Great minds think alike – the secret of why top brands sell.

In a week when John Hegarty, one of the smartest people I’ve met in advertising, did the unthinkable – he said the King was naked, it made us all rethink the value and role of data, as well as the dangers.

Of course that was after Martin Sorrell commented on Twitter being a PR medium that was good for WOM.

Two evangelistic camps have probably been upset, which begs the question, how divided is our industry by beliefs? It used to be just atl vs btl. Of course that’s human nature, as the quote goes, “never discuss politics, religion, football or women unless you want to divide people.” Add to that data. Human’s have a natural instinct to follow a tribe, to adopt beliefs and defend them with a passion.

When the digital evangelists were telling everyone that “TV was dead”, just as the original TV evangelists had declared “radio was dead” and the radio evangelists before them, declared “newspaper advertising was dead”, Hegarty was one of the lone voices defending TV. As he has been proven right, TV is still a powerful tool, and growing, if not the most powerful medium for both advertisers and PR. Big media makes a big impact, which is why most of the top 100 FMCG brands in the new Grocer report use it. As Hegarty said, and BBH has done more than almost anyone to use the power of TV to sell big brands, “Do interesting things and interesting things happen to you.”

As Bill Bernbach once said, “We are just glorified salesmen”, and Leo Burnett also said, “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative”. Today he’d probably say, “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t data worth having.”

We can easily become too focused on channels, marketing tricks, gimmicks, fads, the latest trend, data and false sciences, rather than adopting common sense and a pragmatic attitude and focus back on selling. “Follow your instincts not the latest trend,” would be a motto many marketers could benefit form. Bernbach also said, Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be an art, not a science”.  Because while we are suffering from the latest digital trend or data distraction, we can easily forget the art of selling.

The fundamental flaw is thinking that you can actually find a magic answer to selling. The most common assumption is thinking that just because you know where some is, or what they do, means all you need to do is throw the right breadcrumbs in front of then and they’ll follow you to a sale. Wrong, this was the mistake direct marketers made in the early days when they thought all you needed was your address and we know what happened to most of that junk mail!. What we all need to do is get back to the art of selling not the science of assumptions.

You can say the right thing about a product at the right time but nobody will listen if it isn’t engaging. You’ve got to say it in such a way that people will feel it in their gut, in a way that makes them respond. Because if they don’t feel it, nothing will happen. And if your advertising goes unnoticed, everything else is academic. And no matter how academic you are, the consumer doesn’t care, all they care about is if they like your ad. Which is why big ideas still count, the problem is, they don’t come with a method of counting and marketers are under pressure to deliver numbers. And that’s where Likes, Tweets, data and many other numeric based methods win.


The Grocer 100 Biggest FMCG brands.

This week’s Grocer features the top 100 FMCG brands and it makes for interesting reading. Especially as it separates the big thinkers from the small ones.

For those who say advertising is dead, for many of the big FMCG brands it’s alive and selling. Brands like McCain’s, Heinz, Tropicana and Robinson’s are increasing ad spend.

Not surprisingly, most are broadening their reach through many other channels, including online.

For some, social media has been a glorious success, like Heinz’s “Get Well Soup’ and Walker’s ‘Guess the Flavour’. Heinz is now dedicating 20% of budget to online promotions. And it’s sales promotions that seems to be the best marketing disciple to ues online if you want sales up. But for others, a costly mistake.

All brands want to be the subject of conversations, but there’s always a mix of views about word of mouth – talk is cheap but does it sell? While some are exploiting Twitter, most brands are missing out on the bigger picture – 90% of WOM is off line still – think water cooler, school gates, coffee shops, bars and the 91 bus.

If you customer is the type who is spending a lot of time online and you can reach and influence them, it can be a great place to connect with them. Most brands now know that reach isn’t just about popping an ad up in front of consumers on a Facebook page, but reaching their feelings, their mind and desires.

But online has become a highly competitive environment, “think of a supermarket, TV is like competing against the products next to you, online is competing against every product in the supermarket at once”. But get it right and the winners can do well. But the wisdom is online is not enough on its own, it works best as a support medium to TV, PR and outdoor.

Big ideas – both in communications and product – are still key to effectiveness, dull ideas do nothing. You need to capture the imaginative of consumers if you want to engage them. Beware of gimmicks though, they can be seen as exactly that.  And here’s a warning to those thinking of just copying the latest YouTube idea or gaming idea, if it doesn’t link to your brand it won’t make the right impact.

What we often forget in the adland is that we are only a part of a marketer’s mix, NPD, promotions, distributions, store positioning are as critical, and in some case more important.The three key factors that have helped many brands increase sales last year are:

Promotions – almost all brands use them to stimulate sales, even Innocent had 70% of their juice range on promotions.

NPD – no brand can stand still, consumers are changing all the time, so brands need to as well. The cereal companies have been very active in developing new variants and new ways to eat on the go.

Advertising –  it still influences the most for us and generates Word of Mouth and PR.

Whatever methodology you are using – data, consumer psychology, research – understanding the consumer is still top of the list of needs of brands. Of course, anyone outside this industry could well ask, after almost 100 years of this industry being around, how come we are still trying to work out what the consumer wants? Maybe we can take support from Sigmund Fraud’s quote, “After 30 years of research, I still don’t know what women really want.” And as 85% of consumers are women, if Fraud can’t work it out, it’s no wonder we can’t.

The simple conclusion is – if you want to be big, you need to think big. Have big ideas. Value the big numbers, not the small ones. And to make big profits, you need to spend big. There are no easy magic solutions or get rich quick solutions, big brands work hard across many platforms to sell.

But most of all, in such a crowded, competitive environment you need to be visible, to stand out and shout louder than anyone else. And if you don’t stand out, you stand for nothing.


Great Minds Picture:

Leo Burnett • Martin Sorrell • John Hegarty • Bill Bernbach


  • Max Eaglen

    Chris Arnold talks a lot of sense in
    this article.  So many brands get it wrong by talking loudly but not
    listening or engaging and as Chris says “if they don’t feel it, nothing will

    Platform, we have found that big creative ideas always come from “understanding
    the customer” – whether that is our client or their customer.
      That’s why so many brand guardians are looking at customer
    experience centres where customers and potential customers, influencers and all
    can touch, get a taste, engage and hopefully evolve the brand.  To sell
    effectively is no longer a case of promoting a brand well to a customer but
    really is a 360 degree process and one which those on The Grocer’s list have
    obviously got right.