I Doff My Cap to….

Matthew Hayes Managing Director

November 30th, 2023

In this day and age, it’s hard to escape advertising. It’s everywhere. On every media and digital channel, every building, bus stop and tube station, we’re inundated with messaging.

In most cases, they never really make an impact. We watch, read and maybe break into a smile and then it’s back to our day. However, some become part of the fabric of our being. They move and amuse us and it is these campaigns that this series will explore. Adverts and campaigns that have really cut through and left an imprint on our culture and on our collective psyche. And, importantly, made the right impact for the brands in question.

Having spent more than 20 years dedicated to brand communications, I understand what they are trying to achieve and the tactics they employ, and so I am probably one of the hardest people to influence via a campaign. However, even with my analytical eye and campaign cynicism, there are a number of genius brand campaigns that cannot fail to impact on you (and their sales). And, to those campaigns, I doff my cap.

Now, this might be my analytical mind speaking, but even these campaigns haven’t done this by anomaly. But rather than be the “Brand Masked Magician” looking to disclose the mystery, this series is about appreciation of the genius and highlighting how simple genius can be.

So simple, that we will begin to see a number of common themes. From emotion, brand love and creating tribes, right through to remaining consistent, tapping into the experience economy and telling audiences a story. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before we delve in, as a taster, here are a few campaigns that deserve honourable mentions. If you’ve seen them, I’m sure they’ll bring back fond memories.

Um Bongo – ‘They Drink it in the Congo’

Those of us watching TV in the 80s will definitely remember these animated adverts. When the campaign first aired, the juice market was highly saturated, so Nestlé had to stand out with their Libby’s branded Um Bongo line.

Their adverts did just that, adding an innocent air of the exotic. Cartoons were a popular form of media for people of all ages, so the bright colours and fast-moving imagery was something people instantly connected with. The catchy song made it memorable and the more and more you heard it through its consistent TV slots, the better you were able to recall it. I still know most of the words to this day.

Back then, advertising to children was a less controversial topic. The campaign worked well because it influenced a younger audience without the mental capacity to fully comprehend that they were being sold to. Although they didn’t need the drink, the adverts made them feel as though they did. It became a want, which is often a more powerful purchase motivator. This created pester power and, as we know, parents can only say no to their child so many times.

Of course, the advertising of products, such as sugary drinks, to children has stopped, which I do believe is a positive change.

R Whites Lemonade - ‘Secret Lemonade Drinker’

Another campaign with an incredibly catchy song was R Whites Lemonade’s ‘Secret Lemonade Drinker’ campaign. Demonstrating the effectiveness of longevity, it ran for over a decade from the mid-70s, which is almost unheard of today. But it worked.

If we go back to the fundamentals of advertising, repetition is key for recall. Hearing the same message over and over again for ten years was bound to have a lasting effect on consumers.

In fact, I bet many of them are still loyal brand lovers today. From my personal experience, whenever I see the brand, I smile to myself and remember the warm associations of humour and mischief I still make with it now.

Hamlet – ‘Happiness is a Cigar Called Hamlet’

Cigar advertising seems like a distant memory today but, in the 60s, it was all the rage. Hamlet ran with a similar storyline for a long period of time. In each advert, we saw someone in an unfortunate position taking solace in a cigar. Whatever life throws at you, Hamlet is happiness.

Again, the longevity of the campaign was key to its success. Another factor involved the brand’s ability to evolve with its audience. By the 80s, prosperity began to rise so the ads moved from its darker origins to embrace. And, as a result, Hamlet produced what was perhaps their most famous ad.

Oxo – ‘The Oxo Family’

The Oxo Family campaign was another long-standing series, which felt more like a soap opera due to the use of the same actors throughout its run. The family narrative is something we all recognise and relate to, and connects well with the homeliness of simple gravy. Audiences really began to feel invested in the story, which has a lot to do with why I believe it deserves praise.

Again, it’s rare for brands to run with a campaign for so long these days, for fear that audiences get bored and do more harm than good to the brand. But Oxo cleverly overcame this by creating an evolving story that reflected the changing lifestyles of its customers. In turn, this increased awareness and engagement with the brand, confirming the effectiveness of the campaign.

Hovis – ‘The Boy on the Bike’

There’s a reason why the ‘Boy on the Bike’ campaign is still recognised as one the most iconic British advertisements of all time, representing a real sense of heritage. Its consistent appearance on our screens was enough for us to build a sense of real familiarity and fondness towards the boy and, therefore, the brand.

The ad transported us to a simpler age and showed the brand understood the struggles of ordinary working people, making it relatable to a key target demographic. It associated Hovis with good health, doing so in a way that was wholesome and warm.

The original advert was Ridley Scott’s directing debut, which only adds to its magic and impact now. And the fact that the brand decided to remake the advert last year demonstrates just how influential it was.

Heineken – ‘Refreshes the Parts Other Beers Cannot Reach’

Before this Heineken advertising campaign, lager wasn’t particularly popular in the UK. The idea behind it was utterly preposterous but that’s why it worked in raising the profile of the Dutch brand and helping to create a market for a foreign, challenger beer.

Each advert had a different take on the refreshment theme. There were police officers, video games and even a Star Trek inspired episode. I believe that Heineken really understood their consumer segments and executed a series of adverts that targeted each one, successfully, by being relatable.

As another long-standing campaign, there was a common theme of absurdity and humour throughout, which are characteristics that are shared by and appeal to the product’s male target market.

Tango – ‘You Know When You’ve Been Tangoed’

Tango is another example of a brand that found an idea that got their message across and stuck with it. Whilst every advert had a different storyline, the message and way it was executed remained consistent.

Although some of the original adverts were risky and attracted some criticism, especially when children began copying the violent slap in school playgrounds, their ridiculous nature is what made them stand out.

Each ad was high energy, emotion-driven and delivered with a ‘punch’, which perfectly reflected the explosiveness of the drink’s taste and the brand’s image.

Coca-Cola – Multiple Campaigns

Last but most definitely not least, anyone in marketing could go on for days about the advertising power and prowess of Coca-Cola, so I’ll keep it brief. Their influence on Christmas as we know it tells you everything. Christmas today is Coke.

But put aside their transformation of Santa Claus from his old green garb to the jolly character decked in red that we all know and love, and forget, for a moment, the sense that Christmas only really starts on our first sighting of their signature truck. The story I want to tell stems from a personal experience with my daughter.

At just three years old, I gave her a blank shopping list and all she asked for was a Diet Coke. When I asked why, she said “I just love Diet Coke.” It wasn’t, “I love fizzy drinks,” it was specifically Diet Coke and the penny dropped that she had become brand loyal at the tender age of three.

Now, if that continues until she’s 83, they will have created a scenario in which she was a loyal customer and brand advocate for 80 years. That is incredible.

What’s more, is Coca-Cola’s ability to evolve with the times. No doubt are we all familiar with its more traditional means of advertising, the TV sighting of the Christmas ad being just one example, but today, we are much more likely to come across the brand on online and social channels too.

Influencer partnerships with famous faces who audiences aspire to have become a key element of their advertising model as of late, which will only add to the brand’s success in evoking brand love and a tribe-like community among consumers. Coca-Cola is with them at every stage of their lifetime.

Advertising is an investment, not an expense. There are various measures and KPIs you might use to assess the ROI or the success of a campaign but, ultimately, it’s all down to the number of eyeballs or eardrums your message infiltrates.

In a time when video sharing is common, the opportunity is huge. Most of the adverts I’ve touched on were around before this even became possible, yet they are still some of the most effective advertising campaigns we’ve seen.

Every single one of them has stood the test of time. They are a part of my heritage and milestones of my younger days, bringing back positive, fond memories. Decades after they first aired, their messages, storylines and influence are still etched on my mind, and most likely, many of yours too.

Although they all advertised specific products, they transcended usual barriers of the advertising medium, often turning it into a bona fide artform, and made an even greater impact on the overarching brand. And, for those reasons, I doff my cap to them.

Please watch out for further instalments, in which I’ll go in depth on some of the campaigns that have left the biggest impressions on me and break down the formulas to their success.

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