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The challenge is clutter.  It’s like dust, clear it away and it just comes back.

The first advertising must have been word-of-mouth. “It’s getting cold and I need a sweater, where can I get some wool?”  “The farmer on the hill raises sheep, you can buy wool from him, but if you want it already spun, you should see the widow who lives near the brook.”

Then, as small towns developed it became names:  Smith shod horses, Mason built your house and Miller turned your grain into the flour that went to Baker, who made your bread.

Then came the first endorsements and self-promotion: Shoemaker to the king.   Milliner to the Princess.  Saddle-maker to the Emperor.  “By the order of His Majesty, King Albert” on condiments, tobacco, biscuits and more.

As towns grew into cities, a need for signs arose.  At first, they just contained words, then painted pictures were added, to make them stand out and help those who were illiterate –“The Spotted Pig” depicting a fat, freckled porcine drinking out of a tankard.  Then the signs grew and were placed in different areas of the city, directing people from elsewhere to the actual location of the establishment.

Broad-scale celebrity product endorsements probably originated in 1863 when the popular European beverage Vin Mariani, a drink made with wine and extract of coca leaves, found favour with Britain’s Queen Victoria and Popes Leo XIII and Pius X. (And no wonder!)

Then came radio and product “jingles” with the rationale that you’d get to the store with voices in your head singing about your dishwashing liquid or toothpaste. In 1923, around the same time commercial radio began in the United States, General Milles is credited with airing the world’s first singing commercial.  On Christmas Eve of 1926 in the Minneapolis-St. Paul radio market, the seminal radio bite, entitled “Have You Tried Wheaties?” was first sung over the air.

The next development was TV,  with commercials and jingles acted out, or presenting “slice of life” situations and soon, sponsorships, like P&G’s soap operas were created.  Then came product placement in movies where millions of people could see the product used in context.

Advertising began springing up wherever there was space — billboards, shelters, and advertising on and in buses and cars, on trains and planes.  In washrooms and seat-backs, on electronic screens and light displays, at the football game or the bowling alley.  Wherever people were, whatever the activity, a way was found to reach out with messages about products and services.

(Promotion is a big element, and another, parallel story, but I’ll give it a pass for now.)

Now here we are, dare I say, drowning in Social Media.  Desperately trying to learn to swim while simultaneously trying to win an advantage over the competition and make ourselves stand out from all the rest.

The pattern is clear.  There is innovation, and with that, the kudos and clear advantage of standing out from the crowd.  Until, that is, that everyone else jumps on the bandwagon, the competition becomes fierce, the environment gets cluttered and the differentiation wanes .  Then someone gets a brain wave or seizes an opportunity and the cycle begins all over again.

What’s the Point?

The point is that it’s not just about jumping on the latest trend.  It’s about how you leverage the “latest thing” to support your strategy and plan to do what is best for your product or service.  How it helps you reach your consumer and what works for them.  It’s about being smart, strategic and discerning.

Yes, it’s a huge win to be first.  But if you’re not first, you’d better be wiser, and understand just what this means for your brand and if/how it best fits.

Companies like Coca Cola, P&G, General Mills and L’Oreal, to name just a few, have had their share of innovation, but it has been their consistency, their attention to strategy, their discipline and attentiveness to the plan which has led to their enduring success. When they were not first, they found the best way to use advertising and other vehicles to build awareness for their Brands and attract users.  However, the most important thing is always the quality and consistency of their products over the long-term and this translates into the care with which they communicate.

When faced with clutter, it is the familiar, the known, the recognizable that stands out when you are searching for something.

Fundamentally, it is not the medium, nor the message. that keeps your customers coming back for more.  It’s delivering the goods.

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