Book Review: The Wizard of Ads

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.

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Book Reviews: 101 Ways to Promote Your Web Site and The Long Tail

I’ve been reading a variety of books on Internet business and marketing recently. Two of them stand out.

The first is 101 Ways to Promote Your Web Site by Susan Sweeney. For such a hot topic, it’s hard to find up-to-date books with practical advice. It seems like every other Web book is written either by an academic with no practical experience or a huckster simply wanting to sell you something.

While undoubtedly a self-promoting book, 101 Ways is jammed with tips for bringing more traffic to your Web site. It’s not exactly a book for novices, but it’s not for experts either. It’s clear, straightforward, and easy-to-read. Sweeney has a knack for taking complex subjects and boiling them down to key ideas that you can put to use.

The book assumes you’ll be selling something on your site and covers planning, optimization, viral marketing, pay per click advertising, e-mail marketing, getting links, and more. The author also makes most of the resources discussed in her book available on her Web site for free.

I knew most of the tips in this book, but I learned a few tricks too. If you’re looking for one basic book on boosting your online traffic, you might want to give this one a try. It was published in 2006, but most of the information is still current and generally conforms to the more cutting edge publications I’ve read recently.

The second book that stands out is The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson. This is more of a think piece on how to understand business and the changes that lie ahead.

The basic idea is that business used to offer fewer alternatives in fewer locations, so big sellers were the only concern. You either had a hit or a miss. But with the Internet and new technologies, there is an almost unlimited choice of products in an almost unlimited number of locations. So even products that sell in low quantities can be profitable, and as a whole, these non-hit products can add up to huge profits.

It’s really about how niche marketing is coming of age. This isn’t a new idea, but Anderson brings the idea to life and explains how this will be the future of business. The term “long tail” will make sense after you see the chart he uses to show how back-list products may sell few units, but never reach zero sales.

The examples are a bit repetitive, but are clear and revealing. It’s a quick read and is one of those books that can inspire you or at least help you reconsider how your business will be doing business in the years to come.

You can get more information or buy either of these books from Amazon at the links below:
101 Ways to Promote Your Web Site
The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More

And remember that my Direct Marketing Bookshop is a great place to find books on a wide variety of marketing subjects. Click on the “marketing” category to open a menu for books I’ve handpicked for each specific subject.

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