The Finer Points of Advertising

Found in a privately published book on advertising From One Person To Another. What advertising is all about and how you go about it. By John E O’Toole. (FCB, London & NY 1977 -'Intended solely for the use of FCB people in their work for FCB clients'). A good summary of basic laws from the splendidly named Fairfax Mastick Cone, an advertising wunderkind from the days of Mad Men and before…


Fairfax Cone has said only one thing, to my knowledge, that is patently untrue. It is in this brief piece he wrote years ago, something many of us keep in our offices and try to keep in our minds. I include the piece here, not only to see if you can spot the untruth, but because it can serve as a summary of this entire book for those in a hurry.

"It is the primary requirement of advertising to be clear, clear to what exactly the proposition is.

If it isn’t clear, and clear at a glance or a whisper, very few people will take the time or the effort to try to figure it out.

The second essential of advertising is that what must be clear must also be important. The proposition must have value.

Third, the proposition (the promise) that is both clear and important must also have a personal appeal. It should be beamed at its logical prospects; no one else matters.

Fourth, the distinction in good advertising expresses the personality of the advertiser; for a promise is only as good as its maker.

Finally, a a good advertisement demands action. It asks for an order , or exacts a mental pledge.

Altogether these things define a desirable advertisement as one that will command attention but never be offensive.

It will be reasonable, but never dull.

It will be original, but never self-conscious.

It will be imaginative, but never misleading.

And because of what it is, and what it is not, a properly prepared advertisement will always be convincing and make people act.

This, incidentally is all I know about advertising.”

The falsehood, of course is the last sentence. He knows immensely more about advertising than that.

He simply didn’t want amateurs involving themselves in the fine points before mastering the basic skills of the craft. That admonition pertains as we launch into the few aspects of execution that are, perhaps, more entertaining to discuss than the fundamental considerations they follow, but are worthless without them.

Proficiency in the fine points depends heavily on a life-long love and respect for one’s language, a fair design instinct, a reasonable ear for music and a sense of what is appropriate.

It depends equally on learning through trial and error. Discussing work each day with Fax Cone, as a fortunate few of us did for many years, resulted in numerous trials and resulted in abundant errors., but the knowledge gleaned from those conversations is today beyond price.

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