The Wonderful Wizard of Ads

Greg Lowe

August 7, 2012

Frank L. Baum’s literary classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has been analyzed, interpreted, and applied in a myriad of ways since its publication in 1900. For example, one popular theory suggests that the story is a political allegory touting the virtues of the Populist Party.  The classic 1932 film version of the story only served to increase the level of interpretation and extrapolation.  The practice of synchronizing the film with the Pink Floyd album Dark Side of the Moon has practically become a cultural phenomenon. As a lifelong fan of the classic hero’s journey, I’m going to offer up one more unintended application of the story– advertising.

In the story, Dorothy and her newfound friends embark on an epic journey to visit the Wizard of Oz and to obtain from him their personal desires. The Tin Woodman wants a heart, the Scarecrow wants a brain, and the Cowardly Lion wants courage.  Dorothy simply wants to return home to Kansas.  After a long and arduous journey, they finally reach the Wizard and make their pleas.  To their dismay, they learn that the great and powerful Wizard of Oz is nothing more than a man behind a curtain.  In desperation, the Wizard attempts to pacify the agitated protagonists by explaining that they have always possessed the very traits they are seeking.

“But you’ve got them,” explained the now-exposed wizard.  “You’ve had them all the time!”

The true value of the wizard, then, was not in conjuring up virtues which did not previously exist, but in helping the heroes to recognize that they had possessed those virtues all along.  So what does this have to do with advertising?  Like the Wizard, the best advertising agencies do not magically create alluring product benefits or irresistible features.  Rather, great agencies help companies to recognize which existing elements of their businesses will authentically attract the attention of the market.  Specifically, great agencies help their clients to discover and define their hearts, their brains, and their courage.

A Heart – The heart of your company is “product truth”, upon which all great marketing is based.  Nineteenth century advertising legend John Powers said it this way: “The first thing one must do to succeed in advertising is to have the attention of the reader… The next thing is to stick to the truth.”

A Brain – The brain of your company is its strategy.  Simply defined, a strategy is a plan for achieving a specific goal.  Whether you want more market share, more revenue, or something else, your strategy defines how you will obtain it.

Courage – The courage of your company is its bold statement of differentiation.  One of the best marketers I know is fond of saying that companies must stand for something, stand for something that’s different, and stand for something that’s different which people care about.

Sometimes discovering something that you’ve had all along isn’t enough.  Dorothy and her colleagues were unwilling to accept that they had always been in possession of their desired traits.

“You promised us real things – a real brain!  A real heart!  Real courage.  That’s what we want,” exclaimed the angry trio.

In response, the Wizard offered the group tangible gifts – physical representations of heart, brain, and courage.  Ad agencies can provide a similar service.  In addition to helping their clients define their hearts, brains, and courage, great agencies can offer professionally designed and produced materials.  Professional advertising collateral will tangibly represent and effectively communicate product truth, strategy, and bold differentiation.

So, whether you’re looking to discover your product truth, develop your strategy, or communicate your differentiation, you may benefit from a trip down the yellow brick road and a visit with an agency.  But don’t be surprised to hear that you’ve possessed those traits all along and simply needed help discovering and defining them.  In fact, if the agency seems to be magically creating new aspects of your product or service, you may want to pull back the curtain.  There’s a good chance that their power is nothing more than an illusion.