Strong work

Great ads - and a shout out to the teams that made them

My old strategy team had our own newsletter. It was a brief weekly affair that highlighted research, reports, and articles of interest. The informal motto was ‘we read this so you don’t have to - a true pillar of the planning ethos.

One week, we did something a little different and went full listicle; sharing some of our favourite advertising campaigns instead. The only rule was that we couldn’t choose any of our own work (either from our current or previous agencies), so these are campaigns we admired from afar.

Our selection criteria was completely whimsical, and by no means consistent. Between us, we chose work spanning a century of creative communications, and although slightly over-reliant on print and TV, we also included some memorable PR, social, and influencer campaigns.

What struck us at the time is that some of these are not very attractive ads, but have incredibly clear propositions. Some of them are mediocre expressions of a great audience insight. Some of them are gorgeous, but say nothing at all. Some are aren’t very eye-catching in and of themselves, but are cleverly placed, well-timed, or impressively reactive.

Perhaps the ultimate lesson here is how many moving parts there are in something as ‘simple’ as an ad - and how few ads, if any, get every single element spot on. The corollary to that lesson is that, well: that’s probably ok. I don’t think great execution can make up for a bad insight, but it can certainly polish mediocrity. Similarly, a great proposition can still be effective, even if brought to life in a middling way. We should always strive for the best of all worlds, but sometimes (most of the time) something has to give.

This compromise, is, if you’ll forgive the sentimentality, rather sweet.

An ad is the work of a team - of many disciplines and specialists coming together to make a single output. If one strand falters, the others support it. If one strand excels, the others are lifted alongside it.

It may feel slightly against the spirit of a ‘team’ to nick a newsletter from my old team and share it here, but I think it is a charming and esoteric list, produced by my charming and esoteric colleagues. It deserves another outing.

“At 60 Miles An Hour”... The classic, long-running, Rolls Royce campaign shows how the tiniest benefit can represent the whole brand.

‘Wassup.’ Budweiser only needed one word.

T-Rex. This LEGO ad didn’t need any. [I’m honestly not 100% sure this is an actual ad, and not some sort of student project, but I choose to believe.]

Stabilo Highlighters championed inclusivity and made a very boring product stand out.

Bic pens found another way of making an ‘old-fashioned’ tool relevant.

Naugahyde went extremely silly to sell office furniture, a truly unexpected tone of voice. 

British Gas - ‘The Heart of the Home’ created warmth (pun intended) in a sector that customers actively disliked.

Waitrose livestreamed boring farm videos to show how their food is unquestionably authentic.

Hunt’s Tomato Sauce makes FANCY PANTS hamburgers. Not a visually appealing ad, but a clear product benefit, grounded in a audience insight. It makes me laugh.

Patagonia tells you not to buy their products on Black Friday

Similar vibes from Nike’s ‘Play New’. It is ok to be rubbish… ...’ave it. For some classier football… head to the cage.

And adidas, with a different take on a casual kickabout.

This one still makes me cackle with glee. What is happening?! Who cares?! (stuffs face with candy)

Dumb Ways to Die’ is a classic of public communication, using humour to address a serious issue.

Slip! Slap! Slop’ from Cancer Council Victoria is the classic behaviour change campaign that predated (and inspired?) it.

‘If you don’t need it...’ the 1940s gave us many brilliant, straight-talking public service communications... 

...the pinnacle of which may have been Fougasse’s “Careless Talk Costs Lives” campaign. A grim topic, boldly tackled with intelligence and a spark of humour.

Whereas this PSA took a different tone. Say hello to seXXXy water conservation.

British Heart Foundation showed that CPR is not as hard as it looks

…so good you can’t help but watch the full sixty seconds.

Guinness - “Anticipation” flipped a negative on its head. 

Legendary mystery author Dorothy Sayers famously cut her teeth as a copywriter for Guinness, penning rhymes for their iconic toucan

Sayers later devised an impressive brand campaign for Colman’s - creating the “Mustard Club”. The campaign, 1926-1933, featured the antics of a mysterious (and fictitious) club of mustard aficionados. As well as conventional ads, it included recipe books, membership badges, a hit single (?!), and even fake newsreels showing Club events.

Apple - ‘1984’ - because you can’t have a list of ads without this game changer.

adidas - ‘your future is not mine’ tries to capture the spirit of the above. Not quite the same, but does try to pin down a generational feeling. The craft of this ad blows my mind, and I think it was absolutely prescient in a lot of ways (e.g. the over-the-shoulder gamer-cam view, years before anyone else even tries). Is it a good ad though, or a mood reel for what the ad should be? But that’s fashion, innit.

Orange’s ‘togetherness’ is a less rebellious, and truly lovely, perspective on the world.

Because they’re big and noisy and have larger budgets than NASA: car ads!

It upsets me that there’s now a whole generation of ad people who don’t know that Honda ad, and how it shook up… well, everything.

As a bonus, some helpful tools for embracing (and enhancing) the creative process:

What I’m reading (online):

What I’m reading (offline):

  • Age of the Junkman by P.D. Ballard. A 1963 paperback original. Purchased for the McGinnis cover; reading because I enjoy ‘systems fiction’: books that are ultimately not about people, but tours of complex systems. Weirdly, I hate that shit in diamond-hard SF, but in 1960s disaster fiction? Hot damn.

  • The Goodreads Choice Awards have begun. These are a very specific sort of award: they’re solely about Goodreads popularity, which is basically BookTok before BookTok was a thing. That said, I have always found them to be really representative of the upper echelons of ‘the zeitgeist’ within a particular category and moment. It makes for a fun reading list if you’re exploring or discovering a genre, and want to know what everyone is on about. In conclusion: I’ve bought half the Romance category (and already read the other half).

  • A humblebrag addendum to the above: congrats to , who is the editor of a whopping four shortlistees in four different categories. That’s a lot of thumbs on a lot of pulses.

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