Eight things I learnt as an IPA ad student

I recently joined hundreds of young people just starting out in the ad industry and graduating from the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising's Foundation Certificate. Here are some of the top eight things I learnt.

Gibbs SR toothpaste: the first ad on UK TV, created by Y&R in 1955
Gibbs SR toothpaste: the first ad on UK TV, created by Y&R in 1955

1) Brand are like onions

There are numerous tools that planners can use to explain a theory and understand a brand better. The most memorable (and unexpected) tool from the course was the "brand onion" -  a diagram that allows you to "peel back" the layers of a brand to try to understand what it really means to consumers. (The "layers" from outside in are the brand’s attributes, benefits, personality, values and finally, essence.)

2) Speeding fines don’t work

Behavioural economics – the study of the irrational factors that make people take economic decisions – was key to the course.

One insight that can underpin a marketing strategy is the "the power of now"- the fact that people view something that's happening in the present as far more significant than a similar event that will happen in the future.

For example, real-time displays that alert speeding drivers are more effective at changing behaviour than cameras and the prospect of receiving a fine weeks later.

3) Advertising can be a religious experience

The holy grail of advertising is for your work to enter into popular culture. This is something that John Lewis achieved in 2011 when its ad "the long wait" (by Adam & Eve DDB) inspired several Church of England sermons and was made into a school assembly guide, which has been taught to more than 7,000 children.

4) You can’t really teach it

Despite the many theories and examples in advertising (which are well worth studying) the diploma stressed that everything still comes down to "the consistent power and appeal of a simple idea".

5) Ads are regulated from outside and in

There have been 125 pieces of legislation in the UK in the past five years restricting advertising freedom. Advertising’s self-regulation system is no less rigorous: Clearcast reviews over 60,000 TV commercials a year.

On the IPA's course I learnt acronyms such as OFT, OFCOM, ASA, CAP, BCAP and ASBOF and BASBOF – quite a mouthful.

6) Early ads did what they said on the tin

The first ad ever to air on TV in the UK was for Gibbs SR toothpaste, created by Y&R in 1955. It was created before the idea that brands could have personalities. The black-and-white film visualised the fact that Gibbs SR was "fresh as ice" and could make your teeth "white as snow", with images of real ice and real snow.

7) Henry Ford didn’t necessarily say that

The quote "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is, I don’t know which half" is often attributed to Henry Ford, but also to plenty of other people, so its origin is unclear. But it’s an important reminder that, even today, we aren’t able to measure everything.

8) Advertising can be revolutionary

The "planning revolution" in the 1970s was fundamental to the structure of ad agencies today. Prior to it, planners didn’t exist. Led by BMP and JWT, the move saw permanent planning roles created alongside account heads.