Advertising is a Load of Manure

I grew up on an Iowa farm back in the ’70s. It was a fair-sized operation for its day—800 acres of corn, soybeans and alfalfa, nearly 1,000 head of hogs a year and 150 feeder cattle at any one time.

I’ve long suspected the primary reason for my birth was the prospect of free child labor without troublesome governmental oversight.

So from the age of about ten until I realized there were careers that didn’t require a strong back, rubber boots and a compromised olfactory sense, I spent most of my Saturdays wading through manure. I shoveled it. I hauled it. I spread tons of it over what seemed like half the county. It was sweaty, sloppy, aggressively fragrant work.

But I was always amazed at how all those “fertilizer applications” turned manure into money. You could see exactly where it was spread by the difference in how lush, green and vigorous crop growth was there.

The bin-busting yields resulting from those pungent Saturdays bring to mind a fascinating book called How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don’t Know.

It’s a scientific (Science in advertising? What?) examination of, among other things, advertising’s unique ability to reinforce memory structures in the mind and how those structures are a subtle but relentless influence on our actions. A powerful cumulative effect over time.

Now, you can grow a crop without fertilizer and save yourself some work and expense. For a while. But soon enough those memories start to wither. Competitive weeds pop up, crowding you out. Next thing you know you’ve lost the crop—and possibly the farm.

Consistent growth and the ongoing bounty that sustains you through dry spells and downturns take diligence and patience. Plus manure. Lots of manure.

Come harvest time, when a potential customer is at the point of making a purchase decision, you want those more robust memory structures. The customer is more likely to buy your brand over another that hasn’t put down deep roots in their head.

So, when people tell me that what I do for a living is a load of crap (not an infrequent occurrence), my answer is, “You’re absolutely right.”

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