I saw a quote by Carl Ally recently that I loved.
He ran a great agency in New York that did really powerful advertising.
He was asked in an interview, what he thought was the main difference between his agency the other great creative agency, DDB.
He said, “At Doyle Dane they goose the consumer. But this is Carl Ally, and we punch the consumer in the nose.”
Can you imagine anyone saying that today?
Clients, planners, and account men would be fainting all over town.
If they printed it in Campaign they’d have to give away a free pack of smelling salts with every issue.
And yet what was he really saying?
He was saying, “We don’t titillate the consumer, we grab them.
We don’t depend on their goodwill to peruse our message.
We make sure our ad leaps off the page.
We grab their attention.”
I recently had a similar discussion with Robin Wight, the founder of WCRS.
Robin had been a copywriter at CDP in the sixties, while I was in New York.
I said that, from New York, CDP’s output of that period looked a bit embarrassing, because all it was, was puns.
During that period American advertising was far and away the best in the world.
It was funny, direct, relevant.
Whereas I found the English love of puns simultaneously coy and patronising.
Robin’s position was that the English audience was very different from the American audience.
That the English responded better to puns because you could wrap the sell in a much more civilized approach.
You didn’t have to shout your message.
You could hint at it.
If you were amusing enough people would be seduced into uncovering the sales message inside the communication.
Robin said the English loved subtlety and abhorred a direct sell.
Therefore the pun was a perfect communication.
It allowed them to be amused by your clever wordplay, without having to engage in the somewhat grubby business of actually being sold to.
I said this may well be true about the English middle class.
Which of course Robin knows more about than me.
I didn’t think it was true about the English working class.
I thought we were much more like the American working class.
We know the ads are designed to sell things to us.
We aren’t embarrassed about being sold to.
We’d prefer it if they didn’t beat about the bush.
Say what you’ve got to say in a way I can understand.
And please make it funny and entertaining.
Then, if it’s something I enjoy, I can pick it up and pass on.
I think the main difference isn’t to do with nationalities.
It’s to do with class.
Or, more accurately, white-collar/blue-collar.
America aspires to be a blue-collar society.
Even The President has to be photographed in a denim shirt and jeans on a horse.
Britain aspires to be a white-collar society.
Traditionally people who wear suits and ties are middle management.
Therefore they manage the people who wear blue-collar work shirts.
Therefore they are superior to them.
So that’s what we aspire to be.
It took me a while to get used to this kind of advertising when I came back from New York.
The advertising agency behaving like a butler.
Discreetly coughing behind its hand, then raising its eyebrows to subtly gesture towards the product.
I began to refer to this as the “Dare we suggest?” school of advertising.
Because you couldn’t do anything as crass as simply come out and say what you meant.
You couldn’t simply say something was “BIGGER”.
You’d have to be very deferential.
“What we offer is indeed large. Dare we suggest, larger than perhaps you may be used to.”
This type of advertising always felt to me as if it had been written by Uriah Heep.
By someone who’s embarrassed by being involved in the distasteful business of selling.
So they pretend they’re not doing it.
In fact they pretend they’re doing anything other than selling.
Which is why they can’t wait to get out of advertising and into something noble.
Like writing books, or directing films, or running PLCs, or politics.
Personally I was never embarrassed about being in advertising.
I’m not ashamed about what I do.
I’m not conning anyone into buying something they don’t want or need.
So I don’t need to be seductive.
I’ll treat people as if they’ve got enough intelligence to decide for themselves.
I’ll present the facts in an impactful, entertaining way.
That’s how I’d like to be treated.
I don’t want, or need, to be seduced.
Why should I assume other people are less intelligent than I am?