Brand Makers

Al Ries, known as the father of 'positioning', dies at 95

Al Ries is recognised as a "positioning pioneer" and is credited with establishing one of marketing's most powerful principles.

By  Storyboard18Oct 13, 2022 10:24 AM
Al Ries, known as the father of 'positioning', dies at 95
Al Ries entered the advertising scene in the early 1970s along with American advertising executive Jack Trout with the radical concept of positioning. It emphasised that marketers must fix a place for the brand in the consumer’s mind rather than centering their focus on brand benefits. (Image source:

“Marketing is a battle of perceptions, not products.” said Al Ries. Recognised as the ‘father of positioning’, Ries died on October 7 at age 95.

Ries along with American advertising executive Jack Trout entered the ad arena of advertising in the early 1970s with the radical concept of positioning. The concept held that rather than the focus being centered on brand benefits, marketers must instead fix a place for the brand in the consumer’s mind.

Ries started his career with General Electric, but later moved to New York in order to join the advertising agency Needham Louis & Brorby. In 1963, Ries established the ad agency Ries Cappiello Colwell, which later evolved into the consultancy Trout & Ries.

Positioning pioneers

Ries and Trout wrote a series of articles on positioning that was published and created quite a storm. Ultimately their work turned into a book - Positioning: A Battle for Your Mind.

Ries’s original idea for positioning was called the “rock.” "Every brand needed a solid rock to differentiate itself from all the other brands in the category. But not any rock. The “rock” had to be a word or concept that would be instantly accepted by prospects, like 'The leading toothpaste'," it states on the firm Ries's site.

Ries discussed the idea with his colleague at Ries Cappiello Colwell. Trout, who was an account executive at the agency, suggested calling the rock a “position” instead.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Other books Ries co-authored were The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding and The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR, which was written with his daughter, Laura Ries, who was also his business partner.

Ries worked with an enviable roster of clients that included Apple, Walt Disney Co., Frito-Lay, Ford Motor Co., Microsoft, Papa Johns, Samsung, Siemens and Unilever.

Ries, who was regarded as a maverick in the advertising industry, worked with Trout and engaged directly with marketers. This was sometimes perceived as circumventing ad agencies, which then were charged with executing their positioning ideas.

There are many strategies credited to Trout and Ries. They had proposed to change the name of Conductor Software to Contact Software, and on doing so, the open standard software providers' sales leaped to USD 20 million from USD 1 million. Further, in 1982, the duo was also credited for creating the positioning of Burger King’s “broiled, not fried”.

AdAge wrote in 1984 Trout and Ries questioned KPMG over “why so many flags and globes showed up on the communications materials”. They were told that "one of the big four accounting organizations (KPMG)" was the worldwide leader. The irony here was that KPMG never promoted their position. This led to the conceptualisation of a USD 10 million global positioning campaign.

After parting ways with Trout, Ries along with his daughter Laura set up Ries & Ries. It also expanded to China where the firm's called Ries.

First Published on Oct 13, 2022 7:56 AM