The Anatomy of Humbug
How to Think Differently About Advertising
by Paul Feldwick
with a Foreword by Jeremy Bullmore
How does advertising work? Does it have to attract conscious attention in order to transmit a ‘Unique Selling Proposition’? Or does it insinuate emotional associations into the subconscious mind? Or is it just about being famous... or maybe something else again?
In Paul Feldwick’s radical new view, all theories of how advertising works have their uses – and all are dangerous if taken too literally as the truth. The Anatomy of Humbug deftly and entertainingly picks apart the historical roots of our common (and often contradictory) beliefs about advertising, in order to create space for a more flexible, creative and effective approach to this fascinating and complex field of human communication. Drawing on insights ranging from the nineteenth century showman P.T. Barnum to the twentieth century communications theorist Paul Watzlawick, as well as influential admen such as Bernbach, Reeves, and Ogilvy, Feldwick argues that the advertising industry will only be able to deal with increasingly rapid change in the media landscape if it both understands its past and is able to criticise its most entrenched habits of thought.
It’s a great story, and I learned a lot.
Patrick Barwise, Emeritus Professor of Management and Marketing, London Business School.
...fascinating, provocative and inspiring. It's a joy to read.
Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London
....a genuinely original book, unlike anything ever written about advertising....
Judie Lannon, Editor, Market Leader.
....a unique and extraordinary book....
Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman, Ogilvy London .
4 out of 5 stars
The Anatomy of Humbug talks about the different advertising theories dominating the advertising world. It discusses the differences as well as the synergy among those.
What I like about this book is its direct presentation of the theories as experienced by a practitioner. It is written for those who are working in advertising field.
Although already pointed out by the author, I think that the book will be more effective by putting some examples of ads as he discusses them.
by Greg Anthony Hawod
I have lost track of how many discussions, arguments and debates I have had about how advertising works. How many articles, papers, blog posts and books I've read. How many talks, lectures and seminars I've been to. And at the end of it, there is no Holy Grail.
A breakthrough moment came to me a few years into my career when the agency Hall and Partners leapt onto the UK market research scene with an MRS paper, a philosophy and methodology that seemed eminently sensible to me: advertising works in ways that may well be mysterious, but are certainly various. It can work through the mind, or at least rational thought (Persuasion), or through the emotions (Involvement) or through the senses (Salience).
I've just finished Paul Feldwick's excellent book, The Anatomy of Humbug. I had a similar feeling of a breakthrough on reading this - it's a review of advertising practitioner (rather than academic) thought from the 19th century onwards. Six ways in which advertising probably works (which are not mutually exclusive) are outlined. Please note, however, that Mr Feldwick mentions that six is simply a convenient number - these are in no way 'The Six Definitive Ways In Which Advertising Works.'
They include our old friends Salesmanship, Seduction and Salience, which correspond approximately to the three ways outlined by Hall & Partners. Then Mr Feldwick adds Social Connection, Spin and Showbiz.
The 'schools of thought' are illustrated by quotes and anecdotes from ad men and researchers through the ages, some I'd heard of (Bernbach, Ogilvy, Rosser Reeves, Stephen King, Ernest Dichter and showman P.T.Barnum) and others that I hadn't, who I now feel compelled to read up on (Lasker, Hopkins, Starch, Bernays). At last, after nearly three decades in advertising, I know what 'Starch' and 'DAGMAR' refer to!
The book is refreshing to read - intelligent, witty, incisive and opinionated in a good way - a long way from the standard business book blah. I liked the way that the book ends with 'Showmanship.' How often have you thought, or said, after all the posturing and pontificating and over-intellectualising - come on, it's only advertising!
I suspect that many of us are quite happy to be suckers. We know the rules of the game. We know about hype, but do we really care as long as we get value for money? To me, 'Showmanship' is a bit like 'Salience' - it's an immediate appeal to the senses, instant gratification, and not to be analysed or taken too seriously.
As another (fictional) 19th century showman (Mr Sleary, the circus owner in Dickens' Hard Times) said:
People must be entertained.
And maybe it's brands that should be doing just that.
Paul Feldwick worked in an advertising agency for over thirty years; he became head of the planning department at Boase Massimi Pollitt and later a Worldwide Brand Planning Director for DDB. Since leaving he has worked as a consultant in the fields of strategy, brands, and organisational change, but retains a strong fascination for advertising itself. He has Master’s degrees from the University of Bath School of Management and Ashridge Business School.