As I walked through Soho, I was struck by the achingly hip bars, boutiques and offices full of bright young things in the film, music and advertising industries. Obviously I blended right in. 😉
The Escape Artist has always wondered what it would be like to work in advertising. Could I learn to air-kiss and flounce around Soho drinking frappucinos brought to me by fawning interns? Or be all brooding machismo like Don Draper from Mad Men with an unlimited expense account on Madison Avenue?
Since my CV is a bit short of formal advertising experience, it looks like I am going to have to start at the bottom of the ladder and get the coffees myself. I’ve started with this guide to classic adverts for anyone who wonders how / why ads work.
I’ve long admired the creativity of funny ads. But it’s only recently that I’ve realised just how fiendishly clever the best adverts are and how they play to our deepest psychological biases, hopes and fears.
By reviewing classic ads we gain perspective and see what levers the advertisers pull as they try to get us to spend, spend, spend.
So enjoy these classics…but be warned! Advertising is like radiation: harmless in small doses but toxic in higher quantities. Remove it from your life where possible.
You need it…
For me, watching this advert is like a glimpse behind the scenes into a world of emotional manipulation. We see how the advertiser uses a range of sensations: visuals, sounds, taste and texture to engage our feelings.
You’d have to be a Vegan robot to watch this without starting to taste that bacon sandwich. Remember the experiment with the bell and Pavlov’s dog?
Note how the advert places us into an emotionally and sensorily receptive state, teeing up the punchline and the call to action.
I love the punchline for its sheer brutal honesty. Here The Man tells us we are pathetic and that’s why we need his product. You have to admire the front.
Because I’m worth it!
Is this the most successful advertising campaign in history?
You don’t have to be Sigmund Freud to guess how this one works. Humans are an incredibly social species and most people are desparate to feel accepted and validated by the rest of The Tribe.
The reason it can feel so uncomfortable to depart from the social norms is because for most of our evolutionary history, being rejected by The Tribe would have meant almost certain death. The “we’re worth it” strapline shamelessly panders to the insecurities of the target audience. As any psychic knows, the trick when reading palms is to tell the punter what they want to hear.
Brilliantly, the strapline not only gives the
victim consumer validation, it also gives them permission to spend lots of money on the product. How kind!
In traditional micro-economics, we are taught that consumers are rational decision makers and the demand curve slopes downward (ie people buy less) as the price goes up. But in this classic landmark ad, Stella Artois turn conventional economics on its head.
Instead of listing out the features of the product or even vaguely attempting to justify the premium pricing, Stella make the higher price the key selling feature itself.
This plays on human pyschology because it’s hard to value things rigorously. So we look for easy to spot clues to anchor on and use heuristics (mental short cuts) to assess price and value. We assume that the most expensive product must be better.
It may be convenient to believe that the market is always efficient and we get what we pay for but, as I showed here, that’s just not true.
What’s the worst that could happen?
In markets and consumerism there are two powerful emotions that drive human behaviour and those are greed and fear.
These classic Dr Pepper adverts speak directly to the ancient parts of our brain that feel fear. Dr Pepper realised that they could never compete with Coke on brand strength and that people’s habits are slow to change for a range of reasons, including fear of the unknown.
So Dr Pepper make a joke of this by exaggerating the fear to an absurd extreme. For a teenage boy, can there be more terrifying prospect than being cut out of their underwear in front of TV cameras?
You are not a Salmon
The Man is nothing if not resourceful. In these ads for KitKat, The Man recruits some of the concepts of financial independence…to sell us chocolate!
Having created the whole infrastucture of consumerism, The Man then turns round and offers to sell us sugary medication to make us briefly feel better about our situation. Its important that the hit be short lasting and somewhat addictive so we are back for the next one before long. Again, you have to admire the ambition of The Man.
In The Salmon we are encouraged to stop being a Walking Wallet for a minute and live in the moment to enjoy a chocolate bar. Its a bit like mindfulness training for consumer suckers.The Escape Artist likes chocolate and has no problem with the occasional chocolate-based dopamine hit. But if taken to extremes, we end up continually self-medicating and as fat as the helpless humans in Wall-E.
I remember watching this when I was stressed and working in the Prison Camp and it resonated with me. It feels like KitKat are on our side rather than selling us shit : genius.
The Mexican Fisherman
There isn’t just one true path to financial independence…an observation which is neatly illustrated by the parable of The Mexican Fisherman.
At one end of the spectrum we have the traditional view of early retirement, as explained by The American Businessman, which says early retirement is only possible if we start a business, work crazy hard for years and then sell for millions.
At the other end of the spectrum we have The Mexican Fisherman who will never earn huge amounts of money but lives a good life based on frugality, gratitude, meaningful work and relationships.
The Mexican Fisherman may not be rich by the American’s criteria but he is free and has no desire to “retire” as he is already living a good life. Doing meaningful work (fishing in the case of the Mexican) is an integral part of that.
Hey…social proof, baby
The best way to sell a lot of product is to start a craze. Crazes are an illustration of social proof.
Becuase we find it hard to make rational decisions and to assess the true value of many things, we use simple short cuts to make quick decisions. One such heuristic that worked well over most of human evolution was “Do what everyone else is doing“.
So if all the other monkeys are eating bananas from that tree and look like they are happy, we take that as our cue to eat those bananas rather than the ones from the tree with the dead monkey bodies littered around it.
The “follow the herd” heuristic made sense when we lived on the savannah plains of Africa but these days it can get us into big trouble as investors or consumer suckers.
Once you pop, you can’t stop!
Here we see Pringles use the addictive nature of the product…as a selling point!
Like all advertising, this takes a fundamental truth about the product and turns it into a feature. Because we instinctively recognise authenticity and we all know how hard it can be to stop once you start eating this stuff, we can relate to the strapline of the advert.
If you have a Pringles (or other carbohydrate) habit that is making you fat, check this out.
Sex sells and subtlety is (usually) wasted on the younger male. As reflected by this deodorant advert:
If you are a young, single male and can’t be bothered with the prospect of showering, cleaning your teeth and tidying up your bedroom and your fridge, then this is the product for you.
You can be as lazy as you want. You don’t need to do any work on yourself. All you need do is spray on a load of these factory-made chemicals and you will become irresistible to women. Only £2.99 a can!
The Ambassador’s Reception
Ah…the Ambassadors Reception! This advert combines a vision of sophistication with accents that would make an actor playing a Bond villain wince.
Monsieur, wiz Ferrero Rocher you are rilly spoiling uz!
Admit it, there is something about this advert that speaks to our desire to spend our way into a world of taste, affluence and beautiful people. We think that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. We all want to be at The Ambassador’s Reception with the lovely lady wiz ze Fronch accont breathing in our ear about how she loves to be spoilt, the naughty minx.
No? OK, its just me then.
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