Seducing Strangers by Josh Weltman book review
Mad Men's advertising consultant reveals some tricks of the trade that don't involve whisky at 11am.
Two chapters into Seducing Strangers, I almost gave up on it.
First off, reading a book with 'Seducing Strangers' in big type on the cover gets you some odd looks on the train. The 'forward' by Don Draper himself, Jon Hamm, was a quote telling you nothing more than 'IMHO, Josh knows his stuff' – and even if don't need the appeal of a contribution by a Hollywood star™ to get you to read the book, you still feel kinda cheated. And then he dropped a spoiler from the first half of the final season of Mad Men, which I haven’t watched yet. No fair!
And then Josh gets Google Glass wrong. Working from his maxim, "no advertising equals no expectations", he criticises Google for not advertising or marketing Glass in a traditional manner – leaving him unsure about what Glass would do for him, and therefore lacking in appeal for him. However, even Google wasn't sure what Glass was for. Like many of Google's software and service products in their infancy, Glass was a technology prototype that was seeded to developers and early adopters to work out what it could be used for. It was the media that made it seem like a fully formed product – and not controlling that was a PR failure by Google, not an advertising one.
Shortly after this though, you get to what you want from Seducing Strangers: practical advice on how to create better advertising. Books like this after usually full of a small number of vague maxims and lots of enjoyable stories about what the author or subject got up to – which might sound similar to the TV show Josh was involved with. However, here he concentrates on the creative and mental processes that he goes through to help turn a client's desires and product into a campaign. There are still stories to show how he applied his techniques to campaigns and excerpts from Mad Men scripts – but these are focussed on the important lessons learned rather than pleasing anecdotes, so the book quickly rolls onto the next it of advice.
In short, Seducing Strangers is less about Josh and more about the way he thinks.
Josh breaks all of the advertising he's ever created into four neat categories: to introduce a new product, to incite people to try it, show differentiation or inspire loyalty with current customers. There's the occasional tendency to slip into the kind of thing taught in the first year of an advertising degree course – such as his discussion of two-part taglines that intrigue then define – but it's to be expected from a book that's also designed to appeal to Mad Men fans from outside the creative industries. However, these are generally followed by well-worth-listening-to advice on subjects from dealing with clients to negative advertising.
Like Mad Men, this book does seem to come from an earlier age. Josh tells you what he's learned – and doesn't try to back it up with pop psychology. He doesn't obsess over every detail of the social media 'landscape'.
Josh sometimes come across like your Dad when he doesn't quite understand the Internet – he talks of pop ups and personal computer networks. But despite that – or perhaps because of it – he gets at some core truths, that much of online advertising is divorced from McLuhan's old maxim that "the medium is the message". Advertising – including increasingly native, content-based campaigns – is often bought programmatically, so creatives can't be sure whether their messages will be seen on a social networking site, magazine site like ours or next to a forum post about disc brake pads.
He also differentiates online advertising by saying that "persuading in the physical world is getting someone, somewhere to do something. Persuading in the online world is about getting someone who's already doing something to do something else". He's right, though it's a bit more complex than that. Often it's not about pulling people away from what they're doing, but getting people to engage with your message rather than someone else's – whether other brands or other people – from within a feed of stories/posts.
With this, as with the rest of the Seducing Strangers, you should read Josh's words for his insight into the art of persuasion – then work out for yourself how it applies to what you're creating.