When I started work as a junior copywriter at BMP, I got given the work no one else wanted to do.
That’s the way it is in any job.
You work your way up, you serve your apprenticeship.
If it was a factory, I’d have been sweeping floors.
If it was a football team, I’d have been cleaning boots.
If it was the army, I’d have been swabbing-out toilets.
There’s a good reason for that.
You learn the job absolutely from the ground up.
Later on, when you’re in charge, nobody can tell you a job can’t be done.
You know if it can or can’t be done, because you’ve done it.
If worse comes to worst, you can do it yourself.
So there’s a really good reason to start at the bottom.
For us the bottom was trade ads.
Ads that don’t run in consumer media.
Ads that your mum and friends won’t see.
Ads that tell the retailers why they should stock your client’s product.
And here’s why.
Because the most important part of the link between factory and consumer is the stockist.
If no one stocks it, no one can buy it.
It’s that simple.
But if retailers stock and display your product, it will sell.
Even without any advertising, it will sell.
Maybe not much, but it will sell.
Just by being displayed.
So the first, most important job, as far as the client’s concerned, is to get the trade to stock it.
That’s why we were given so many trade ads to do.
One of the first jobs I always got was the four-page leaflet.
This would either run in trade magazines: The Grocer, Hardware Trade Journal, Electrical Retail Trader, etc.
Or it would be carried around by the sales force.
To show to the retailer, when they tried to get them to stock the product.
The leaflet was usually divided into three parts.
The front cover was what made the product different and/or better than the competition (a reason to stock).
The inside spread was about how fast sales were growing (why the stockist would make money).
And the back cover was about how much advertising it was going to be supported by.
Usually some stills from the commercial(s) and a line about ‘Backed by our new multi-million pound TV campaign’.
Because, if it had advertising support, retailers were more likely to stock it.
They could see it would have big money behind it.
But, more importantly, they thought their customers would see it.
So the biggest part about consumer advertising was to persuade the trade to stock the product.
Usually we did these ads even before the commercials were shot.
The lead times for the magazines were a lot longer than for TV.
So we couldn’t even use stills from the ads.
We’d have to mock-up a packshot.
But it didn’t matter.
The trade didn’t care what the advertising was.
Just how much was being spent.
That was the great lesson for me.
It didn’t matter how creative the advertising was.
What mattered was that they were going to have advertising.
They were going to be supported by a multi-million pound campaign.
That’s pretty sobering isn’t it.
The main job of advertising is to get the product stocked.
Think of that while the art director is throwing a hissy fit about the client choosing the wrong typeface
While the copywriter is sulking that the client chose the wrong music.
While the director is horrified that the client chose the wrong cut.
While all that’s going on.
And while everyone knows that their personal area of skill is crucial to the success or failure of the campaign.
The most important factor in selling the product isn’t the quality of the ads.
It’s the fact that there is any advertising at all.
Because that’s what makes the stockist stock it.
If they don’t stock it, it won’t sell.
If they stock it, it will.
Kind of puts our job into a bit more perspective, doesn’t it?