I picked up The Wizard of Ads many years ago on a whim. I’d never heard of Roy H. Williams, but the book intrigued me with chapter titles such as “Velcro, the Ad Writer’s Friend” and “Idiots Are Out to Get Me.”
When I had a chance to sit down and read the book, I found myself mesmerized by the series of inventive contemplations on pretty much everything under the sun, all related one way or another to advertising and selling.
Unlike most books on advertising, this one isn’t filled with tactics, so you won’t find any how-to advice. It’s not a book on strategy either, so it’s not full of buzzwords. It’s really a collection of thoughts about basic principles. Most chapters are no longer than a page or two. And what makes the book special is that Williams uses stories, memories, history, and trivia to make his point.
The first chapter, titled “Nine Secret Words,” is a good example of the style:
“Lean down so that I may speak into your ear, for the thing I am about to tell you is not for the others to know. I share with you now the secret knowledge known to only a powerful few. I give you the Nine Words which, if held in your heart, will transform Success and Failure into mere coins that you may pull from your pocket and bestow upon those you would favor.”
Leaning closer, I could feel his weak and ragged breath on my ear as he whispered:
“The risk of insult is the price of clarity.”
Then he was gone.
Williams then briefly explains how most ads fail because advertisers are more interested in not ruffling feathers than in being clear and direct.
Admittedly, taken in large doses, Williams’ style can get monotonous. But this isn’t a book to read start to finish. It’s meant to be sampled a few thoughts at a time. And it can be very inspiring. In fact, Williams has built a small training empire on the back of this and subsequent books using whimsical stories to help people understand the principles of effective advertising.
I keep The Wizard of Ads handy for a quick mental pick-me-up and it never fails to do the job. It’s smart, creative, and far ranging, covering subjects such as multiplying the effectiveness of ads, understanding the tug-of-war between mind and feelings, seeing opportunities, and creating new ideas from old ones.
Williams is not a direct marketing guy. He’s an advertising guy who, I seem to remember, used to specialize in memorable radio ads. But most of the principles he talks about translate nicely to any sort of advertising, marketing, or business. It’s even good for general advice about living life.
If you’re looking for actionable information, don’t bother. And if you have no patience for anything but direct advice, the whimsy of this book isn’t for you. But if you want a unique book that you can dive into again and again for inspiration, I highly recommend The Wizard of Ads. Keep it near your desk for a quick lunch read, use it as a bathroom book, or put it on your nightstand for a five-minute business devotion before you go to bed.