Successful companies rarely take chances.
Why would they?
Often, it’s hard to pinpoint why exactly why things are going well, so they’re careful not to rock the boat.
It makes advertising them tricky, because the whole point of advertising is to stand out.
To do that you have to be different from the things you are trying to stand out from.
But looking different can feel risky.
‘Why take a risk? Especially now, when everything’s going so well?’
It’s why the companies that produce ‘different’ advertising are the ones that need to; the ones that have a problem.
Maybe it’s their last throw of the dice, so they need to win big.
Take Apple, they’ve done a lot of great stuff over the years, but my favourite campaign is probably ‘Think different’.
In retrospect, it looks like it looks like an easy campaign for Steve Jobs to buy, because we all know how successful it was.
But the work was very unusual at the time.
a) It told you NOTHING about the products they needed to sell to survive.
b) It didn’t show products.
c) It featured a bunch of old dead people.
d) ‘Think different’ was ungrammatical.
e) They used old-fashioned looking black and white stock-shots and archival film to represent a state of the art product.
Steve Jobs made a big call, which proved to be the right one.
John Hegarty once told me ‘truly breakthrough creative work never wins awards, it splits juries, people don’t know what to make of it.’
So true, Ironically, I was on the One Show jury that judged the ‘Think different’ campaign, we gave it nothing, the discussion was around execution; ‘like a mood film’, ‘Think different sounds ugly’, ‘Old stock shots’ etc.
Meetings about creative work with successful companies tend to get bogged down with minutiae; Is that actor too handsome? Should the bottle have more spritzing? Are the room sets too opulent?
Companies that are desperate are more focussed; Will people notice it?
They’re forced to run work that stands out, which means they have to try something different, or think different as Steve Jobs might say.
In 1920, a chap named Charles Leiper Grigg launched a company to sell a new, fizzy orange drink he called ‘Howdy’.
It didn’t take off.
He had another go in 1929, two weeks before the Wall Street Crash, launching a new drink with health properties; it contained lithium citrate, a mood-stabilising drug.
Having learned a valuable product-naming lesson with ‘Howdy’, he decided he needed a name that gave you a clue as to what you were buying, something descriptive, not some random word like ‘Howdy’.
Bingo! ‘Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime soda’.
‘Bib label’ because it had a paper bib label.
‘Lithiated’ because it contained lithium.
‘Lemon-Lime Soda’, because, well, that’s what it was.
They hung in there with that cumbersome name for six years,
Then they changed it; 7 Up. (Rumoured to be a reference to its seven main ingredients.)
Unfortunately, they start marketing again, coming up with the line ‘Seven natural flavours blended into a savoury, flavoury drink with a real wallop’.
Over the next thirty years they produced endless bland campaigns.
They bounce from being a stomach settling drink…
…to an ‘All-Family Drink’…
…to a ‘Fresh Up’ drink…
…to a wholesome drink for an 11 month old…
…to a ‘Real Thirst Quencher!’…
…to betting the house on it being an ingredient in floats…
…to being the ‘Wet & Wild’ one.
Even utterly shit puns didn’t help them.
Nothing stuck, nothing worked.
By the late sixties they were in trouble.
In desperation they appointed a new agency; J. Walter Thompson, Chicago.
Advertising was now important to them.
This wasn’t a time for rearranging deck-chairs, they needed to stop the ship sinking.
Refreshing, fun, fresh, thirst-quenching, baby-pleasing weren’t going to do it.
They needed to be different.
There’s a saying ‘if you want a positioning take a position’, most people don’t, because they worry that people may disagree with that position.
But 7 Up had to gamble.
It must’ve irritated the hell out of them that the whole world drank those brown fizzy drinks when they were struggling to find a market for their see-thru fizzy drink.
You can imagine the thinking:
Why does everyone drink cola?
Why are they all such a sheep?
Why can’t people make their own minds up?
Maybe we’re the drink for those people?
Individuals, outcasts, hippies, the anti-war, drop-outs, draft-dodgers, the flower-power lot, people who aren’t sheep.
We AREN’T cola, we’re the ANTI-COLA.
At the time, outcasts, hippies, the anti-war, drop-outs, flower-power and the like were derided as un-American.
So echoing that ‘un’ was a powerful signal.
‘Uncola’ was born.
What a weird, odd-sounding, non-grammatical line. (Like ‘Think Different’)
It was perfect, it totally positioned 7 Up as part of counter-culture and depositioned cola as old-fashioned, conservative and establishment.
Sales double within a year.
I’ll repeat that because it sounds ridiculous; sales double within a year.
With momentum behind them, they decide to evolve the campaign.
I presume that the thinking was; if we’re going to say we’re the opposite of cola, let’s feel the opposite too.
So rather than producing ads that felt like they’ve just arrived from Madison Avenue, they wanted to produce ‘stuff’ that was more like the culture their audience was consuming; anti-establishment, counter-cultural…different.
The stuff parents didn’t get, or loathed.
Compare the the images above the some of the best ads of the period.
Although they’re great ideas, good tone of voice, simple art direction, they just feel so damn corporate by comparison.
So 7 Up went full hippy.
‘Un’ was rolled out across everything.
Because the advertising didn’t force sales messages down it’s audiences throats or patronise it’s audience, because it gave them stuff THEY liked, they loved it, so much that they bought it.
As posters, badges, albums, t-shirts, jigsaws, beach towels and in many other forms.
Beach Towels & Jigsaws.
‘Uncola’ saved 7 Up.
It became part of the culture.
Got people to buy their advertising.
Ran for 20 years.
Entered the dictionary*
Maybe there’s something to this fringe idea of making stuff that stands out?
* (“Nickname for 7-Up, a lemon/ lime flavoured soft drink, given to it for marketing purposes. Meant to remind people that it was not, in fact, cola.”)