BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

Much more under the hood ...

OK, so I'm going to work on the assumption that you are reading this review in sequence, or at least in context of my previous and following reviews of the three books in Roy H. Williams' “Wizard of Ads” trilogy. If you've not read the review yet of the first book, you might want to go there first, as I'm leaving a good deal of my typical “how I got to this book” stuff un-repeated here. This volume, Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads: Turning Paupers into Princes and Lead into Gold, from 1999, is both very similar to, and significantly different than its predecessor. Like that volume, this strives to give the impression of being an ancient tome (now with metallic accents on the cover), now with more “margin notes” “penciled in”, but it seems to me that Williams has rolled up his sleeves and opted to dig more into the work here than the story telling of the earlier book.

This also comes in 100 short chapters, but this time broken out over six sections: “Philosophy of Advertising”, “Room with a View”, “Side Door into the Mind”, “Turning Lead into Gold” (with “pencil” and “advertising” written in where you'd expect them), “Doing the Hard Thing”, and “How, Then, Should We Live?”.

When I was first contemplating what I'd do for these reviews, I thought I had a killer hook, as these three books from Mr. Williams reminded me quite a bit of the various books coming out from Seth Godin, and I figured, with these coming out in 1998, 1998, and 2001, that they would have certainly predated Godin. However, when I checked, I was surprised to see that Godin had two of his books out prior to these, and this particular volume shared a release year with Godin's landmark Permission Marketing. So, I lost that story angle, but suffice it to say that there are certain similarities between the two writers' approaches to “marketing wisdom”, just Williams said his piece in three books, while Godin's releases have gone on and on.

As I mentioned … this book seems more “in the trenches” … an early stop discusses “branding”, but puts it in the context of Ivan Pavlov's work with dogs:
      There are three keys to implanting an associative memory into the mind of your customer. The first key is consistency. Pavlov never offered food without ringing the bell, and he never rang the bell without offering food. The second key is frequency, meaning that Pavlov did it day after day after day.
      The third key anchoring, is the tricky one. When an associative memory is being implanted, the new and unknown element (the bell) has to be associated with a memory that's already anchored to the dog's love for the taste of meat. If the dog did not love meat, the frequent and consistent ringing of the bell would have produced no response other than to irritate the dog.
Obviously, one needs to know what moves your customers if you're wanting your business/product/service to get associated with that pre-existing positive attitude.

The second section of the book, “Room with a View” is specifically looking at the brain … ranging from one-liners like “In your advertising, don't speak to the world outside your customers, speak to the world inside their minds.” to relatively detailed looks at specific brain functions. In one chapter Williams goes on a tour of the various areas of brain activity, with special focus on “Wernicke's area” and “Broca's area” … the former being “king of nouns”, bringing up what things are called, and the latter being “the center of action words”. The author states:
The objective of advertising is to influence the prefrontal cortex – the seat of emotion, planning and judgement, located just across the motor association cortex, right behind your forehead. And the shortest leap to it is from Broca's area.
He goes on to assert:
Describe what you want the listener to see, and she will see it. Cause her to imagine taking the action you'd like her to take, and you've brought her much closer to taking the action. The secretof persuasion lies in our skillful use of action words. The magic of advertising is in the verbs.
Another fascinating bit here, that I probably had encountered in some previous material, but really didn't “know” it, is the concept of “the magic square”, where in a 3x3 grid, a box drawn around the intersection of the upper and right lines within the whole image will be the place of greatest attention … this is constantly used from classic art to modern graphics … so it's a handy thing to have at least mentally filed!

In the third section, “Side Door into the Mind”, Williams gets into some “Jedi mind tricks” that could be useful … for instance: “People tend to follow through with what they have heard themselves say they would do.”, so getting people to voice your intents for you (in a chant or rhyme, for instance), they're a lot more likely to move forward with the action. Also, if you can speak to a “deeply felt need”, you can pretty much claim anything, as the emotion attached to the need will over-ride any intellectual disbelief of the claim. In this section, he also gets into “The Six Tugs-of-War” (which are very similar to the “7 Laws” in the previous book, but not identical), with a chapter each on:

  • Intellect vs. Emotion

  • Time vs. Money

  • Opportunity vs. Security

  • Style vs. Substance

  • Pain vs. Gain

  • Sight vs. Sound

These have some interesting research associated with them, as well as some applied tactics for making the best of each of those dualities. He also discusses different media and how effective they are on other levels, and then returns to the “sleep as eraser” idea requiring extensive repetitive exposure: “The goal of a long-term (branding) campaign is to expose the listener to the identical ad approximately three times within each seven night's sleep, fifty-two weeks a year. … You must have sufficient repetition (and patience) to overcome the cleansing effects of sleep.” Frankly, Williams' books are the only place I've encountered this sleep model, so I don't know if it's a research-based “common knowledge” that I've missed (having been on the PR side of things) or if this is just something spun out of his own experience.

There is so much good stuff in here that I could go on and on … but I'm going to try to wrap this up. A few more choice bits: “The key attribute of print media is accuracy. The power of the spoken word is persuasion. … writing in the present tense helps to put readers “into the scene” … “While the journalist seeks to inform us and the creative writer entertains, it is the poet who changes how we see the world.” (in the context of “using unpredictable words in unusual combinations”).

He does go on a bit with, perhaps, too much nitty-gritty when he delves deeply into calculating ad budgets, and especially the arcana of radio (and to some extent, TV) buys. Interesting, perhaps … TMI, possibly … although there is this question: Which is better – a schedule that reaches 100% of the city and persuades them 10% of the way, or a schedule that reaches 10% of the city and persuades them 100% of the way? (it's the same money, just one plan works and the other doesn't).

The last two sections of the book sort of lost me … the “Hard Things” section is about specific “running a business” kinds of things that didn't much resonate with me, and the final section, while engaging was a bit unfocused (I'm still not sure why that piece on him wanting to do a movie about Oscar Wilde is in there), and there was a regrettable sense that he'd used up the “good stuff” in the previous ¾ of the book, and was looking for stuff to “fill” to get to 100 pieces. However, that could just be me.

Other than this mild caveat, I found Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads a really remarkable book, and is one of those extremely rare books that I anticipate re-reading in anticipation of getting more quality info from it in a second go-around. This is also still available (even in hardcover), so should be obtainable through whatever sales channel you're inclined to use. Like its predecessor, it is also available from the online new/used guys for a mere penny … so, again, you have no excuse for not grabbing a copy!

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Tags: book review
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