Finally, I’ve made it! Here I am on the prestigious Dave Dye blog, presumably with a pink circle covering my face on some random old image (however, now that I’ve written that I fully expect Dave to put the circle over the other advertising Ben Kay, the former head of planning at Y&R. Or maybe the rugby player).
Dave has kindly asked me to do a post on the advertising I liked before I knew what I was supposed to like, so here is my personal journey into the wormhole of commercial communication, mainly from the 1980s.
By the way, some of Mark Denton’s choices were also some of mine. I too loved the insanity of R Whites’ secret lemonade drinker; I too shouted ‘squirrel shit!’ at the Topic ad; my playgrounds were full of people singing ‘Nuts! (Uh!) Whole hazelnuts!’ but it just goes to show these campaigns used to last a good long while (I’m not saying Mark is substantially older than I am; just that most of today’s campaigns seem to.have the longevity of a fart).
When I first started obsessing over D&AD annuals, I always loved finding old ads that I actually remembered seeing in real life. It felt a bit like the ad had somehow won twice, and it was interesting to see what had been given the official seal of approval beyond my own opinion. On that subject, I’ve tried not to include the obvious D&AD winners, although many of those were indeed my favourite ads growing up.
A tiny bit of background: I grew up in a bit of an advertising home. My mum was a copywriter and my dad used to write for Campaign (he invented the Agency League Tables before heading off to ‘proper’ journalism). So I had the chance to hang around creative departments from a relatively early age. Did that feed my interest in ads? Maybe. Then again, my wife, who has no advertising family members to speak of, knows all the same jingles I do. So I guess it might have been an age thing, or maybe the ads were simply more memorable.
One thing seems clear from this list: I liked animated ads, ads with songs, and ads for food. Read into that what you will…
Trebor Refreshers – Collett Dickenson Pearce.
I want to start with the first ad I remember seeing. It’s from 1978, so I was four years old at the time, and I loved it.
Then, eventually, I hated it.
As you can see, it gave the impression that a light sabre could appear from a packet of Refreshers. Dear reader, I have no idea how many packets of Refreshers I bought in the forlorn hope that one would become a light sabre (remember, I was four), but *spoiler alert*, the sabre never actually appeared.
Fuck Refreshers. Fuck Star Wars. Fuck whoever made this ad.
Yes, I am still very bitter.
Birds Eye Country Club.
I didn’t actually like frozen peas, but I loved this story of classist snobbery.
Ugly sprouts, crappy peas and deformed carrots? Piss off, the lot of you.
Now I wonder how this reflected on Birdseye’s non-Country Club offering, but I have a feeling it was all the same stuff, just in different bags.
Heineken – Lowe Howard-Spink.
Sticking with the cartoons: to a kid, the best Heineken ad was a cartoon of a pigeon having trouble with the twelve days of Christmas.
It was two minutes long, so almost a whole Tom and Jerry that I wasn’t expecting. Glorious.
The only problem was every subsequent time it appeared it was some kind of cutdown. I didn’t know what cut-downs were, but they made me sad.
Birds Eye Steakhouse – Lowe Howard-Spink.
It wasn’t just animation, though. I was also a big fan of the jingle/song.
I recently wrote a post about them, but it still blows my mind how long they last.
To prove it, I turned to my wife five minutes ago and said ‘Will it be mushrooms?’.
Of course, she replied ‘Fried onion rings’, because she probably saw this ad as often as I did.
Fun fact: if you sing ‘Fried onion rings’ like this today you feel slightly racist.
Diamond White Cider – Grey.
I spent a great deal of my childhood in the cinema, so I sat through the same Bacardi and Southern Comfort ads so many times, I was put off both for life.
However, there was one ad that appeared time and time again, and it got a laugh every single one of those times. I later discovered it was done by Atomic’s Dave Henderson when he was at Grey (when it was shit). Nice one, Dave!
Pepsi – BBDO.
Also at the cinema, I must have seen this one a couple of hundred times.
It was art directed by the lovely and excellent Gary Martin at BBDO under Andrew Niccol, future writer of The Truman Show.
But I always thought Stan was a bit too lenient, I mean if he agrees that Coke is too disgusting to drink why does he have it on his menu? You’re a fucking doormat, Stan. Stand up for yourself!
Whitbread Best Bitter – Lowe Howard-Spink.
That Birdseye Steakhouse ad was directed by Paul Weiland, and if you liked ads in the 1980s, there was a good chance he was responsible for one or two of them. Here’s another one of his, featuring a very young Stephen Fry (who mentions it in one of his autobiographies).
I could sing all the words, can still sing them now, but was very confused by ‘straight glass or jar’, as I didn’t spend much time in the pub when I was eight. I now know I prefer ‘jar’ as it keeps your beer colder, but you don’t really find them these days.
Hippopotamousse – Millest Brooks Edman.
I also know all the words of this delightful rip off of Fantasia.
I don’t think it ever made me try a Hippopotamouse, but I always looked forward to seeing it on TV. Not sure who did it. Some hack, I’d guess (if you’re not aware, this is Dave Dye’s first ever commercial, before he went all awardy. I think of it like Dylan going electric. We lost a great synthetic strawberry moose flogger that day, but our loss is D&AD’s gain, I suppose).
British Gas – Young & Rubicam.
This campaign was a national phenomenon, but as far as I’m aware, entirely unawarded.
Despite having very little interest in buying shares in British Gas, I was gagging to know where the fuck Sid was.
Around this time I put on an advertising spoof-based revue at the end of term show.
It went down very well, and the crown jewel was a sketch where the Milk Tray Man arrived at a remote location and found Sid. I won’t go into the details of our Childline sketch.
Any quick Google will bring up lots of creepy COI ads, but I think my childhood was the bullseye for when they were made.
Sure, Charley Says was great (and creepy), but being a dark sort of soul, I genuinely looked out for the one where the girl runs out of the house while mum is distracted.
It was quite a scary thrill for under-ten me, so I’ll count it as one I liked.
Nat West – J. Walter Thompson.
Another Paul Weiland corker (I think), and I believe it got in the book (1984, I assume).
As a massive fan of The Young Ones this was like the shit to my fly. Hang on, that doesn’t sound right… the honey to my bee. Vivian… actual (kind of) Vivian in an ad!? Holy smokes. It was like an extra minute of the best show on TV.
Leeds Building Society – Abbott Mead Vickers.
I’m remembering more banking commercials than I expected (hey, that’s the ‘greed is good’ 80s for you), but here’s another one, and like the Ade Edmondson ad it’s an extension of one of the best TV shows of the time.
Minder (Dennis Waterman version), was unmissable, and the creators of this campaign clearly agreed. So they hired George Cole to reprise his Del Boy-ish role in service of Leeds Building Society, and always with a fun, neatly-written song.
I also loved the little machine thing within the logo. Delightful.
Nescafe – McCann Erickson.
I was 14 when this came out, so most of it was irrelevant to me: drinking crappy coffee, driving a car, crying about a big break up… but for some reason I still found it intriguing.
I think it was the idea that you could make a cup of coffee in your car (I had an inexplicable fascination with teasmaids at the time).
I also like the way her glove compartment was a complete mess… Hey! Maybe that’s why he chucked her: she just didn’t give a shit… never changed the loo roll, left wet towels on the bed, thought Nescafe was a reasonable choice of coffee. Eventually that kind of thing just gets to a guy.
Pepsi – BBDO NY.
In the 1980s there was no ‘kids’ film cooler than Back To the Future.
Around the time it came out, someone had the bright idea of using its star to make the best fizzy drink ad in the world.
“Hi, I just moved in next door. Can I borrow a Diet Pepsi” is up there with the least likely sentences in the world, but I didn’t give a toss.
It was a perfect example of how to use a star in his prime, in a perfectly charming story, told with a perfectly tight script.
Brilliant every time.
Nat West – J. Walter Thompson.
Here’s another bank ad that ACTUALLY WORKED ON ME, although I remember having to put in some money, which my parents, in some misguided attempt at instilling responsible values into their son, had fronted.
I then just wanted to to take the free gifts, and the cash and run, which I’m not sure was the point. Anyway, puppet pigs! Figaro/Pigaro!
Free shit! Job done.
Hofmeister – Boase Massimi Pollitt.
My one concession to John Websterism is the wonderful Hofmeister Bear.
I have a very clear recollection of Charles Hampton (I went to a posh school) coming into the classroom one morning and saying ‘Der-der… follow the bear!’
We all joined in and even though we were never going to buy any Hofmeister (it was weak as piss, but still not quite weak enough for nine-year-olds), we loved the ads.
That bit where the white ball kisses the pink? Mind-blowing.
Weetabix – Allen Brady Marsh.
Youtube says this Weetabix campaign is from 1982. As it was the brainchild of Trevor Beattie, he must have been very young when he bestowed it upon us.
Of course I loved it – it’s another animated food ad – but I thought it was worth a mention because you could get a badge of each character by buying each of five appropriate comics.
One was free with Whizzer and Chips, another with Buster, or whatever. I collected them all, even though that meant buying a copy of Tammy to get the badge of the girl.
I have told Trevor I did this.
It probably means more to him than any of the Hello Boys accolades.
Castrol GTX – Dorland.
This ad was always fascinating.
How the hell did they do make that little drop of oil stay on its precise path?
Well, this is where having a copywriter for a mum came in handy (it came in handy for plenty of other reasons, too): she explained that a thin layer of soap was applied to the sides of the path, keeping the oil where it was supposed to be.
The magic of the movies, eh?
Scotch Tapes – Wight Collins Rutherford Scott.
The only thing better than animation was slightly different animation, like this
3-D ad for Scotch tapes (younger people: before streaming we used to ‘record’ our favourite TV programmes on ‘video tapes’ of quite low quality).
I loved the skeleton, his pet, his dance, and the song, which I had no idea was by the Rolling Stones.
I bet they adore it, especially as they currently have as much body fat as the skeleton.
Double Decker Bar – Gold Greenlees Trott.
More food, more animation, another song I know all the words to 35 years later.
‘Stripes and sergeant, Punch and Judy, go together like crunchy and chewy…’.
Although I do not consider the Double Decker among the elite confectionary choices, this ad made me like it more, and now that I think about it, I’d like one right now (chances of finding a Double Decker in LA: 0.03%).
In my youth I was an avid reader of a magazine called Rolling Stone.
It was a portal into the world of great American print advertising, most of which seemed to be using a giant cartoon camel to persuade people to buy cigarettes (I can’t recall which brand).
But the back page seemed to be reserved for some clever stuff, generally for whisky.
I think Dave has featured both of these campaigns on his blog at some point, but I have no idea who did them. I just knew they were really good, long before I got into advertising.
J&B Rare – Grace Rothschild.
Dime Bar – Gold Greenlees Trott.
These excellent ads for Dime Bar were excellent.
I thought they were endlessly funny, thanks to the little details (‘chocolate’ and ‘stuff’ on the jugs, the way he took a bite of the bar etc.).
Then I turned up on my first placement at Y&R and discovered that they were the agency responsible, and there will still ‘chocolate’ and ‘stuff’ jugs hidden around the creative department. Shout out to Paul Catmur, who wrote these along with Harry Enfield.
Chewits – French Gold Abbott.
More animated sweets, but there was lovely touches here: the way he was ambivalent about the taste of the Empire State Building, and the sort-of endline, ‘Even chewier than Barrow-in-Furness bus depot’.
Where did that come from?
It was wonderfully out of place next to the Taj Mahal etc., and what was a Barrow-in-Furness, anyway? I had no idea. I just knew it was funny, and Chewits were both cheap, and fairly easy to eat during class without being caught.
Win-win, as they say.
Smith’s Crisps – Abbott Mead Vickers.
More animated, anthropomorphised, jumped up, arrogant, cheeky bloody vegetables.
If you thought the Birdseye Country Club was a bastion of exclusivity, these fuckers won’t even get out of the ground until you allow them to become a brand of crisp that was pretty much like any other.
BUT they did come with a separate little sachet of salt that you shook into the bag yourself.
Classy, eh? Maybe these potatoes were right after all.
A few years into my career, I realised that I was in the same creative department as one of the people behind it (Stuart Baker). I was truly honoured to be in such illustrious company.
Um Bongo – Leo Burnett.
The 1980s were certainly a more innocent time, and also a more racist time.
This famous ad has had 2.5 million Youtube views, despite being a right HR case.
Of course, we loved it back then, but that’s because we had yet to be enlightened.
Now it’s worth a bit of a shudder and a promise never to do anything like it again.
AA – KHBB.
This one was just 20 seconds long, but had two endlessly repeatable lines: ‘It’s in the sand’, and ‘I’m not helping much, am I dad?’. Funny how a great delivery and some excellent direction can keep an ad funny on its 737th viewing:
Country Life Butter.
Here’s a great endline: ‘You’ll never put a better bit of butter on your knife’. I wonder if anyone thought eleven words was too long, or worried that the words were a bit of a tongue twister. If they were, they were shouted down, and these yellow men, who seemed to be made from the very butter they were trying to sell (were they suicidal?) sang their sexist little song to the entire country. ‘If you haven’t any here have a word with your wife’? Yes, your wife. The one who does the shopping. Because she’s a woman, and that’s what women did back then when they weren’t being Prime Minister.
Fresh Cream Cakes – Ogilvy & Mather.
Les Dawson was an excellent comedian. Cream cakes were /are delicious.
Dressing up in women’s clothing is now complicated, but it wasn’t back then.
If you wanted a man to suddenly become twice as funny you simply put him in a dress, and in Les’s case you also got him to make that face he does at the end.
I always preferred that meringue one, by the way. Meringues and cream? Naughty but nice indeed.
Health Education Council – Saatchi & Saatchi.
‘One puff and they’ll soon be in my grasp’.
With these words, Nick O’Teen tried to tempt people into becoming smokers.
Fortunately Superman was there to stop him.
But I have questions: how much did it cost to get the rights to Superman? Is this ad set in the UK or the US? It seems to be the US, but the kids sound English.
Is preventing kids from smoking really the best use of Superman’s time?
Whatever the answers, I have to say this ad worked brilliantly, right up to the point where I tried to take up smoking.
Tissot Rock Watch.
Boy, did I want a Tissot Rock Watch.
Look how classy they were.
Look how classy the people in the ad were.
Each one was carved from granite and as individual as your signature, apparently.
I remember going to Selfridges and drooling over the Rock Watch display.
Sadly, at £50, it was way out of my price range, so I had to make do with my shitty old Casio.
Life sucked in 1986, but this ad worked on me.
Maybe I’ll see if I can buy one on Ebay.
Paul Masson – Abbott Mead Vickers.
What’s the best way to sell low alcohol wine? Get a drug addict to tempt an alcoholic with some, of course.
Even though I was too young to drink, I understood the joke.
Kind of weird to watch this now both of them have died before their time, but it was funny back then.
When it comes to attractive female cartoon characters there seems to be a lot of love for Jessica Rabbit, but for people in the UK, this other animated bunny was the clear favourite.
It’s probably best not to delve too far into why that was the case, but fuck it, we’re here now: why was the bunny that sold chocolate to kids made to be sexy?
Why did the other species in the ad find her attractive?
Why were humans supposed to appreciate her as ‘hot’?
Did any work get done in that forest, or did the bunny just go around distracting everyone? Low=level bestiality to sell chocolate? Strange flex, as the kids say.
(Cadbury’s Caramel Bar)
British Telecom – J. Walter Thompson.
I’ll leave you with my favourite of the great Maureen Lipman Beattie (BT) campaign.
The scripts were so good, with the use of the phone woven in with great skill and subtlety.
You could watch them again and again, then say ‘He got an ology and he says he’s failed!’ and ‘People will always need plates’.
They don’t write ‘em like they used to.
3 responses to WHAT I LIKED before I knew what I was SUPPOSED TO LIKE – Ben Kay
Thank you for that trip down some very memorable memories. Life in the Bavarian Forest was,indeed, boring. And I’d forgotten quite how scary the COI could be. It was the best of Times. It was the Worcester Times.
Blimey, Ben, where did you find that Double Decker ad??? I’ve been searching for those for ages, me and Dave Waters did those and I want them for my…er…reel 😀 Also, totally forgot about that fantastic Chewits ad, I would’ve used that too, but there were so many (naively) great ads to choose from. Loving these trips down memory lane, thanks Dave.
I’d have picked Chewits too Paul, if I’d remembered it.
(It also caused me to get into a fight at school after, mimicking the ad, I called out to a big-boned lad in my class ‘Come back Chunk, come back!’, I think I hit a nerve.)