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The 22 Immutable Laws of Advertising

By: Al Ries & Jack Trout

Reviewed By: Bob Ruffolo

In The 22 Immutable Laws of Advertising, Al Ries and Jack Trout share 22 fundamental lessons for effective marketing and advertising.

These lessons, or laws, range from how to stand out to your prospects, where to focus your marketing efforts, and how to win in the long-run.

All of the laws are briefly summarized, but if you’d like to see countless examples of how these laws are applied I recommend you read the full copy of the book.

1. The Law of Leadership

Being the first to market (meaning your product/service is the first in its category) is more effective than being better than the original.

It’s all about perception and it’s much easier to stand out in the mind of your customer by being first than it is to steal that attention by being better.

There are instances like that of Coke and Pepsi where a competitor can take a good share of the market, but for the most part, imitators are rarely as remembered as innovators. 

2. The Law of Category

If you can’t be the first in your category – create a new category.

People are always looking for the new thing and are less concerned with better versions of existing offerings.

Red Bull didn’t position themselves as a higher-caffeinated soda -- they were the world’s first energy drink.

How can you position yourself differently? What category can you invent?

3. The Law of the Mind

The primary objective of being first to market (The Law of Leadership) is actually being first in the mind of your buyer personas.

It doesn’t matter if you’re the first to market if you’re the first in mind.

For example, the iPod wasn’t the first mp3 player, but it became first in the minds of consumers because Apple was selling “10,000 songs in your pocket” instead of just another mp3 player.

This is why inbound marketers create content; to establish themselves as the leaders in their industry and stay at the top of the minds of their consumers even if a new alternative arises.  

4. The Law of Perception

Marketing is not a battle of products, but rather a battle of perception. Successful brands sell benefits, experiences, ideas, messages – not features and facts.

The perception of your offering is more influential than the actual facts.

5. The Law of Focus

One of the most powerful marketing strategies is owning a word in the mind of your buyer personas. Simple, powerful words are most effective.

Examples from the book include, FedEx owning the word “overnight” and IBM owning the word “computer.” Although FedEx has held on to “overnight” fairly well, IBM’s ownership of “computer” has definitely slipped.

6. The Law of Exclusivity

Two different companies can’t own the same word in the mind of prospects. Trying to gain ownership of a word owned by a competitor is a waste of time. Instead, find a new word to own.

Examples from the book include Burger King’s failed attempt at owning “fast,” which is owned by McDonald’s and FedEx’s failed attempt to steal “worldwide” from DHL.

7. The Law of the Ladder

Sometimes being first to mind isn’t an option. However, there are cases where it’s better to be on the third rung of a big ladder than to be at the top of a small ladder.

The issue of being a big fish in a small pond, so to speak, is that ownership of a small market might be less profitable than being a contender in the big market.

8. The Law of Duality

In the long run, every market becomes a two-horse race. In other words, virtually every market is eventually dominated by two major brands.

Think of Apple and Windows, Coke and Pepsi, etc.

9. The Law of the Opposite

It’s better to be different than the leader in your market than trying to be better.

Wherever the leader in your market is strong, there’s an opportunity to turn that strength into a weakness. There will always be prospects who exclusively buy from the leader and prospects who intentionally avoid buying from the leader.

This is why small companies will emphasize their personalized customer service that major brands can’t offer. Or you’ll see some fast food restaurants that offer made-to-order food, suggesting that the food is fresher when it isn’t as quick.

10. The Law of Division

Eventually, most categories end up splitting into multiple, smaller categories. For example, computers used to be one category. Now we have PC’s, laptops, tablets, etc.

According to Ries and Trout, it’s better to keep your brand in the category it performs best in and create a new brand for new categories. For example, Honda and Toyota have their respective brands, Acura and Lexus that compete in the luxury car market.

11. The Law of Perspective

Perspective is crucial In marketing, the long-term effects of a tactic tend to be the opposite of their short-term effects.

For example, a one-time sell can boost revenue dramatically. However, prospects catch on when companies constantly put their products on sale and the sale price starts to be perceived as the normal price.

12. The Law of Line Extension

Less is more. Oftentimes when a company has success with one product, they try to match that success with multiple products and spread themselves too thin.

It’s better to be great at one thing than it is to be okay at many things. Rather than launching new products to control more markets, launch new brands that are all tightly focused on what they do best.

13. The Law of Sacrifice

According to Ries and Trout, “you have to give up something to get something in return.”

There are three areas of sacrifice:

  1. Product line – Minimize product lines
  2. Target market – Limit your target market
  3. Constant change – Don’t try to be all things to all people

14. The Law of Attributes

Instead of copying the leader in your market, find a way to beat them by differentiating your attributes from theirs.

Your brand doesn’t even have to be different, technically, you can simply serve a specific niche in your market.

15. The Law of Candor

Instead of trying to hide all of your flaws, look for a way to spin a negative attribute into a positive one.

For example, Listerine ran ads admitting their product tasted so bad it had to kill germs.

16. The Law of Singularity

In each situation, the majority of your results will come from only one move. Marketers make the mistake of trying to be everywhere at once when it’s more effective to find the things that work best for your brand and hone in on them.

17. The Law of Unpredictability

No one can predict the future, so don’t make assumptions. Follow trends (not fads) and make your organization flexible enough to overcome changes in the market.

Never stop innovating.

18. The Law of Success

Success often leads to arrogance, which causes failure. It doesn’t matter what you like or what you want – the only thing that matters is what the market wants.

Always focus on the needs and wants of your buyer personas and don’t let your success disconnect you from what’s happening on the front lines of your business.

19. The Law of Failure

Failure is to be expected. Recognize failures as quickly as possible and cut your losses – don’t waste resources trying to fix them.

Reward innovation and success from new ideas, but don’t punish failure or your employees will stop taking risks.

20. The Law of Hype

When things are going well for your brand, you don’t need hype on your side. On the other hand, when you are in most need of hype, it usually means you are in trouble.

Real innovations sneak up and surprise the market while over-hyped products never last.

21. The Law of Acceleration

Successful marketing is built on trends, not on fads. There’s always a new fad with a ton of hype, but they fade quickly.

However, riding a trend can be profitable for longer periods of time.

22. The Law of Resources

The sad reality of marketing is that bad ideas backed by millions of dollars in funding will get much further than good ideas with no resources to support them.

Marketing your products far and wide requires money.