What does "ideal-typical" actually mean?

Benno Maggi explains in his column "What does... actually mean?" terms from the field of marketing and communication. This time he shares his thoughts on the term "idealtypisch".

Typical. No sooner do we finally manage to elegantly circumnavigate all the faux pas linguistically, so that political correctness and cancel culture are kept out of our work, than it is no longer enough that something may only be described as "typical" in good Swiss. First it was replaced by the German "passt doch", which, however, seemed too strict over time. But the ponderous "typical" has nevertheless had its day. Today, anyone who thinks something of himself talks about ideal-typical. As a constructed term with the prefix "ideal-" it is suddenly on everyone's lips. But what does that mean exactly?

Sociology as the basics of advertising

The ideal type only organizes and captures sections of reality by highlighting and occasionally exaggerating the essentials. In this respect, the term is well justified in its inflationary use in the industry. After all, isn't that what advertising is all about? Oscar Milton Gossett, David Ogilvy, Leo Burnett, Paul Gredinger and many other legends of advertising had the ability to see the ideal typical of a product and to implement it or have it implemented in a creative idea.

How they did it can be seen in the endless lists of their quotes and the "all-time best" galleries. At the top is the first female advertiser, Helen Lansdowne, with her 1911 tagline "A skin you love to touch" for a soap. It doesn't get much better than that.

It was the German sociologist and national economist Max Weber who, at the beginning of the 20th century, influenced the sociology of economics, domination, law and religion with his theories and conceptualizations and described the concept of the ideal type introduced by him as a "one-sided enhancement of one or a few points of view".

Does this sound familiar? Certainly, especially when the attention span of recipients is getting shorter and the list of channels to play on is getting longer. Or as David Ogilvy once said, "The headlines which work best are those which promise the reader a benefit." The only question is what that benefit is. Finding that out is, ideally, the task of marketing.


Benno Maggi is co-founder and CEO of Partner & Partner. He has been eavesdropping on the industry for over 30 years, discovering words and terms for us that can either be used for small talk, pomposity, excitement, playing Scrabble or just because.

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