For the Love of Brilliant Advertising

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Great technology companies have been built on advertising: Google, Facebook, Yahoo (in the old days), not to mention many a magazine, newspaper and television network.

I have always loved the operational side of ad networks. They require building and managing a systems whose data throughput and reliability requirements rival a financial pricing and trading system. I have managed several of those, and the parallels are quite strong.

What truly interests me in advertising, though, is the brilliance of great creativity. Most ads are either boring or blatant (think most beer commercials).

Yet, every now and then, a great one comes along. Here are three examples:


Back in the days when hard liquor was not advertised on television, the manufacturers and importers were limited to getting their message across in static images and text on a single page. When their competitors - ale - was openly advertising in the more dynamic medium of television, it required true creativity. One of the best was a 1980s ad with bottle of Glenlivet dropping down through the ocean, passing by fish and seaweed. The text?

"There will be a man overboard any minute now..."


For years, Alpine dominated the high-end aftermarket car stereo business. Over time, however, two trends affected them:

  1. Shrinking market: As more and more car manufacturers began improving the stock factory entertainment systems, the need for aftermarket shrank.
  2. Growing competition: As the cost of complex electronics dropped, due to Moore's Law, and firmware and software began to dominate, even early on, more lower-end competitors like JVC began to offer comparable feature and quality systems for much lower cost.

Rather than fight on feature and deny the pricing differential, Alpine went on the attack in the 1990s by emphasizing the price and value. They published a printed ad with simple black outline, black text on a white background. It looked exactly like a financial services offering tombstone, right down to the small print of "Alpine Car Stereos" on the bottom, where the underwriters' names normally appear. The simple text?

"The only difference between the men and the boys, is the price of the toys."


In the last few weeks, I saw the following ad in a print magazine. Yes, there is a distinct irony to seeing an ad for an eReader in a print magazine:


If not for the Amazon logo on bottom right, you almost would not know it was a product advertisement.

The text is a bit hard to read in the above image, but it says:

"WARNING: Children exposed to reading may become CURIOUS, INDEPENDENT or even develop an IMAGINATION full of wonder. In some cases children may get lost in a book, reading quietly for hours. Do not operate heavy machinery while reading."

The entire ad text does not mention Kindle at all, except for the logo up top, and the subtle appearance in the child's hands. It clearly is neither the textual nor the visual focus of the ad; reading is.

Especially in an age of mobile games and 24x7 video streaming, it is a pleasure to see a company using an ad as a platform to promote reading.

Like all of the other great ads, it surprises, puts the product as a secondary element to the experience, and takes on its primary competition from an unexpected direction.


If you want truly great advertising, don't ask us; we love great ads, but we build and manage great operations and systems. But do ask us to refer you; one of the greatest creative minds in contemporary retail advertising is a close friend and we would be happy to introduce you.

When your product and platform really take off, and you need to figure out how to build or scale it for the unending flow of customers, then call us.