Think about your favorite advertising of all time.

Are you a Bernbachian loyalist, and it’s a Volkswagen ad from the 60’s? Agency DDB.

Or, you love advertising for good, so it might be it’s “Like a Girl” for Always. Agency: Leo Burnett

Then again, you could be old-school cool, and you’re thinking of “Surfer” for Guinness. Agency: BBDO

Are you reading this on an iPhone and wearing AirPods? Is it Apple’s “1984”? Agency: Chiat/Day

You might unapologetically love KFC’s apology for running out of chicken. Agency: Mother London

What if you’re a sucker for brilliant strategy you’re all about “It’s a Tide Ad”? Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi

You might be a dog person (rightly so), and this Pedigree ad is your favorite. Agency: AlmapBBDO

Perhaps you just love a good drum break, and it’s “Gorilla” for Cadbury. Agency: Fallon.

The above examples are just some of the greats, but whatever favorite ad you’re thinking of, it’s most assuredly not about what it’s about. Because the best advertising doesn’t directly advertise the product.

Here’s the secret sauce:

It’s not about what it’s about.

That’s why you weren’t thinking about a Ford truck ad. Showing a truck hauling a boat and talking about its towing capacity isn’t interesting. A giant pile of dirt falling into the back and the tough guy voiceover touting its best-in-class payload lacks any real connection. Listing their safety ratings and awards from J.D. Power is boring.

But maybe you were thinking about a Subaru spot, though?

Let me be clear, I’m not saying advertising that’s about what it’s about doesn’t work. It obviously can. Ford trucks are the best-selling truck brand year after year. (I stole that line from one of their commercials. Ha!)

What I am saying, however, is that we don’t seek that advertising out. We actually try to avoid it. We’ll fast forward through a Ford truck spot every single time. Sure, we can’t ignore them all, but we would if we could. Perhaps the advertising gets through, and we buy Ford trucks because of the constant barrage of their message. Maybe it’s due to the repetition, but it’s probably not based on any real connection that that kind of advertising made with the audience.

When it’s about what it’s about, it’s the kind of advertising we try to avoid. When it’s not about what it’s about, it has the chance to be the kind of advertising we seek out.

Another way to say “it’s not about what it’s about” is the old adage, “sell the quarter-inch hole, not the quarter-inch drill.” The truth is one needs a drill. They need holes. Sell them a hole, and they’ll feel like you get them, and they’ll buy the drill.