My Uncle Reg was a fireman.

When I was young he stopped me while I was climbing a ladder.

I was racing up it quickly holding onto the sides the way everyone does.

Uncle Reg said:

“You don’t want to climb a ladder like that son – that’s the way builders climb.

You want to climb it properly, the way firemen climb.”

I asked him what the difference was.

He said “Builders climb a ladder holding onto the sides. It’s quicker but it’s not safe.

If your foot slips your hand slides and you’ve got nothing to grab onto.

Firemen can’t take a chance on that.

Where we climb there’s lots of smoke and water, we can’t be in a hurry, we’ve got to do it the proper way.

So we don’t hold onto the sides of the ladder, we hold onto the rungs, one at a time.

That way, if your foot slips you’ve still got a firm hold on the ladder and you won’t fall.”

It made perfect sense of course.

But the amazing thing is I’ve never forgotten it after all these years.

Whenever I’m climbing a ladder, and I’m getting up really high, I still think “Like a fireman son, not like a builder.”

That’s the power of a good mnemonic, it stays in the mind.

A simple device that lodges itself in the memory.

Zenith’s Richard Shotton wrote about research that proves people remember advertising claims more when they rhyme.

He wondered why this had fallen out of favour.

Because there was a time when many of the great advertising lines rhymed.

In fact the ones that are still remembered are the ones that rhymed.

Lines like Beanz Meanz Heinz (which has just been reintroduced sixty years later in a TV campaign) or Drinka Pinta Milka Day.

IMHO the answer is simple: fashion.

A rhyme is mnemonic, just like alliteration or assonance.

The OED defines a mnemonic as “A system such as a pattern of letters, ideas, or associations which assists in remembering something.”

You would have thought that was a good thing for advertising, right?

“A system….which assists in remembering something.”

But apparently that’s exactly the problem: it’s too much like advertising.

Nowadays marketing people want to intellectualise what we do.

It must be: strategy, sociology, semiotics, behavioural economics.

Anything but advertising.

But FMCGs operate on a fast track (that’s what the FM stands for).

It’s the difference between a poster we drive by in the street and a page in Country Life we peruse while sitting in a waiting room at the doctor’s office.

We expect the Country Life ad to look exclusive and esoteric.

Maybe we are even prepared to invest time in decoding the subtle meaning.

But that isn’t how posters work.

We drive by them and have a few seconds to get noticed and remembered.

Not only are our products fast moving, our consumers are fast moving.

So you would have thought our advertising should be fast moving, too.

Because the job of that sort of advertising isn’t about subtle seduction and allure.

It’s about “A system…which assists in remembering something.”


Which seems to be a different job to the one most people in our business actually wanted.