Article from – Getting your teeth into a dull product

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Article from – Getting your teeth into a dull product

One of the creative industries tedious tasks can be producing interesting concepts for dull products and carrying them acrossh to video production. In this Australian Creative article one blogger challenges the notion of dull advertising and throws away today’s meaning of creativity.

Getting your teeth into a dull product

An interviewer once asked the legendary jazz pianist Fats Waller to explain the meaning of the word, swing. Fats replied, “Lady, if you have to ask, I can’t tell you.”

I’ve often thought you could use similar words if you were asked to define the word, creative, with regard to advertising.

People have tried in the past, but without much success as far as I am aware. Benton & Bowles, one of the biggest agencies on Madison Avenue in the fifties, believed that, “If it doesn’t sell it isn’t creative.” It was an indirect and not very satisfactory attempt at a definition, because by no means all advertising is aimed at an instant sell.

Nevertheless, David Ogilvy, another highly successful Mad Man of the fifties reportedly said, “Amen”, after reading the aforementioned rather superficial philosophy. He also said that he regarded the word creative as “hideous”, but gave no explanation as to why.

If I was asked to describe creative advertising at the moment, I wouldn’t waste my time working out an appropriately worded response.

I would just hold up some current print advertising for Colgate Dental Floss. Like a lot of today’s highly rated advertising, it originated in Latin America, created by Young and Rubicam, Sao Paulo.

You can just imagine the initial indifference when a brief for dental floss arrived in the creative department. As a product category, dental floss is in the same unexciting slot as toilet cleaner, fuse wire, and disinfectant – very dull in comparison to the glamorous or high interest products which frequently lead to awards and fame within the industry – not to mention helping to create the sort of impressive portfolio which can lead to bigger money.

It has always been the same. When I used to view the portfolios of speculative ads compiled by young hopefuls, the subjects were always predictable – anti cigarette smoking, anti booze, road safety, charities – in other words, the areas in which it is almost impossible to do a bad ad because the subjects are intrinsically interesting.

As Alastair Crompton points out in, The Craft of Copywriting, “You will find it easier to do good work on these subjects than you will on products that, of themselves have little or nothing to make you sit up and think.”

Dental floss would have been stuck in the latter category, yes?

But the creative team at Y & R Sao Paulo found a lot about dental floss to make people sit up and think. With, “How do you create a powerful, memorable and hard sell ad for dental floss?” in mind, they’ve created an ad worthy of award wins. Let’s assume their thinking followed the usual path, beginning with the obvious.

How about a professional testimonial alongside a big pic of a dentist? Or maybe a long copy ad on how flossing prevents tooth decay, or a reminder of the likelihood of bad breath if you don’t floss?

All of them are sound enough, but pretty uninspiring approaches to selling a product which people need but don’t really want.
The Y&R creatives took a side road. And it was paved with gold.

Their campaign features happy snaps of average couples, that are ruined because the man in each has gunk stuck to his front front tooth. This wouldn’t have happened if dental floss had been used.

It’s a good concept in itself. But the ad goes one better.

You have to look very, very closely – or have the oddities pointed out. This latter is the point of the ad. Some glaring problems do not get noticed. Every reader fixates on the ugly wedge of gunk stuck on teeth. No one notices a girl with six fingered hand, a man without an ear, and a rogue hand which is connected to neither of them – each of which has been added to one image. Moral (aka selling point) when you’ve got something stuck in your teeth, this is what the whole world notices.

What this campaign shows is that there is really no such thing as a dull product, only dull creatives. I have no idea know how long it took the guys at Y & R to get to such a good result, but I would imagine it was substantial. A relentless and almost obsessional approach to going beyond the obvious is mandatory. Remember that Terry Lovelock spent weeks on the Heineken brief before he locked himself away in a Marrakesh hotel to finally pen the line, Refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach.

Something else lies behind the Colgate dental floss ad – the power of a dramatic picture. An unusual or challenging illustration will be found in a lot of outstanding work.

The headline which Charles Saatchi wrote for the ad to get Mrs Thatcher to the top spot, Labour Isn’t Working, was set against a very long dole queue. The celebrated male contraception ad, which his agency also created, used a picture of a pregnant man across three quarters of the type area.

The ad David Ogilvy wrote for Hathaway Shirts became famous because it featured a man with an eye patch. And Magnus Nankervis & Curl made Thai Airways’ smooth flight promise indelible with a picture of a Thai Airways jet created in silk.

Lastly, note the Colgate brand name. In an era which frequently relegates the logo to a miniscule presence at the bottom of a lot of press ads, how refreshing it is to see the brand name well and truly in the spotlight.

Those chief marketing officers who worship at the shrine of digital and its gadgets, would do well to take press advertising more seriously and think again about the unique power of print advertising to promote a strong brand image or better still, brand leadership, with simple tools. There is nothing like clever and memorable print ads to advance the status of a brand. It just takes a bit more creative thought and application, like that apparent in the Colgate campaign.

I recently watched Copy and Art on SBS, in which the late Hal Riney stated that most people can’t create really great advertising. Y & R Sao Paulo’s creatives can.


Article created 11 Feb 2013

“Getting your teeth into a dull product.” Australian CREATIVE: News, profiles, latest work, techniques and technologies. N.p., n.d. viewed 12 Feb. 2013.

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Tue, 12/02/2013 – 12:20pm