Sold on style

The Number’s claim that Yell’s latest subtle campaign has done more to help its rival directory enquiries brand reopens the debate about style over substance that has raged since Leonard Rossiter met Joan Collins mid-air. John Reynolds asks whether creative ads can be effective

118118%20120x120Claims by The Number 118 118 that rival Yell’s latest advertising campaign is promoting the directory enquiries market as a whole rather than Yell’s own 118 247 service (MW last week) have reopened the debate about style over substance in advertising.

The “People behind the numbers” campaign, which was created by Mother, has won plaudits in the creative community but The Number says the lack of Yell branding means it has done a “generic job” of promoting 118 services. The Number adds it has seen a 3-5% increase in calls since Yell launched its campaign.

Critics believe the Yell campaign is too subtle and does not resonate with the public, unlike The Number’s quirky ads which feature the moustachioed 118 118 runners. Jonathan Gabay, director of brand consultancy Brand Forensics, says: “Yell’s campaign offers a subtle message and sometimes in a crowded market it’s better to have an irritating ad.”

Yell says it is “very pleased” with the campaign and adds that it has seen a “very significant increase” in calls to 118 247 since its launch. But The Number says it tracks the impact of its own advertising and has seen a 3-5% increase “over and above that” since the Yell campaign was launched.

Raise awareness
Detractors of the ad, which broke in March (MW March 15), draw parallels with the famous 1970s campaign for alcohol brand Cinzano, created by Collett Dickenson Pearce. Starring Joan Collins and Leonard Rossiter, the ad captivated the public but failed to raise awareness of the brand and inadvertently helped lift sales of the then market-leading brand Martini. One industry source says: “Everyone remembers that ad but it was so engrossing that people forgot it was for Cinzano and went out and bought Martini.”

Some experts believe Yell will fall into the same trap, but others think the fact that it is so different to The Number’s campaign will work in its favour. They point to Fallon’s work for Sony and Wieden & Kennedy’s Honda campaigns as examples of effective creative advertising.

118118_sportObservers admit, though, that the public could be confused between the two 118 brands. Euro RSCG chief strategic officer Russell Lidstone says: “One of the key factors is the element of confusion. When something begins with 118, people will obviously default to the one with saliency. It’s a distress service and if you need it you go for the one with the biggest market share.”

Yell’s ad, believe some, follows a well-trodden path of campaigns that have opted for style at the expense of branding. Cosmetics, fragrances, alcohol, and most noticeably car ads are among those which frequently plot this course, they say.

Rita Clifton, chairman of Interbrand, says of car ads: “They look sexy. They have women driving down mountain passes. But rarely do they connect with the brand.”

Another critic adds: “Anyone flicking through a Sunday supplement is greeted with a plethora of anonymous ads, in terms of tone and art direction.” However, the source adds: “There is so much competition between agencies for business that once they have secured the brief they are frightened of challenging their clients and go along with the research findings shown to them.”

Many think Honda’s award-winning “Cog” and “Grrr” campaigns marked a turning point for car advertising, while Citroën and Skoda have also won praise for innovative recent campaigns.

Change%20Some%20ThingYoung girls
Others, meanwhile, point the finger at personal care brands which, they say, are almost always fronted by nubile young girls. Clifton says: “I think it’s a cultural thing with girls in frocks appearing in women’s magazines. But there are exceptions which do stand out from the crowd, like L’Oréal’s ‘I’m Worth It’ campaign.”

But even some of L’Oréal’s recent campaigns, one of which features Jane Fonda, have been criticised for lacking a definitive message. The problem, according to some, is that big brands in the personal care sector follow the same trends and access the same consumer data, leading to repetition and unadventurous ads.

On top of this, observers say it is difficult for cosmetics and fragrance brands to stand out because of the high advertising to editorial ratio. Many believe that more brands should follow Unilever’s decision to differentiate itself by using real women as opposed to models, as Unilever does in its Dove ads.

Some say one of the main problems is that junior marketers are signing off ads. According to one observer: “Young marketers are looking to build a career and are worried about taking big risks. This can lead to nice but boring work.”

Others think that tough market conditions prohibit innovation because clients are too focused on costs and demand the safest forms of advertising. Such constraints do not appear to be impacting the directory enquiries sector. Yell insists it is “wedded” to its campaign in the long term, while The Number says the key to its success is “to be highly branded and get away from the generic benefits”. That particular battle, and the industry-wide style over substance debate, looks set to continue for some time to come.

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