Nobody made better ads than CDP did for Hamlet – have we found out everything and learned nothing?

Is it really true that ad’s ain’t (as good as) what they used to be?

After all, in this wonderful world of data and targeting we know what we’re doing – don’t we?

We’re about to make our choice of Agency of the Year and ads of the year. And there’ve been some very good instances of the latter, lots of 9 scores latterly although we always set out at the start of the year determined not to award them.

But have there been any as good as this lot – from CDP for Hamlet cigars 40 years ago?

All 30s, as far as I can see, one simple theme: ‘happiness is a cigar called Hamlet – the mild cigar.’ All to ‘air on the G-string,’ the musical variety.

You can’t advertise cigars in this way on the telly, or online, these days. But it doesn’t matter what the product is.

Hamlet still sells by the lorry load, years after tobacco ads were banned. Despite being a pretty rubbish product.

Who says that great creative ideas don’t work – and sod the data?

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.


  1. EVERYBODY knew those ads – and every golfer I know still occasionally offers a Hamlet when I’m in the bunker! In fairness, I was working with a Facebook ad specialist recently who said “Of course, you can be as targeted as you want – without decent copy it’ll go nowhere!” So maybe forgotten hasn’t quite been forgotten 🙂

  2. The best of the best… Director Graham Rose’s spot featuring the guy in the photo kiosk trying to arrange his “comb-over” whilst the machine keeps popping off flashes. I still wet my pants every time I see it. The actor… Greg Fisher… Should have won an Oscar for this. Check it out on YouTube.

  3. I just ran your piece to the assembled colleagues of Milamber Plc, the company that is backing us, to the accompanyment of roars of laughter. From 22 to 60’ish, everybody asked “how on earth aren’t we seeing stuff like this anymore?” Speaking as one who produced 18 of the spots between 1980 and 1990 (before the ‘Hangman’) I can only agree with them. The were very cheap too – the ‘Photobooth’ with Gregor Fisher must rank as one of the best value commercials ever made – £24k! It has won more awards than the British Olympic team have. But most importantly, it was strikingly effective because the client valued consistency over change and stuck to the strategy. Their engagement with the consumer was simply based on a shared feeling of resignation that we all exerience, alleviated by the product. Identification with your target audience. I think there is a lot to be learnt from that. It has also led to a craze which remains to this day – having a photobooth at your party. I gave a lecture to some RCA post-grad film course students and they all said “but why aren’t we doing work like this now?” Go figure!