In Search of the Obvious

“The aspects of things that are most important to us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity.”Ludwig Wittgenstein

Nothing best describes the message of the man who gave us the concept of positioning and the 22 immutable laws of marketing than the Wittgenstein quote. For close to three decades now, Jack Trout has been at the helm of the marketing wheel. A contrarian in his approach, he is not your average rent-a-guru type. Ever since the first ‘Positioning’ article was published in ‘The Industrial Age’ magazine in the 70s, Trout’s counsel to the marketers has remained unchanged. His invariable emphasis on the importance of ‘perceptions’ and ‘simplicity’ in the world of marketing is well- recognized.

I suspect that Trout will draw a lot of flak from ad agencies as he jumps all over them for being at the center of many ill-conceived marketing programs. Most marketing programs today, in his words, lack common sense and the sole emphasis seems to be on creativity and novelty, Trout notes.

Trout keeps the narrative simple and sans jargon, something that has been his hallmark for years now. He asserts that unlike the old times when CEOs/CMOs would always pass under the radar, these days they are the first to be sent to the guillotine. A CEO is the brand custodian and the buck stops with him. He also advises executives to resist information overload and leverage their common-sense, instead. Trout uses a number of case-studies from his consulting career to drive home the point that marketing battles are still being fought in the minds, quite contrary to what many red-blooded marketers tend to think. He warns brands against donning too many hats and asks executives for devising a coherent, long-term marketing direction.

Trout also takes umbrage to the level of significance placed by marketers on the Internet and its off-shoots such as word-of-mouth and viral marketing. He particularly sounds upset at marketers for using Internet rather than traditional media to launch new brands. He underlines the role of Internet as that of a great enabler and advises executives to look at the Internet as a mere tool  not as the ultimate wherewithal.

Trout literally blows the whistle on the role of ad agencies. He says that many agencies have forgotten their core business, i.e., enabling clients to sell their products. Most of them choose to indulge in gimmicks and half-truths. He dismisses the notion of engaging customers in order to turn them into buyers as a wrong one. I decided to examine this allegation of Trout. I observed over 30 different commercials closely and much to my surprise, over four-fifths of these ads had humor, fun and sex element in them. And over two-thirds, in my opinion, completely failed to put across a reason to buy. Whatever happened to positioning!

Status quo is not always bad and Trout breaks it down when he discusses an age old, inherent problem with marketing people. It’s the addiction of tinkering with well-established brands or their respective positionings. Come to think of it, he is bang-on here, too. Take Coca-Cola, Trout’s favorite case-study, for example. It wasn’t as if Coke was doing badly when the top brass decided to change its positioning from ‘The Real Thing’ to something frivolous. It’s just that the new line of Chief marketing officers couldn’t resist the temptation of dismantling the status quo.

Before I finish this review, I would like to clear some air for those who criticize Trout’s books for being repetitive. Yes, his books carry quite a few examples and case-studies from his earlier books, but then, the whole objective is to let people learn from history. Trout himself affirms that he wants young marketing people to study the past and avoid thinking that the world is any different. Our cognitive faculties are still the same, if not any worse.

Finally, I found ‘In Search of the Obvious’ a thoroughly refreshing read just like all the previous books of Trout.