The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Summary and Review

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Violate Them at Your Own Risk! by Al Ries and Jack Trout

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The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing


Fantastic book. The best description of what “branding” actually is all about. Once you internalize the lessons here you will start recognizing all the well-meaning but badly executed marketing campaigns out there, and be able to predict which campaigns succeed or fail based on whether the company understands why and how perceptions are formed.

My favourite one is #20: The Law of Hype. The Availability Heuristic biases us into thinking that attention equals quality, but counterintuitively the relationship is reversed in the mass media age because good quality products don’t need manufactured press.


1. The Law of Leadership

It’s better to be first than it is to be better

2. The Law of the Category

If you can’t be first in a category, set up a new category you can be first in.

If you didn’t know that Bert Hinkler was the second person to fly the Atlantic, you might figure you had no chance at all to know the name of the third person. But you do. It’s Amelia Earhart. Now, is Amelia known as the third person to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo, or as the first woman to do so?

This is counter to classic marketing thinking, which is brand oriented: How do I get people to prefer my brand? Forget the brand. Think categories. Prospects are on the defensive when it comes to brands. Everyone talks about why their brand is better. But prospects have an open mind when it comes to categories. Everyone is interested in what’s new. Few people are interested in what’s better.

When you’re the first in a new category, promote the category. In essence, you have no competition. DEC told its prospects why they ought to buy a minicomputer, not a DEC minicomputer.

3. The Law of the Mind

It’s better to be first in the mind than to be first in the marketplace.

4. The Law of Perception

Marketing is not a battle of products, it’s a battle of perceptions.

Many people think marketing is a battle of products. In the long run, they figure, the best product will win.

It’s an illusion. There is no objective reality. There are no facts. There are no best products. All that exists in the world of marketing are perceptions in the minds of the customer or prospect. The perception is the reality. Everything else is an illusion.

5. The Law of Focus

The most powerful concept in marketing is owning a word in the prospect’s mind.

6. The Law of Exclusivity

Two companies cannot own the same word in the prospect’s mind.

7. The Law of the Ladder

The strategy to use depends on which rung you occupy on the ladder.

You must accept your #2 or #3 position on the ladder and don’t pretend to be #1

Your marketing strategy should depend on how soon you got into the mind and consequently which rung of the ladder you occupy. The higher the better, of course.

How many rungs are there on your ladder? It depends on whether your product is a high-interest or a low-interest product. Products you use every day (cigarettes, cola, beer, toothpaste, cereal) tend to be high-interest products with many rungs on their ladders. Products that are purchased infrequently (furniture, lawn mowers, luggage) usually have few rungs on their ladders.

Products that involve a great deal of personal pride (automobiles, watches, cameras) are also high-interest products with many rungs on their ladders even though they are purchased infrequently.

Products that are purchased infrequently and involve an unpleasant experience usually have very few rungs on their ladders. Automobile batteries, tires, and life insurance are three examples.

8. The Law of Duality

In the long run, every market becomes a two-horse race.

9. The Law of the Opposite

If you are shooting for second place, your strategy is determined by the leader.

In strength there is weakness. Wherever the leader is strong, there is an opportunity for a would-be No. 2 to turn the tables.

Yet, too many potential No. 2 brands try to emulate the leader. This usually is an error. You must present yourself as the alternative.

(read: OPPOSITE, not alternative)

10. The Law of Division

Over time, a category will divide and become two or more categories.

11. The Law of Perspective

Marketing effects take place over an extended period of time.

Is alcohol a stimulant or a depressant? If you visit almost any bar and grill on a Friday night after work, you’d swear that alcohol was a stimulant. The noise and laughter are strong evidence of alcohol’s stimulating effects. Yet at 4:00 in the morning, when you see a few happy-hour customers sleeping it off in the streets, you’d swear that alcohol is a depressant.

Many companies find they need a quarterly dose of couponing to keep sales on an even keel. Once they stop couponing, sales drop off. Couponing is a drug. You continue to do it because the withdrawal symptoms are just too painful. Any sort of couponing, discounts, or sales tends to educate consumers to buy only when they can get a deal.

Note: Like Gary Halbert says, you must have a reason why this one customer, at this time, is special, for a unique reason that will never occur again.

12. The Law of Line Extension

There’s an irresistible pressure to extend the equity of the brand.

You must resist this pressure at all cost (See Law #5: Focus)

In a narrow sense, line extension involves taking the brand name of a successful product (e.g., A-1 steak sauce) and putting it on a new product you plan to introduce (e.g., A-1 poultry sauce). But marketing is a battle of perception, not product. In the mind, A-1 is not the brand name, but the steak sauce itself. “Would you pass me the A-1?” asks the diner. Nobody replies: “A-1 what?”

13. The Law of Sacrifice

You have to give up something in order to get something.

In an age when most smokers were men, cigarette manufacturers wanted to broaden their market. We got the men, let’s go out and get the women, too. So what did Philip Morris do? It narrowed the focus to men only. And then it narrowed the focus even more to a man’s man, the cowboy. The brand was called Marlboro. Today, Marlboro is the largest-selling cigarette in the world. In the United States, Marlboro is the largest-selling cigarette among men and women.

Even though Pepsi-Cola’s target was the teenager, the market was everybody. The 50-year-old guy who wants to think he’s 29 will drink the Pepsi.

The target of Marlboro advertising is the cowboy, but the market is everybody. Do you know how many cowboys are left in America? Very few. (They’ve all been smoking Marlboros.)

14. The Law of Attributes

For every attribute, there is an opposite, effective attribute.

The key word here is opposite—similar won’t do.

Marketing is a battle of ideas. So if you are to succeed, you must have an idea or attribute of your own to focus your efforts around. Without one, you had better have a low price. A very low price.

You can’t predict the size of a new attribute’s share, so never laugh.

15. The Law of Candor

When you admit a negative, the prospect will give you a positive.

Every negative statement you make about yourself is instantly accepted as truth. Positive statements, on the other hand, are looked at as dubious at best. Especially in an advertisement.

Note: Because people are skeptical, if you say something negative about yourself, it is assumed to be true because why would you say it if it is negative?

You have to prove a positive statement to the prospect’s satisfaction. No proof is needed for a negative statement. “The 1970 VW will stay ugly longer.” A car that ugly must be reliable, thinks the prospect.

Since you can’t change a mind once it’s made up, your marketing efforts have to be devoted to using ideas and concepts already installed in the brain. You have to use your marketing programs to “rub it in.” No program did this as brilliantly as the Avis No. 2 program.

What should Listerine do? It certainly couldn’t tell people that Listerine’s taste “wasn’t all that bad.” That would raise a red flag that would reinforce a negative perception. Things could get worse. Instead, Listerine brilliantly invoked the law of candor: “The taste you hate twice a day.”

16. The Law of Singularity

In each situation, only one move will produce substantial results.

VC rule: 5% of the portfolio produces 95% of the returns

Trying harder is not the secret of marketing success. History teaches that the only thing that works in marketing is the single, bold stroke. Furthermore, in any given situation there is only one move that will produce substantial results.

17. The Law of Unpredictability

Unless you write your competitor’s plans, you can’t predict the future.

The danger in working with trends is extrapolation. Many companies jump to conclusions about how far a trend will go.

Market research can be more of a problem than a help. Research does best at measuring the past. New ideas and concepts are almost impossible to measure. No one has a frame of reference. People don’t know what they will do until they face an actual decision.

18. The Law of Success

Success often leads to arrogance and arrogance to failure.

Small companies are mentally closer to the front than big companies. That might be one reason they grew more rapidly in the last decade. They haven’t been tainted by the law of success.

19. The Law of Failure

Failure is to be expected and accepted.

In some American companies nothing gets done unless it benefits the personal agenda of someone in top management. This severely limits the potential marketing moves a company can make. An idea gets rejected not because it isn’t fundamentally sound but because no one in top management will personally benefit from its success.

20. The Law of Hype

The situation is often the opposite of the way it appears in the press.

When things are going well, a company doesn’t need the hype. When you need the hype, it usually means you’re in trouble.

Young and inexperienced reporters and editors tend to be more impressed by what they read in other publications than by what they gather themselves. Once the hype starts, it often continues on and on.

Real revolutions don’t arrive at high noon with marching bands and coverage on the 6:00 P.M. news. Real revolutions arrive unannounced in the middle of the night and kind of sneak up on you.

See also: The Submarine

21. The Law of Acceleration

Successful programs are not built on fads, they’re built on trends.

Note: The tricky thing about trends is because they take so long to build up, they’re hard to spot in the early days when you’re in them.

A fad is a wave in the ocean, and a trend is the tide. A fad gets a lot of hype, and a trend gets very little. Like a wave, a fad is very visible, but it goes up and down in a big hurry. Like the tide, a trend is almost invisible, but it’s very powerful over the long term.

22. The Law of Resources

Without adequate funding an idea won’t get off the ground.

Marketing is a game fought in the mind of the prospect. You need money to get into a mind. And you need money to stay in the mind once you get there.

The problem of companies who already have money is separating the good ideas from the bad ones, and avoiding spending money on too many products and too many programs

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