• Self-serving advertising can cost you dearly


    The advertising industry’s magazine, Campaign, is running a series on the history of advertising in various objects.  No. 18 is Strand cigarettes. By a sheer coincidence I was talking about it (and the ad campaign) only yesterday.

    Written by a brilliant copywriter, John May of S H Benson, the commercial featured a Frank Sinatra lookalike, and rapidly became much talked about.

    Campaign reveals that Strand was bought by only 0.3% of male smokers and 0.7% of female smokers. A resounding flop!

    However, Campaign explains the failure like this: “… great advertising can’t sell a poor product. Strand was just a lousy smoke.”

    Spot the fallacy. If hardly anyone bought the product, how did anyone know it was a lousy smoke? Campaign’s explanation is clearly an attempt to exonerate advertising and shift the blame away from the ad’s creator.

    The real explanation may be more obvious: the commercial’s plain purpose was to flaunt its creativity, both in the Big Idea and in its clever execution. A common failing in advertising. It did not relate to the motivation of smokers, nor did it reflect their preferred lifestyle.

    Did the agency do any research or testing? Or was it just another example of self-serving advertising? The theme music was great and did well in the charts. The photography was moody and very well observed. And the actor accurately portrayed a singleton in need of care.

    Just because the individual elements were well done, it was (wrongly) assumed that the ad would sell the product. It’s well known in Selling that when people notice and applaud your performance, you have failed.

    Besides, would you have wanted to pull out a packet of fags that proclaimed you a lonely sad sack?  ‘Nuff said.


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