In Search of the Obvious: The Antidote for Today’s Marketing Mess

by Jack Trout

Jack Trout (1935-2017) had been a marketing professional for over 40 years.  This book is about how the marketing profession has gotten off course, and the importance of timeless fundamentals, simplicity, and common sense.

Trout is critical of Madison Avenue. “To me it’s creativity run amok…The fact is that creativity was always a misnomer. An agency isn’t creating something. The company or product or service already exists. What they are doing is figuring out what is the best way to sell it. That, simply stated, means to take that logical, differentiating argument and dramatize it.”

Another slam to the ad industry is the objective of awareness. “Customer awareness of a brand or product does not link to real customer behavior. Everybody is aware of GM and nobody is buying their cars.” (This book was published in 2008. A year later General Motors filed for bankruptcy and reorganized with $60 billion of funding from the U.S. government: see Reuters article. Here’s a video of Jack Trout talking about GM in 2009.)

Trout is also critical of tinkering by corporate marketing executives. “It’s no wonder that the job tenure of a chief marketing officer is less than two years.”

Regarding the Internet, Trout says, “Nothing in the marketing and business world has received so much hype. But be careful, it is not the ultimate solution. It’s about new ways to reach people with your obvious ideas. It’s just another tool but it can confuse things.”

So what should be done?

Much of the book discusses positioning, and draws upon his previous writings on the subject.  There must be a simple, obvious, differentiating idea relative to the competition. “A brand can only stand for one thing in the mind and the more things you try to make it stand for, the more the mind loses focus on what it is… Managed carefully, a good position is timeless.”

“Any ad program has to start with a product difference you are trying to communicate. You’re not after a meaningless slogan. Your program has to contain that difference and the benefit that comes with it… The ad must communicate that reason to buy.”

Jack Trout’s excellent writing style can be read quickly.  He coauthored several marketing books in the 1980s and 1990s with his consulting partner Al Ries.  Two of their notable titles were Positioning and The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.  In recent years he has written Differentiate or Die and Repositioning.

Trout, Jack. In Search of the Obvious the Antidote for Today’s Marketing Mess. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2008. Buy from

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