Mar 18 2009

Book Short: Be Less Clever

Book Short:  Be Less Clever

In Search of the Obvious: The Antidote for Today’s Marketing Mess, by Jack Trout, is probably deserving of a read by most CEOs.  Trout at this point is a bit old school and curmudgeonly, the book has some sections which are a bit repetitive of other books he and his former partner Al Reis have written over the years, he does go off on some irrelevant rants, and his examples are a bit too focused on TV advertising, BUT his premise is great, and it’s universally applicable.  So much so that my colleagues Leah, Anita, and I had “book club” about it one night last week and had a very productive debate about our own positioning and marketing statements and how obvious they were (they need work!).

The premise in short is that, in advertising:

Logical, direct, obvious = relevant, and

Entertaining, emotional = irrelevant

And he’s got data to back it up, including a great case study from TiVo on which ads are skipped and not skipped – the ones that aren’t skipped are from companies like Bowflex, Hooters, and the Dominican Republic, where the presentation of the ad is very direct, explanatory of the product, and clear.  His reasons why advertising have drifted away from the obvious are probably right, ranging from the egos of marketing people, to CEOs being to disconnected from marketing, to the rise in importance of advertising awards, and his solution, of course is to refocus on your core positioning/competitive positioning.

It is true that when the only tool in your box is a hammer, everything starts to look a bit like a nail, but Trout is probably right in this case.  He does remind us in this book that “Marketing is not a battle of products. It is a battle of perceptions”– words to live by.

And some of his examples of great obvious advertising statements, either real or ones he thinks should have been used, are very revealing:

  • Kerry should have turned charges that he was a flip-flopper in 2004 around on Bush with the simple line that Bush was “strong but wrong”
  • New Zealand: “the world’s most beautiful two islands”
  • The brilliance of the VW Beetle in a big-car era and “thinking small”
  • Johnny Cochrane’s winning (over)simplification of the OJ case — “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit”
  • BMW is still, 30 years later, The Ultimate Driving Machine
  • “Every day, the Kremlin gets 12 copies of the Wall Street Journal. Maybe they know something you don’t know.”

If you are looking for a good marketing book to read as a refresher this year, this one could be it.  And if you’re not a very market-focused CEO, this kind of thinking is a must.

And for the record, the library of books by Trout and/or Reis (sometimes including Reis’ daughter Laura as well) that I’ve read, all of which are quite good, is: