This simple story is one of the guiding principles each partner keeps in mind and that drives our strategic review process

Our partner group is inspired by the 1930’s story of Obvious Adams. There are two stories in particular which we feel demonstrate a very important branding principle that is typically overlooked in today’s over-communicated market.

The overall story is about Oliver Adams, a very ordinary person, who goes to work for a sophisticated advertising agency in New York City.

While the fancy ad men in the agency are producing fancy advertising campaigns that aren’t working, Adams, who works in the records room, dreams of becoming an ad man himself.

Of course, the story goes on to show how Adams designs campaigns in his spare time which senior staff and clients happen to discover. His campaigns are based on simple, obvious observations. His simple and obvious campaigns are a huge success.

The first story concerns a campaign for the California Peach Canners’ Association. While the fancy campaign is failing, Adams goes out in his spare time and visits the orchards and cannery. He records what he sees as obviously special. Then he writes his observations up on his typewriter.

The copy chief’s eye fell on it as he stood waiting.

“Six Minutes From Orchard To Can” was the heading.

Then there were layouts for pictures illustrating the six operations necessary in canning the peaches, each with a little heading and a brief description of the process:

California Sun-Ripened Peaches

  • Picked ripe from the trees.
  • Sorted by girls in clean white uniforms.
  • Peeled and packed into cans by sanitary machines.
  • Cooked by clean live steam.
  • Sealed airtight.
  • Sent to your grocer for you—at 30¢ a can.

Of course, his ideas become the new campaign—and it works.

The second story concerns the president of a paper mill, Mr. Merritt, who calls the agency to have them design a campaign for his bond paper.

Adams is sent to do the job. He tours the mill and watches the bond paper being made and once again designs his campaign around what he saw as obviously special. He then presents his campaign to Mr. Merritt...

The president rocked back and forth in his chair for a few minutes.

“Young man,” he said finally, “every good bond paper is made of carefully selected rags”—quoting from the advertisement in his hand; “every good bond paper is made with pure filtered water; every good bond paper is loft-dried; all good papers are hand inspected. I didn’t need to get an advertising man from New York to tell me that. What I wanted was some original ideas. Everyone knows these things about bond paper.”

“Why, is that so?” said Adams. “I never knew that! Our agency controls the purchase of many thousands of dollars’ worth of bond papers every year, yet I venture to say that not a single man in our organization knows much about paper making. You see, Mr. Merritt, we aren’t paper makers, and no one has ever told us these things. I know there is nothing clever about these advertisements. They are just simple statements of fact. But I honestly believe that the telling of them in a simple, straight-forward way as qualities of your paper, month after month, would in a comparatively short time make people begin to think of yours as something above the ordinary among bond papers. You would be two or three years at least ahead of your competitors, and by the time they got around to advertising, your paper would already be entrenched in the public mind. It would be almost a synonym for the best bond paper.”

Mr. Merritt was evidently impressed by the logic of Adams’ argument, yet he hesitated.

“But we would be the laughingstock of all the paper makers in the country if they saw us come out and talk that way about our paper when all the good ones make their paper that way.”

Adams bent forward and looked Mr. Merritt squarely in the eyes. “Mr. Merritt, to whom are you advertising—paper makers or paper users?”

“I get your point,” said the president, “you are right. I’m beginning to see that advertising is not white magic, but, like everything else, just plain common sense.”

The paper campaign was a success from the start. Yet, when it was analyzed, Adams had done nothing but the obvious.

You can see why Oliver Adams became known as “Obvious Adams” and why we are inspired by this story.

It is one of the guiding principles that is always in the back of our minds and drives us as we conduct the Strategic Review Process and develop the ultimate brand.