What Can We Learn From “Reality in Advertising”?

Reality in Advertising

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There is this book from 1961 written by Rosser Reeves called Reality in Advertising, one may assume that the concepts are dated.

However, is it really? Will we learn something from a book written more than fifty years ago? Will we still find the contents relevant?

The answer is – yes. The principles laid out years ago are still applicable to the current times. It has not changed much actually. So, what can we learn from this?

What is advertising?

Fifty years ago, it was hard to define what advertising is. However, Reeves pointed it out this way:

“Advertising is the art of getting a unique selling proposition into the heads of the most people at the lowest possible cost.”

That time, obviously Reeves didn’t know that the future would be the internet – where information and communication can be done through the tips of your fingertips.

However, when you change the word “advertising” in what Reeves’ definition with “marketing” – it makes more sense today. It’s more relevant to us now right?

What is effective marketing?

Before “Reality in Advertising” came out, advertising is founded on originality and sales. Reeves considered “originality” as something dangerous.

How do you judge if a campaign is really original anyway? It was an issue in the sixties and it is still an issue now. There are actually award giving bodies giving honor to the most creative campaigns.

These awards are given regardless if the campaign translated to success for the companies (depending on the companies’ goals like, did it generate sales?).

Determining a campaign a success based on the sales made is also problematic as it can’t tell if the marketing effort has made an impact on the market.

Sometimes a product may sell even though it’s not backed up by a solid marketing campaign. Or on the contrary, a well-planned campaign saving a product from not selling at all.

Reeves and his advertising company devised a way to know the effect of campaign. They came up with these measures, “Usage Pull” and “Penetration”.

Usage Pull is about the number of people in the market that has been pulled to use what you are selling via advertising. While “Penetration” is the people who have your current campaign in mind.

With today’s technology, there are better ways in measuring the success of the campaign. Almost everything can be accounted for, even where to allocate your budget for the best marketing efforts.

Despite these advancement, it was a problem then as it is now. We can’t depend on initiatives based on faith. Your marketing should still be measurable against your goal.


Let’s talk about USP or in full, “Unique Selling Proposition”. Reeves came up with this term and it became popular among the advertising practitioners. It became so popular that all people assumed that all campaign launches have USPs.

Reeves disagrees as he said there are some campaigns that do not even have a USP. Without a USP, there are no real results to speak about.

Reeves expounds on USP:

  • From the name itself, the advertisement should have a proposition. It should have meaningful proposition to the customers. The proposition must be able to convince the target why they need this product and why they should buy it.
  • From the name itself again, the proposition should be unique. It should have an edge over the competitors. What are you doing differently this time? What sets it apart from the competition?
  • The proposition should be able to convince people. Convince them hard to change their mind. Convince them to turn to what you’re selling instead.

Reeves’ agency succeeded in this. They were known to create USPs and gave great results to their clients. Do take note that a USP is a success if done well. So how do you create a working USP?

Here is how Reeves worked USP out:

  1. Find the USP in the product or service you are offering. If you have developed what your selling well, you would find the USP in it.
  2. If you don’t have a USP then build your product around a USP that you understand that will work.
  3. Those two options mentioned above however will take time in accomplishing. Sometimes you need to deliver a product fast to cope with competition so you can do this third option. What you are offering may be similar to what your competitors are selling, but you can market a feature of your product or service that has not been discussed to your target market beforehand.

The product feature is not unique but can be perceived as something new to the prospects. However, keep in mind that a better product or service is the best option if you want to really win the game.


Aside from USP, Reeves had some more findings regarding advertising. Fifty years ago, it was already known that if you changed your campaigns quite often – you will not get the results you desired. You won’t be able to properly penetrate the market.

Relating this with social media marketing, Gary Vaynerchuk is known for that today. Vaynerchuk took his family’s liquor business to amazing heights and he did that through his vlogs (video blogs).

He built a following through uploading daily vlogs and he was consistent on that through the years. Vaynerchuk has now his own digital marketing agency.

So, Reeves got that right. If you send the message across consistently, the people and your target market would eventually find their way to you. Reeves has something to say about this:

  1. Changing the campaign will affect how money will come in. How to explain this? When you change the direction of the campaign, the attention and interest for it also stop.
  2. Launching excellent campaigns each year but changing them every year is not as successful as launching a not as excellent campaign but consistent through the years.
  3. An excellent campaign will remain as is unless the product or service becomes obsolete.


What have we learned today? Concepts in marketing fifty years ago, still holds true today. We may be quick to assume that it is outdated but the truth is, it’s far from it. Reeves’ USP was very much useful then as it is now. It is still relevant to our current marketing campaigns. So why not have a go at it?




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