‘We want a Patek Philippe!’.
I’m told intermediaries hear that phrase on a regular basis.
The problem is, most ad agencies can’t do it.
Most are unable translate the signals and nuances of the world’s of premium and fashion.
It’s why the majority of advertising in those categories is produced in-house.
But that’s not perfect either, they may capture the right vibes but they rarely create anything with substance.
They rarely position a brand or create long-term adverting campaigns.
Much of it being indistinguishable from the editorial that surrounds it.
One agency has operated in the sweet spot between the two; Leagas Delaney.
Over the last forty odd years, they’ve produced long running campaigns for everyone from Harvey Nicholls to Porsche, from Garrards to Pictet, from Dom Perrignon to Harrods.
Patek Phillipe is a perfect example.
The advertising has the right look and feel, which is gently evolved year on year, but for the last 27 years it’s been based on a single thought; ‘You never own a Patek Phillippe, you merely look after it for the next generation’.
It’s why people now ask for a Patek Philippe – they want a property that lasts.
So I thought I’d ask Tim how he goes about creating a long-term campaign for a premium brand.
Rather than a scattershot of brands I thought it would be more helpful to focus on the detail of one, I chose Harrods.
Full disclosure: I used to work on Harrods at Leagas Delaney back in the 90s.
Every square inch of the agency’s walls were covered in ads, not digital print outs – expensively framed high-end proofs.
A walk up the stairwell, from the basement to the top floor, was like flipping through the last ten D&AD annuals.
On the 4th floor, outside my office, was the Harrods campaign.
As much as we admired it, it wasn’t the kind of work you aspire to do when you’re in your 20s.
Who wants posh, elegant and timeless when you could have punchy, different and cool?
At the time, the ads seemed too mannered – ‘Dare we suggest this’, ‘May we recommend that’.
Why be so snooty?
Why not be chattier?
They also seemed to have this kind of ‘knowing’ tone, one said ‘Prove the Beatles wrong’.
(Every time my partner Sean would walk past he’d give a different interpretation – “What? Strawberry Fields isn’t Forever?”, “So…You can hide your love away?” or “She didn’t come in through the bathroom window?”.)
Then there were the sale ads; they didn’t change for about fifteen years.
Same headline in ever media channel.
Same photographer year after year.
The only thing that changed were the shots. (Which were basically products shots.)
I remember Tom Carty scanning that wall, taking in all those sale ads, from ceiling to floor, then reading the headline ‘There’s only one Harrods. There’s only one sale’.
After a beat, he added ‘There”s only one fucking ad!’
But as you clock up the years, your goals change.
Crazy, cool and punchy are no longer the North Stars.
They maybe be for one brand, but not every brand.
People put a variety of personalities in the same shopping basket.
They may buy a science fiction phone and put it in a case made by a 200 year-old leather company.
They may juice from a kooky, knockabout start-up and wine from pretentious, unfriendly wine company.
So you start trying harder to create work that reflects the businesses personality, not your own.
You avoid the temptation to starting from scratch every year (because it’s fun), putting your energy into building and refining what you’ve started.
Because long-lasting campaigns are far more valuable than endless short-term firework displays.
They should be listed alongside the rest of a companies assets, like warehouses, machinery and staff.
How much is ‘Just do it’ worth?
Or, getting back to Harrods, how much is ‘There’s only one sale’?
35 years after it was written, it’s still running (albeit in a bastardised form).
So how did it start?
There were 3 key ingredients:
Tim describes it as ‘nose up, arms out’.
Meaning, upper-class, but welcoming.
The language became more formal, proper.
‘Starts 3rd Jan’ was replaced with ‘Commences January 3rd.’
Many headlines would begin with a ‘Harrods announces…’ or a ‘Harrods politely suggests…’.
Sometimes they’d directly reference their status, e.g. ‘How the other half gives’.
Unusual, almost Dickensian words started to turn up – ‘For his nibs.’
My personal favourite would be ‘In a momentary lapse, Harrods invites you to come on down.’
Put it this way; using Xmas instead of Christmas could get you fired.
A great, classy, traditional English font.
For a great, classy, traditional English shop.
But not just any Baskerville.
Art director Steve Dunn tracked down a very particular, very nice cut.
(One that I’ve never been able to find since).
This is it.
To most people, it will look exactly like the Baskerville below that you’d find on any Mac.
And, to be fair, it is very similar.
But put them next to each other and you start to spot lots of small differences.
The weight of the thin and thick lines are more extreme on the digitised cut (blue).
The angle of the ‘A’ is different.
The ‘J’s are different lengths.
As are the ‘Q’s.
That nice curly bit on the ‘R’ has been straightened.
But most importantly, the digitised version hasn’t got ink squash, the imperfections that come from actually being printed, like the slightly fattened serifs .
Also, the digitised version looks spikier and harsher on the eye.
Look at the close-up below.
Who doesn’t prefer the more human, imperfect ‘R’ on the left?
Is it because it’s more elegant?
The fact that it’s wobblier, not as machine-made?
It’s just feels better.
Which is good news if it’s representing a traditional, elegant store.
He was a great choice as photographer.
At the time he was shooting for French Vogue.
Anytime I came across a copy, which was rarely, I’d rip his shots out.
(Hence the cello-tape below.)
He gave the ads class.
A kind of effortless, French style.
The agency chose to feature the cheaper, everyday objects available; glasses, tea towels, cups, knives and forks, etc.
Delivering on the the ‘Arms open’ bit of ‘Nose up, arms open’.
Most could afford to treat themselves that kind of stuff in the Harrods sale.
But what makes the shots, and therefore the store, less intimidating, was how informally the objects were presented;
the cups are separated by straw, the glasses are still in cellophane, the plates have brown tape holding them together.
It also makes the ads more confident, stylish and contemporary.
The Sale. The TV ad.
The same assets were sweated to great effect.
They did hundreds of these black & white ads all through the year.
They projected a company comfortable in its own skin.
Not trying to be cool.
Or look cool.
But showing a store that was part of the establishment, only now it seemed a little more gregarious, witty.
Obviously, with fashion you need to see it, which means big pictures.
So the same ingredients – language, font and border were reconfigured, resulting in a fresh layout that connects back to the rest of the work.
Looking at this work again is odd, it feels like work from another age.
Irrelevant to todays marketing landscape.
Long copy press ads at that.
That formal language seems odd when today every ad seems to be so chatty, trying best friend.
And what about all those long words, like commences, momentary and appointment.
But, 35 years later, Harrods continue to use the same ingredients – the line ‘There is only one sale’ and a Baskerville font.
But the ads no longer make the store feel special.
It doesn’t conjure up a unique, upmarket English store.
It just feels….meh?
The kind of off the shelf sale ads that every store uses.
Is it that they no longer are so picky about that ‘nose in the air’ language?
The lack of a stylish Frenchman shooting their products?
The Baskerville sans ink squash?
Maybe it’s that they now feel the need to colour the sale words in bright red?
Like everyone else.
Or that they no longer presume their customers are smart?
Exhibit A: Pointing out that their Christmas sale doesn’t last for 13 months.
It could be that they’ve stopped tempting people with specific, gorgeous looking products they can actually buy at discount? Instead, they tempt them with white boxes. (Is there a market for plain white boxes?)
It’s difficult to pin it down.
But if pushed, I’d have to say I prefer the original, Leagas Delany work.
Tim and I talk through it on the podcast, hope you enjoy it.
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