Al Ries, one of the all-time great marketing gurus, once told me that successful advertising was, after all the glitz and visuals, a simple matter of positioning. When I told him that I pretty much understood that part of it, he explained to me - in a tone that served to remind me of the Grand Canyon-like chasm that existed between his knowledge and mine - that advertising was, in reality, a battle for "mind" positioning.To hammer home the point, he gave me a copy of his famous 1969 opus on mind positioning in advertising, which he co-wrote with his then-partner, Jack Trout, and which eventually appeared in Advertising Age.
When you recount all the thousands of ad messages you've seen or heard over the course of your life, I'm sure there are several that have had a lasting impact, even decades after they've gone off the air or out of print. As an example, take two TV classics for Alka-Seltzer: "No matter what shape your stomach is in," which aired in 1965, and my personal favorite, "Mama Mia, that's a spicy meatball," which had a memorable run in the spring and summer of 1969 - until factions of Italian-Americans felt it was derogatory and called for it to be pulled off the air.
I can recall each very clearly, even though the first spot aired in black and white roughly 40 years ago. Why?
Because, as Al Ries explained, the spots successfully nestled into a portion of my mind and established a position. Admittedly, at that rather fledgling point in my life there wasn't a whole lot going on up there anyway, so anything looking to settle down more or less had squatter's rights.
I'm taking this nostalgic trip down Madison Avenue because the American Institute of CPAs recently launched a new tagline to replace the nine-year-old "Never Underestimate the Value."
The institute's new effort - "America Counts on CPAs" - is, to be sure, far less nebulous than its predecessor, and probably goes further toward the ongoing image enhancement of the profession, which, even three years after mammoth implosions such as WorldCom, is far from finished.
According to the folks at 1212 Avenue of the Americas, the new slogan "emphasizes the grassroots image and strength of individual CPAs, and was tested with business executives and CPAs with very positive responses."
I'm not sure who exactly was in these focus groups, but hopefully it wasn't the same group of subjects who gave the thumbs-up for the much-maligned Cognitor designation or assured them that WebTrust was a slam-dunk.
But I digress. There will, of course, be the perfunctory transition phase for the organization's existing correspondence materials, which will continue to be used for "cost-efficient purposes." Translation: "Folks, we can't use the new stationery and letterhead until the old inventory is gone."
To be fair, I've been through that exercise once or twice myself, and currently am going through it yet again. But that's fodder for a future column.
If the annals of great marketing and advertising campaigns have shown us anything, it's that a message doesn't have to be complex or expensively produced to be effective. In fact, it's often just the opposite.
But no matter - the AICPA's new marketing campaign is here. Now it's up to the hard-working folks in the profession to convince a scandal-scarred public that there is indeed truth in advertising.
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