A Column by Al Ries

WHAT BOTOX AND VIAGRA TEACH US ABOUT ADVERTISING

It's Not A Good Way to Change People's Minds

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Last month, the U.S. suspended a TV advertising campaign designed to win over the hearts and minds of the world's Muslims.

"State Department officials," according to The Wall Street Journal, "said the U.S.

Photo: AP
In eight years, with no advertising at all, Botox became a $300 million brand.
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recently decided to emphasize public relations rather than TV and print ads."

Advertising is a powerful tool for keeping a mind from changing, but not for changing a mind. Advertising works best when the reader or viewer already agrees with the message and is looking for validation and support.

When a beer drinker sees a Budweiser commercial with the Clydesdales and the old-fashioned beer wagon, he or she thinks, Yes, Budweiser is the king of beers, an authentic brand with a long history. The commercial reaffirms and reinforces an idea already in the mind.

When a car buyer sees an ad with a smashed up vehicle and the headline "We design every Volvo to look like this," he or she thinks, Yes, Volvo is the safest car.

With these campaigns (and many others) advertising is a effective force for maintaining brands built by other means.

Changing minds
But changing a mind (which is what you need to do when you launch a new brand) is a different matter. And here is where advertising has failed the test. Hundreds of dot-coms never made it because they relied on

Viagra followed the same game plan as Botox. PR first to change a mind, advertising second to keep that mind from changing
advertising to build their brands. The dot-coms that did make it (Amazon, Priceline, Yahoo!, eBay, Google and others) made it into the mind primarily with great publicity.

As a matter of fact, all the recent brand successes have been basically PR successes, not advertising successes. Red Bull, Harry Potter, JetBlue, Linux, Palm, Starbucks, PlayStation, Microsoft's Xbox, to name a few.

Success of Botox
No new brand is as clearly a PR success as Botox. Imagine trying to use advertising to introduce a new product with the theme "Let us inject a toxin made from the bacteria that causes botulism into your forehead to cure your wrinkles."

Yet PR did just that. In eight years, with no advertising at all, Botox became a $300 million brand. And last year, Allergan announced a $50 million advertising campaign to promote its Botox brand. (After PR has put a brand into the mind, you need advertising, and often massive advertising, to maintain that brand.)

Before Botox, there was Viagra, which followed the same game plan. PR first to change a mind, advertising second to keep that mind from changing.

Folly of advertising
The folly of trying to fight a mind-changing war with a weapon like advertising is illustrated by a number of recent corporate bankruptcies.

When US Airways went bankrupt, it ran full-page newspaper advertisements with the headline, "Foundation for the Future." Some foundation.

When United Airlines went bankrupt, it ran full-page newspaper ads with a "Chapter 11" headline scratched off to read "Chapter 1." Cute, but did that change many minds about flying United? We think not.

When Arthur Andersen got in trouble over the Enron mess, it ran full-page newspaper ads with the headline, "An Open Letter from Joe Berardino, Managing Partner and CEO, Andersen." Joe Berardino didn't survive the negative Enron publicity, nor did Arthur Andersen. The PR pen is mightier than the advertising sword.

Kmart
When Kmart got in trouble, the company announced it would spend $50 million on an advertising campaign with the theme "The stuff of life."

The stuff of life? What Kmart needs is PR, not advertising. Like the "cheap chic" publicity generated by its competitor Target, or as Oprah Winfrey has said, "Tarzhay."

Wait, you might be thinking, Target has wider aisles, cleaner stores and designer merchandise. Exactly. A public relations program normally starts by first changing the product or service (and sometimes the name) and then moving the new message into the media.

The good thing about advertising (and the bad thing about advertising) is that you can always run an ad without changing anything.

Merrill Lynch
When Merrill Lynch got in trouble over its investment research (and paid a $100 million fine to the state of New York), it ran two-page newspaper ads featuring both President Stan O'Neal and Chairman David Komansky that read: "Lately, you've been hearing a lot about Merrill Lynch. Now you're going to hear from us." Translation: The media got it all wrong and we're going to straighten you out. How believable is that?

As a matter of fact, when a reader sees a full-page advertisement in one of the big national newspapers signed by a company's chief executive, his or her reaction is likely to be, "Uh-uh, another company in trouble."

Advertising is a useful marketing tool, but not when it's used at the wrong time for the wrong purpose.

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Al Ries is the author or co-author of 11 books on marketing, the most recent of which is The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR. He and his daughter Laura run the Atlanta-based marketing strategy firm Ries & Ries.

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