A view from Dave Trott: Ladder to nowhere
A view from Dave Trott

Ladder to nowhere

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There’s a piece of thinking that young marketing trainees learn and it’s ruining their ability to think.

It’s called laddering-up.

It’s been around awhile and it used to be simple common sense.

The first rung on the ladder is the product’s USP.

(What feature makes it different to the competition?)

The second rung is the consumer benefit.

(Why that feature makes it better for the person buying it.)

Okay, so far so good.

Those two steps are the common sense logic that anyone can understand.

You don’t need to be in advertising to get that.

1) What does our product do that’s different?

2) Why does the customer need that feature?

Anyone trying to sell anyone anything would use that logic.

But that’s the problem.

It’s common sense and it’s logical.

It’s too simple for marketing types who want to make their job more complicated in order to justify their role.

So they have added three more rungs to the ladder.

And here’s where it stops making any sense.

The next rung they’ve added, the third rung, is the emotional benefit.

(How does that feature make the consumer feel?)

The fourth rung they’ve added is the transformational benefit.

(How will it change the consumer’s life?)

And the fifth rung they’ve added is the societal benefit.

(How will it change society for the better?)

So a typical brief might work like this:

First rung: our washing powder has a new ingredient that washes better.

Second rung: all your family’s clothes will be cleaner.

Third rung: you will feel like a better wife and mother.

Fourth rung: everyone will treat you with respect.

Fifth rung: you will improve your world.

The problem is, the fifth rung always ends up in the same place.

The World Will Be A Better Place.

An empty, meaningless, emotional claim.

It has no basis in fact and grew out of specious reasoning.

And everyone who uses that ladder ends up at the same place.

Which is why we are now asked to believe that everything from supermarkets to computers, from mobile phones to fast-food outlets, can make the entire world a better place.

Where everyone is free to express their true self and dance around in ecstasy all day.

Is it any wonder that ordinary human beings are ad-blocking this crap?

Bus drivers, office workers, housewives, don’t have time for these lies.

They just want us to stop on the second rung.

To tell them what does our product do and why they need it.

They don’t want a snake-oil salesman telling them that they will live the life of their dreams if they’ll only buy this product.

University graduates, on a mission to raise the status of advertising, have dragged it back into the insulting twaddle it was in the 1950s.

When all a housewife was supposed to want was other people’s approval.

Bill Bernbach freed us from this insulting drivel in the 1960s.

We then had three decades of intelligent advertising until we returned to the 1950s.

As George Santayana said: "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three.