You don’t have to go far to find articles offering you “The 7 rules of marketing you must know.” The thing is, this kind of stuff makes it sound like marketing will be super easy if you just follow 3 simple steps steps. But a better way to look at it is that there are good marketing principles that can keep you on track. And as it turns out, one of them in particular matters a lot more than the others.

Get noticed

Advertising legend Dave Trott says that all communication follows the same series of steps. First, you have to get on your customers radar. Then you have to say what you’ve got to say in a clear way. And finally, once you’ve done all that you need to persuade them of your argument.

None of this is easy because according to research you’ll probably see hundreds if not thousands of marketing messages every day. You’re bombarded left, right and centre with more commercial messages than any time in human history. For obvious reasons, you’d have a breakdown if you tried to process all of that stuff. So you don’t. You tune most of it out.

So what does that mean for your marketing efforts?

The main thing to remember about this little diagram is that these steps can only happen in sequence. You can only be persuaded to do something if the message is clear and easy to follow. And you can only get that far if you notice the ad in the first place. And here we start to see the problem with most advertising.

According to industry insiders only 16% of all marketing and advertising is actually noticed or remembered. Yup, that’s right. Fully 84% of all marketing and advertising doesn’t do its main job.

84%!

It turns out that for most businesses, the biggest risk isn’t that people won’t like your ad. It’s that they won’t notice it in the first place.

The main reason most advertising isn’t noticed is that most advertising is bland, boring and vanilla or just mindlessly crammed full of information. Plenty of companies try to force their advertising to meet too many goals or say too many things, or to meet loads of business goals at once. In the confines of a boardroom these ads can make a lot of sense. But out in the real world where people face a barrage of communication, they don’t stand a chance.

At the end of the day, people are only going to look at the handful of ads that they actually find interesting. And unless that happens, nothing else will.

Old Spice

Which leads us neatly to the famous story of Old Spice. It’s no secret that a few years back this was a brand who were also-rans in their category. People under a certain age thought their products were “for grandads” and wouldn’t touch them with a bargepole.

That meant getting creative. Old Spice decided to throw caution to the wind, and to invest in a big idea alongside a brand advertising campaign. The results are now inscribed in advertising folklore.…

Now look at the ad again. Now back to me (just kidding.)

But seriously, did you notice anything about it? At first, this ridiculous ad with a bloke on a horse might just seem like a bizarre way to sell bodywash. And I suppose it is. But that’s the thing. This ad isn’t trying to sell you anything at all. The dominant aim of this ad is to make you look, laugh and pay attention to Old Spice and not much else. In other words, it’s trying to get noticed.

And it worked. Over time people did notice, and Old Spice was transformed from an uncool brand back to market leader in just a few short years. Not bad after years of decline.

Get the basics right

In a world where your customers always have other choices vying for their attention, it’s commercially insane to do advertising that they won’t notice. You can have the most incredible product offer or the most innovative solution to your customers problems. But if your advertising is ignored, they won’t know about it. Or as the grandfather of advertising Bill Bernbach once said, “if no-one notices your advertising, everything else is academic.”

So if there’s a lesson from Old Spice it’s that you need a big idea behind your campaigns to really cut through. It doesn’t have to be silly, but it does have to be big like “Smell Like a Man.” That’s because a big idea allows you to create a focussed message, rather than chucking everything into the pot and hoping for the best.

If you want your marketing to be more effective, getting noticed matters nearly more than anything else. Why? Because marketing is about talking to people and getting on their radar. If you can do that, people are more likely to listen to what you have to say. And when that happens, they’re much more likely to choose your brand over another.

Which is the name of the game.

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