What use is advertising?

Akio Morita was the founder of Sony. Apparently how he got started was that, after the war, he
bought several dozen wire-recorders from the US army.

These were an early form of tape recorder. When he bought them he didn’t know what he was going to do
with them.

He knew the possibilities of this new technology excited
him. The trouble was, there was no demand for it.

Being unable to record sound and instantly play it back was
not a problem that needed solving. At least not for the average person.

Before Akio Morita could satisfy a demand, he needed to
create one. So he wrote a small pamphlet about the uses and
possibilities of a wire recorder. And he distributed it to schools in the Tokyo area.

Pretty soon the schools were clamouring to buy his wire
recorders. He sold out, and that was the start of Sony.

Years later he saw the possibilities in transistors. Until that point, radios and TVs had used big old-fashioned

These looked like light bulbs. They were about the same size and just as fragile.

Akio Morita realised that by using transistors instead, he
could make technology smaller and tougher. In fact, truly portable for the first time.

One of his first uses of this was a tiny radio. At least it was tiny by the standards of the day.

It was about six inches long, four inches wide, and an inch
deep. The problem was the demand for a portable radio didn’t

So, before he could satisfy a demand, Morita knew he needed
to create one.

He told his salesman they should demonstrate how amazing the
radio was by popping it into their shirt pocket. The problem was it didn’t fit.

So Morita had hundreds of shirts made with slightly oversize
pockets. He issued these for each of his salesmen to use when
demonstrating the radio.

Sony created the market for tiny portable radios.

Years later his research and development people came up with
a tiny tape cassette player that gave great sound. But it had no speakers. And it couldn’t record.

The Sony marketing department said the product wouldn’t sell. No one was asking for a cassette player that didn’t record
and only worked with headphones.

Akio Morita knew, before he could satisfy a demand, he had
to create one. So before he launched the product, he gave it away to
opinion formers.

Professional musicians, recording studios, music
journalists, composers. They all talked, and wrote, about the fantastic quality of
the sound. Pretty soon the public were clamouring to buy it.

That was the Sony Walkman.

But before Akio Morita created the supply, the demand didn’t

Adam Morgan wrote the book “Eating The Big Fish” which launched
the concept of ‘challenger brands’.

Adam was telling me about an experiment in Canada. A company wasn’t sure about the value of its advertising. So, to see what would happen, they only advertised in half
the country.

Sales didn’t seem to go up, so they stopped advertising.

Instead they did a coupon drop over the entire country. But only half the country used the coupons. Guess which half.

If the demand doesn’t exist, you can’t satisfy it.

Henry Ford said, “Before
the automobile existed, if I’d asked people what they wanted, they’d have said
faster horses.”

People aren’t visionaries. They can’t know they want something that doesn’t exist.

Sometimes you have to create the demand before you can
satisfy it.

That’s called advertising. Creating a demand.

Akio Morita said, “The
greatest assistance I had in growing my company was the total failure of nerve
on the part of western businessmen to make a move without research.”

Marshall McLuhan put it differently. He said, “Running a
business based only on research, is like driving a car by looking in the
rear-view mirror.”

  • http://

    Good point, well made (as always).

    The recession seems to have worsened the ‘rear-view mirror’ effect. We’re so nervous of putting a foot wrong, we don’t put a foot anywhere (I’m mixing my metaphors there, sorry). Everyone wants to react to the needs of the recession-consumer – and we’re forgetting to create new needs.

    Everyone except for a few like Apple, of course, who continue to create (for a premium) wonderful new things you never knew existed but absolutely must have. And they’ve just posted record profits.

  • http://

    Dave, that’s why the Fallon guys were insistent on not letting Cadbury’s Grilla anywhere near a research; they knew he wouldn’t have come out the other end with all his attributes intact – No precedent, you see. And it’s hard to measure against no precedent.

  • Seven year’s ago, my wife got out of advertising and started painting fulltime for a living. Her contemporary art has always sold well. When the recession hit, we thought whoops, surely art is not a necessity? She hasn’t had the best year, but she easily makes what she used to earn as a senior copy group head. She does that by creating her own demand. Had she not been in advertising, she wouldn’t have had the where-with-all to maintain a profile and retain buyers. And perhaps not have sold a single piece of art. Many perfectly respectable artists we know are selling hardly anything at all. Morito knew thing or two about people.

  • http://

    Can advertising create a demand for another 4 years of Gordon Brown and a Labour government at the next election, or is it beyond that now – time for change? I only ask because there must be examples of when advertising can’t create a demand.

  • http://

    Hi Grilla,
    Not sure if anything would work, once Rupert Murdoch bets The Sun on him losing.
    But personally I think the worst thing he could do is defend his record.
    English people don’t for anyone, they vote against someone.
    So the only chance is to make people hate Cameron more than Brown.
    The clown who puts a little wind turbine on his house (not even capable of lighting a 100 watt bulb) just for show.
    The idiot who rides a bike to work for the ecology, with his clothes following him behind in a limo.
    The twit who flies to the artic to be photographed on a dog sled (producing tons of CO2) to publicise his interest in global warming.
    I think what we can learn from Saatchi is to act like the challenger even when you’re the incumbent.

  • http://

    Does this blog leave you feeling a little inferior?
    Does all the wisdom and knowledge imparted make you feel as if you’ll never be that good?
    Why not try;
    Which now features no wisdom and the minimum of knowledge to leave you feeling
    vastly superior.

  • http://

    Do you live anywhere near Basildon by any chance?

  • http://

    I’m not the Basildon Blogger, if that’s why you ask.

  • http://

    The trouble with the world of politics is the quality of the people who imagine themselves politicians. There’s an acute shortage of talent, substance, charisma, and this leads to weak unimaginative policy and voter disinterest.

    President Obama has made everyone else look like Gordon Brown; pretty unappealing.

    Maybe politics will never draw the best people for the job. You’d get my vote if you ever decided to run for office, Dave.

    Just think, as PM you could introduce a Bill to delete anyone with the name, Antoine. Give it some thought…

  • http://

    And Dave, if that’s the strategy Saatchi & Saatchi take with DC, and lift The clown, The idiot and The twit lines you’ve written, I’ll be sure to tell them where they appeared first. The Twat who Tweets is surely missing?

  • http://

    Run for office and delete people?
    All sounds a bit 1939 to me.

  • http://

    Nobody likes Gordon Brown, so it’s a waste of time trying to change that.
    The only hope is to make the alternative worse.
    The same way John Major beat Neil Kinnock.
    Actually Kinnock beat himself.
    Major was an unpopular PM, but Kinnock made himself such a prat people voted against him..

  • http://

    Hi Antoine,
    I’m guessing that the 1939 you’re referring to is Nazi Germany.
    Actually the burning of the Reichstag was 1933, and ‘the night of the long knives’ 1934.
    1939 was the invasion of Poland.
    Maybe I’ve got it wrong and you were thinking of something else.
    Maybe it doesn’t matter and I’m being pedantic.

  • http://

    No, you’re right. I was just generalising.
    I figured everyone would get the 1939 reference was about Hitler and his chums quicker than if I’d said another date or gone into the history.

  • http://

    I’m guessing Mrs Brown may like Gordon, just a little, though to see her face in the pictures of her and Barack holding hands not so long ago, I think she’d happily jump ship and swim west. Hi Mr DeGit, no Nasties here, rest assured.

  • http://

    I’m down with Brown.

  • http://

    Never a frown, with Gordon Brown. Eh John?

  • William Goldman gave us a great metaphor in Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid – the scene where the Sherrif is trying to call up a possie from a reluctant townsfolk. No one want to go hunting for the Hole in the Wall Gang. Too risky and the Sherrif did seem to have much of a following in the first place. However, an enterprising chap steps up and says, “I have someting to say!”
    He proceeds to sell the revolutionary new bicycle to a captive audience who were now REALLY keen. The nice bit is, later in the film, Butch has acquired himself a bike to charm the girl. Bit like a DC photo opportunity. Maybe Murdoch’s Fox Film company could do a remake, Butch Cameron & The Sun-Bounced Kid.

  • http://

    Now this might be heresy but I am not sure I agree with this. I think this a fairly myopic view of product marketing. The number one lesson in product marketing is to question what market are we truly in. Many a company’s product strategy has floundered because of this.
    So was the young Akio Morita really in the market for tape recorders or was he in the market for voice recording, something that had been around since wax cylinders in the 19th century. He very cleverly made it more accessible to a wider market, the need was already there just that people weren’t aware of an accessible solution.
    Similarly with the Walkman, was he in the market for portable cassette recorders or portable music players. The latter already existed, either big clumsy mono cassette players or his own tiny transistor radios, complete with clumsy hearing aid style earphone. That’s what we used to annoy people on the bus with on the way to school in the 70’s. So yet again he provided a brilliant more accessible solution. Maybe he was just brilliantly intuitive but perhaps asking the right research questions may have yielded the same need, certainly the tranny on the bus was less than a great experience.
    Interestingly a certain Sir Clive Sinclair also claimed not to research markets but create them, citing the pocket calculator as an example – or were adding machine around since the Ancient Egpytians and the abacus and had he just made it more portable and accessible (there’s a theme building here). He certainly didn’t look so bright when launching the C5 electric bike in 1981 when petrol was 25p a litre.
    I wise person once told me that research was for illumination and not support.

  • http://

    Gavin, you’re not taking the right bus – Mine always provides a fascinating trannie experience. Missed my stop many times looking at the tattoo’s.

  • http://

    Hi Dave,

    Without Advertising we’d live a life of propoganda.

    Communist Russia banned advertising. For 60 years they only ran with propoganda. Why? Because Communism was the only belief system permitted under Stalin. He even wanted to dynamite St Basil’s Cathedral so he could get more tanks down Red Square on Victory Day, but fortunately some faithful town planners convinced him against it. (That must have been one hell of a pitch).

    There was a statue to Lenin in Pushkinskaya, a stone’s throw from red Square, with some words below it that were carved into the hearts and minds of every schoolchild. They all believed their brand of Communism would last 1000 years. Then one day, they woke up, and the statue was gone. It had been replaced by a Coke sign.

    Since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the main road from Sheremetyevo 1 airport into the heart of the Kremlin is littered with more 48 sheet posters every 50 yards than is imaginable. That’s the power, reach, and influence advertising has had to a country that crosses half the World’s international time zones. It revolutionised a country starved for 60 years of Advertising into an orgy of overkill.

    Before Advertising in Russia, there was one manufacturer for every product available.
    All chgocolate was branded Krazny Aktiabr (Red October) No matter where it was made, or who made it. Now there are thousands of manufacturers prospering under different names, all making different products competing with one another. The funny thing is, in some parts of the world Advertising is not even allowed to compete, and yet it is still a success with the locals because what it stands for is freedom of choice.

    In Saudi Arabia it is forbidden to compete under the Sharia Laws of Islam. So what happens is a distributor can hire an agency to advertise all it’s conflicting products at the same time. What does this mean? It means the Creative team who did a campaign for Audi on the Morning, can do a campaign for Porsche in the afternoon. On one occasion an agency worked nationally for Maserati, Audi, Porsche, VW, all at the same time. Advertising is a crazy business, and to me, that is what makes it so wonderful.

    Recently we have seen how powerful Twitter is in advertising a demonstration to people fighting for freedom of choice in Iran. If we took Advertising out of the UK, we would be reversing into the world of the beancounter whose only war cry is “how much” whereas at present we can share a richness of values; many of which, money can never buy.

  • http://

    I’m not sure the Twitter activity ‘advertised’ the demonstration.
    To call that advertising would be to deem all forms of reporting advertising.
    Twitter was used to make people aware of the demonstration, but advertising isn’t just making someone aware of something. Is it?
    A teacher makes a student aware of photosynthesis, say, or World War II – but they aren’t advertising it.

    And even if you accept that wide understanding of the term, I wouldn’t accept the supposed ‘iranian twitter revolution’ at face value. See: http://zeroanthropology.net/2009/06/17/americas-iranian-twitter-revolution/

    But for the most part, I agree with you.
    Freidrich von Hayek showed us how socialist states and economic planning can cripple innovation, and how a lack of competition can stifle progress.
    But he was Thatcher’s favourite political philosopher!

  • http://


    WOM is advertising of the highest order.

  • http://

    Hi John W.

    I think that massive hat on your head speaks louder than WOM.
    Where did you get it from?

  • http://

    I speak, therefore I am in advertising?

    I suppose I could get on board with that.

  • http://

    Creators, inventors, innovators, challengers, etc… SCORE!

    Marketers, number crunchers, clients who research till they die, etc… LOSERS!

    Creators build companies. They then hire the marketers to destroy them, and pay finance guys to take money away from them. Ironic, isn’t it?

    I once presented ideas to Sony’s marketing team, so I know just how un-Akio Morita they can be… at least in the market I’m in. So, it’s no surprise they’re at the dismal state they’re currently in. Not knowing it, of course.

    I wonder how people fail to see that they can’t overtake without changing their courses. Worst, they continue to insist that it’s someone else’s fault!

  • http://

    I went for a job recently on a piece of hi tech business. Mine was the only piece of kit that worked. In future, I shall take a soldering iron with me.

  • http://


    The hat is from Ibiza. It’s my homage to George Best being dubbed ‘El Beatle’ after his one man demolition of Benfica. The hat is definitely louder than I am.