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This week we're reading: Reality in Advertising by Rosser Reeves

By Matt Boffey, founder

September 16, 2015 | 4 min read

London Strategy Unit's Matt Boffey is reading the most influential books from the world of innovation, marketing and creativity so you don't have to. In today's Booknote, he runs the rule over Reality in Advertising, from 1961, by Rosser Reeves.

Why have we chosen this book?

Because it’s one of the earliest texts to propose that marketing should be a science backed up by testing and quantitative data. Reeves uses this data on campaign effectiveness to draw a line between “good advertising” and “bad advertising”.

What’s the original thought or argument?

That every good product has a Unique Selling Proposition and that marketing is the science of getting that USP into the mind of customers at the lowest possible cost. This dismisses any notion of the ‘art’ of marketing and argues that analysis, not creativity, should be the marketer’s main mode of thought.

If you want to look smart, just read

Chapters 13 - 16 which spell out the theory of the USP. Effective campaigns, like Listerine’s “Stop Halitosis” and Lucky Strike’s “It’s Toasted”, drill home a no-nonsense message outlining a single product benefit. That benefit must be unique as well as strong enough to compel millions of people to buy. Easy.

You might want to skip

The repetitive arguments against bad advertising which make up most of Chapters 25 to 32. These essentially boil down to “never obscure the USP”.

Why trust this author?

All of the data in Reality in Advertising comes from Ted Bates & Co.’s own ‘Copy Laboratory’ – the first in-house department to use a form of A/B testing to measure the effectiveness of TV ads and straplines. Reeves claimed that it cost “$1bn of clients' money” and many mistakes to isolate the principles outlined in Reality in Advertising.

Once you’ve read this you don’t need to read

Books which popularise the myth that great campaigns are forged by a mysterious process involving creative hermits and tortured geniuses. From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor tops that self-aggrandising and fruitless list.

Why should this stay on your bookshelf?

It’s a blunt reminder that promising value for money for your clients might not be the most exciting proposition in the world, but it’ll probably keep you in the job.

What’s the one thing you should do differently after reading this book?

Bear in mind how little time people have to remember your brand. Reeves levels his harshest criticism at car brands whose adverts are packed with features instead of making a succinct, memorable claim that no one else in the category can.

Best quote in the whole book?

“Great copywriting, in its way, is not unlike engineering. Engineering can lead to art, but when it does, the art must flower on top of dozens, even hundreds, of practical considerations.”

Matt Boffey is the founder of London Strategy Unit, which you can follow on Twitter @LSUsocial


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