Research assignments

I’m looking for two things here.

First is the percentage of advertising devoted to “branding.” I’ve read 90% somewhere, but I need more than hearsay or partial recall. In fact, I’m in the market for any hard numbers on the subject of advertising. This is for a book I’m writing, and my sources need to be worthy of bibliographic citation.

Second is the truth behind a story I have heard more than once regarding James Buchanan Duke, a baron of the tobacco industry. According to the story, Duke was asked at a board meeting why he advertised his cigarette brands so annoyingly. In reply, Duke spit on the table and said, “You may not like that, but you’ll never forget it.” I suspect this is apocryphal, but I don’t know. So I’m hoping one of you can point me to an authoritative source on the matter.


  1. Tom Cunniff’s avatar

    Doc with respect, your question is a bit fuzzy because the term “branding” is fuzzy. I doubt you will be able to obtain an authoritative answer.

    It may be more productive to ask “what percentage of advertising is spent on direct response marketing vs. other kinds of advertising?” Direct response is marketing that is intended to generate a sale (or other action) right NOW, rather than at some point in the future.

    This would include all infomercials, “junk” mail, email offers, etc etc.

    According to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), “2009 will mark the fifth year in which direct marketing has captured more than half of all advertising spend nationwide. This figure is up to 54.3 percent from last year’s 52.7 percent, and is forecasted to remain above 53 percent for the next five years.

    In 2010, total direct marketing ad spending is expected to increase 2.7 percent, yielding $153.3 billion overall.”


    If you want to be *really* precise about your answer I suggest you contact the DMA and the ANA (Association of National Advertisers) and get numbers from each. These numbers are unlikely to agree, but if you choose a midpoint between the numbers it should be plenty accurate.

    With regard to the tobacco quote, I believe the source is the 1947 Clark Gable film “The Hucksters”. The character in the film was believed to be based on tobacco exec George Washington Hill.

    Link with the story here:

    Hope this helps. If you need more, you have my email.


  2. Terry Heaton’s avatar

    I’ve asked our research department, Doc. Will let you know if they come up with anything. There’s also the annoying “Extra, extra, read all about it” newsboy in the car lot. That sucker is high on the list of annoying but HIGHLY effective ads.

  3. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Tom. All that advice is exactly what I need. Much appreciated.

    And Terry, looking forward to whatever your folks might dig up.

  4. Tom Cunniff’s avatar

    Glad I could help. I’ve been around advertising (both traditional and digital) for longer than I should admit. If you need more on that subject, just ask 🙂

  5. Tom Cunniff’s avatar

    Also, re: the question of annoying vs effective, you might find this interesting:

  6. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks again, Tom.

    Great capsule history. And I like FAB, for Farting Around Behavior. Did that catch on at all?

    As for inattentional blindness, I’m not sure customers suffer from it. Instead I think the real sufferers are advertisers who are blind to the actual signaling coming form customers. (I’m not talking about advertising professionals here, but rather the companies paying for the advertising.)

    For example, yesterday we needed some books. We went to Barnes & Noble, where we don’t have a loyalty card, and they pitched us on paying to join their loyalty program. We didn’t want to do that, so we moved on, not buying the books. Later we went to Borders, where we do have a loyalty card (which cost us $0, plus the inconvenience of having to carry it everywhere). At checkout the young woman behind the counter pitched us on spending an extra $10 or so, to save something on the current purchase, plus a likely amount on on future purchases. The math worked, so we paid it and bought the books. in the process, however, I told the young woman behind the counter that I hated the whole “loyalty” system, and asked what she thought about it. She said she hated it too. It was a pain in everybody’s ass and didn’t really help sales. but it was all “part of marketing, I guess.”

    So here we have two signals from one buyer, and one signal from a front-line employee on the seller’s side. Do you think either company is listening? I doubt it. And that’s a form of inattentional blindness too.

    It’s asking a lot for advertising to help constantly. What we need far more is tools that live with the customer that make signals clear to sellers, and tools on the sellers’ side that actually listen without needing to pitch all the time in reply.

    That’s what we’re working on at ProjectVRM, of course. Stay tuned. 🙂

    Oh, and congrats to Hill Holliday for getting named “best place to work” by the Boston Globe. Well done.

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