A Hard Look At The Old Soft Sell

San Francisco Chronicle: In most ads, a company is trying to sell you a product, or a brand, or some oxymoronic notion of corporate philosophy (as if the pursuit of profit wasn’t credible self-justification in a capitalist marketplace).
But flipping through a recent copy of the New Yorker — the Sept. 5 issue, to be precise — I came across several ads for leading companies that spoke to a relatively new trend in corporate outreach.
Although the companies in question collectively touch nearly all U.S. consumers and are together worth billions of dollars, they’re not selling products here, or their respective brands, or even a clear declaration of philosophy.
What these companies — Chevron, Altria and Starbucks — are selling is their own thoughtfulness.
“They’re trying to elevate the conversation above what it is they do,” said Steve Manning, managing director of Igor, a San Francisco brand consultant. “They want to be thought of as something bigger than just goods and services.”
This approach, he added, should be a red flag for most consumers.
“Honest people don’t tell you they’re honest,” Manning observed. “Cool people don’t say that they’re cool. We should all be wondering why these guys feel a burning need to tell us how good they are.”



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.