The Best Marketing Lesson I Ever Got

When I was a kid, I grew up in an art department. My mother was an art director, so after school I walked to her office and did my homework. Years later, When I decided to get into the business, I went to an awards show hoping I would be able to connect with the cool up and comers. The keynote speaker at the awards show was the Marketing Director from Fram Autolite—you know, the oil filter company. The new Fram ad campaign had swept the awards in Boston and everyone was buzzing that they were going to be the winners at this show too. The ad campaign was cool and edgy and a world away from the stogy boring one that Fram had had for years. You know, busty women and racer drivers. I remember seeing the new ads and thinking “Wow, those are cool. I would love to work for that agency.”

So there I was in my early twenties, feeling awkward and trying to figure out how to make contact with the cool people who were clear across the auditorium. The truth was, the only people I knew at the show were the old guard, they had watched me grow up, running errands so Mom didn’t have to park, and saying hello when they visited the art depart. I liked them, but let’s face it, they were the old guard and the world was changing. Trying not to look obvious, or disinterested, I perched at the edge of the group waiting for my moment to break away when what the old guard was actually saying started to penetrate my very thick scull. The conversation amongst the old guard went something like this.

“I can’t believe that new campaign is working.

“Me neither. I just don’t see guys who like to hang out in garages and change their own oil responding to cool and edgy.”

“I can’t believe they got it approved. That must have been one hell of a sales job.”

“I’ll eat my hat if it works.”

This got my attention. I can honestly say I understood the concept of target audience at an early age. We used to play a game my Mom invented called “Guess which commercial is coming next”. My Mom came up with it as a way to get us to watch golf shows so she could see her commercials. Mom did a lot of bank advertising and as children we would not have been described as golf enthusiast, which was where most of her commercials were running. In order to win “Guess which commercial is coming next” you needed to have a pretty good idea of who the target audience was. You got 2 points for an exact match (The Hartford) and 1 point for a category win (insurance). So I had to give a few points to the old guard. Of course I kept my eye on the cool ad execs anyway. Hey—the Fram ads were the talk of the town and they had gotten tons of awards and positive press.

The Marketing Manger from Fram got up to the podium and said:

“I want to thank you all for coming. It’s an honor to be here. I know I’m supposed to say that everything is great and the new campaign is breaking all the records. The truth is that sales are down by 20% and we’re going back to the old campaign. The awards sure do look nice on my wall though.”

There was silence, followed by nervous laughter. The old guard chuckled—they knew they were right. The world was changing but people hadn’t changed all that much. The majority of guys who hung out in garages and change their own oil still responded more to busty women and race car drivers than cool edgy ads. Right then and there I gave up my quest to hang out with the cool kids and instead I paid attention to the old guard.

I believe in innovation and embrace creativity. I know that in order to effectively sell to any audience you have to really know that audience. Every time I have seen something new and amazing that worked, it always went straight to the core values and aspirations of the customer. The dove real beauty ads are a great example of targeted, effective creative. There are amazing, creative people doing very cool things today. The world is changing, but people haven’t changed all that much. What makes direct marketing so interesting is that now we can target the segments that will respond to busty women and race car drivers AND speak to the much smaller segment who responds to cool edgy ads as well. It is no longer an either or proposition. That makes our jobs harder. That makes our jobs more fun. Let’s revel in what we can achieve, and keep it on budget. Yah, I know—bummer on the budget thing.

All the best,

Sarah Fletcher
President/Creative Director Catalog Design Studios
Co-founder Catalog University

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