Teachers take complicated subjects and make them easy to understand. Before Bob Hoffman became an ad
Now that he’s enjoying his retirement from the agency, he makes time to speak and write about a subject that he knows well. Two days ago, Hoffman kindly offered three simple rules to help guide advertising novices and experts alike. Here they are:
- In marketing communications, there are no absolutes. There are just likelihoods and probabilities.
- We don’t have as much power to create business greatness as we think we do.
- Brands that are in the spotlight have a much higher likelihood of being successful than brands that are not in the spotlight.
Don’t be deceived by the simplicity of this three-step formula. This is gold. Capture it, polish it and live it.
For me, the most interesting of the three rules is the second because it says you can approach the problems with humility and perspective, or you can continue to play the fool.
Here’s Hoffman’s expanded version of Rule #2:
We don’t have as much power to create business greatness as we think we do. There are too many important aspects of business success that are out of our control. We don’t control the product; we don’t control the pricing; we don’t control the distribution; we don’t control the employees — we only control the message. We have to be realistic about the limits of what the message can impart to a poorly made, badly designed, overpriced, hard-to-find, product. Or a product that has any one of those characteristics.
We only control the message. Full stop.
Silos Are for Corn
When marketing is trapped in a silo, treated as lesser than, and obviously not a priority for the company or its executive team, the wheels come off the brand tractor.
The message—which advertising and marketing people control—isn’t corn syrup. The company’s look and feel is the hook that people in the audience instinctively pick up on, respond to and relay. Without this strong front, the inside of the company may never be found out or become well known.
I think there are two ways to read Hoffman’s, “We only control the message” statement. It might mean that it’s best for ad people to stay in their lane and concentrate exclusively on making better messaging. Or it could mean that MarCom is too large for any single lane because it’s the customer-facing part of the company that makes or breaks product launches and quarterly sales pushes, all while building shareholder value for the long term.
Like most people who work in advertising, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing executive disrespect for marketing and the people who work in marketing. I have seen it in client meetings, in budget cuts, in email nastygrams and so on.
Sales people tend to think they’re the ones responsible for moving product. Engineers believe they’re the source of the company’s success. The reality is egos need to be checked all around the room. Each unit is a spoke on the wheel of success. One spoke isn’t better or bigger than the next—not if you want a smooth ride.
It can be difficult for marketers to trust their agency partners, and vice-versa. By working on the same team, the opportunity presents itself daily to learn from one another, and pave the way for greater empathy and a deeper understanding of the customer’s needs.
At the heart of the movement to in-house solutions is greater access. When you work on the same team in the same building, you have much greater access to the decision makers and a better read on the real, not imagined, company and brand (and how to convey its strengths to a variety of constituents).
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how the MarCom problems are addressed. It matters that they are solved, and this will take a new level of respect for marketing and a new degree of coordination between previously siloed practices.
Hoffman complains that people who write about the ad business needlessly make it more complicated than it is. I agree with him. I also agree that achieving simple in this field or any other is the highest level of mastery possible. In other words, making the brand’s outputs real and on-point is always the goal, but it takes managerial genius and a team of professionals—inside and outside the company—to consistently pull it off.
PREVIOUSLY ON ADPULP: In-House Advantage: Why Agency Creatives Are Taking Flight