From the MAA archive: Direct Line’s Piers Newson-Smith picks his Desert Island Ads

Desert Island Ads has been a feature of MAA throughout: disappointingly few clients over the years but Direct Line’s Piers Newson-Smith did his duty back in 2019.

Piers Newson-Smith is head of brand and digital strategy strategy at Direct Line Group. He was the architect of Direct Line’s ‘Fixer’ repositioning and led Green Flag’s 2017 brand relaunch.

Desert Island (Boxset) Ads

Somewhere in the grey area between what people care about in AdLand and in the real world, there’s a few campaigns that made people genuinely want to know what happened next.

Marketing science constantly tells us that good advertising should say the same thing over and over in interesting ways. But it’s getting increasingly challenging to reach boxset binging audiences in the first place. So my Desert Island Ads celebrates advertising with ongoing stories and characters that actually left the audience wanting more.

Orange Wednesdays – The Orange Film Board
A quick search of this cinema campaign is all you need to see it how loved it was; the most common commentary was that the ads were normally better that whatever film followed. From 2003 to 2010, 24 different executions featured Hollywood A-Listers, from Patrick Swayze to Spike Lee merrily sending themselves up pitching movie concepts, whilst a panel of Orange executives cack-handedly forced in product placement. “Lord of the Ringtones: Return of the Phonecall” anyone?

These ten ads between 1978 and 1983 are the Fawlty Towers of Advertising. They were so popular, that Joan Collins is quoted as saying that when ITV went on strike, audiences complained about the Cinzano campaign being off air as much as the rest of the programming. A self-contained set of stone cold comedy classics, only let down by the fact that the branding was a bit off and it allegedly did more for market leader Martini’s sales than for Cinzano.

BT – Bob Hoskins, it’s good to talk
Long before Bruce Willis popped up as a dead babysitter in The Sixth Sense, Bob Hoskins was invisibly floating around stereotypical middle class houses in a series of eight BT ads. Despite Bob repeatedly trespassing and taking invading personal space to new and exciting levels, the campaign was a tabloid favourite. The IPA named it the most effective piece of advertising from 1994-1996.

Oxo – Life with Katie
The original Oxo family ran for 18 years from 1958, and it’s fair to say that times have changed somewhat since. “Life with Katie” featured a long suffering wife and mother coping with life in the shadow of her brilliantly crap husband, Phillip. Phillip’s the kind of dad who hides behind the newspaper when he hears his baby son crying. He’s the type who has to be asked by Katie to burp him. And as he edges towards the baby with a face like he’s been asked dismantle an atomic bomb, it’s clear that he’s the sort who planned on getting through life by completely bypassing the parenting department. Good job Katie spared a moment to look up from making gravy that “gives a meal man appeal” to explain how to perform the most basic of dad tasks.

Taster’s Choice
The 12 episode run of the Gold Blend couple from 1987-1993 was so well received that it is the only campaign on this list with the distinction of getting a US remake. The first Taster’s Choice ad was almost a shot-for-shot remake of the original. Anthony Head and Sharon Maughan changed their accents, but kept the patronising oneupmanship. Somehow a romance based on asking whether a brand of instant coffee would be “too good for your guests” became as popular as a soap opera in more than one country.

Before sugar became public enemy number one these ads became a playground sensation. The set-up is simple. Suzie, a young girl off her head on sugar, falls in with a bunch of bohemian stoners. Like a chocolately animated Trainspotting, she wails for a Trio, whilst being tied up, shot out of a hot air balloon or locked in a soundproof booth. Cue a generation of school kids shouting “Triiii-o, TRRIIIIII-OOOOOO”.

The lady loves Milk Tray
It’s generally frowned upon to break into random strangers’ houses. It’s worse to cause criminal damage to countless tiled roofs, or to trigger an avalanche above a mountain village. Waking up a suburban neighbourhood in the middle of the night with a dangerously low flying helicopter is just plain rude. And it’s downright sinister to leave mid-price chocolates as an anonymous calling card.

But even though the Milk Tray man was an antisocial arse and a crap spy, he kept coming back for more. He featured in 19 ads from 1968-2003, before coming back from the dead again in 2016.

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