Excerpts from Reality in Advertising
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Excerpts from Reality in Advertising

The following are excerpts from Rosser Reeves’ Reality in Advertising, published in 1961. A pioneering and influential advertising executive, Rosser Reeves (1910 – 1984) was chairman at Ted Baker until his retirement in 1966. These chapters have been selected to exemplify the advertising approach propagated by Reeves, and applied at Ted Bates Inc. Focusing on the Unique Selling Proposition (U.S.P.), Reeves describes what makes, in his eyes, a successful and effective advertising campaign. We have tracked down a few of the ads he discusses and have embedded them for your viewing pleasure.

The Copy Leverage

From the dawn of history mankind has been interested in leverage. ‘Give me a lever long enough,’ said Archimedes, the ancient Greek, ‘and I will move the world.’ ‘What’s the leverage?’ asks the modern man, and, from the stock market to diplomacy, the question is at once a dream, a bandied phrase, and a glint in the eye.

So it is a natural thing to ask: ‘Do these researches show one type of campaign to have extra leverage—to produce more of this golden usage pull? The answer is: ‘Yes.’ There is such a type of campaign, and it goes far deeper than the art of the window dresser. It goes deeper, too, than the mere facile art of the artist, the expertise of the art director, or the empty phrases of the wordsmiths. It goes, in fact, beyond all surface considerations—be they copy style, cathedral solemnity, soaring proclamations, humour, or even the most beguiling charm.

These campaigns have a U. S. P.

What is a U.S.P.? Originated at Ted Bates & Company in the early 1940s, the theory of the now applied, loosely and without understanding, to slogans, slick phrases, strange pictures, mere headlines—in fact, to almost anything which some writers consider slightly different from what they find in competing advertisements. It is used with the casual looseness of Humpty Dumpty, in Through the Looking Glass, when he said: ‘When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’

Actually, U.S.P. is a precise term, and it deserves a precise definition. So we will begin by saying that, like Gaul, it is divided into three parts:

  1. 1. Each advertisement must make a proposition to the consumer. Not just words, not just product puffery, not just show-window advertising. Each advertisement must say to each reader: ‘Buy this product, and you will get this specific benefit.’

    This admonition, of course, has been on page one of almost every advertising textbook for the past sixty years; but as you will see, it is becoming almost a lost art, and more honoured in the breach than in the observance.

  2. 2. The proposition must be one that the competition either cannot, or does not, offer. It must be uniqueeither a uniqueness of the brand or a claim not otherwise made in that particular field of advertising.

    One might assume that a unique proposition, in itself, would be a strong theoretical base for an advertisement. However, there are thousands of unique propositions that do not sell. Witness, a famous toothpaste once advertised:


    This was a proposition, and it was unique. However, it did not move the public, because it apparently was not of importance to them. So we come to the third part:

  3. 3. The proposition must be so strong that it can move the mass millions, i.e., pull over new customers to your product.

These three points are summed up in the phrase: ‘Unique Selling Proposition.’ This is a U.S.P. At this point, we hear jeers from the wings. ‘What sophistry’ say a number of voices. ‘Here is a theory derived in terms of itself. First you set the objective of “What campaigns pull over the most customers?”—and then you answer: “A campaign that tells something about that product which pulls over the most customers!”

The comment is not merited. We are not improvising a theory and cutting it out of whole cloth with a pair of shears. We...