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The single-minded proposition

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In 1996 I graduated from American University and got my first real job. I was an assistant account executive at Saatchi & Saatchi in New York City.

Looking back, I was really, really lucky to get the job. I knew absolutely nothing about advertising. In college, my major was "Communication, Law, Economics and Government," or "CLEG" for short. It was one of those unique majors for people who just can't make up their mind and want a bit of everything. While the course work was interesting, I left school with no real marketable skill.

Of all my classes, the one that was most interesting was about political advertising. I was fascinated by the way a 30-second spot could change the course of a political campaign. So when graduation was approaching I decided to pursue jobs in advertising. Miraculously, I was able to land a position at one of the biggest names in the industry, Saatchi & Saatchi. And my career in advertising began.

As an assistant account executive I was introduced to the concept of the "single-minded proposition." That was the most important part of the creative brief. And, usually the best single-minded propositions were just one sentence. They were concise and they were powerful.

It was always amazing to me that you could distill hundreds or thousands of inputs about a product—features, benefits, research, competitive insights—and translate that all into one simple statement. This statement becomes the foundation of your advertising program.

The reason it's called the single-minded proposition and not the brand proposition is to stress the importance of making it about one thing. A core principle of writing an effective single-minded proposition is that it is in fact "single minded." You can't cram it full of features (even though I've had some clients who have tried). You can't communicate more than one key point.

Being single minded is what makes it powerful, what makes it effective.

Early in my career, I was working on an ad campaign for Cascade dishwasher detergent. We were launching a line extension called "Cascade Complete." It was designed to be the best performing dish detergent on the market. It could clean anything off any dish. But here was the problem. For 50 years we had been telling people that the regular Cascade could clean anything off any dish. So how could we now expect people to pay almost twice as much for something they thought they had been getting all along?

For Cascade Complete, we knew that the single-minded proposition couldn't just be about better cleaning. It had to be bigger.

Through research, we discovered that the pain in the dishwashing process wasn't that the dishes didn't get clean enough in the dishwasher. The real pain was that you always had to wash dishes by hand before you even put them in the dishwasher. Because you always knew that if you didn't scrub and rinse those dirty dishes, they would never come out of the dishwasher clean.

Now, this new Cascade Complete product had more cleaning power than any other detergent on the market. It would get out everything. You could literally put an entire casserole in the dishwasher and Cascade Complete would dissolve the entire thing away and leave the dish looking like new.

This new Cascade wasn't just a better cleaner. It helped make the whole dishwashing process better by eliminating the need to scrub and rinse.

So our single-minded proposition was, "Cascade Complete makes the sink redundant."

Then our brilliant creative team translated that statement into the advertising tagline, "Skip the Sink." We launched a campaign around this idea, grew the business dramatically and won an Effie award. If you're interested, you can read the review of the campaign in Ad Age here.

In today's complex and fragmented media world, often times we forget the fundamentals. You can target anyone, anywhere at anytime. You can create a unique message that will be just for that person. But as you're writing all the website and ad copy, just ask yourself: What is the single-minded proposition for your product or service?

And if you can't answer that question, you probably don't have the foundation to build your brand on.

Jeff Perkins is VP-global online marketing with conferencing and collaboration solutions company Premiere Global Services (PGi) (www.pgi.com). He can be reached at jeff.perkins@pgi.com, or on Twitter: @jeffperkins8.

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