior to purchase. I’m not suggesting bait-n-switch advertising or the use of deceitful marketing strategies. I’m suggesting that people often buy something completely different from the original target when presented with rational (or irrational) reasoning that wins the battle in the customer’s mind. Mini-van buyers often end up in sports cars. Compact shoppers often end up in SUVs. Base models often end up with navigation systems and TVs for the kids on the seat rests. The best dealers don’t sell commodities. They sell ideas, often those the customer may have never considered.

Martin Lindstrom has done an excellent job of conveying some fairly complex ideas with an easy-to-understand style. In 2009 he was named one of the world’s most influential people by Time Magazine and has had featured articles in a number of magazines and newspapers. The Wall Street Journal called his previous book: BRANDsense one of the five best marketing books ever published. You won’t be wasting your time or your money with this read.

What’s your favorite read on advertising? Share it with me and I’ll share it with our readers in an upcoming issue.

Do you have questions or comments about this or past AdTalk articles? Feel free to email us at CBC.

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