Back when I was just starting out in this business back in the 1980s, I started a file of interesting articles and ads I’d come across. Over the years, I’ve updated it often. The other day, I was going through it, and found a yellowed, tattered page I stuffed in there some 20 years ago. It was an ad that ran in Adweek magazine. The ad was for an agency called Kresser & Robbins and was written by one of the agency’s principals, Bud Robbins. I kept that ad because of the story it told. I find it as relevant today as it was back in the days before 500 channels, the Internet, social media and viral buzz. With appreciation to Bud Robbins, I’d like to reprise it here. It’s a little long, but I believe you’ll find it worth your time.
“Looking for the Capo d’astro bar.”
By Bud Robbins
Back in the sixties, I was hired by an ad agency to write copy on the Aeolian Piano Company account. My first assignment was for an ad to be placed in The New York Times for one of their grand pianos. The only background information I received was some previous ads and a few faded close-up shots…and of course, the due date.
The Account Executive was slightly put out by my request for additional information and his response to my suggestion that I sit down with the client was, ‘Don’t tell me you’re one of those? Can’t you just create something? We’re up against a closing date!’
I acknowledged his perception that I was one of those, which got us an immediate audience with the head of our agency.
I volunteered I couldn’t even play a piano let alone write about why anyone would spend $5,000 for this piano when they could purchase a Baldwin or Steinway for the same amount.
Both allowed the fact they would gladly resign the Aeolian business for either of the others; however, while waiting for the call, suppose we make our deadline.
I persisted and reluctantly, a tour of the Aeolian factory in Upstate New York was arranged. I was assured that ‘we don’t do this with all our clients’ and my knowledge as to the value of company time was greatly reinforced.
The tour lasted two days and although the care and construction appeared meticulous, $5,000 still seemed to be a lot of money.
Just before leaving, I was escorted into the showroom by the National Sales Manager. In an elegant setting sat their piano alongside the comparably priced Steinway and Baldwin.
‘They sure look alike,’ I commented.
‘They sure do. About the only real difference is the shipping weight—our is heavier.’
‘Heavier?’ I asked. ‘What makes ours heavier?’
‘The Capo d’astro bar.’
‘What’s a Capo d’astro bar?’
‘Here, I’ll show you. Get down on your knees.’
Once under the piano, he pointed to a metallic bar fixed across the harp and bearing down on the highest octaves. ‘It takes 50 years before the harp in the piano warps. That’s when the Cap d’astro bar goes to work. It prevents warping.’
I left the National Sales Manager under his piano and dove under the Baldwin to find a Tinkertoy Capo d’astro bar at best. Same with the Steinway.
‘You mean the Capo d’astro bar really doesn’t go to work for 50 years?’ I asked.
‘Well, there’s got to be some reason why the Met uses it,’ he casually added.
I froze. ‘Are you telling me that the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City uses this piano?’
‘Sure. And their Capo d’astro bar should be working by now.’
Upstate New York looks nothing like the front of the Metropolitan Opera House where I met the legendary Carmen, Rise Stevens. She was now in charge of moving the Metropolitan Opera House to the Lincoln Center.
Ms. Stevens told me, ‘About the only thing the Met is taking with them is their piano.’
That quote was the headline of our first ad.
The result created a six-year wait between order and delivery.
My point is this. No matter what the account, I promise you, the Capo d’astro bar is there.”
Bud’s right, every product has its Capo d’astro bar. And if it doesn’t, you must create it. Not in an ad, a jingle or a tag line. But in the value you add for your customer. It needs to be something that makes your offerings unique, meaningful and real. Something that separates you from your commodity competition. That adds customer value in a way that others have yet to think of.
Posted by Mickey