In 1792, the French Revolution was falling apart, the provisional government issued extreme emergency measures.
These terrified everyone, they felt like the result of fear and panic.
Then Georges Danton made a rousing speech, which is still quoted two centuries later:
“L’audace, l’audace, encore l’audace, toujours l’audace.”
In English, that means: “We must dare, and dare again, we must always be daring.”
Those words are rousing, an emotional appeal to the feelings.
The only problem is they don’t actually tell us what to do.
They give us a great feeling, emotionally, but they don’t change behaviour.
Which is pretty much where advertising is at.
The work we do concentrates solely on feelings, not on changing behaviour.
The product is barely mentioned, often we can’t even tell what category it’s in.
Like Danton’s speech we are moved, but we are moved to feel not to act – why is this?
Thirty years ago, Steve Henry started HHCL and told me the philosophy behind it.
The theory was that all products are like all other products, so there is no real advantage.
In this case the only differentiating factor must be the advertising.
Since there was nothing practical to say, the difference could only be emotional.
So whoever ran the advertising that emotionally appealed to the consumers would win.
This of course meant ad agencies didn’t have to concern themselves with anything as grubby as actual products.
And yet this is strange because my favourite HHCL campaign was a classic, old-fashioned product campaign – it was for the AA.
The AA was the biggest breakdown service in the UK, it owned the market.
So the job wasn’t branding, it was to grow the market for breakdown and recovery.
Its campaign line was: “The AA. Britain’s 4th Emergency Service.”
Now that’s great thinking: you’ve got the Police, the Fire Brigade, the Ambulance Service, add the AA to that and your family are safe even when they’re not at home.
They didn’t need to brand it – as the biggest, they took ownership of the category.
I took out membership straight away, and that campaign line is the reason I still renew it 20 years later.
I couldn’t tell you what campaign the AA has been running since, if any.
Probably some “toujours l’audace” ads to make me emotionally warm about the brand.
Whatever the AA has been running, that original campaign wasn’t about brand, it was about changing behaviour – it certainly changed mine.
Consumers don’t even know brand campaigns are happening because there are no products involved.
And, whatever ad agencies will tell you, consumers do actually buy products.
Which is what’s wrong with the original argument, that all products are exactly like all other products so there’s no point looking for differences.
That’s not only a lazy way to think, it’s ineffective.
If you believe no product can ever be different or better, you’ll stop looking for a way to make people switch to yours.
Selling emotion is fine if you own the market and you don’t want to change behaviour.
If you own the market you’re happy if no-one changes, that’s what you want, to maintain the status quo.
But if you don’t own the market, you need consumers to switch to your brand.
You need advertising that makes them change behaviour.
To change behaviour, you need a reason, you need to differentiate.
Don’t just say “l’audace”, dare to be different.
Dave Trott is the author of The Power of Ignorance, Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three