Today, strategists have a very grand idea of themselves.

But when I started working in advertising there was no such job.

Strategy was something account handlers and copywriters did for themselves.

I remember the birth of planning, now called strategy, at my first job at BMP.

As a junior, I watched the creatives put some crude drawings they’d done onto reel-to-reel video, then the account team took the heavy video machine out to someone’s home and asked a group of housewives what they thought.

The person who understood better than anyone how to use research was John Webster.

John was initially an art director at BMP, Gabe Massimi was the creative director.

The first videos I remember being tested were for Cadbury’s Smash, instant mash potato.

The problem was housewives didn’t think instant mash potato would taste as good as the real thing, so the previous agency addressed this simply by saying it did.

Their ad showed quick cuts of a cross-section of people enjoying mashed potato.

VO: “In the last few months, thousands of people have tried Cadbury’s Smash but they’ll never be able to tell you. All they tasted was perfect mash potato.

Have you tried Cadbury’s Smash yet?  Are you sure?”

When BMP got the account Gabe Massimi wrote a commercial.

Being an American in ‘swinging London’, his ads started with the title card:


Then trendy music over lots of shots of girls in mini-skirts dancing while they tasted delicious Cadbury’s Smash.

Being an American in ‘swinging London’, Massimi thought “SMASHING” was not only a clever pun on the name but also a terribly British word.

The ad failed for several reasons: mainly housewives (the target market) didn’t much like being trivialised as girls in mini-skirts dancing around, so Massimi’s video went down like a lead kite.

Meanwhile, John Webster understood everyone was misinterpreting the problem.

Housewives thought, being instant, it wouldn’t taste as good as the real thing.

So the agency thought instant was best avoided and they should just advertise the taste.

John knew it was the opposite, they were throwing away their advantage by treating instant as a problem not an opportunity.  So he reversed the brief.

His ad opened on a pack of Cadbury Smash filling half the screen.

Next to it was a subtitle saying SERIOUS RIVAL.

VO: “Cadbury Smash is being threatened by a serious rival.”

(Bits of dirty potato peel start falling into frame.)

VO: “The serious rival comes in a sort of brown, knobbly package that has to be peeled with a peeler, boiled in a pan, then finally mashed with a masher.”

(Peeled potato is placed amongst potato peel)

VO: “It’s good, but it’ll never catch on”

(Cut to pack shot)

Sung: “For mash get Smash”

It reversed the brief, instead of having Smash trying to imitate the potato, it turned the joke on its head, the potato would never be as good as Smash.

It worked so well that the campaign continued for decades and, with the same central message, became the ‘Smash Martians’ ad which was voted the best commercial of the 20thCentury by the public.

All because John Webster understood how to use testing and research.

Used properly, it helps creative-development, and might even rewrite the whole brief.