At a party recently, a man I was talking to heard I was in advertising.
He said, “I remember a great ad from many years ago, the line was, “Nice One, Cyril” – the whole country was saying it.”
The woman we were talking with said, “Who was it for?”
He said, “Sunblest bread, and I still remember it after all these years”.
It’s great that he remembered it, but it wasn’t for Sunblest, it was for Wonderloaf.
Around that time, there was another campaign the whole country loved, starring Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins, everyone still remembers it as that great Martini campaign.
And it was a memorable campaign, but it wasn’t for Martini, it was for Cinzano.
Years later I was teaching a class of ad students, they told me their favourite posters were the Nike campaign running everywhere with the line “Impossible is Nothing”.
And it was a powerful campaign, but it wasn’t for Nike, it was for Adidas.
There are dozens of campaigns like that, people love the ad but get the brand wrong.
The modern version of that would be Sadiq Kahn’s campaign, “Say Maaate to a Mate”.
Apparently one in five women are “victims of unwanted sexual objectification”.
This often comes in the form of ‘banter’ between men.
So the stated purpose of this advertising is “empowering men to challenge misogyny”.
Well it’s definitely helped the expression “Maaate” catch on.
I’ve heard it used when someone spilled a drink, when someone got a nasty bill, when someone forgot their phone, when someone jumped a queue.
It’s become a synonym for “Don’t do that”, in fact it’s become a part of banter itself.
But I haven’t heard it associated with the serious issue of “challenging and changing the attitudes that trivialise abuse”.
With any advertising we have to ask, what is the point of standing out and getting remembered if the punters don’t remember who or what it’s for?
There’s an old cliché: no one believes in advertising until they’ve lost their cat.
Then they go round the streets putting up pictures of it on lamp posts saying LOST CAT in big letters, and their phone number.
The equivalent for us would be to concentrate on a beautiful picture of the cat but without any words or contact details.
So everyone would say “What a lovely cat” without knowing what to do about it.
That’s the level we’re at, we’re so interested in the details of the execution we’ve forgotten what the job of advertising is.
That’s why the current McDonalds campaign (click link) is an example of the right way to do it.
The commercial takes place in a traffic jam, the soundtrack is from 1985: “Oh Yeah” by a Swiss group called Yello.
It’s got a heavy electronic beat, every 3 seconds the person on-screen raises their eyebrows in the shape of a letter M.
Everyone in the traffic jam passes the raised-eyebrow look along, everyone fancies a McDonalds.
At the end, the logo M pops up and moves up-and-down like all the eyebrows.
The ad doesn’t patronise punters by having to show people savouring the product.
There’s no voice-over about the product, there are no beautiful product shots, no shots of the outlet, nothing to spell it out.
But there are TWELVE times the mnemonic device with the eyebrows is featured.
You couldn’t remember or repeat that ad without the eyebrows and the logo M device.
The letter M mnemonic couldn’t be for anyone else, not for Wendy’s or for Burger King.
The job of the ad is to make McDonalds fun, to make the ad catch on and earn free media.
We don’t need subtlety instead of advertising.
We need people who can remember what the job of advertising is supposed to be.