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Advertising agencies’ combination of creative force and sales expertise can catapult a product from obscurity to overnight success. Art & Copy, a film from 2009, documents the history of successful ad agencies and campaigns over the past 70 years.

For example, the film highlights Nike’s Just Do It campaign and the unexpected origin of the phrase. It interviews the head of the California Milk Processing Board and his reaction to the Got Milk slogan that quickly became ubiquitous and reversed milk sales’ 15 year decline. Who could forget the Aaron Burr ad? And of course, the heads of Weiden + Kennedy and Goodby Silverstein among other agencies reveal their unconventional roots and ideas.

Most interestingly, the film reveals two critical elements to the recent success of these advertising agencies.

First: the unification of the creative and account management teams. It wasn’t until the late 1950s that creatives and account managers spoke to each other. Before, account managers would send a piece of paper with a customer’s preferred tagline and some specifications to the creatives who worked on another floor. After a few days, the creatives would send down three or four possible designs. Neither group so much as saw the other.

Carl Ally agency, a startup ad agency, married the creative and account management teams for the first time. And the results spoke for themselves. In less than 2 years, Carl Ally became the center of the ad world, the nexus of Madison Avenue and where everyone wanted to work. There are some obvious parallels in tech startups today: the rise of the engineer/designer and the increased importance of design in recent years (IDEO, Apple, etc).

Second: the creation of ads which extolled the values of a brand rather than showcasing product. Customers fell in love with the empowerment of Just Do It. As a result of that campaign, Nike single-handedly brought jogging to the US and launched the fitness industry. Before that, Nike served only professional athletes. Even more impressive, two women at Nike launched a national campaign to empower girls to play sports. Ads like these electrified women and aligned them closely with the company that championed their cause and lifestyles.

Advertisers struggled at first with the idea that the ad didn’t highlight the product. But the results spoke for themselves. Brand advocates emerged and sales exploded.

My takeaways for tech startups? When thinking about branding and marketing positioning, keep in mind the values that a company espouses and echo them in messaging, branding and marketing. And involve designers at every step. The movie is well worth watching.

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