“Do you remember that in classical times when Cicero had finished speaking, the people said, ‘How well he spoke’—but when Demosthenes had finished speaking, the people said, ‘Let us march’?”
-Adlai Stevenson, in introducing a candidate for the Presidency who succeeded where he failed, in Los Angeles, 1960.

This is one of the quotes that Rosser Reeves uses to introduce his 1961 concise guide, “Reality in Advertising.”

The distinction cited is one that the ad and marketing fields still grapple with. Can an ad be great if it doesn’t lead viewers to take action? Do we always have to determine the impact of every ad? Can ads work as art?

Google Trends shows there are typically least 5 times as many searches for the Roman (Cicero) than the Greek (Demosthenes). So maybe we are suckers for the well-spoken ones after all. Art need not always lead to action, but that doesn’t mean it makes great advertising.

Reading Reeves’ 62-year-old book recently, it’s a fun exercise to see which truths of Reeves (this Presidents Week) are self-evident, which are probably still on the mark, and which no longer make sense.

I found very little in the last category. Examples may be dated, but I didn’t stop during the book and shout at the invisible author, “You lie!” That would have made the book more fun, and my 9-year-old would encourage me to read more, but alas, I was mostly nodding my head.

Here are a few truths from the book and how they seem to hold up today.

“The great campaigns, like the burning glass, fuse together all the components into a copy focus that generates not only light, but heat.”

Reeves here is addressing the need to paint a clear picture with one hook that consumers can carry away from it. The fusing is what’s essential. As Reeves notes, people need to carry messages in their heads for some time, as “most people do not rush right out and buy.”

Reeves, as we’ll see, emphasizes reach rather than frequency, so this fusion may have been more pertinent in a less cluttered media environment. Today, there is less of a chance than ever of a marketing message migrating from short-term memory to the hippocampus for a long-term stay.

On USPs (unique selling propositions: “1) Each advertisement must make a proposition to the consumer… ‘Buy this product, and you will get this specific benefit.’; 2) The proposition must be one that the competition either cannot, or does not, offer… 3) The proposition must be so strong that it can move the mass millions, i.e., pull over new customers to your product.”

The definition hardly seems jarring today. What’s surprising is how few campaigns seem to to lack a USP. Thinking back to the 2022 Super Bowl, about a half-dozen automotive companies ran ads featuring electric cars, but there was nothing I recall about what made any car unique. I did like seeing Schwarzenegger as Zeus, but I can’t even remember which car company that was for. Let trade associations promote a category; most marketers need to promote a brand.

I feel like so many ad industry books today spend countless pages discussing the difference between advertising on Facebook vs. TikTok or how to use AI to create more effective ads. And yet there might be nothing about getting to the heart of differentiation. If it’s assumed we know that already, it doesn’t show up in most advertising.

Reeves later writes, “Think of a USP not so much as something you put into an advertisement. Think of a USP rather as something the consumer takes out of an advertisement.” Perception, then as now, is everything.

“Advertising is the art of getting a unique selling proposition into the heads of the most people at the lowest possible cost.”

Here is where Reeves defines advertising for the ‘modern’ (1960s) age. Doesn’t it seem quaint? And yet, it’s not crazy either.

There’s a big qualifier that he misses. Instead of “the most people,” it needs to be, “the most relevant people.” Reeves is so busy worshipping at the reach altar that he might not have listened to his own sermons. There were undoubtedly notable geographic and demographic differences in who was buying Tide or a Corvette or an Elvis record.

“Lowest possible cost” must make more than a few sellers cringe too. There’s always some race to the bottom playing out. Reeves mentions the word “value” six times in the book, but never in the context of getting the most value out of media buys. And there’s a reference in chapter 3 (of 36) of an executive wondering “what I am really getting for my money” when it comes to advertising, but the media plans are still optimized around cost rather than returns.

The lowest cost does not always lead to the highest returns.

“Advertising is, actually, a simple phenomenon in terms of economics. It is merely a substitute for a personal sales force — an extension, if you will, of the merchant who cries aloud his wares. It puts rapidly in print (or on radio and television) what would otherwise have to be handled by word of mouth. It does this at lower cost.”

This goes back to the forgotten job of advertising. It’s there to sell. And usually, ads are deployed because it costs less to buy $10 million in media than it does to hire an equivalent number of salespeople. Such ads, when well deployed, enable those salespeople to be more effective.

It brings to mind the debates about AI. Advertising was billed by Reeves as a cheaper way to scale sales, minimizing the degree of human intervention in the process. Shouldn’t it have put masses out of work?

And yet, the Mad Men era was just beginning, followed by one era after another where our ranks have swelled. Advertising, in essence, was a technology undergoing massive upgrades in 1961. The more it scaled, the more people flocked to the field.

While we may dismiss some of what Reeves wrote about advertising 60 years ago, he would likely be far more disappointed in all we’ve forgotten about advertising. But he’d probably appreciate this pivotal time we’re living through and would be all the more eager to remind us all of the fundamentals that hold true regardless of the trends, philosophies, and technological enhancements in vogue at any given moment.

Few truths are self-evident until someone as eloquent as Reeves puts them in writing.



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Keep checking out the #jobs channel in Serial Marketers for more. You can also see our full list of job resources here. Here are some great opportunities shared in these places or sent to me directly.

TikTok Content Creator
Part-Time Employee
Via Emily in the community
“To date, Mockingbird’s organic social efforts have been focused on Instagram and Pinterest – but now we’re ready to expand into TikTok! We’re looking to drive brand & product awareness and interest through engaging, relatable, and helpful TikTok content. We’re a modern, digitally-oriented brand who aims to connect with modern parents in creative ways, and want to bring that same POV to our TikTok. As the TikTok Content Creator, your job would be to bring our new TikTok strategy to life, leading all of the TikTok content creation efforts”

Head of Product Marketing and Growth
Greater New York City Area
“Wiza is a sales enablement platform that helps enterprises automate lead generation by extracting email lists from LinkedIn Sales Navigator. Their mission is to help users identify lead emails via artificial intelligence (AI) technology and export custom searches and lead data in CSV format. They are seeking an experienced and results-driven Head of Marketing and Growth to lead and execute the company’s marketing and growth strategies. 7+ years of experience in marketing and growth, ideal experience within SaaS organizations or lead generation; Strong leadership skills and experience managing cross-functional teams; Knowledge of marketing automation, analytics, and A/B testing tools.”

Sr Content Designer & Writer
United States
“You’ll apply your extraordinary command of the written word to the ever-changing challenges of our digital landscape. Collaborating with a team of design, product and content experts, you’ll write sharp copy that helps make our customers’ financial lives easier. You’ll also: –Develop and polish content that blends seamlessly across our digital products, applying our existing style, brand and tone guidelines and making them even better along the way. –Tell stories, drive crisp and cohesive narratives for digital experiences that engage users, and enable them to complete tasks — collaborating with multi-disciplinary product designers to present compelling imagery and language. US ONLY (no exception) / Hybrid requiring 3 days/week in office. Preferred locations: Charlotte, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, NYC, Los Angeles, and Atlanta. Bank equipment/laptop required to stay in the US”

Marketing Manager (META paid ads)
United States
“We are looking for a Paid Social Media Manager who will eventually lead our efforts across both paid advertising and email marketing. The goal is to grow into the Head of Marketing. The most important area in which we’re looking to add expertise is in paid social (facebook + instagram) strategy. Further expertise in paid google and email marketing are big plus skills for us, but responsibility for these areas could be inherited over time, as expertise is built. You’ll be managing a small, nimble team of designers and copywriters to produce and publish necessary assets for campaigns across these various channels.”

Also, check out the Serial Marketers job board

Other job resources (see a full list here):

  • Beeler.Tech: Job listings for ad operations, programmatic account management, sales operations, and more.
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  • Lunch Club: Match 1:1 around predetermined goals with accomplished professionals (free)
  • NYC Ad Jobs & Networking: A popular Facebook group
  • Questions to Ask for a Marketing Role: What questions should you ask when starting a new marketing role or job?
  • Serial Marketers Job Board: Post regular and featured listings and subscribe for updates.
  • Venwise: Submit your job interests here and get in front of their roster of hiring leads; select “Serial Marketers” under “How did you find us”

Do you run or enjoy other job listing sites? Let me know, and I’ll share them.

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