Tag Archives: advertising

A brilliant new marketing book destined to become a classic

A review of Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Live — and Tell — the Best Stories Will Rule the Future, by Jonah Sachs

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If you’ve never seen the wildly popular online videos The Story of Stuff and The Meatrix, do yourself a favor and check them out. These two outstanding examples of the marketer’s craft embody the insights revealed in Jonah Sachs’ outstanding new book, Winning the Story Wars.

For years now, everyone involved in marketing, fundraising, communications, social media, or any related field has been intensely aware that the key to successful messaging is a story. In this beautifully written book, Jonah Sachs explains why that is so, what’s needed for a successful story, and how to construct one, step by step.

As Sachs writes, “the oral tradition that dominated human experience for all but the last few hundred years is returning with a vengeance. It’s a monumental, epoch-making, totally unforeseen turn of events.” If these statements strike you as hyperbolic, consider this: the nearly universal distrust of institutional authority (whether governmental, corporate, or religious) that has become a distinguishing feature of our society over the past five decades, combined with the atomization of our information sources (500 TV channels, one billion Facebook users, 500 million Tweeters), makes it absolutely essential that anyone who needs to deliver a message to a very large number of people must couch it in the form of a story with broad appeal across all the lines that divide us (and define us). As Sachs explains, “Great brands and campaigns are sensitive to the preferences of different types of audiences, but the core stories and the values they represent can be appreciated by anyone. Universality is the opposite of insincerity.”

Winning the Story Wars is, simultaneously, an honest and occasionally embarrassing tale of Sachs’ own halting progress toward understanding the craft of story-making, an exploration of the cultural and anthropological roots of the archetypal stories that live on in our consciousness, and, ultimately, a lucid, practical guidebook to building your own stories.

Sachs has done his homework. He has read Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung as well as the Bible, delved deeply into the history of marketing and advertising, and explored contemporary advertising, as exemplified by the Marlboro Man, the rule-breaking 1960s campaign for the Volkswagen Beetle (“Think Small.”), and Apple’s more recent “1984” and “Think Different” campaigns. He manages to tie together all these disparate sources and examples within the framework of an entirelly original analysis. Along the way, Sachs reveals how three men — Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, and “the father of public relations,” Joseph Bernays — transformed the American economy by shifting  public consciousness from the values of our Puritan heritage to the dictates of the marketplace, enshrining consumerism as the dominant feature in our ethos. It’s truly brilliant.

Sachs bases his analysis on ‘the ‘three commandments’ laid out in 1895 by marketing’s first great storyteller, John Powers: Tell the Truth, Be Interesting, and Live the Truth.” Sachs emphasizes the importance of avoiding “Marketing’s five deadly sins: vanity, authority, insincerity, puffery, and gimmickry.”

If you’re engaged in marketing, advertising, fundraising, or anything even reasonably related to them, you must read this book.

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A serial entrepreneur tells his story, and it’s hilarious

A review of Raising Eyebrows: A Failed Entrepreneur Finally Gets It Right, by Dal LaMagna

@@@@@ (5 out of 5)

Over the years I’ve participated in several surveys aimed at determining the characteristics of successful entrepreneurs. Finally now, after reading Dal LaMagna’s brutally honest memoir about his long, eccentric business career, I understand the one truly essential attribute an entrepreneur needs for success: chutzpah.

It was chutzpah that led Dal to organize a petition campaign about the oppressive noise overhead from the airport nearby — at the age of 8. It was chutzpah again when he set up a computer dating service as a college freshman, and when its collapse reflected poorly on the priests who ran the Catholic college, set up what apparently became Europe’s first computer dating service in Switzerland, where they had exiled him for a year. It was chutzpah when he applied to Harvard Business School with a long, detailed accont of the 16 unsuccessful businesses he’d started. And it was certainly chutzpah when he ran for President — of the United States! — in 2008. There is no end of chutzpah in this outrageously enjoyable story. And many of the anecdotes about the misadventures of this perennial class clown are downright hilarious. Dal himself even laughed about some of them!

Dal, who has been a friend of mine for several years, is best known to the public — at least to the eyebrow-tweezing public — as Tweezerman. By Dal’s account, the company of this name that he founded as he approached middle age, was his 17th business venture. The failure of the previous 16 caused him endless grief, lost friendships, and considerable debt. However, Tweezerman grew from a one-person operation in his 400-square-foot bungalow on Long Island into the leading brand in the beauty implements business, a staff of more than 100, a large wharehouse on Long Island, and a manufacturing plant in India, eventually resulting in a sale that made Dal a millionaire many times over.

Dal LaMagna practices what he calls “responsible capitalism.” In eschewing the more familiar term “socially responsible business,” which is widely used in Social Venture Network, of which Dal and I are both longstanding members, he seems to be emphasizing that running a business in a socially responsible manner is just good business and really not anything out of the ordinary. Except that it is, in an era when the ghost of Milton Friedman haunts Wall Street and Main Street alike.

Books of this sort are rarely so well written as Raising Eyebrows. Dal was wise to work with the partnership of Carla Reuben and Wally Carbone, whose mastery of organization and style is enviable. This book is not just instructive and insightful. It’s also fun to read.

Oh, and by the way: I’m way out of Dal’s league when it comes to chutzpah, but I’ve practiced it on many occasions by starting businesses or investing in companies on the spur of the moment based on instinct alone. And you know something? It’s served me well.

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Googled, by Ken Auletta

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

Ken Auletta monitors the media for the New Yorker magazine, and his writing frequently brings new perspective our understanding of the changes that are upending the world’s information sources at an alarming rate. “Googled” brings us face to face with several of the remarkable individuals who are reshaping the media — in ways that are little understood outside of the field. Focusing on Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the two Stanford computer wizards who launched Google barely more than a decade ago, and on several of their key colleagues, notably Eric Schmidt, the company’s CEO, Auletta takes us behind the scenes at this extraordinary company. Read this book, and you’ll understand why Google’s stock price stays in the stratosphere, why media executives from newspapers to films to television are terrified by the company — and why the Chinese government recently felt it necessary to rein it in.

Like any good book, “Googled” puts its subject matter in perspective. We learn, for example, that despite the proliferation of familiar products from Google, nearly all its revenue comes from a single source: online advertising. And we come to understand that the reasons Google is able to maintain such a stranglehold on online advertising are straightforward: they had the presence of mind to buy the leading online advertising agency early enough in the game to get away with it, and they are amassing a gargantuan storehouse of consumer data that may be unmatchable by anyone else. This book is well worth reading.

ISBN-10: 1594202354

ISBN-13: 978-1594202353

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