Book Review: The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing
Author(s): Al Ries & Jack Trout
Publisher: HarperCollins, New York. 1993. 143 pages.
Price: Rs.50.

This book is dedicated to the elimination of myths and misconceptions from the marketing process. The authors dispel most of the commonly held beliefs and

notions which exist in the marketing world. There has never been a book about laws of marketing (and that too immutable laws) so this book is a first of its type. The authors suggest that most of the marketing plans which go flat are because people are not willing to accept that there can be any laws of marketing. But the authors prove their point by giving countless examples in which the marketing plans has gone haywire since it did not followed the laws mentioned in this book. In fact the best part of this book is its examples and their relevance to the law mentioned. These laws are a result of working on marketing principles and problems and the authors have been working in this direction for more than 25 years.

The authors are well-known marketing strategists and have been consulted by many large corporations in America and the Far East. The authors are well known for their books Marketing Warfare and Positioning. Both the books were based on marketing techniques and this book is no exception. While Marketing Warfare says that marketing is a war and should be treated like one, Positioning is about the problems regarding communication in business and politics. It suggests the companies to create a ‘position’ in prospect’s mind.

As the title suggests there are 22 laws, each mentioned in a separate chapter. Each law has been mentioned in a small chapter with relevant examples. There is an introduction stating the need of Marketing Laws and the authors elaborate many cases wherein the marketing strategies have gone wrong in spite of the companies pouring in tons of money because the companies did not follow one law or the other.

The first law is the Law of Leadership which states that its better to be first than it is to be better. The author says that in this way you would be the first one to enter the mind of the prospective. This law is very well supported by examples. But the authors also warn us saying that timing is equally important for the launch of the product. This may seem that if you are not the first one to launch a product you’d be doomed to languish but here comes the second law which states that if you cannot be first in a category than you’ve got to create a category wherein you can be the first one. Here the author gives the example of the beer market in US (imported beer-Heineken, high-priced domestic beer-Michelob). The author also gives examples of brands which tried to jump in after a brand had made a name for itself in a particular product and how almost all of the brands which tried to copy the leader failed. In the 3rd law (The Law of the Mind), the authors have just modified the first law saying that it’s better to be first in the mind than to be first in the marketplace. The law of the mind follows from the law of perception. The authors dispel the commonly held belief that if your product is better than ultimately your product will win. This is quiet contrary to what we believe but the authors have prepared the laws with a very practical approach and have supported each of them with suitable examples. According to the authors only perceptions in the minds of customers matter and everything else is an illusion (4th law: The Law of Perception). The authors use their wide experience of marketing while preparing these laws and manage to think just like a typical customer would think.

The authors read the consumer mind brilliantly and this fact is evident in the 5th law which is the Law of Focus. The authors advices the firms to own a (simple) word in the prospect’s mind (Federal Express-overnight) and also warns the companies of the dangers of having a large scope of operations. This law says that you should narrow down your focus on one or two products. But the validity of this law is in question when we think about the success of Hindustan Lever (which practically rules the FMCG market in India). The 6th law (The Law of Exclusivity) states that two companies cannot own the same word in the prospect’s mind. Here the authors give the example of how big marketing programs have gone wrong when they tried to attempt to own the same word which was held by some other brand.

In the 7th law the authors give some respite to firms which fail to capitalize on the 1st or the 2nd law. The 7th law is the Law of the Ladder, the authors say that all is not lost if you are the number 2 or number 3 brand in a particular product. It’s just that now you must plan your strategies accordingly. According to the authors it’s better to be No.3 on a big ladder than No.1 on a small ladder. This is quiet true when we take into account the magnitude of sales in larger organizations. In the 8th law the authors do a complete volte-face as it says that in the long run, every market becomes a two-horse race. The Law of duality says that in the long run the ladder gradually becomes a two-rung affair. This is in sharp contrast to the 7th law mentioned. One even doubts its validity when we consider the Indian market (small segment cars-Santro, Indica and Alto and in bath soaps-Santoor, Lux, Lifebuoy, Hamam). However in soft-drinks this law holds true (Pepsi and Coca-Cola).

The 9th law is the Law of the Opposite which says that if you are shooting second place, your strategy is determined by the leader. This law advices the company to leverage the leader’s strength into a weakness. But the authors also warn the companies that they should not try to be better than the leader, but they should try to be different which is in sync with the laws mentioned earlier.

The 10th law (The Law of Division) states that over time, a category will divide and become two or more categories. Though true for some categories (computers, cars) but not for every category. The 11th law (The Law of Perspective) states the fact that marketing effects takes place over an extended period of time. Most established companies are aware of this law but still they try to ignore it by looking for short-term gains while over-looking the long-term losses. The 12th law (The Law of Line Extension) warns the companies to resist from the urge of using their brand name for their other products. This is easily the most violated law and explains why despite having large sales some companies end up having losses. This law goes against the Law of Focus as organizations try to spread over their businesses. The 13th law (The Law of Sacrifice) is the opposite of the law of line extension and says that you have to give up something in order to get something. This law requires companies to have a more focused approach.
The Law of Attributes (14th law) states that for every attribute, there is an opposite, effective attribute. This is an extension to the 6th law (Law of Exclusivity) and advices the companies to search for an opposite attribute. The 15th law is a very interesting law (Law of Candor) and states that when you admit a negative, the prospect will give you a positive. Though its difficult for corporates to admit their mistakes but the examples given here should encourage them as they tend to gain by being candor enough. The 16th law (The Law of Singularity) has been taken from the author’s earlier book ‘Marketing Warfare’ and it states that the only thing which works in marketing is the single, bold stroke. This law is easier said than done as it’s very difficult to identify a particular strong move which can kill competition. The 17th law (Law of Unpredictability) states that you cannot predict your future unless you are aware of your competitor’s plans. Failure to forecast competitive reaction is a major reason for marketing failures.

The 18th law (The Law of Success) warns the firms to not to become complacent. This law is related to the Law of Line Extension as success is often the fatal element behind the rash of line extensions. The 19th law (The Law of Failure) is quiet similar to the Law of Candor and says that unless you are ready to accept the failures, you’ll not work towards improving them. This law advices the managers to take risks as failures are to be expected. The 20th law (The Law of Hype) is an interesting one and says that if a company needs hype, you can guess it’s in trouble. This law is more relevant for the customers than for the marketing people. The 21st law (The Law of Acceleration) states that successful programs are not built on fads, they’re built on trends. The authors advice the growing business firms to dampen the fad and built on the trend.

The 22nd law (The Law of Resources) is an obvious fact that without adequate funding an idea, however brilliant it may be, won’t get off the ground. Though it’s a very obviously known fact still it’s a good way to end the laws. Marketing is a game fought in the mind of the prospect but you need money (resources) to get (and stay) into the mind.

The book uses a very simple language which is quiet easy to understand and follows a much focused approach. It is illustrated with many examples. The authors do not use any heavy marketing jargons. Also the authors keep coming back to the same examples so as to maintain a sense of continuity. In this way we are also aware that which product complied with which law and violated which law. Also the concepts told in the book are easy to understand and you don’t need to be a qualified marketing manager to understand the concepts mentioned. The authors have supported each of the law mentioned with more than adequate examples. This book is powerful in its simple essence and real world application. It states powerful marketing concepts with practical evidences. It has been praised by many CEO’s and President’s of big organizations.

However some aspects where this book could have been better are that there could have been fewer laws than mentioned here as quite a few of the laws mentioned are superfluous or are quite obvious. Also it’s very difficult to satisfy all of the laws mentioned.

This book is not just for management students, it’s also for seasoned professionals and CEO’s of already established companies. I would suggest this book to every person who is at a decision making level in a marketing firm.