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I read and reread Obvious Adams often. David Ogilvie required employees to read it once a year. Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman/ Creative Director , Ogilvie Advertising.

“We are all in sales!  If nothing else, you ugly bastards will need to sell yourself to a woman one day..” Brother Charles, Freshmen Algebra, Christian Brothers H.S. Memphis Tenn. 1959

Let me introduce you to Obvious Adams, a simple New England teenage store clerk who transforms into a successful advertising man through his keen understanding of his customers’ needs. Two decades later, we find him in an exclusive New York Club, where corporate executives whisper his name in reverent tones.   “They call him Obvious Adams because everything he says seems Obvious, but he makes all his clients rich.” The other responds. “He gave a talk at my company; honestly, I was not impressed. But his ideas added 30% to our profits.“

          Okay, already, you probably suspect this is a feel-good story from a far simpler era –a Frank Capra Pocketful of Miracles/ It’s A Wonderful Life type fairy tale.  And indeed, it was first published in The Saturday Evening Post by Robert Updegraff in 1916, the same year Norman Rockwell started illustrating the magazine’s cover with idealized, sentimental views of American life.


Freedom From Want by Norman Rockwell

But wait! Ask yourself: Why do those movies, those covers, and Obvious Adams still make us cry, laugh, learn, and debate? The answer was …

THE FIVE TESTS Of Effective Messaging

  1. The Problem, when Solved, Will Be Obvious
  2. Does It Check with Human Nature?
  3. Put it on Paper (try it out in a post)
  4. Does It Explode In People’s Minds?
  5. Is the Time Ripe?


         Too simple? Too Obvious? Think again or think deeper. Jack Trout, the celebrated inventor of positioning and marketing warfare theories, called Obvious Adams the “greatest marketing book of all time.” Trout also invented “Better Ingredients. Better Pizza” for Papa John’s, placing that smaller start-up in stiff competition with Domino’s and Pizza Hut almost overnight. It was an OBVIOUS ADAMS answer to the problem of how to compete with highly promoted, mass-produced…crap!

        David Garfinkle, the highly influential Copywriting Coach and host of the Copywriter’s Podcaster, cites Steve Jobs’s introduction of the iPod as a great example of the Obvious Adams school. Jobs introduced the handheld device on an empty stage to an audience of critics with 10,000 Songs In Your Pocket, dropping it –voila! –into his pocket. It’d be near impossible to explain to anyone born after 1990 what a pain in the ass it was to hear the music you wanted when you wanted it—cassette tapes, 8-tracks, CDs, Walkman, MP3s all sucked in sound quality or portability. The Time Was Ripe. Jobs introduced his iPod 15 days after 9/11, precisely when his stockholders were worried about the future of Apple, but far more importantly, when the country needed a distraction.

          In politics, Hope and Change, Make America Great Again, and Bernie Sanders’s Tax The Rich are all Obvious Adams solutions that worked magic in voting booths. What was Hillary’s message? “I Will Punish the Deplorables Who Insulted Me as A Woman? ” Or far worse: Hillary for America. But why ?

          The hard truth, as articulated in Obvious Adams, is this No voter or consumer or patient or a close friend or lover gives a Good Goddamn about your personal vendettas,  your advanced degrees, your war stories, your genius, your history of entertaining millions, or anything else about you or your company.  What people care about is themselves and their families. Will you make their lives better, simpler, fuller, healthier, happier, more entertaining ?  

William Benson Huber

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