I’m endlessly fascinated by advertising. Most people simply don’t see it as it surrounds our daily lives and pervades every aspect of our existence. To most, it’s nothing more than background noise and our brains dismiss it accordingly, like tinnitus.
The very best advertising though, achieves immediate cut through.
January 2023 saw two advertising campaigns launch onto our TV screens, both of which made me sit up and announce to my wife “That’s really clever!”. To give you some context, this rarely happens. I can go months without actively praising an advertisement or an advertising campaign but when something does stand out, it’s worth explaining why.
The first campaign that caught my eye was the new one from We Buy Any Car. Featuring Mufasa, resplendent in his orange shirt and clashing red shorts and sporting a distinctive long socks and shoes combination, this odd looking character jumps out of his car and starts singing ‘I sold my car, to We Buy any Car…’ to the Nightcrawlers 1992 tune, ‘Push The Feeling On’.
The advert stood out for three reasons; first, it used a distinctive character who was immediately accessible. As someone who has so far managed to avoid Tik Tok, I had no ideas he was a star on this medium, but even to me, his infectious enthusiasm conveyed exactly the type of feeling that advertisement, and the brand needed.
Secondly, it took an extremely well-known tune, one that was 20 years old, and with a simple play on words turned a club classic into a mantra for a new generation of car owners. The effect was so profound that within hours, a search on Spotify for ‘It’s Friday Night’ bought back a search return for the Nightcrawlers featuring Mufasa remix.
Finally, and the part that impressed me the most, was the flexibility it brought. After exclaiming to my wife that this was a brilliant advertising campaign, I went on to explain that the creative was so simple that they could replace Mufasa with any number of other characters, to cover a whole range of demographics and appeal to the widest possible audience. And as if by magic, in January alone we were introduced to an elder grey-haired gentleman in a hat, who had also sold his car, and a mother of two daughters, all of whom got out of their cars to dance.
The simple construct of a catchy tune and a short dance means this campaign will have both cut through and legs (if you pardon the pun). In short, it’s clever and will run for some time with little need to change anything.
The second advert that caught my eye was the astonishing new McDonalds advertisement. Like most people, I’d become inured to the charms of Dexter Fletcher’s voice over and the catchy ‘I’m loving it’ whistle at the end of every advertisement, be it on TV, Radio, or social media.
What struck me immediately about the new advertisement was the use of Yello’s ‘Oh Yeah’, a tune released in 1985 and for my generation, more easily recognised as synonymous with the film ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’. As the first bars emerged from the television, it grabbed my attention, but then the genius move of associating the McDonalds arches with the arching of the actors eyebrows gave a hook that would be (and I’m sure is already) being imitated by their target audience in real life. Schoolkids across the country have already picked up on this action and it has become a handy shorthand, non-verbal communication for wanting a McDonalds.
The beauty of this campaign is, once again, the immediate cut through, the characteristic displayed by the actors that can be imitated by the public and the flexibility with which the arched eyebrows and the McDonalds logo can be used in an enormous range of other advertising media.
Whilst I’m definitely not the target audience for McDonalds, I can appreciate the creativity that has gone into this campaign and frankly, if it doesn’t sweep the boards for creativity in the awards this year, I will be astonished.
Alongside the good, however, there’s also the bad. Almost as if the Ying can only exist if the Yang does too.
January also saw the launch of a billboard campaign for a plant-based alternative to butter and the moment I saw the billboard, it provoked the kind of response that I’m convinced was never recorded in the pre-launch audience testing. Had they reacted the way I and other local residents did, this creative would never have seen the light of day.
The advertisement was for Flora plant butter and it was just one in a series (I’ve seen three so far) of different creatives. I have no problem with two of them, but the one with the biggest prominence on our local billboard was the one that created the biggest reaction against the brand.
To be clear, I have no problem with plant-based alternatives to food stuffs. There is a market for these and a base of consumers that will ask for and buy them. I have absolutely no desire to dictate to anyone what they can and can’t or should and shouldn’t eat. It’s an individual choice and like freedom of speech and movement, freedom of choice is fundamental. What I do object to, however, is belittling others for their choice.
The billboard in question contains the headline “from plant to toast, without the weird cow bit. skip the cow”.
The entire campaign is based around a strapline of ‘skip the cow’ and this is a clever piece of advertising. What isn’t clever is suggesting that butter made from cows’ milk is in some way weird. What’s even less clever is placing this billboard in the middle of a market town, surrounded by pasture and home to some of the biggest dairy herds in the country.
This may not have seemed like an issue to a London-based creative and planning team, but to people whose livelihoods are entirely dependent on dairy agriculture this seems like a direct attack.
Suggesting the butter made from cows’ milk is weird is a complete reversal of reality and starts to lead to questions about how weird it is to take plants and process them so much that they turn up as butter. Moreover, it appears to those dairy farmers that this advertisement seeks to normalise substitute non dairy products by suggesting that anyone who chooses the more traditionally produced butter is ‘weird’. Trust me, this hasn’t gone down well in the Shires.
A simple online search would tell these creatives that butter has been around for over 10,000 years and is used by the majority of the population. In contrast, the vegan and vegetarian community in the UK comprises no more than 10% in total, so ‘othering’ 90% of the population is not a good move. I appreciate that the brief may have been to halt the decline of plant-based butter, but this really isn’t the way to go about it.
So, as January ends, we have three campaigns that have already caught the imagination. I, for one, can’t wait to see what the rest of the year brings.