Credit: Photo courtesy of the Family of Al Ries
Advertising guru Al Ries, who revolutionized how companies develop and sell their products to consumers around the world, worked to nearly his final day in his 95th year.
Ries and his business partner, Jack Trout, are credited with developing the concept of product or brand positioning in the 1970s. They promoted it in articles in “Ad Age,” the leading trade publication, then in a book that has sold more than four million copies in 22 languages.
Fifty years later, “positioning” is the standard operating procedure used by the best marketers, said Ken Bernhardt, a marketing consultant and professor of marketing emeritus at Georgia State University in Atlanta.
“Every marketing class in every business school talks about the concept of product positioning,” Bernard said.
Ries, who worked with some of the world’s largest companies, died on October 7 at his Atlanta home, his family announced Wednesday. He was 95. A private family memorial service is being planned for a later date.
Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Nov. 14, 1926, Ries started his career in advertising with General Electric. In 1956, he went to New York City, joining Needham Louis & Broby and then Marsteller Inc. Seven years later, he founded his own ad agency, Ries Cappiello Colwell, in New York City. His daughter Laura joined the agency in 1994, and the two moved to metro Atlanta in 1997, bringing the company now simply known as Ries.
The company’s client list is a who’s who of national and international companies, including Apple, Disney, FritoLay, Ford, Microsoft and Samsung.
The book “Positioning: The Battle for your Mind,” which was first published in 1981 and is still being sold today, shares what the two men learned. Creative ads and marketing that simply communicated the features and benefits of a brand were no longer working.
“There were too many products, too many companies, too much marketing noise — a trend that has, of course, only gotten a zillion times worse in the 21st century,” said Laura Ries, who co-authored five marketing strategy books with her father.
Positioning focuses on consumers’ psyches and strives to create a tightly focused image and idea that helps a company gain a primary position in a prospective buyer’s mind.
Laura Ries said examples of companies that have done that successfully are Tesla, the brand first in mind when it comes to electric vehicles, and Red Bull, for energy drinks.
Georgia State’s Bernhard said consumers may have benefited in that it helped clarify for them what a brand stood for and, in some ways, made it easier for them to differentiate between brands.
Paul Kim, vice president for strategy with Samsung Electronics America Inc., said in an email that “Al Ries was a true visionary, a luminary, and, most importantly, a wonderful human being.
“He was a gift to us who shed a light on our most pivotal product brand launch back in 2010,” Kim said, referring to the Galaxy cellphone. “I still cherish the memory of working hours of great discussions with him, and I vividly remember his passion and wisdom.”
Patrick Lynch, a former marketing manager for Georgia Pacific, hired Ries in 2000 to help develop a marketing strategy for office paper. The company helped him develop a strategy that grew sales more than 20% the first year alone, Lynch said.
“Al was a pioneer and legend,” said Lynch, currently a marketing professor at a small Arkansas college. “I have evangelized the positioning message that Al passed on to me decades ago. He made me a better marketer back then and today.”
Laura Ries said her dad’s passions were his work and his family. And the word retirement was not in his vocabulary.
“He was writing articles, emailing clients, and making new slides for my presentations until the day before he passed,” she said. “He had the energy of a man decades younger.”
He also loved a Corvette with a stick shift and owned three over the years.
Al Ries is survived by Mary Lou Ries, his wife of 55 years; his children, Charles Ries, Dorothy Ries Faison, Barbara Tien, and Laura Ries; nine grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.