Monthly Archives: January 2013

So David Ogilvy nicked his most famous headline

I was delighted to receive The Real Mad Men by Andrew Cracknell in my Christmas stocking.

It’s an enjoyable history of what many consider to be a key period in the history of advertising. (As if anybody who doesn’t work in advertising gives a flying fig about the history of advertising.)

The received wisdom in the industry is that, in the early sixties, advertising suddenly became ‘creative’. So for example, in a press ad, instead of just showing a nice picture of the product and telling you why you should buy it, you got artistic layouts and clever wordplay.

(Whether this gets you more sales is a moot point, however, to those of us trained in the more results-focused world of Direct Marketing. That it will win you more awards and more admiration from your fellow advertising gurus is not, on the other hand, in doubt.)

However, advertising suddenly became Great Art and Great Literature: all rolled into a quarter page mono right-hand page, facing matter.

No longer the simple rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket (as George Orwell called it).

But amongst many other toothsome titbits I discovered while reading the book, two were genuinely surprising, and amusing.

Firstly, David Ogilvy nicked his most famous headline.

You know, the legendary Rolls Royce press ad: “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock”

This has long been handed down from generation to bright-eyed bushy-tailed generation as One of The Greatest Ads of All Time.

An example of taking a pithy product benefit (a Unique Selling Point/Proposition, as they’re called sometimes) and presenting it in a compelling, memorable way.

The Genius of Ogilvy. (And, by the way, there was no greater publicist of his own genius than Mr O himself.)

Except that The Genius nicked the headline from an earlier ad.

An ad from 1933 for the Pierce Arrow: “The only sound one can hear in the new Pierce Arrow is the ticking of the electric clock.”

I think this is a better line too. ‘Ticking’ really puts you in the car, reinforces the sense of quiet. Compare this with the rather ugly ‘noise’ in the Ogilvy rewrite.

As if that wasn’t enough, I was surprised to learn that another of The All Time Great Ads wasn’t the brain-child of another Genius of Advertising either.

“Think Small”, the famous VW Beetle press ad, from Bill Bernbach’s legendary DDB agency in New York originally had a different headline.

And who was The Genius of Advertising that wanted Think Small as the line? The client.



TV advertisers: please don’t tell me what you believe

Has TV advertising finally lost the plot?

It seems that every ad break contains at least one commercial that opens with a variation of “Here at [insert company/product/brand name here] we understand that you…”

Sometimes it’s “Here at [insert company/product/brand name here], we believe that…”

There are dozens of them out there, right now. Once you look out for them, you’ll be shocked at how many there are.

Patronising you with their fake Manc accents or soppy, simpering girlishness.

Trying to make you buy their floor cleaner or insurance policy by telling you how much they empathise with you and what they believe their company stands for.

There’s one for Sainsbury’s car insurance which is a prime example. It starts off with something like “We understand that you use your car to run the kids around…” or something equally banal.

Then shows lots of mums and dads running their kids around (brilliant!).

But the insurance they’re selling has absolutely nothing to do with running your kids around. Or even how many kids you have. It’s just bog-standard car insurance, like any other.

So why harp on about how much they understand me and my child-focused taxi service? It is utterly irrelevant. And, as a result, utterly annoying. You’re waiting for the pay off or offer to do with children and it never comes.

(It’s what they used to call Borrowed Interest, in the days when people knew how to make proper telly ads.)

They do it because someone in a suit (or in the agency planning department who are simply suits in disguise even though they all think they’re terribly creative) has said “We need to create empathy with our audience. We must make them understand what we stand for. We must show them we understand them, their hopes, their needs, their aspirations.”

You see this guff every day on advertising agency creative briefs (the document that the planners give to the creative team at the start of a new project).

It’s so much easier to write this kind of soggy, soppy, ludicrous goo than rolling your sleeves up and finding out the real reasons why the punter might fork out for your product. You know, like it’s cheaper, better, faster, more reliable, cooler…

Of course it’s also tied up in the crazy world of Branding.

Somewhere there’ll be a document describing the Brand Values that all advertising must support and communicate. So instead of incorporating these into the brief, perhaps as a guidance for the kind of tone of voice or imagery the creatives might work with, the lazy agency just literally writes the brand values into the script.

And the client loves it because it makes him/her go all misty eyed and lumpen-throated when he/she goes to the first screening. Bless him, he doesn’t know any better.

But the punter doesn’t care what the company believes. He doesn’t need the company to understand him. (And he doesn’t want to be their friend on Facebook, either.)

The punter just wants the advertising to tell him some good reasons why he should buy their product rather than someone else’s—in an attention-grabbing and memorable way.



Nobody scrolls

“Nobody scrolls.”

I’ve lost track of the number of times that self-styled internet marketing gurus and web ‘developers’  have told me this. (And 12 year old agency account handlers.)

It’s always followed swiftly by “So, that’s why you mustn’t put any important marketing messages below the fold on your website or email”.

(By ‘the fold’ they mean the area visible on your computer’s email window before you scroll down the…oops, sorry!)

You know, like when you open an old-fashioned paper letter from your Auntie Meg and only read until the fold in the middle of the first page, no matter how riveting its content.

You stop reading because the slight bend in the paper is an impenetrable banner beyond which even angels fear to tread.

Ditto online. Nobody dares to move the scroll bar or scroll wheel. (This is why so many websites are strange little rectangles on your screen.) They’d rather click a link to another very short page, apparently. (But that’s a topic for another day, folks.)

So that’s that then. Nobody scrolls.

Well here’s a confession, are you sitting down?

I scroll.

Shocking isn’t it?

I scroll. All the time. Almost relentlessly.

If there’s something I want to read about, I scroll down with gay and unfettered abandon.

BBC News webpages: I scroll so much my mouse wheel glows red-hot.

Forums: get into a good meaty thread about rare electric guitars or the lunacy of organised religion and I can scroll scroll scroll until, mama, I’m all scrolled out.

A beautifully crafted long-copy sales page: lead me to it, I’m scrolling before it’s finished loading.

In fact, and this is absolutely true: I have arthritis in my right index finger as a direct result of years of fevered scrolling. Imagine!

But, hey, clearly that’s just me.

All those really internet-savvy marketeers and copywriters who actually test what works to drive sales and generate response online—the ones who consistently write really long copy because it works much better than a couple of glib paragraphs, and make, literally, millions for their clients and themselves—well, they’re all wrong apparently.

Because, apart from me, nobody scrolls.

And that’s why you stopped reading ages ago, didn’t you?

Because nobody scrolls.