Blog #20 – A Summary of The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries & Jack Trout, in 2000 Words

September 23, 2017.
A Saturday.

So there is this iconic book on marketing called The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, written by Al Ries and Jack Trout. Just finished it and thought I’d give a summary of the so-called “laws.” The book itself is a bit on the old side, originally published in 1993, but some of the predictions are eerily on point!

(You can scroll down to get to the laws if you’re in a hurry, btw)

Take Apple and Steve Jobs for instance.

There is a law called the Law of Line Extension that states that producing a bigger variety of products to sell more only dilutes your brand. And there is another law called The Law of Focus that says that the most powerful thing in marketing is owning a word in the mind of the prospect. Also, there is The Law of Hype, which predicts that Steve Job’s NeXT computer would be a massive failure (the authors explicitly say so in that chapter). And as we know, NeXT did fail massively. And as we also know, Apple got back on their feet the day they stopped doing lots of things and started doing the iMac instead.

So the book is clearly not all hype.

Even though a few of the laws have become a bit old since internet has changed the way we can reach out to each other – and at what cost. You’ll see.

Ok, first law:

#1: The Law of LeadershipIt’s better to be first than it is to be better

Because it is easier to get into the minds of your potential clients or costumers first, than it is to convince them that you are a better choice than the one that did get there first.

#2: The Law of the CategoryIf you can’t be the first in a category, set up a new category you can be first in

Don’t ask yourself how you are better than the competition; ask yourself in what category you can be first. The example from the book is beer. A high priced imported beer (Heineken) was a huge success. New category? High priced domestic beer (Michelob), even greater success.

#3: The Law of the MindIt’s better to be first in the mind than first in the marketplace

This law modifies the Law of Leadership with a clearer definition of where exactly you should be the first. And that is within the minds of your prospects. Which is not always the marketplace. So it’s sort of the same as #1 but with a “the race is not over if they launch”-kind of thing attached to it.

#4: The Law of PerceptionMarketing is not a battle of products, it’s a battle of perception

The point here is that there is no objective reality, at least not from a marketing point of view. So what matters is not how things are, but how people believe things are. (I don’t want this blog to be about politics, but misleading and lying to people are wrong. Just really wanted that said. /F)

#5: The Law of FocusThe most powerful concept in marketing is owning a word in the prospect’s mind

They say it’s the ultimate sacrifice, because in order to achieve it you have to put all your efforts into one single product or notion. But the reward is worth it, because if you manage to get your name associated with that one word, you are the go-to guy/company for that one word. Examples in the book: “overnight” for FedEx, and “drive” for BMW. So basically #5 is a way to achieve #3.

#6: The Law of ExclusivityTwo companies cannot own the same word in the prospect’s mind

And there is no reason to try to get your name to replace the name that is already in the minds of the prospects, because you can’t change people’s minds once they are made up. What is more, going for that word often ends up reinforcing the position of your competitor as you show the importance of the word itself.

#7: The Law of the LadderThe strategy to use depends on which rung you occupy on the ladder

If you are not on top, admit it to yourself and to your customers. And work that to your advantage. Example: Avis was number two (beneath Hertz) in car rentals. They acted like number one and lost money for 13 years. Then they switch advertising to “Avis is No. 2 in rent-a-cars. So why go with us? We try harder” – this made them (more than) profitable almost immediately.

#8: The Law of DualityIn the long run, every market becomes a two-horse race

Examples from the book: Burger King and McDonalds. Coke and Pepsi. Kodak and Fuji. Nike and Reebok. And on a distant third place we have a company way fewer people have heard about. But the authors also suggest that these market shares are unstable; the leader will lose shares as the runner up will gain. And that a new number three pops up every now and then as the old number three goes out of business when it looses the battle against number 2 and number 1. Although this is a problem most companies will never have.

#9: The Law of the OppositeIf you’re shooting for second place, your strategy is determined by the leader

In realizing in what way the leader is strong – the essence of it – you can turn this strength into a weakness. How? There are two types of people, those who want to buy from the leader and those who don’t. Find a way to appeal to the latter by highlighting how you are the opposite of the leader.

#10: The Law of DivisionOver time, a category will divide and become two or more categories

The marketing arena is an ever-expanding ocean of categories, for the reasons mentioned above. But also because we invent new things, variations of a predecessor that better meet the needs – as the needs themselves become more specific as a consequence of the predecessor existing in the first place, or advancements in other fields.

#11: The Law of PerspectiveMarketing effects take place over an extended period of time

The long term-effects of marketing are often the opposite of short-term effects, and the example used to illustrate the point is the use of sales. In the short run, lowering prices increase the business, but in the longer run it educates people into only buying when there is a sale. Short-term gains mean long-term losses.

#12: The Law of Line ExtensionThere is an irresistible pressure to extend the equity of the brand

The reasoning here is that you can’t be all things to all people, and that it isn’t really the brand name that is stuck in people’s minds, but the product itself. Which means that when you put your name on another type of product, people will not automatically buy it. But if you focus all your efforts into making one product fantastic, you have a much better chance of building a position in the prospect’s mind.

#13: The Law of SacrificeYou have to give up something in order to get something

The opposite of line extension. By sacrificing “product lines, target market and constant change” you increase your chances of doing one thing (or something) very well, to a dedicated group of people. And have them remembering you. Example from the book: Fed Ex. When the other shipping companies tried to ship every thing in every way, Fed Ex focused on small packages overnight. Today they are doing pretty well.

#14: The Law of Line AttributesFor every attribute, there is an opposite, effective attribute

This is basically law #1, #2, #5, #6 and #9, but framed around the selling point of your product. Or “the attribute” as the authors call it. The goal is to own the selling point, and if your specific selling point is already taken, the advice from the authors is to find a new one (just as with law #2, where you invent a new category to be first in), or have a really, really, low price.

#15: The Law of CandorWhen you admit a negative, the prospect will give you a positive

The idea here is to first admit something negative, and then spin that into something positive. The reason why it works is because it is so unexpected, and therefor very disarming. And since you were so honest people are likely to believe what you say next. But keep in mind that it has to be something that is generally viewed as negative, otherwise people will just think that you are weird.

#16: The Law of SingularityIn each situation, only one move will produce substantial results

There is an idea floating around that if you just put enough work into something it will work out eventually. This is wrong, according to the authors. At least when it comes to marketing and war (which for some reason is mentioned quite a lot in this chapter). The reasoning here is that there is always something that your competitor is expecting the least, and that this is your opportunity for one single, bold stroke. In other words, be strong where the competition is weak.

#17: The Law of PredictabilityUnless you write your competitors’ plans, you can’t predict the future

Again a law that is very focused on what your competitors are doing (and not on your costumers per se), but anyway, the point here is that long-term planning doesn’t work because you can’t predict the future. What the authors want you to do is some creative short-term planning and turn that into a long-term marketing direction. Yes, I know, it sounds like planning. But they insist it is not.

#18: The Law of SuccessSuccess often leads to arrogance, and arrogance to failure

“Ego is the enemy of successful marketing. Objectivity is what’s needed.” And according to the authors, you lose your objectivity by having your ego inflated by success. They don’t have a problem with having a big ego, as it can be a very useful drive, but in order to succeed with your marketing you still need to know what is going on in the real world – and not cling to your imaginary world of being a golden god. They mention Donald Trump in this chapter.

#19: The Law of FailureFailure is to be expected and accepted

You will fail, and when you do, realize it and accept it quickly. And move on to the next approach. But why engage in crazy risk-taking? Why not just play everything safe? Because in marketing and business, it’s hard to be the first without sticking your neck out. And being the first in one way or another is, as mentioned in the first couple of laws, a good thing.

#20: The Law of HypeThe situation is often the opposite of what it appears in the press

Although I don’t really understand the message here, what the authors state is that when there is a big press coverage of something, that something is likely in need of a big press coverage. Does that mean that you shouldn’t get a lot of press coverage for your launch? Or your new product? Not sure. (Btw, it’s in this chapter where they explicitly predict the failure of Steve Job’s NeXT computer/business: “Will NeXT be a winner? Of course not. Where is the opening? NeXT is the first in the category of what?”)

#21: The Law of AccelerationSuccessful programs are not built on fads, they are built on trends

The message here is that you shouldn’t confuse a fad with a trend. A fad is something that is popular on a shorter period of time, whereas the subtle onset of a trend can even go unnoticed, but keeps on gaining momentum. The authors compare the two to a wave and a tide. And the point is that if you want to build something, as opposed to make a quick buck or two, you should center your marketing or business on a trend and not a fad.

#22: The Law of ResourcesWithout adequate funding an idea won’t get of the ground

In 1993, before you could message anyone without knowing them first or build a following of tens of thousands of people without spending anything but your time and energy, you couldn’t get anything of the ground without a lot of money. And although a lot of money certainly helps, you are now living in a digital age with a completely different set of rules. Think about that instead of the ginormous ad-budget you don’t have.

…So, that was my summary of the 22 immutable laws of marketing, hope you got something out of reading it! Personally I think they way to go is to pick a few of the laws that really resonates with your core values and your business, and make the most of them.

Ok. Now go and market your thing!

And as always, thank you for reading,


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