Well, as with the Ginzu knives, maybe you ought to save the nickel until a real knife comes along. But there's still plenty of interesting material in two books, just out, to make them worth a summer read.
The first, Mythmaking on Madison Avenue: How Advertisers Apply the Power of Myth & Symbolism to Create Leadership Brands (Probus Publishing, Chicago), is by Sal Randazzo, senior vp/director of research for D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles/N.Y. Randazzo believes there are a variety of myths "hard-wired" into our consciousness from birth, and if ads tap into these basic myths, the products they tout can be made virtually irresistible to the average consumer. To Randazzo, a brand is not just a product--but "a perceptual entity that exists in a psychological space in the consumer's mind," which eventually helps the brand to become part of the consumer's psychic makeup.
"Advertising is the vehicle that allows us to access the consumer's mind," says Randazzo. "(You can use advertising to) create a unique perceptual inventory of imagery, symbolism, feelings and associations that the consumer will ultimately come to associate with your brand. You can use advertising to create mythical worlds with mythical characters that work to engage and entertain the consumer and, at the same time, to communicate important product and emotional benefits."
This is the same stuff that Vance Packard first laid out in Hidden Persuaders (1957), which in turn drew on psychiatrist Ernest Dicter's school of motivational research. Campbell's is not just a soup--it's "good food"--raising the specter of the feelings you had when your mama first nourished you at her breast. If you understand the Jungian connections between "the maternal significance of water," reaching back to the "unconscious watery realm of our mother's womb," argues Randazzo, you're going to write a much more powerful ad than just sitting around studying ingredients on the side of the can.
If motorcycle advertising can tap into horse symbolism, which Jung characterized as man's "subhuman, animal side (of) the unconscious," then Harley-Davidson's product line becomes a "dynamic masculine" symbol capable of making consumers feel like half-men, half-horse centaurs--which is a lot sexier than owning a two-wheeler just to get good gas consumption.
Randazzo is neither an anthropologist nor a psychiatrist. He's an agency type with a master's in psychology from Queens College. As such, his book is more a compilation of much that's been written about the mysterious relationship between basic male and female mythologies and modern advertising, than any new insight into the process. But for any creative, who gets blocked on how to make a client's product come alive, there's plenty here to draw on for inspiration.
Brand Equity & Advertising, (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, N.J.) edited by Prof. David A. Aaker, of the UC/Berkeley Haas School of Business, and Alexander L. Biel, formerly head of the Ogilvy Center for Research & Development in San Francisco, is a much less accessible book but sums up what social scientists know about the power of brand advertising. The two men have been trying for some time to devise a financial tool to measure brand equity--the elusive Holy Grail of late 20th century marketing. It's now a given that by associating its Marlboro cigarettes long enough with the cowboy image, Phillip Morris has been able to build one of the most recogniable brand franchises ever. What no one knows, however, is the actual dollar value of this franchise. Similiarly, clients would like to know what their ROI (return on investment) is for their ad spend.
Aaker and Biel last year collected a group of academics and social scientists to try to chip away at these questions. The book is the result of the papers offered at their San Francisco seminar. "This new regard for the brand stems from our belated recognition of its power," says Grant McCraken of the Royal Ontario Museum, who like Randazzo seeks to give the process an anthropological perspective. "Properly created and managed, brands can have extraordinary powers of influence. After all, it is the brand, not the product or the corporation, that wins the consumer's loyalty."
Neither book unlocks the mystery with any precision. But maybe that's the point. Pushing brands into our unconscious is still part science, part art. If it were just a matter of pressing hot buttons, any idiot could write a great ad. Thank God it's not.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)