The great Ads that almost didn’t get made!
Make them laugh, make them cry, make them buy!’ is a slogan that neatly sums up the golden age of advertising that is currently being celebrated by Campaign.
The 50th anniversary edition of the trade journal takes a fond look back at everything from the comic creation of the PG Tips chimps to the heart-string tugging drama of the John Lewis Christmas commercials.
Back in the day, advertising was more of an art form than the number crunching science it has now become, yet despite – or perhaps because of – that it had its landmark successes. Who hasn’t been captivated by the Hovis delivery boy, the Sugar Puffs Honey Monster, the Joan Collins and Leonard Rossiter Cinzano ads or the ‘Happiness is a Cigar Called Hamlet’ commercials?
And yet the surprising thing is, reading the reminiscences of those who created these mini masterpieces, how many of them nearly never got made.
Take the Cadbury’s Smash Martians who went into paroxysm of laughter at humans’ crude attempts to create mashed potato and persuaded us to buy the instant alternative. Cadbury believed ‘ordinary’ housewives were not sci-fi fans and would never buy into the idea. Even when the ad was pre-tested and viewers ‘loved it to bits’ they said the results were fixed! Only after the third positive test did they reluctantly run the ad – and then they laughed all the way to the bank!
It was an equally near thing that Heineken got to ‘refresh the parts that other beers cannot reach’. “It was all down to the bravery of the client,” said ad creator Frank Lowe, “and even he had second thoughts when research predicted it would bomb.” They researched it again and got the same answer. ‘Never mind, let’s run it anyway’ said Heineken, and it turned out to be a runaway success.
Saatchi’s famous ‘Pregnant Man’ poster for the Health Education Council – “Would you be more careful if it were you who got pregnant?” – has an interesting story behind it. They had casting problems trying to find someone with a suitably sheepish, self-reproaching look. They went through 50 or so candidates before finding their man who, on the eve of publication, told them “I’ve got a problem with this because my mum’s a devout Roman Catholic. So, can you keep my name secret?”
Another Saatchi & Saatchi triumph was their ground-breaking ‘Labour Isn’t Working’ poster for the Conservative Party, which came close to being made redundant itself. Margaret Thatcher had her doubts about the idea, thinking that mentioning your opponents in a headline was promoting them. Fortunately for her she was persuaded otherwise. Dennis Healey denounced the poster as ‘soap powder advertising’ in the House of Commons, which had the unintended effect of making it news and getting it broadcast by every TV station and newspaper in the country.
The ad industry and the world it reflects has changed dramatically since the Swinging Sixties when Campaign published its first issue, most notably through the rise of the Internet and digital media, although TV has continued to rise steadily over the period. What has not changed is the fact that creativity remains at the core of all memorable and successful advertising. Content is still king, even though the means of delivery may have changed.
The other factor that remains crucial to success is the client with the ability to recognise great ideas and the confidence to run with them, even when they’re a little out of his comfort zone. As Frank Lowe, creator of the Heineken ‘reaches parts’ ad says: “Show me a great campaign and I’ll show you a great client.”