"Do This Or Die"

Broadcast Date November 20, 2008 (Originally Aired June 21, 2007)

A generation ago, one of the greats of the Ad business, Bob Levenson, wrote perhaps the most remarkable - and least-celebrated - ads in history.

Titled "Do This Or Die", it was both a manifesto and a warning to the Ad Industry.

It was a plea for candour and intelligence among advertisers, and for authentic dialogue with consumers. This week on The Age of Persuasion, Terry O'Reilly explains why today's advertisers ignore this plea at their peril.

Listen to this episode as streaming audio (runs 27:30)

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Previous Comments (4)


Is this ad some kind of trick?

No. But it could have been. And at exactly that point rests a do or die decision for American business. We in advertising, together with our clients, have all the power and skill to trick people. Or so we think. But we're wrong. We can't fool any of the people any of the time. There is indeed a twelve-year-old mentality in this country; every six-year-old has one. We are a nation of smart people. And most smart people ignore most advertising because most advertising ignores smart people. Instead we talk to each other. We debate endlessly about the medium and the message. Nonsense. In advertising, the message itself is the message. A blank page and a blank television screen are one and the same. And above all, the messages we put on those pages and on those television screens must be the truth. For if we play tricks with the truth, we die.

Now. The other side of the coin. Telling the truth about a product demands a product that's worth telling the truth about. Sadly, so many products aren't. So many products don't do anything better. Or anything different. So many don't work quite right. Or don't last. Or simply don't matter. If we also play this trick, we also die. Because advertising only helps a bad product fail faster. No donkey chases the carrot forever. He catches on. And quits. That's the lesson to remember. Unless we do, we die. Unless we change, the tidal wave of consumer indifference will wallop into the mountain of advertising and manufacturing drivel. That day we die. We'll die in our marketplace. On our shelves. In our gleaming packages of empty promises. Not with a bang. Not with a whimper. But by our own skilled hands.

Great stuff. Heavy stuff. Read it again and ask how much of this applies in today's new world of digital marketing and social media? Yeah, all of it.

Valerie Pinard-Jain, November 26, 2008 3:46 PM

What exactly constitutes 'telling the truth' in advertising? How might one go about telling the truth about say diamonds? What is the truth about diamonds? Even the chairman of De Beers Nikki Oppenheimer admits that "diamonds are intrinsically worthless, except for the deep psychological need they fill." De Beers has played a huge role in creating this need. This does not mean we're all dupes, but neither does it mean the advertising industry simply provides 'smart people' with the 'truth.' It constructs the truth as much as any other social institution.

The advertising is a hugely powerful and influential voice and this document tries to cover that up. Although 'Do This or Die' reads as a criticism of the advertising industry it is more like 'The Wizard' denying his own powers by telling Dorothy not to look behind the curtain because there is nothing to see.

Troy Cochrane, May 3, 2009 9:47 AM

i love these brodcasts i always listen to them u rule and this one is great but my favorite is the one about brand loyalty

ange, May 21, 2009 5:05 PM

Is Age of Persuasion available in a podcast?

Deryck Webb, August 19, 2009 10:19 AM
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