What The Jefferson Bible Can Teach Us About Marketing

Thomas Jefferson famously took the gospels from the bible, stripped out everything except for Jesus’ words, and said, “A more beautiful or precious morsel of ethics I have never seen; it is a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.”

As you might imagine, releasing your own version of the bible is a great way to tick a few people off. But, there’s a separate insight here and Dave Trott calls it out in his post, “Truth in Advertising?What do we do when we don’t believe the truth is enough? What do we do when we feel like we have to dress it up, put on a show, and make it sexier so that it… sells?

Jefferson was trying to strip away the miracles and flashier bits for the pure, ethical philosophy of Jesus. Trott turns the same lens on marketing our products and services. He tells this story from his own career:

When I was a young copywriter at BMP, I was given the launch of a car.
I tried to see how I could sell it, how could I persuade people to buy it?
Eventually I went to see David Batterby, the managing director – I told him I couldn’t find any way to sell this car.
David said: “Look, the people who made this car didn’t think, ‘We’ll build it and then find out if an advertising agency can sell it.’ They invested millions of pounds in retooling the entire factory to make this car. They didn’t do that unless they knew there was a market ready for it. So who did they think would buy it and why?”
He made me realise there was a truth before any ad agency got involved, there was a truth in the product.

Just like the teachings of Jesus, we can put all the institutional fanciness around the product we want, but we still have to have a great core product for people to keep showing up.

Teasing out the core truths in the products and services people come back to time and time again is a superpower. Before brand strategy, vision, and purpose statements, find the core truth and don’t lose sight.

Building a bible around an idea is a great way to scale. But, without the great idea at the core (or without keeping it in mind), it’s easy to get distracted and lost. Look at the things you know work. Try to ask “why,” and then “what,” and “how?” Strip it down, build it up again. There’s as much value in the deconstruction as there is in the construction when the core is a truth.

Want to go deeper? Read Trott’s full piece, “Truth in Advertising?

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