Morris Hite was a classic American advertising man, self-educated and self-made.
Yes, I know. You’ve probably never heard of him because he’s not as well-known as some Madison Avenue ad executives, but he had a powerful impact on the industry.
He was born in Oklahoma, migrated to Texas, and worked his way up to become head of the Tracy-Locke agency in Dallas, one of the country’s most successful agencies. And he did it by focusing on his clients’ growth rather than on producing clever ads.
He was also an innovator in the area of consumer research long before it became fashionable. And he always looked for the “big idea” to craft sales messages that would trigger consumer response on a gut level.
For me, Hite represents the ideal ad man: smart, down-to-earth, plain-spoken, and enthusiastic, with an indomitable can-do attitude and a laser-like focus on profits. Here’s what he had to say about the craft and business of advertising. Not everything here is about direct marketing, but there is plenty to learn from his wise words.
“Advertising is salesmanship mass produced. No one would bother to use advertising if he could talk to all his prospects face-to-face. But he can’t.”
“Advertising moves people toward goods; merchandising moves goods toward people.”
“If an ad campaign is built around a weak idea—or as is so often the case, no idea at all—I don’t give a damn how good the execution is, it’s going to fail.”
“If you have a good selling idea, your secretary can write your ad for you.”
“Is advertising moral? It is part and parcel of the American free enterprise system… I challenge anybody to show any economic system that has done as much for so many in so short a time.”
“It is not the purpose of the ad or commercial to make the reader or listener say, ‘My what a clever ad.’ It is the purpose of advertising to make the reader say, ‘I believe I’ll buy one when I’m shopping tomorrow.’”
“It takes good clients to make a good advertising agency. Regardless of how much talent an ad agency may have, it is ineffective without good products and services to advertise.”
“Next to Christianity, advertising is the greatest force in the world. And I say that without sacrilege or disrespect. Advertising makes people discontented. It makes them want things they don’t have. Without discontent, there is no progress, no achievement.”
“No agency is better than its account executives.”
“The agency’s account executive should be able to step into the sales manager’s shoes if the sales manager drops dead today.”
“The headline is the most important element of an ad. It must offer a promise to the reader of a believable benefit. And it must be phrased in a way to give it memory value.”
“The ultimate test of a finished account executive is his ability to write a sound marketing plan.”
“There is more money wasted in advertising by underspending than by overspending. Years ago someone said that under spending in advertising is like buying a ticket halfway to Europe. You’ve spent your money but you never get there.”
“There is no such thing as national advertising. All advertising is local and personal. It’s one man or woman reading one newspaper in the kitchen or watching TV in the den.”
“To establish a favorable and well-defined brand personality with the consumer the advertiser must be consistent. You can’t use a comic approach today and a scientist in a white jacket tomorrow without diffusing and damaging your brand personality.”
“To Mrs. Mufoosky, the commercials may seem as long as a whore’s dream. But to the new advertiser who has spent 100 Gs for his first network commercial—he gets a new understanding of a split second. It’s the fastest half minute of his lifetime.”
“There’s no secret formula for advertising success, other than to learn everything you can about the product. Most products have some unique characteristic, and the really great advertising comes right out of the product and says something about the product that no one else can say. Or at least no one else is saying.”
That last quote demonstrates my entire approach to creating direct response ads. Great advertising really does come right out of the product.