History of advertising: No 120: Rosser Reeves' Reality In Advertising

Rosser Reeves, the pioneer of the advertising "hard sell", wasn't quite all he seemed.

History of advertising: No 120: Rosser Reeves' Reality In Advertising

The inventor of the unique selling concept was responsible for what have been described as "many of the most mind-pulverising commercials in the history of TV".

Yet the same man who had abhorred clever copywriting for its own sake and hailed the value of ads that repeatedly hammered home a single point was also a published poet, wrote a novel and co-authored a book explaining the science of Euclid and Sir Isaac Newton.

Moreover, his buttoned-down approach belied a rather racy past. A preacher’s son who loved to drink, dance and gamble in his youth, he was expelled from the University of Virginia for drunkenly crashing a friend’s car during the Prohibition era.

Beginning his working life as a newspaper reporter, Reeves learned copywriting in New York. He joined Benton & Bowles, where he befriended Ted Bates, and left with him to found Bates’ eponymous agency, which he later chaired.

It was at Bates that he evolved the USP theory he expounded in his 1961 book, Reality In Advertising.

Reeves argued that every ad had to make consumers a no-nonsense promise that what was being advertised offered a specific benefit. What’s more, it had to be something that competitors either could not or did not offer. And so compelling that millions of people would be persuaded.

This proposition was often articulated in slogans created by Bates, such as M&M’s "Melts in your mouth, not in your hand" and Anacin’s "Fast, fast, fast relief!".

By the early 60s, however, Reeves’ style became less effective as consumers began tuning out uninteresting ads and a creative revolution swung advertising towards emotional connections.