Thursday, 8 October 2009

Timeless Marketing Classics - Charles Frith

I wrote this for Graeme Harrison's post about planners favourite books and it was not only a little late for submission to his blog post when the inspiration finally struck me but it was also written about 3.30 am underneath that nightclub (pictured above and taken on the worlds first 5 Mgp camera "i-mobile" by Samart in Thailand) and hastily bashed out on the Apple Macbook Air that was stolen by taxi 1878 because I can only write from the heart as I need to believe what I'm sharing, and so this took a long time to reach the conclusion I've lightheartedly but with complete sincerity given. 

I thought and thought and thought about it and finally concluded I couldn't recommend most business related books as I've learned more from Dostoevsky and Tolstoy then any papyrus dry Peter Drucker or soundbite drenched Seth Godin. 

Anyway here is Timeless Marketing Classics - Charles Frith 

This is probably going to upset a few people, and I guess it is a shocker of a confession to make, but I've been thinking about what I"m going to write for a couple of weeks since Graeme asked me to share which books have been most influential on my thinking. I'm currently reading Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin about Lincoln. I bought it because on the back it says that when the Whitehouse Press Corp (the toothless gravy train riders of the last eight years) asked POTUS about what book he'd be taking to the Whitehouse, Barry Obama answered without hesitation that it would be the Lincoln account of how he pitched all his enemies into some sort of forward moving equilibrium that earned him a near deity place in history. The time its taking to conclude on those books is eating me alive because two weeks later and I still cant think of more than one book to recommend.

Well let me tell you folks. I USED to be a prolific reader. I read and I read and I read for consecutive decades of my life. I think I even did the whole bottle-of-rum a day while page turning and inhaling rather thick American political history for a year or so on a tropical beach nearly a decade ago now.

In any case, I urge you if the chance avails itself to carve your way through Kissinger's political autobiographies with the trilogy best captured by the middle tome, YEARS OF UPHEAVAL. It's possible to come away from that book and think bombing ones way to defeat in the Mekong Delta along The Ho Chi Minh Trail, and Laos and Cambodia without a thought for the millions of South East Asians who suffered and died in this political ideology war fought in a proxy country.

Doesn't America always fight it's wars in proxy countries? Did we get stuffed on the Marshall plan with France and Germany accelerating ahead before the 50's had ended?

And you may know I never do capitals so pay attention and bookend that one with say a little Ayn (pronounced Ein people just like Ein, Zwei, Dreis. Jawohl?) Rand's Atlas Shrugged, before maybe dancing around the ballroom with a few odds and sods of Kennedy (does Camelot ever not stop dancing?). 

Also. Don't understimate Caro on LBJ (Master of the Senate is good and part of another tour de force trilogy) and for random arcane stocking filler one upmanship, say, a history of British postwar Prime Ministers - Nobody ever remembers Sir Alec Douglas Home do they? It's the curse of being so popular at Eton with his peers despite as they observed, never really having done anything to earn it. That's the British for you.

You've probably clocked me by now as bullshitting wildly on political literature while failing (and flailing) markedly to put forward a single seminal marketing book. And that's my problem. I've been thinking for a couple of weeks about the books that influenced my work the most and the embarrassing conclusion is that I only have one measly offering because if there is one genre of the printed word that is invariably padded to the max, faffs on about irrelevant stuff or convincingly puts forward a good point and then goes on to spend the rest of the book in short gasping breaths excitedly explaining why it's so right. And boy it really does feel right. It's the genre called Business books which include most marketing books. So here goes:

Advertising and marketing books are pants. 

I've read a fair amount although nowhere near as much as nerdy pants Rob Campbell in Hong Kong. If you want a big hung like a zebra bibliography of any and every marketing book ever written check out Rob's blog because not only is it impressive. It's so extensive it's bloody funny if you ask me. Trainspotters rule. Aye.

So it's just my opinion but I'd have no hesitation in recommending not placing too much faith in the latest biz book pulp pot boiler of the day. They might seem on the money but they age a little too quickly for my liking and let's face it business is just business so it's not like it changes fundamentally from decade to decade although it is just about to. Mark my words.

However there is one that has shaped pretty much everything I have done and everything I have thought about since commencing the oddysey of pretty much never thinking about anything else ever again without contextualising it within the trade of creative planning - and which I'm not particularly brilliant at but nevertheless love doing 24/7.

So.... some years back, but this side of the millenium while working at BBDO Dusseldorf, the planning library had a copy of Robert Heath's seminal: The hidden power of advertising. How low involvement processing influences the way we choose brands. and which others can't get their head round and I doubt ever will (apropos point three)

This book is like business poetry for me, because what it does is take the most tedious, stupor inducing "last-reason-why-anyone-would-get-into advertising", spittle smeared end of the short straw and lays out methodically how information commutes and computes and thus works. It's only one end of the spectrum because I'm assuming we're all wannabe artists or creative groupies of one sort or another and understand that side perfectly well.

L.I.P. applies to so much of life, from Derren Brown to Information Warfare that if it looks a bit pants on first skim then you might not be ready for it just yet. It's only when stuck for words, in the shit holes of the global advertising parachute-planning gigs that I've taken the odd cheque for, that the same questions keep coming back again and again. I've asked myself repeatedly:

"How does this pants advertising work when ostensibly its patronising dribble, chock-full of superlative people with superlative white teeth and superlative family and friend dynamics?"

Robert Heath's book shed's much needed light on how frequency and repetition in the low involvement spectrum makes it all work. It's not pretty but I didn't make the rules up for that propaganda/fear marketing end of the spectrum (more over here) although I'd love to implement them to change peoples behaviour towards sustainable wealth creation. Easily the biggest business opportunity of the 21st century as "the" John Grant I think would endorse.

So anyway, the other book I recommend?

Ha Ha. I don't. Well I just think marketing books blow chunks as a rule, and I can't champion enough, how valuable it is to be interested in as much as possible. Try everything if you can, and as my politcal mentor memorably said. "Try it twice because maybe you got it wrong the first time round". I've been known to try things I'm not sure about more than that so I know whereof I speak as Ludwig might have put it.

But I work in advertising so don't listen to me in the slightest. I'm sure all the books listed in Graeme's posts are fucking ace. I mean that too because I'll be sniffing over them like the planner afficcianado I evidently hanker to be now that I've quietly dropped the Enfant Terrible of planning USP, that I was gunning for a few years back.

Be careful what you wish for they say.

In any case I will throw a couple of amuse-gule books to be sporting. Dale Carnegie's "How to win friends and influence people" is a gem and not only for business either. It's where I learned the cardinal rule of listening not speaking and which if I don't know you I'll give you first chance to exhaust your vocabularly.

There is a reluctant second choice though. A book called: "Postmodern Marketing" back in the late nineties when I worked for HHCL which eloquently put forward the case for leaving things to the very last possible moment because *drum roll* we are then aquainted with the maximum amount of information to make better decisions with. Brilliant huh? And so that whole book was a thumbs up with me for that one liner despite the hyper realism, the irony and the humour that signify Postmodernism and indeed pepper this post if we think about the self referential aspect of PoMo which applies to handing this text in so late for Graeme's posts that I've had to post it myself ;)

Update: I'm reading as you know Great Apes by Will Self and unlike when this article was posted POTUS is now Obama and The Lincoln Book was in the suitcase which was in the back of cab 1878 never to return.