It’s a short and powerful parable that was written almost a century ago that turned the ad world on its head and had some of the most powerful business leaders of the day searching for the main character believing he was real.
Obvious Adams was written by Robert Updegraff and first published as a short story in the Saturday Evening Post in 1916, and in reviewing the piece, the New York Times wrote:
“The young man who is going to seek his fortune in the advertising business should have Obvious Adams for a handbook. Indeed, any young man who is going to seek his fortune in anything might be aided by the common sense and business acumen displayed in this little volume.”
Oliver B. Adams “Obvious Adams” soon became a legendary character in the business world – his “obviousness” helped influence the leading business minds of the day.
Here is an excerpt from the book when the agency’s copy chief was reviewing Oliver’s ad copy with the president Mr. Oswald:
“I tell you, Mr. Oswald, I believe that lad has the making of a copy man. He’s not clever – and goodness knows we have too many clever men in the shop already – but he seems to see the essential points and he puts them down clearly. To tell you the truth he has said something that we upstairs have been trying to say for a week, and it has taken us three half-page ads to say it. I wish you’d apprentice that boy to me for a while. I’d like to see what’s in him.”
For further support for the power of seeking the obvious, let’s turn to the Merriam-Webster dictionary for the definition:
: easily discovered, seen, or understood.
But let’s be clear, identifying the obvious is anything but easy.
And that is precisely the power of the obvious.
Interestingly, the marketing buzzards of the world defile any obvious strategy – it’s too simple so they seek out the cleverest, no-so-obvious idea in search of ingenuity.
But when something is self-evident, it’s self-evident – so why make it not so?
Easy enough to understand, hard as hell to do in real life.
We humans like to make things complicated and tend to overthink everything.
I’m as guilty as ever for complicating everything, overanalyzing, and iterating on the iterations.
But as I reflect on my life in business and as an entrepreneur it’s painfully obvious that the best decisions, I have made were the simplest, without hesitating, and direct – they were obvious.
But just like my rant about “simple being complicated,” – the same is true for obvious – as in, nothing on the surface is obvious, or is it?
Just like the saying goes, “80% of success in life is just showing up.”
Kinda obvious when you think about it, right?
Success in business is no different.
The customer has a problem; you bring them a solution – and an exchange of value takes place.
In the case of Obvious Adams, when “they had sent for Adams, a medicine man of business. He would be able to prescribe the remedy.”
In essence, it’s nothing more or less than that.
So, stop being so damn complicated all the time will ya – just get out and do what’s obvious in the first place and you’ll be in a better place.
A final takeaway, among many, from my reading of the book, is best summed up with a quote that ends this wonderful tale…
… “There is no secret – it is obvious!”
Wait, a discussion on Obvious Adams and then bubble gum?
Well, not just any bubble gum – we’re talking about Bubble Yum, the gum that started a chewing-gum revolution when it first hit the market in the ’70s.
Did you know that this historic brand was created in a small town in Missouri by a stay-at-home mom and not by some state-of-the-art candy manufacturer?
What was not obvious to the giant candy manufacturers of the day was obvious for this Missouri homemaker – who created her own version of what she called “rubber bubblegum,” and gave some to her son to share with his school classmates.
The gum was a hit and she ended up selling the recipe to the Life Savers company – Bubble Yum was born and became the first soft bubble gum to hit the market.
Bubble Yum was more than your mere average chewing gum – it spawned a whole new youth movement with its super soft, juicy, and malleable texture that made blowing bubbles outrageously simple and fun.
Fun fact – the brand even had commercials featuring Leonardo DiCaprio and Ralph Macchio in the ’80s.
A not-so-obvious “what’s the big deal about chewing gum” became obvious once you plopped that giant rectangle of luscious gum into your mouth and began to blow the biggest bubbles in your life!
It’s not rubber chewing gum silly, it’s Bubble Yum that tastes yummy while you blow bubbles!
I only wish Obvious Adams had a crack at making the original ad campaign for Bubble Yum, which may have read something like this:
Blow Bigger Bubbles with Bubble Yum
The softest chewing gum in the World
Made from a mom’s recipe in Missouri
Four delicious flavors to choose
Big pieces so you can blow huge bubbles
A pack of gum that easily fits into your pocket
For only 20 cents/pack.
Stay unruly out there ~