“Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door” (attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, although he probably didn’t say it in that way). That’s not necessarily true. In fact, it’s not likely true. At least not for a long time. A look at the records of the Patent Office reveal that many people have built better things than what were currently available, but those things were never offered for sale. Perhaps most things that are patented are ridiculous and have little chance of ever being developed into a product that can be sold widely, but there are many patents for good products that were never developed. If virtually no one knows about a better mousetrap, they will not beat a path to the door of the inventor.

Once something worthy of people’s consideration has been created, be it a product or a service, people have to know about it or they won’t consider it. Hence the multi-billion dollar per year promotion industry. Included in this industry are sales, advertising, public relations, and other types of promotion, such as merchandise with a company’s same printed or embroidered on it, and such as building booths and displays for trade shows.

In our day, there are many ways to get a message across to people, and many are not very expensive. The Internet is available to everyone and provides various ways for people to communicate with other people. However, everyone is trying to get their message across, thus most of it becomes noise to most other people. And the audience receiving the message is usually quite limited. People try to expand it and it becomes spam or pop-ups, which are distasteful at best, and sometimes illegal and immoral at worst.

My grandparents were born in the 1870s and 1880s. Of course there was no internet, no television, no entertainment radio. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were exposed to less advertising in the first 20 years of their lives than I am exposed to every week.

As soon as companies can afford it, they try to promote themselves to the masses. Sometimes they pay millions of dollars for 30 seconds on national television in which to promote themselves or their products. And many of them do a very poor job of it. From everything I’ve seen, most print, radio, and television advertising seems to be done to please the advertising agency and to garner awards of excellence rather than try to get their customers’ products sold. I enjoy watching the CLIO Awards, but I don’t feel like going shopping after I watch them. My thought process is, if a company is irresponsible enough to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to advertise, and their advertisements don’t tell me who they are or what they do or what their product or service is or does, or why I should care, I have absolutely no confidence in them or anything they have for sale, so I won’t patronize them even if I subsequently find out what they do and why they think I should care.

Some companies have either in-house advertising (probably the owner of the company or a spouse who have no idea how to advertise effectively) or a cut rate advertising agency awash in malpractice and incompetence.

Where I live, one seller of a particular product advertises so much that I will get up to turn off the radio or the television or change the station when they advertise. It’s just too much. And their advertisements are someone shouting at me, using annoying phrases and fifth-grade English. Other sellers of the same product in my area advertise not at all, or occasionally. And those that do advertise do so tastefully and humorously, and not so much that I wish they would go bankrupt. If I ever found myself in need of this product, I would not go to the company that advertises excessively. Advertising can turn customers away if done poorly.

Sometimes I think, “If you’ve got enough money to advertise, you don’t need my money,” and I often don’t patronize those businesses. Most products are sold by many different outlets, and I can always get a product or service I want without rewarding people for insulting me with their foolish and boring ads.

Advertising should answer as many as possible of the following:

What the company or the product or service are
What the company or the product or service can do for me
Why I should buy that particular product or service instead of the same thing, or something similar from a competitor

I see ads on the television with people riding bicycles or flying kites or jumping in the river and I often have no idea what the product is or why I should care. Or why I should purchase their product instead of their competitors’. Thus, I don’t. I am all for riding bikes and jumping in rivers, but I can’t imagine why a company would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to show me other people doing it.

Beer commercials seem to indicate that you should be an over-sexed moron to drink beer, or you will become one if you drink beer. I don’t understand wanting anyone to think that or spending millions of dollars to try to talk them into it. Of course, how do you advertise beer positively? You could advertise realistically. You could show people getting drunk and making fools of themselves. You could show people becoming alcoholics and ruining their lives. You could show domestic abuse and fatal automobile accidents. I don’t guess any of that would sell the product. But I wonder if treating people like they’re stupid does, either. Maybe it works best with stupid people.

I think all advertising should be done as if the advertiser is sitting in the buyer’s living room. If I were to sit in someone’s living room, I would not shout at them. I would not insult their intelligence. I would use proper English. I would want to be of help to them, if I could figure a way to do it. I would tell them how I could help them if I figured it out.

To promote ourselves, with a resume or as a provider of a service or a seller of a product, we must tell the prospective employer or customer the same things that advertisers must tell their prospective customers:

Who we are. Not just our names and address, or even an attendance record at former employers, but who we are. What we stand for. If the employer or customer are to spend money on us, they must know who we are.
What we can do for the employer or client and why they should care
Why an employer should hire us or a customer use our services instead of hiring someone else or making an agreement with our competitors

Promotion doesn’t always work, of course, and it might not work the way we want it to. But it is necessary. So we must try different things, and refine it as we go. If we or our product or service are valuable, and if we can communicate that to enough of the right kinds of people, we can make our lives very much better.

Weldon Smith is the author of the book True Leadership and False Counterfeits, which explains what True Leadership is, and why any other idea of what Leadership is does not work. Furthermore, Leaders are not only those who have followers. Every success in every aspect of life is the result of practicing true Leadership.