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The laws of marketing as explained by Al Ries and Jack Trout - do they still apply?

In late 2022 Al Reis at the age of 95 unfortunately left us. His laws on marketing were without doubt the most incredible contribution to the growth of the brand in the modern age. The piece from the New York Times here: is memorable.

As a creative, marketing practitioner along with David Oligivy I place Al Reis and Jack Trout's contribution via their various books and case histories as hugley important parts of my early education in the art of marketing consultancy. But are their thoughts relevant today?

Before I try and answer this let's just review the 22 laws Al and Jack wrote about in their 1970s epic, I've added examples to reference the laws:

Here are the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, along with their descriptions and case study examples from businesses in the USA and UK:

1. The Law of Leadership: It's better to be first than it is to be better.

  • USA: Coca-Cola, the first cola brand, remains the market leader.

  • UK: Cadbury, the first chocolate brand in the UK, has held its leading position for decades.

2. The Law of the Category: If you can't be first in a category, create a new one.

  • USA: Apple created the tablet category with the iPad.

  • UK: Dyson created a new category of bagless vacuum cleaners.

3. The Law of the Mind: It's better to be first in the mind than first in the marketplace.

  • USA: Google became synonymous with online search.

  • UK: Hoover is often used as a generic term for vacuuming.

4. The Law of Perception: Marketing is not a battle of products, it's a battle of perceptions.

  • USA: Tesla positioned itself as the leader in electric cars, despite having fewer models than competitors.

  • UK: Waitrose is perceived as a high-quality grocery retailer.

5. The Law of Focus: The most powerful concept in marketing is owning a word in the prospect's mind.

  • USA: Volvo is synonymous with safety in automobiles.

  • UK: Innocent Drinks focuses on healthy, natural beverages.

6. The Law of Exclusivity: Two companies cannot own the same word in the prospect's mind.

  • USA: FedEx owns the concept of overnight shipping, while UPS is associated with ground shipping.

  • UK: Marmite is known for its unique flavor, while Vegemite is its Australian counterpart.

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

  • USA: Pepsi positioned itself as the choice for a younger generation, compared to Coca-Cola.

  • UK: Sainsbury's is positioned as a higher-quality alternative to Tesco.

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

  • USA: Apple and Samsung dominate the smartphone market.

  • UK: Tesco and Sainsbury's are the leading grocery retailers.

9. The Law of the Opposite: If you're shooting for second place, your strategy is determined by the leader.

  • USA: Burger King's "Have It Your Way" campaign contrasted with McDonald's standardized approach.

  • UK: Aldi and Lidl positioned themselves as low-cost alternatives to established supermarkets.

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

  • USA: The automobile market has split into various categories like SUVs, sedans, and electric vehicles.

  • UK: The retail market has split into luxury, mid-range, and discount stores.

11. The Law of Perspective: Marketing effects take place over an extended period.

  • USA: McDonald's shifting to healthier menu options in response to long-term consumer preferences.

  • UK: British American Tobacco investing in alternatives to traditional cigarettes.

12. The Law of Line Extension: There's an irresistible pressure to extend the equity of the brand.

  • USA: The numerous product variations of Coca-Cola.

  • UK: The wide range of Cadbury chocolate products.

13. The Law of Sacrifice: You have to give up something in order to get something.

  • USA: Apple sacrificing the budget segment to focus on premium products.

  • UK: Ryanair giving up in-flight luxuries for lower prices.

14. The Law of Attributes: For every attribute, there is an opposite, effective attribute

  • USA: In the fast-food industry, McDonald's is known for its speed and convenience, while Chipotle emphasizes the freshness and customization of its ingredients.

  • UK: In the automobile industry, Rolls-Royce focuses on luxury and craftsmanship, while Land Rover emphasizes ruggedness and off-road capabilities.

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

  • USA: Volkswagen acknowledging its emissions scandal and committing to electric vehicles.

  • UK: Tesco admitting accounting irregularities and implementing changes.

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

  • USA: Amazon's one-click shopping feature.

  • UK: EasyJet's early adoption of the low-cost airline model.

17. The Law of Unpredictability: Unless you write your competitor's plans, you can't predict the future.

  • USA: Kodak's inability to adapt to digital photography.

  • UK: Blockbuster failing to anticipate the rise of streaming services.

18. The Law of Success: Success often leads to arrogance, and arrogance to failure.

  • USA: Nokia's decline after dominating the mobile phone market.

  • UK: The fall of Woolworths after years of success.

19. The Law of Failure: Failure is to be expected and accepted.

  • USA: The Ford Edsel, which was a highly marketed and anticipated car but ultimately failed.

  • UK: The Sinclair C5, an electric vehicle that failed due to various design and marketing issues.

20. The Law of Hype: The situation is often the opposite of the way it appears in the press.

  • USA: The Segway, which was overhyped as revolutionary but did not achieve widespread adoption.

  • UK: The Millennium Dome, which was highly publicized but faced criticism and financial struggles.

21. The Law of Acceleration: Successful programs are not built on fads but on trends.

  • USA: Netflix's transition from DVD rentals to streaming, capitalizing on the trend of on-demand entertainment.

  • UK: ASOS's success in the online fashion retail space, riding the trend of e-commerce.

22. The Law of Resources: Without adequate funding, an idea won't get off the ground.

  • USA: Tesla's growth supported by significant investments from Elon Musk and other investors.

  • UK: The development of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, backed by substantial government and private funding.

What is apparent is that the laws as above are really more about human nature than science as you would expect and they are as useful and correct as they were in the 1970s. In fact with the way brands now interact in a more direct and personal way using the urgency and instant repsonse social media has provided us with perhaps they offer an even more relevant approach that every business should perhaps review before embarking on a new venture.

I always offer new clients copy when I begin working with them!:

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