Giles Keeble: why we need more than product advertising

“If the client still proves refractory/Show a picture of the factory. Only in the gravest cases/Should you show the client’s faces”……”But if your logo is a horse/Maybe you should show remorse.” The Lloyds Bank advertising, consistently well shot and purely emotional, made me think about where campaigns come from: the name, the provenance, the logo, product difference and so on.

Jim Aitchison has a good summary in his excellent book ‘Cutting Edge Advertising.’ Another example of bringing the logo to life was the Hoffmeister bear. And a great example of the ‘product as hero’ is Ronseal. But product advertising without a strong brand presence around it may not last, or may require constant R&D to introduce new versions – which don’t always fulfil a want, let alone a need.

When I was looking after McDonald’s and it was being attacked for a number of reasons, we decided to do strong product messages in print while TV ads continued the emotional connection. I stopped what I called ‘mid-Atlantic advertising’ – singing and dancing wannabe Coke stuff.

The creative strategy was to recognise that the product and the delivery of it was the same throughout the world, but the people and the lives they led might be different, and those differences and human stories could play against the strength of the menus and the systems. I think by and large McDonald’s advertising has continued to recognise this approach, and I was reminded about this – and the product point – when I saw the ‘It’s not a Big Mac’ work for the bacon Big Mac. It’s a simple product message delivered in an amusing and human way. (Though I cannot believe that they have not held onto the use of Big Mac as an exclusive name – which has given Burger King it’s own chance to do product ads, and competitive and pretty good some of them are.)

The other approach we introduced back then was to make human, amusing ads for promotions, the first of which was for a 99p meal (‘pea’ not included (below) – I had to convince the client that we in the UK said ‘p’ as well as ‘pence.’) These days, the promotional work around ‘getting your money’s worth’ is often pretty good. An important factor in these ads is the quality of the casting and direction, a point I have made before.

Thinking about product advertising – rather than brand campaigns which feature a product – made me realise that so many ads these days are simply product messages. Yes they are from a brand but that does not seem to be what is driving them. It is a return to direct marketing but with algorithms and links to be clicked instead of coupons to be cut. As an industry we champion ‘ideas’, though we often find it difficult to say what an idea is, and as a result many clients don’t know either.

But a message is not an idea, though there may be an idea in the product, or the name or the provenance. May be. The message is what you want to say, the idea is how you choose to say it. Advertising is inevitably changing and many of my generation may well be saying for the worse. But there must be ways we can keep the old spirit and the creativity alive in this new digital world. If you look at the collection of old print ads in ‘100 Greatest Ads’ you will see even in the coupon cutting days there was some great work.

Even without long copy, the future may require a resurgence of writing skills as well digital creativity. Perhaps some song titles can show the way? ‘Don’t it make my brown eyes blue.’ ‘I got it bad (and that ain’t good.)’ ‘If the phone doesn’t ring, it’s me.’ ‘If you can’t live without me, why aren’t you dead yet?’ ‘I’ve got you under my skin.’ Look at great lyrics (and poetry) for an encapsulating thought, like this line of John Prime’s that caught Bob Dylan’s attention: ‘There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm/Where all the money goes.’

Things won’t be the same. Creativity is needed as much as ever. Stay safe.

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About Giles Keeble

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Giles Keeble started as a rep (account man) at JWT before moving to BMP. There Stanley Pollitt told him that JWT’s Stephen King had wanted him to become a planner. John Webster encouraged him to become a writer but after a number of years Giles moved to French Gold Abbott and, for a while, did become a planner of sorts. Returning to writing he went to David Abbott’s new agency AMV followed by WCRS and was then ECD of Leo Burnett for six years. He then returned to AMV before moving to Publicis and then Lowe in Hong Kong at the inception of the ‘World’s Local Bank’ campaign for HSBC. He now works as a writer and strategist as well as running advertising courses for senior clients.

One comment

  1. Avatar

    ‘But when all else is tried and done,
    You can always employ the client’s son.’