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Just ask nicely

Most advertising has no manners at all. It shouts at us, it barges in without permission, it is forever tapping us on the shoulder to bore us with its life story or tell us the same lame joke over and over, write Dean Woolley.

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It so obviously wants to please us, yet arrogantly presumes its mere presence is enough to command our rapt attention. If we met it at a party we'd want to slap its face.

How does this happen? Marketing people set out with good intentions -- they don't mean to turn their brands into such prats. On the contrary, advertisers want their brands to have charisma. They want people to be drawn to them, to connect with them, to respond to them. And they look to their advertising campaigns to provide this elusive quality.

They are right to do so. Advertising -- in all its traditional and emerging forms -- certainly can have the required pulling power, but only when it works on its social skills and learns how to talk to people.

In any human encounter we are more likely to respond to confidence and charm, and we love it when we find common ground. Exactly the same elements of charisma apply to brands. From cars to cola, people are impressed by confidence, won over by charm and willing to connect with those who share their interests.

But it is important to remember that brands are not in our lives for the conviviality of it all. At some point they need to get down to business and ask us for something -- our time, our loyalty, but mostly our money. Charisma goes a long way to getting a response, but I believe good manners make the difference between being a successful brand and just a logo with bad habits.

Again, what works at parties seems to apply: or as our mothers tell us, it's surprising how far you can get if you simply ask nicely. Every well brought up brand should know that. Very few do.

Things, I am sure, would be different if we as agencies and clients were honest about our responses to the advertising that's directed at us -- and owned up to the fact that, for the most part, we hate the stuff.

Just like everyone else, we find advertising to be a boorish intrusion. We too think of it is something to be fast-forwarded through, flicked past, tuned out. We know all this, but instead of creating something that perhaps we might like to see ourselves, most advertisers turn up the volume, boost the media spend and carpet bomb the world with increasingly desperate messages. Their idea of charm is to grab people by the lapels and shout 'LIKE ME!'

And yet, perhaps one in 20 ads will make us smile, or get us thinking, or touch a nerve (asking nicely can take many forms). These are the few ads that give us some reward for having to spend time with them. They are written with enough humility to know that the brand being sold is probably not at the epicentre of the customer's life. They know that interest is not freely given, but must be won with engaging ideas.

The people who create advertising like this haven't forgotten what it feels like to be advertised to. They are rewarded for their insight and their care with brands that...well... live up to the ideal of what a brand should be.  It pays to ask nicely.

Dean Woolley is co-founder of advertising agency Woolley Pau, and author of 'How to Pick Up People at Parties and Other Tips for Marketing Executives'.

Further information about the book is available at The book is £14.95 and is available for purchase at Magma bookshops or online at

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