Thirty-six years later, the debate rages on: What makes great advertising that inspires consumers to buy? What is the best way to make an ad that really contributes to building a brand?
Is it simply creativity? An arresting photograph? An advertisement that makes you laugh or cry? The one with the best slogan? The one you remember?
Today, the answers are more complicated and the stakes are higher in an overcommunicated society where brand differentiation and brand building-the essence of our business-are more competitive than ever.
Consumers are besieged with overwhelming amounts of information, surrounded by everything from (broadcast and cable) TV to the Internet, print and radio, all competing for their attention, vying for a moment to deliver a message, make an impression, ring up a sale.
What advertisers put in front of consumers for 30 seconds must pierce through the confusing clutter and say something so compelling about a brand or product that it motivates the consumer to action. Simply to amuse and entertain is not enough.
Rosser Reeves, Bates' legendary co-founder and former chairman, understood "what leads a man to buy" when he unveiled the Unique Selling Proposition, or the USP, with the publication of his classic "Reality in Advertising" in 1961.
By USP, we mean a motivating idea, uniquely associated with a particular brand, which is to be registered in the mind of the consumer.
Not only does the USP constitute a core belief in the Bates agency, it was and still is the most robust foundation yet devised for raising the probability of producing persuasive, competitive, effective advertising.
In today's volatile marketplace, it is more relevant than ever because the USP is a consumer-driven, marketing-led approach that jibes with clients' needs and consumers' desires. USP advertising is about creating a consumer response-not just transmitting information.
PRECISE TERM, PRECISE MEANING
The USP is a precise term with a precise meaning. First, it is about a uniqueness that is inherent in a brand, or a claim that is not otherwise made in its field. It must promise a benefit that no one else is offering.
Second, a USP must sell-it must relate directly to the wants and needs of consumers and incite action.
Third, every USP must make a proposition to the customer, a clear and compelling promise about a benefit delivered by the product. Many ads have one or two of these elements; the fusion of all three can have tremendous power.
The USP also offers Bates a distinctive way of branding our own creativity. After all, we invented the USP. We define Bates creativity as "USP Creativity, which unearths the very essence of a brand and makes it irresistible by powerfully and persuasively demonstrating its uniqueness."
From a well-defined USP, discovered through our proprietary approach, comes a creative execution that prompts the consumer to action.
The revitalization of Bates as the USP agency is an extension of what we began in 1994 with the rebranding of the agency. We have launched a global communications and training program to reaffirm our commitment to the principles of strategically relevant, creative USP advertising. Our goal is to ensure that every Bates office in the world has a consistent approach to developing the most persuasive and effective advertising in the marketplace-"creativity that sells."
While the validity of the USP has been widely debated and its substance occasionally misunderstood, it is unquestionably one of our profession's key tenets.
Bates does not pretend to be the only ad agency that uses the Unique Selling Proposition in its advertising. In fact, many great campaigns incorporate a USP or basic selling truth in their advertising.
The USP for Wieden & Kennedy's Nike spots promises to make consumers champions if they purchase their products. For Goodby, Silverstein & Partners' "Got milk?" campaign, the USP is that, sometimes, only milk will do.
Just about every agency has produced a USP ad-some do it occasionally, some regularly-but few of them know exactly how they did it, nor can they repeat it. We know that by consistently and creatively providing a USP for the consumer, we are building brands and selling products.
Over the years, research has shown that when the USP is well stated or reflected in an ad, consumers are more likely to respond. Bates believes that the persuasiveness of the USP is quite possibly the single most powerful determinant of a TV commercial's performance. Test data from a wide range of actual commercials suggest that when you begin your creative development with a superior selling proposition, you increase your probability of producing a more persuasive execution by 75%.
The same data indicate that in six out of 10 cases, if you start your creative development with an inferior selling proposition, you will end up with a less persuasive advertising execution.
The consumer didn't desert the USP, the industry simply allowed artifice to replace substance. So we are reclaiming the USP-not only because it works, but also because it is an integral part of the Bates brand and our heritage. If consistency is the essence of great brands, then we believe what we've got is golden.
Mr. Bungey is chairman-CEO, Bates Worldwide, New York.