April 22, 2011


The Unique Selling Proposition (USP) concept is pleasingly simple to grasp. It’s a lot like horoscope reading, or Donald Trump, as it seems to promise semi-magical power to make friends and influence customers. Too bad it’s an illusion.


This flimflammery was coined by (Mad Men prototype) Rosser Reeves in the 1940s. It was used by his Ted Bates advertising agency to make boatloads of money plugging the USPs of various brands in the early days of television. He gave credit for the successes to USP, and just never you mind the mind-numbing repetition, cheap airtime, or ethically-dubious claims. His toothpaste, cigarette and candy advertisers raked in the dough.

And yes, it absolutely takes heavy repetition to make that old warhorse work. Case in point: no matter what market you live in, there is one car dealer with a gimmick (waving a fist full of money, corny jokes, singing, jumping on the hood of a used car, whatever). He (it’s always a he, right?) appears endlessly on station breaks in fringe time. He knows his brand is unique, because he’s unique. But I digress.

The USP faltered and failed during the 1960s with the advent of more engaging advertising, more insights into buyer behavior, not to mention higher media costs. Nevertheless, you can still find USP adherents in this century, many of whom overcome the annoyance factor with even more frequency. You may want to strangle the My Pillow guy, as so many of us do. Nevertheless, he persists.

There are, of course, more leveraged, likable and measurable marketing strategies. Ask us about them.