Adversiting campaigns: A place in history

Memorable campaigns take risks and tap into modern social trends, in order to grab peoples’ attention, maintain a longer shelf life and establish a place in advertising history. By Kieron Matthews

Kieron Matthews
Internet Advertising Bureau Head of marketing 

2003 Marketing director, Dare
1999 Group account director, BBH
1997 Account director, TBWA / Chiat Day (Toronto)
1995 Account director, HHC L
1992 Account manager, McCann Erickson

A typical Sunday afternoon in the Matthews’ house is not complete without a slice of vintage Hollywood. Such comfort viewing normally provides an opportunity to switch off and place work firmly on the back burner, but last week, halfway through watching Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid, my thoughts turned to online.Watching the perpetual uphill struggle of the lovable tramp trying to form meaningful relationships with his disinterested co-stars led me to question whether our industry could actually learn something from the diminutive comic and old-school Hollywood.

I believe good advertising stems from a similar struggle to that of Chaplin’s tramp. Advertisers’ starting point is often the assumption that their audience is not interested, so they try to motivate their consumers and capture the imagination. Brands can use an array of Chaplin-esque methods to do this: entertain, show off, make you cry, make you laugh and, most importantly, try and bring you around to their way of thinking.

And the Hollywood analogy doesn’t end there – the advertising industry has seemingly based its creative model on the conveyor belt-style production line of the 1920s silent film industry. Back then, films were churned out to match the demand of viewers, in an almost factory-like fashion. Similarly, with advertising, there exists the belief that before the ink has even dried on the print of your latest campaign, you should be onto your next execution.

I was talking to an agency executive the other day and he told me that it took 18 months to get one TV campaign live, only for it to be aired for six weeks before the brand had a poster-only holiday and then the new ad broke. It frustrates me that much of our truly powerful advertising gets only a few weeks of glory before it is confined to the showreels or the occasional Channel 4 programme about the 100 greatest ads.

Had it not been for VHS, DVD and now the Web, those Chaplin classics would have been confined to the odd niche cinema run every time one of his anniversaries came around. This, of course, also applies to your brand collateral. Type “Levis launderette” into YouTube or “Tango Doll” into eBay and you’ll see a thriving attempt to revive and sustain great communications – albeit without the appropriate usage rights being signed off (sorry that’s the ex-account man in me talking).

This holds great potential for advertisers, who need to re-evaluate the malleability and sustainability of their message. For example, once upon a time, the Sony Bravia ad would have been aired, admired and evaluated in a matter of months, won a string of awards and then been confined to the archives before the process started all over again.

As it was, having broken just 18 months ago, we were presented with a very different set of results. The ad still lives on all over the Web, out-takes are aplenty, spoofs run on various video sites and are still referenced on hundreds of blogs worldwide.

The moral of the story is that exceptional advertising, whether it’s a TV spot, a stunt or even a great online piece, needs to be created with this longevity in mind.

Perfect match
The marriage of Nike and Apple is another great success story, where two brands have perfectly intertwined themselves in the online space for the long term. Through fully understanding the behaviour of their consumers, they found that, unsurprisingly, most runners jog to music.

I have no doubt that a beautifully crafted set of ads, regardless of the marketing medium employed, would have been enough to make you sit up and take notice. However, within this unique partnership, your iPod Nano becomes your coach, as well as your favorite workout companion. A small sole-insert tracks your run in real time by sending the information to your iPod. After your run, you simply connect your iPod to your computer, and your workout data syncs to both iTunes and, where you can see your runs, set goals and challenge friends. Truly outstanding.

So, going back to Chaplin for a moment, he was also a major pioneer. When others were fixing cameras securely to the ground, he was attaching them to cars and tracks, trying to film without wobble. When others only shot on studio sets, he went out to the countryside of Beverly Hills. As the cost of film stock and cameras soared in the recession, he bought the equipment direct and set up his own film company with his own talent.

This is very much like the good digital agencies and client pioneers who have realised that in order to craft great communications, they need to break the old rules and continue to shape the industry. When traditional agencies were struggling to work out how to make particular film production profitable, digital agencies used their own skills and created facilities in-house, enabling them to develop creatively by experimenting with brand new formats. Dancing chickens from Crispin Porter would never have been possible if the relationship between video, keyboard and the mouse had not been explored.

Charlie%20ChaplinRisky business
When the “talkies” (films with sound) hit in the late 1920s, the much-celebrated silent tramp was faced with the challenge of actually having to speak. It would have been very easy to quit while ahead, but Chaplin took a pretty big risk by embracing change and making his first spoken film, The Great Dictator. To make the movie even more memorable, he chose to launch a scathing comic assault on Adolf Hitler as the lead character.

However scary it may be, the most championed brands and agencies have always taken risks, and this is even more important in a Web 2.0 world, when “letting go” can result in dramatically increased brand advocacy. The Cadbury’s gorilla, for example, is a top piece of traditional broadcast TV advertising, but online it has spawned numerous re-edits, featuring songs such as Total Eclipse of The Heart and the theme tune to EastEnders.

Without a doubt, its success is down to the ad itself being a unique, innovative and entertaining film, but allowing your brand to be used freely online creates the kind of social currency we all crave. Just as the plaudits continue to debate the bravery of The Great Dictator 67 years later, consumers will remember a drumming gorilla for years to come, hand in hand with a positive perception of the Cadbury brand. The challenge, of course, is making sure the ad is remembered for all the right reasons.

At the Internet Advertising Bureau, we are seeing agencies make the most of these opportunities more and more, but there is still a long way to go before the incorporation of online into briefing campaigns becomes second nature.

In order for brands to make the most of online today, it is no longer possible to base their campaign activity on the tried and tested assumptions of the past. For campaigns to have a longer shelf life, it is essential to take measured risks with creative that taps into modern consumer behaviour.


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