Monday, August 21, 2017

Two 1938 British Ads and What They Mean

Having devoted more than three decades to a career in advertising, you might think I'd tire of it, but the truth is that I find the advertising game endlessly fascinating. Advertising is essentially getting the right message to the right people at the right time. It involves many variables, but especially psychology. It's about meaningful and effective communication. By effective I mean it generates a desired action.  

What I like about it is that I sit in an office in the upper midwest but try to impact peoples' behavior all across North America, without ever leaving my office -- except to go to meetings. That's an oversimplification, of course, but it does reflect one aspect of the marketing game. (Proper pricing, quality products, customer support and execution are also important variables in a company's success.)

All this to say that although the advent of the digital age and social media have added new variables to the marketing life, at the end of the day it's the same game: people who are sitting in various places and spaces around the country attempting to influence the behavior of people they will probably never meet.

(As soon as I wrote that I realized that now even this has changed, as it is very possible to meet our customers in a virtual way now, preferably through a shout out than a one-star Yelp review.)

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Out in my garage I have a large bound volume of all the London Times newspapers of 1938. I've been doing some drawings and paintings on some, and occasionally just reading the stories contained there. This weekend a couple of advertisements captured my attention. The first was this one above for BOURN-VITA. The ad is essentially a story. It's a story about a man who got a well-paying job because of this product which enabled him to get a good night's sleep. The punch line of the story is, "Bourn-Vita tonight makes tomorrow just right."

Here are a few items of note. First, stories continue to be an effective way to connect with people. Of what do many books of the Bible consist? Much of the Old Testament is the history of Israel, as conveyed by the stories of its patriarchs and peoples, and the lessons they teach. Stories not only convey information, they make it memorable. 

Second, the story is about some guy with significant responsibilities who just got a promotion. Success! And what was his secret? The ad copy wants us to believe it was because he is able to sleep at night and not anxiously fretting.  

It's probably true that a person who hasn't slept in months and is on the verge of a nervous breakdown would not be the best person for this promotion. But to imply that the guy is competent and capable because he knows how to get a good night's rest feels like a stretch. It's kind of a twist on the old adage about sleeping your way to the top.

As for sleeping your way to the top, there's a weird suggestiveness in the copy where it says, "And remember, the night is more important than the day."

After World War II my grandfather got this kind of promotion to supervisor of the Packard Plant in Warren, Ohio. The Packard was a luxury car that in its day rivaled the best Detroit had to offer. It's my understanding that he achieved this position by being responsible, a hard worker and eminently likeable. I don believe ht "made it" by his ability to get a good night's sleep.

So who is the target audience for this ad? People who are less successful? People who have trouble sleeping? 

Notice how the last line in the ad also uses a poetic device to make it memorable. It may be that to make it even more memorable it was accompanied by a radio jingle. If you're  Baby Boomer you undoubtedly still remember the tune to the jingle, "Winston tastes good like a cigaret should."

And what is this Secret to Success? According to Wikipedia: "Bournvita, previously called Bourn-vita, is a brand of malted and chocolate malt drink mixes sold in Europe and North America, as well as India, Nepal, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Benin and Togo, and manufactured by Cadbury. Bournvita was developed in England in the late 1920s and was marketed as a health food. The original recipe included full-cream milk, fresh eggs, malt and chocolate. It was first manufactured and sold in Australia in 1933. Bournvita was discontinued in the UK market in 2008. The drink was named by Cadbury which was derived from Bournville, the model village which is the site of the Cadbury factory (Bourn + Vita). It was first sold in India in 1948, the same year Cadbury India was established."

Interesting. It's a chocolate drink that not only has health benefits but also, according to the ad, has career benefits.

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The second ad that I found interesting on this same page addressed the problem of flatulence. According to Wikipedia: Flatulence is defined in the medical literature as "flatus expelled through the anus" or the "quality or state of being flatulent", which is defined in turn as "marked by or affected with gases generated in the intestine or stomach; likely to cause digestive flatulence". The root of these words is from the Latin flatus – "a blowing, a breaking wind".

This ad caught my attention because I don't recall even once having seen an ad addressing the problem of flatulence? Have you? The subject matter is so unusual that it nearly leaves me speechless.

And what is the product they're selling here? It's Milk of Magnesia. In the ad we see it in tablet form, a product my mom gave us in liquid form for stomach disorders. It had a chalky consistency if I remember correctly.

The thought that I had when I read this ad was, how did the problem of tooting, breaking wind or whatever you want to call it, become so taboo that we never talk about it? Is this a cultural phenomenon specific to the U.S.? The Brits had ads like this one that spoke very directly to the matter. Or at least they used to.

Let's call this a wrap.

Everybody ready to see the show this afternoon? Five hours, 19 minutes until first contact in Oregon. Forecast in Duluth: Cloudy.

Make the most of it.

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