22 Immutable Laws of Marketing – by Jack Trout and Al Ries

22 Immutable Laws of Marketing – by Jack Trout and Al Ries

When Al Ries and jack Trout penned 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, I am not sure they knew that the laws would become actually so immutable (though many can be contradicted with real life examples) 

The authors emphatically say that billions of dollars are ‘wasted’ in marketing by not adhering to laws of marketing, and support it with astounding examples of formidable brands. 

So, what are these laws? 

  1. The Law of Leadership  – It is better to be first than to be better. 

The book emphatically cites that it is better, in fact best, to be the first-mover than a better-mover, ie if you are first in  marketing, then you are already in the mind of the customer. Isn’t marketing psychological, anyway. 

The book cites a resounding example: 

“What’s the name of the first person to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo? Charles Lindbergh, right? 

What’s the name of the second person to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo? Don’t remember, right?” 

It further says that the second person was Bert Hinker, and he was faster, and consumed less fuel. Still, it is the first that people remember. Remember Neil Armstrong? I bet you don’t remember who followed him close second. 

  1. The Law of the Category – If you can’t be the first in a category, set up a new category you can be first in. 

This chapter is followed by an interesting example, as a follow-up to the first one: 

“Who was the third person to fly the Atlantic solo?” You think you don’t know but you know. It was Amelia Earhart. But coincidentally she is better known as the “first woman to fly the Atlantic solo?” You get the law now, right? 

The authors emphasise that to succeed you need to super specialise or be the first in the category – e.g. if there is already a stock trader, be the first discount trader; if there is already a beer brand, be the first to introduce light beer, etc. Of course, these are taken, but then innovation in the category is the name of the game! 

  1. The Law of the Mind – It’s better to be first in the mind than it is to be in the marketplace. 

This is supported by a brilliant example of IBM not being in the marketplace first as a mainframe computer. Remington Rand was the first. So, why did IBM become synonymous with mainframe computers? Because they got into the mind of the customers first with astute marketing. 

Another interesting example: “Xerox was first in copiers and then tried to get into computers business. 24 years and $2 billion later, Xerox is nowhere into computers.” 

  1. The Law of Perception – Marketing is not a battle of products, it’s a battle of perception 

My favourite quote from the book happens to lie in this chapter when the authors, philosophically and quite charmingly, say: “All that exists in the world of marketing are perceptions in the minds of the customer or prospect. The perception is the reality. Everything else is illusion.” 

The chapter undermines the fact that markers often go by objective reality which is not the hallmark of good marketing strategy. For example, would Harley Davidson make a great car company? Probably yes, for a company, not if you go by the law of perception (also articulated at a greater length in law of line extension) 

  1. The Law of Focus – The most powerful concept in marketing is owning a word in the prospect’s mind. 

According to the law of focus, the brand needs to be associated with a word or own a word. For example, in the US context (the authors are American), the word ‘ketchup’ is associated with Heinz; ‘driving’ with BMW’; ‘safety’ with Volkswagen; ‘home delivery’ with Domino’s; ‘youth’ with Pepsi. These brands focus on a genre/category/element/trait that becomes synonymous with its product. 

  1. The Law of Exclusivity – Two companies cannot own the same word in the prospect’s mind.

Before I elaborate on this, I can give my own example in the Indian context. Domino’s was the first to own ‘home delivery’ in India in a very nascent stage. Pizza Hut, threatened by the domination of Domino’s, crafted ‘Phd’ and pumped millions of dollars in its promotion. Has PHD attained brand recall value in the category? No, I don’t think so, and I am sure that Domino’s home delivery turnover is much higher than that of Pizza Hut’s. 

It is very difficult (the authors say impossible) to change the consumer’s mind once it has been made up. FedEx owns the word ‘overnight’ and has been unchallenged despite hordes of challengers. 

  1. The Law of the Ladder – The strategy to use depends on which rung you occupy on the ladder.

The authors quote: “All products are created equal. There’s a hierarchy in the mind that prospects use in making decisions.” The most iconic story in the advertising circles is that of “Avis Vs Hertz”. Hertz was (and is) by far the no.1 and Avis tried, with all its marketing acumen, to topple the top rung of the ladder brand. It did not succeed, and confessed to being an efficient no.2 in what is now an epic advertising story. 

So, what’s the maximum number of rungs in the ladder? The answer is 7 (according to Al Ries and Jack Trout). And this is backed by scientific research. According to Harvard psychologist, George A Miller, the average human mind cannot deal with more than seven units at a time (seven seas, seven continents, seven dwarfs, seven wonders, huh!) 

  1. The Law of Duality – In the long run, every market becomes a two-horse race. 

This chapter or law clearly states in that every category eventually it becomes a two-brand race. Pepsi Vs Coke, Surf Vs Tide, McDonald’s vs Burger King, Nike Vs Reebok (not true for all geographies though). The no.3 also tends to vanish after some time, or in some cases, hold significantly lesser percentage of market share. In the US telecom space, AT&T holds 65% of market share, MCI has 17 percent and Spice with 10 percent. 

  1. The Law of the Opposite – If you are shooting for the second place, your strategy is determined by the leader

So it says that if you want to be a formidable no.2 you must understand the strategy of no.1. And yes, don’t try to be better, try to be different. Coca-Cola is more than a 100-year-old company, with its recipe safely locked away in Atlanta (only 7 people in the history have known its recipe). So, when Pepsi tried to enter the market, did it try to say it is better? That’s impossible since Coke had already defined the palates of its consumers and taken a strong lead in brand recall. 

What did Pepsi do? It knew that Coca-Cola is perceived as a classical cola, so it targeted the movers of the market: the youth. It in fact went on to be called the Pepsi generation. The chapter stresses on the fact that one must not try to emulate the no.1 – that’s a recipe of failure. 

  1. The Law of Division – Over time, a category will divide and become two or more categories 

A market might, and will, start with one category but eventually, like amoeba, divide into various subcategories. Computer is the biggest example, which has now been classified into mainframes, PCs, tablets, laptops (further divided into many categories now). Billboard started as a music rating company but now has several categories like jazz, latin, country, pop, rock and so on. 

The conclusion is that brands the look at line extension must put out a new brand to super-specialise in a certain category than trying to be master of all trades. 

  1. The Law of Perspective – Marketing effects take place over an extended period of time. 

The chapter starts with an interesting analogy. Is alcohol a stimulant or a depressant? Well, scientifically it is a depressant. But then when you see bar-goers swinging to music and alcohol do you actually find it a depressant? Quite the contrary, actually. Take this: when the next day, one has a hangover from consuming a few more than body can take, it indeed becomes a depressant. For short term pleasure, there is a long term pain! 

This brings one to the law of perspective. Every brand that works on short-time strategy is bound to lose on long term. 

  1. The Law of Extension – There’s an irresistible pressure to extend the equity of a brand.  

Perhaps, the most arguable law in the book. Giving the example of IBM, the authors argue that IBM was mainly a mainframes company and generating revenues of USD 65 billion; they tried to extend their line (read to be into everything and anything) and they wound up losing USD 2.8 billion! 

Is Levi’s selling more jeans or shoes? Is Nike selling more shoes or T-shirts? Is McDonald’s selling more burgers or ice creams? It works on the law of perception. An average Levi’s shop might have more range of other apparels than denims, but is not the market leader (not even close). 

That’s where line extension rule applies. But, in my own personal book, it is debatable. Look at Apple, for example!

  1. The Law of Sacrifice – You have to give up something in order to get something.  

As opposed to the law of line extension, the law of sacrifice urges brands to sacrifice a product/feature line to be in the mind of the customer or own a ‘word. The chapter focuses on the example of Emery Vs Federal Express. Emery, unheard in some geographical regions, delivered all kinds of packages from small to big. What did FedEx do? It narrowed down to delivering small packages overnight. ‘Overnight’ was the keyword. Come to present, FedEx is a company several times bigger than Emery. In fact, ‘FedEx’ has become a verb! 

  1. The Law of Attributes – For every attribute, there is an opposite, effective attribute 

You might find it interesting that most successful no 2s in the world have often taken an opposite and effective attribute. Like stated earlier, Pepsi focused on exactly opposite attribute of Coca-Cola. Classic:Youth. 

A failure demonstrated by the authors is of Burger King Vs McDonald’s when Burger Kind tried to own the word ‘fast’ from the already much bigger McDonald’s. We all know the strategy busted on its head. Instead, Burger Kind could have gone ahead with ‘adult brand’ which would have been starkly opposite of McDonald’s which targets kids. 

  1. The Law of Candor – When you admit a negative, the prospect will give you a positive. 

A very interesting concept again by Al Ries and jack Trout, but I doubt how many brands would have the guts and rationale to subscribe to this law, and above all, make a success of it. 

To exemplify, Avis did a legendary campaign to confess their ‘no 2’ position. It worked. Volkswagen and Joy perfume applied the same formula and it worked. While it is brave advertising and must be executed well, I am not totally convinced with this idea. What are odds of succeeding if the agency does not execute well, and the examples in the chapter are of pre-digital marketing era, when the consumer did not have a medium to charge his opinion. Follow this law at your own peril. 

  1. The Law of Singularity – In each situation, only one move will produce substantial results. 

Taking cue from military psychology, the authors stress that it is that one single element in strategy that makes you different. Like, the Allied invasion came at Normandy, a place whose tide and rocky shore the Germans feel would be an unlikely choice for a landing of any scale. Likewise, in marketing, it is that one singular place, where the competitors are vulnerable. 

  1. The Law of Unpredictability – Unless you write your competitors’ plans, you can’t predict the future. 

This is a rather philosophical chapter where the authors confess that it is not possible to predict future, yet be aware of trends and competitors to create a long-term strategy. Domino’s did it with ‘home delivery’. ConAgra took on healthy food industry with healthy products that were trending in the society. Something similar is happening in Indian space also where healthy food outlets are breaking the trend of eating out = unhealthy food. 

  1. The Law of Success – Success often leads to arrogance, and arrogance to failure 

 Again, this focusses more on marketing psychology than a law. The authors have bashed Donald Trump in this chapter for becoming too arrogant and egoistical by craving letter T on the facade of every building, mall, hotel, casino he opened. While he may not have succeeded at some, he became obsessive about his success. I am sure this book was written before Trump was anointed POTUS, and authors might be eating their hats now. 

They also credit/blame success for line extensions. When brands become larger than life, they assume that anything under the umbrella brand can be a success (like earlier, I still find it debatable given the success of Apple). 

  1. The Law of Failure – Failure is to be expected and accepted. 

It is important to accept mistakes early than letting it ruin your business or product line. Xerox entered computer business and let it carry on till it amounted to huge losses. Japanese are most acute with their ability to gauge losses in a bad business, accept it collectively, and fix It. Call it an egoless approach (from the law of success). Americans typically do not take a bold decision unless it helps somebody from the top management. However, 3M is an exception where experimentation and bold ideas are rewarded (clearly, the authors have no idea that Apple exists!) 

  1. The Law of Hype – The situation is often the opposite of the way it appears in the press 

Most brands that start doing a lot of press conferences to reflect their trouble. When the going is easy, PR is secondary (though in this day and age of disruptive social media, I doubt it). Another example is of New Coca-Cola, which despite hype and marketing, failed to capture the imagination of the audience. The old (called Classic) Coke was re-introduced and instantly became no.1 Today, it sells 15 to 1. 

  1. The Law of Acceleration – Successful programs are not built on fads, they’re built on trends.  

Fads are like waves – they appear big and trending but they are fads. Trends are like tides – they last and are profitable. Invest in fads that give you long term return instead of short-term fads. Example: Ninja Turtles Vs Barbie Doll – a fad that blowed away vs a trend that lasted the test of time.

  1. The Law of Resources – Without adequate funding and idea won’t get off the ground. 

This is for small entrepreneurs. You have a path-breaking idea, and want to market it well, even conforming to the 22 immutable laws of marketing. However, it is impossible to take off until you have required moolah, not only just to market, but develop the product. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had a great idea. But it was Mike Markkula’s USD 91,000 that helped them float the idea. 

An ordinary saying goes like this: To raise money, you need family, friends or fools. Now, of course you have venture capitalists. 

P.S: This summary/review encapsulates just a few of examples cited in the book. Please read the complete book to absorb the laws in their entirety.  Buy it here on Amazon.

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Harsh Vardhan Dutta

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