To celebrate the IPA's centenary this year, we are asking adland's finest to pick their top five ads from the past century. This week Mark Earls makes his selection, including 'the coolest cartoon in the kingdom'...
It’s still quite common (in certain circles) to use advertising as a marker for all that is wrong with the world, the decline in standards and the general advance of the Barbarians (AKA Americans and women Time Lords) into our daily lives and our homes. Maybe I was just lucky to grow up in an era in which John Webster and the BMP team made TV advertising with verve, wit and often an extra portion of magic (how lucky I was to work there later). Most people point to the Cadbury’s Smash Aliens campaign but I remember the contorting, wise-cracking and noisy Cresta Bear fondly - and Stephen Maher’s schoolyard impersonations of the coolest cartoon in the kingdom. Still, as the bear says…”frothy, man”.
Cadbury, Harry the Spider's Coming Out Party
In this ad there’s a brilliant left turn: a small, freckled boy creates occasions to celebrate (on behalf of the spider he keeps in a matchbox and no doubt uses to scare both his mother and sister) so that he can get his hands on the chocolatey product more often than he might otherwise be permitted - those were the days. There’s a lot of intuitive understanding and affection for the culture in this very British style of advertising that flourished in the late 60s and 70s and which - to be honest - I find rather less often today.
Culture - and a real feel for it - is an essential part of success in any communication and much of what we admire in British advertising’s history shows that in spades. It’s a shame we don’t spend more time understanding mainstream culture; too much of our research is still psychological (and increasingly physiological) rather than anthropological or sociological. In other words, it seeks the keys to human behaviour in what goes on between an individual’s ears rather than in the space between that individual and their friends, family and workmates. Planners and researchers, take note.
Nike, Pete Sampras hand grenade
To be fair, it is thanks to the efforts of some very British practitioners (like Wendy Gordon, Rory Sutherland and John Kearon at System1 - formerly BrainJuicer) that we’ve been able to embrace the central ideas of Behavioural Economics more than other countries and therefore understand better how the best advertising works. It’s the effect rather than persuasiveness that seems to shape behaviour - how it makes you feel is the big deal. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a better poster ad than Tiger Savage’s gut-punching Pete Sampras “handgrenade” for Nike. How can you not feel the power in that serve?
The Economist, I've never read The Economist
The Economist is not just a great British brand but a great British advertiser. For such a rational title whose avowed ambition is to spread rational thought (read the inside cover) throughout the world, it’s remarkable now how clearly emotional this advertising is/was. I admired much of it at the time but “I never read The Economist [Management Trainee aged 42]” is the one that probably stays with me most. And one that I’ve shared again and again, because it works on my feelings and how I think about my reputation in my social world, not my sketchy attempts at “utility-maximisation” as the economists might say.
Channel 4, Superhumans
Sadly, nowadays British advertising is not such an easy sell. It’s too quirky, they say; too self-indulgent; too…British. Well, I don’t care when I watch things like this amazing 'Superhumans' ad. This deserves every plaudit and award that’s been thrown at it. Sure, Britain in 2012 was readier than ever before to embrace elite athletes who are built different; sure, the event being advertised was on our own doorstep with many local heroes in the making; sure, the live TV coverage being advertised here changed the game in sports broadcasting; but beyond all this, brilliant advertising has helped a generation embrace a whole new inclusive view of what “ability” and “disability” mean and helped bring about lasting change.
When advertising is made for that space between us, to work on our feelings, our shared ideas and culture - it can really change the world. Such a small thing advertising, but we here in Britain have had a darn good go at making it a bit bigger and just a little bit more valuable for us all.
The IPA are celebrating their centenary this year - join in the conversation on Twitter using #AdFest100 and #IPA100. You can catch up on all the photos, videos and other content from the IPA's Festival of British advertising here, including Sir Martin Sorrell, Sir Alan Parker and a virtual tour of the Exhibition.
If you are interested in submitting your favourite five ads for our blog series, please email email@example.com.