Al Ries, legendary marketing maverick passes at 95

By Ralph Tathagata

“It’s better to be first in the mind than to be first in the marketplace.” Al Ries

The global marketing, branding and creative community is deeply mourning Al Ries, a legendary marketing maverick, strategist, and global brand in his own right. He was also the bestselling author of 12 books that have sold over 4 million copies worldwide.

Ries’ family announced his passing at the age of 95 on 7 October, 2022.

In the 1970s, the “Positioning” mantra of Ries and his then partner Jack Trout, which practically became a marketing law, rattled the creative agencies on Madison Avenue with their controversial concept of positioning. By the 1980s, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, an iconic book which has sold over 4 million copies and translated into 22 languages, has put Ries on the global marketing map.

In their seminal articles, Ries and Trout contended that marketers should forget communicating the benefits of a brand, but rather look inside the mind of the consumer. Success, they argued, depends on finding an open hole in the mind and becoming the first to fill the hole with a brand. 50 years later, the theory of positioning is still as relevant as ever as the rise of the internet has made lives more over-communicated, because cutting through the clutter now takes a more skilful positioning strategy.

The marketing guru left behind a creative legacy in Ries Global, a creative agency that he originally founded as Ries Cappiello Colwell in 1963 in New York City. Currently, Ries is a global consulting group that works with clients around the world on positioning strategies.

Ries first rose to fame in 1972 when his series of three articles on a concept called “positioning” ran in Advertising Age magazine. The positioning idea took the ad world by storm in the 1970s and 1980s and was voted by AdAge as one of the 75 most important advertising ideas of the past 75 years.

In 1994, Al’s daughter Laura Ries joined her father, and the agency was renamed Ries & Ries, now called RIES. Together they co-authored five groundbreaking books, including The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding and The Fall of Advertising & the Rise of PR.

In 2007, Ries and his daughter Laura partnered with Simon Zhang to launch RIES China in Shanghai. The agency has worked with many of the top Chinese companies, including Great Wall Motors, Wong Lo Kat, Robam, and Junlebao Dairy.

Earlier in 2005, Advertising Age voted “positioning” one of the 75 most important ideas of the past 75 years, in 2009 AdAge readers named Positioning the best book they have ever read on marketing, and in 2016, he was inducted into the Marketing Hall of Fame in New York City, and continued to be the inspiration for everyone who practices positioning until his last moment.

Over the years, Ries served as a marketing consultant to dozens of companies around the world, including Apple, Disney, Frito-Lay, Ford, Microsoft, Nvidia, Papa John’s, Samsung, Siemens, and Unilever.

It would be recalled that Landmark Exposures, ably led by Akinwole Osewa as the CEO, brought Al and Laura Ries to Nigeria in 2009, for a stimulating workshop titled: “Building Global Brands out of Nigeria: The Challenges of Vision 20/20”. The father and daughters as well as other Nigerian experts, for two days, dissected the challenges and prospects of turning Nigeria into an enviable and respected global player. Al suggested that Nigeria could be positioned along agricultural lines and easily become economically more successful by branding and exporting unique food items to almost every country in Africa. Although the workshop was a private initiative, it no doubt offered useful insights to the rebranding Nigeria project during President Umaru Yar’adua’s government.

RIES will live on as a global positioning consulting company under the leadership of Laura Ries as RIES Chairwoman, and Simon Zhang as RIES CEO.

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, Ries served in both the U.S. Merchant Marines and the U.S. Army, where he was stationed in Korea for a year. After his service, he graduated from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana in 1950.

Ries is survived by Mary Lou Ries, his wife of 55 years; his children Charles Ries, Dorothy Ries Faison, Barbara Tien, Laura Ries; nine grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.


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