Got Enduring Ads?

Published: Tuesday, June 19, 2018 - 4:01pm
Updated: Thursday, June 21, 2018 - 12:36pm
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MARK BRODIE: Twenty-five years ago, a fictitious Alexander Hamilton fan had the chance to win a lot of money by answering what was, for him, an easy question. The problem? He had just scarfed out about half a PB&J and had nothing with which to wash it down.

BRODIE: That ad campaign went on to feature several other commercials, not to mention a ton of other takes on that tag line. But what was it about those ads that still endures more than two decades after they first hit the airwaves? To help answer that question, I'm joined by Terry O'Reilly. He's the host of the CBC radio program "Under the Influence," which looks at shifts in marketing, and Terry, in your mind, what makes a good and enduring ad campaign, not just for the immediate time it starts, but what makes it last into the future?

TERRY O'REILLY: I think a couple of things. I think the campaign itself has to be rooted in a really meaningful strategy. That means the basic premise or the foundation of the campaign has to be meaningful to a large audience in some way or another. Then there's the X factor. What's the creativity? How is that strategy expressed creatively? But I think at the end of the day, I think there has to be an enormous amount of creativity, and there has to be a sticky factor, something about that idea has to be sticky. Something about it has to be memorable or unusual or just kind of breaks through the usual clutter via some aspect of its execution.

BRODIE: Now I think for a lot of people, especially in years gone by, that would be the jingle of a particular ad. Is it something like that now still, or is it something else, maybe some of the content of the advertisement itself?

O'REILLY: I think there's some element of the advertising that works. You know, back in the day, jingles were a great way to do that, although they fell out of favor in the '80s when artists started licensing their music to advertising. That was the end of the jingle. But I would say there has to be some aspect. Either it's a tagline that catches on, or it's a character in an ad that people seem to love and then they build a campaign around that. There has to be some element that just makes it stick up. If you imagine a field of flowers and there's one sunflower sticking out of the rest of the pack, that's what an ad has to do and let me tell you, it's not easy.

BRODIE: I'm wondering about the creativity aspect that you talked about, and in terms of getting a campaign to endure, you know, taste change and, you know, what was funny maybe 15 or 20 years ago might not be funny now. How do ad makers and maybe the companies themselves think about using creativity to make sure that it works at the time, but also to try to make sure that it will not fall out of favor or not just be seen as kind of lame later on?

O'REILLY: Yeah, that's a very insightful question. So the answer to that is, you have to constantly worry about it. For a campaign to have legs, in other words for a campaign to last years instead of just months, you have to have somebody overseeing it that is willing to let it evolve. That means a great idea has the ability to evolve so it can take on different aspects as time goes on or drop certain aspects of it if they fall out of favor. So it has to be some kind of malleable idea that can morph as time goes on.

BRODIE: We are right now sort of in the midst of the 25th anniversary of the "Got milk?" ad campaign. Can you tell me what it is about that particular campaign that, you know, people still talk about. If you say "Got milk?" people still know what you're talking about and you see t-shirts and other ads and posters where "Got..." just about everything else out there. What worked about this particular campaign?

O'REILLY: I think a couple of things. First of all, "Got milk?" as a tag line, as a slogan, was very strange. You know, we're all familiar with it now, but back then, it was grammatically incorrect. It was weird. Yeah, it was a weird line. As a matter of fact, when when it was first floated at Goodby and Silverstein, is the name of the agency that came up with it, when it was first floated, the line "Got milk?" there was a lot of pressure from within the agency to change it to "Have milk?" But the creative directors were very smart. They said, no we're not going with that. And then I think the other thing about that campaign was just the underlying strategy, about why that campaign works. So milk sales are going down like crazy in California, milk consumption, so the milk board wanted to try and reverse that decline. So they started doing some research and they realized that milk was so boring, that in the world of beverages, there was no beverage more boring than milk. That's what the research told them, which, for every director of marketing, is the worst news in the world.

BRODIE: Yeah, that's not a good place to start.

O'REILLY: It's not a good place to start. In other words, the director of marketing was very smart though. He said, "What if we put all our money to just getting people to eat more cereal?" Like, that was one of his thoughts, which is very insightful. So in other words, let's not advertise milk, let's advertise cereal, because if people eat more cereal, they'll drink more milk and when they did more research, they realized that people always paired milk with a food but the food always came first. It was cookies and milk, sandwiches and milk, brownies and milk. Milk made those meals perfect. But it was the second thing in the sequence. But if you took the milk out of the equation, it was a catastrophe, and "Got milk?" was always this reminder of don't get caught without it.

BRODIE: When ad makers are putting their commercials together and conceiving of them, do they look at them for the long term or are they just trying to achieve a particular goal over weeks or months or maybe even one year?

O'REILLY: Smart marketers are always looking at the long game. Amateur marketers, or marketers that are in trouble, look at tactics and a tactic is just a short term promotion. But smart marketers are always looking at the long game. In other words, how can I enhance my brand or enhance my product so I can build on this for the next 10 years? So that's always the smart marketer's game plan.

BRODIE: Alright. Terry O'Reilly is host of the CBC radio program "Under the Influence." Terry, really good to talk to you. Thanks a lot.

O'REILLY: Great talking to you, too. Thanks for having me.

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