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The role of imitation in advertising

Imitation is central to advertising.

Many of our desires (more than we are usually willing to admit) are borrowed from the people we admire. The more admirable we find a particular person, the more vehemently we imitate them and their desires. Advertising is the business of directing imitation for the purpose of generating business cash flows.

The mechanism

An ad is effective to the degree that it generates future cash flows for the advertiser. Its ability to do this depends on the degree to which it invokes desire for the advertiser's products and services. Desire is created (or perpetuated) when an ad incorporates a person (or voice or tone) that represents an admirable role model for the audience.

How ads create value:

  1. Ad shows admirable person using product or associating with brand.
  2. Audience imitates admirable person's advocacy or desire.
  3. Desire manifests as purchases.

Role models and models

Admirable people are role models. Models are people that remind us of role models.

The way to create a successful ad is to embed into it the authentic desire of a model relevant to your audience. This is why famous actors are able to charge significant fees for participating in ads; they are universal role models that know how to come across authentically.

Great Advertising

The imitation mechanism unlocks some of the secrets behind great advertising.

Two examples of great advertisers are Apple and Nike. Both incorporate key role models into their advertising, and both do it in a way that is unquestionably authentic. When you watch an ad by Nike you have no doubt about the reciprocal admiration that great athletes have for Nike and vice versa.

A beautiful example of a role model-driven advertising campaign is Apple's Think Different campaign. There's something about great thinkers, artists and inventors that makes culture elevate them to a god-like status posthumously. Apple used this to great effect; expressing their brand identity with a collage-style structure of presentation. The result is enormously compelling.

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