Campaign Hall of Fame: A (very) brief history of advertising - Is Levi’s better than Tango, Hamlet funnier that Heineken? Stefano Hatfield outlines the aesthetic and social considerations that informed what made it into advertising’s Hall

By STEFANO HATFIELD, campaignlive.co.uk, Monday, 20 December 1999 12:00AM

Every year, Capital Radio’s ’Hall of Fame’ starts well enough. Sure, there’s the inevitable puzzling as to why Bowie and the Beatles should be quite so low down, just who does vote for ELO and whatever happened to Minnie Ripperton? But the real screaming at the radio begins with the top 20.

Every year, Capital Radio’s ’Hall of Fame’ starts well enough.

Sure, there’s the inevitable puzzling as to why Bowie and the Beatles

should be quite so low down, just who does vote for ELO and whatever

happened to Minnie Ripperton? But the real screaming at the radio begins

with the top 20.



It’s not the interminable boredom of Stairway to Heaven that does it,

nor even the conspiracy against the Rolling Stones. No, it’s when the

likes of Careless Whisper and Bohemian Rhapsody are topped by Robbie

Williams’ Angels or, worse, the dreaded Bryan Adams.



Who will it be this year? Shania Twain? Steps? Geri Halliwell? The mind

boggles. Who will remember Westlife in two years’ time, let alone

ten?



Do you remember Bros or Sigue Sigue Sputnik? Yet the good stuff does

come down to us, it does survive the passing of time, receding

hairlines, incipient pot-bellies and the potential death of the

single.



Campaign’s Hall of Fame, published in association with the Institute of

Practitioners in Advertising, is no different. Ads, like singles, play a

major role in the collective consciousness of our formative years. True,

sometimes we remember things through rose-tinted spectacles: were the

Monkees really any good? Did Shake ’n’ Vac really put the freshness

back?



But, somehow, the best survives. It’s why we remember Mozart not

Salieri.



Nevertheless, readers will note that there are many more ads from the

second half of the century than the first in our Hall of Fame. Partly

this is due to our familiarity with and confidence in the more recent

past, and partly because there is now so much more advertising to choose

from. It also indicates that the advertising industry has come of

age.



Britain’s advertising century began with precious few advertising

pioneers of the likes of the rival soap manufacturers, Lord Leverhulme

of Sunlight and TJ Barrett of Pears. These iconoclasts commissioned some

of the best artists of the day to illustrate their beautiful posters

(most famously Millais’ bubbles for Pears). They took advantage of the

recent invention of the chromo-lithographic printing process and the

steam train to cover the country with their advertising.



But they were the exception to a very drab rule. Most

turn-of-the-century posters were unimaginative. Many featured only the

product’s name in a huge typeface, and perhaps a packshot. The endline was

still in its infancy, and there were few attempts to introduce a brand

icon.



That Bovril’s ’alas my poor brother’ and the GNR’s and LNER’s ’Skegness

is so bracing’ still resonate with us today is a tribute to their wit

and originality. And with other artists such as Tom Eckersley, Austin

Cooper, Fougasse, John Hassall, Edward McKnight Kauffer, Alfred Leete,

Tom Purvis, Man Ray, Graham Sutherland, Fred Taylor and Rex Whistle

creating posters, it is self-evident why advertising came to be regarded

as an art form.



The First World War brought a quantum leap in style. The direct appeal

to the emotions, cajoling the public into enlisting and supporting the

war, was used to such good effect that Hitler even paid tribute to

Britain’s propaganda skills in Mein Kampf.



It is the image of a dignified Lord Kitchener calling patriotic men to

arms that has come down to us most vividly from this era. The radical

decision to use Kitchener and not the King was hugely effective in

persuading thousands of Britons to sign up, and the idea was widely

copied - most notably by the US Forces’ ’Uncle Sam’ work.



The ’Daddy, what did you do in the Great War?’ series created the first

great debate about the morality of advertising - once the war was won,

of course. It was arguably the first campaign to use emotional blackmail

and the public felt uncomfortable about being ’used’. The Government

reverted to being a very conservative advertiser in the inter-war

years.



Inevitably advertising of the Second World War is prominent in the Hall

of Fame. ’Inevitably’ because the 1939-1945 period defined Britain and

the British psyche like no other.



A team of some 60 artists and designers working within the newly formed

Ministry of Information began cautiously during what became known as

’the phoney war’. There was no attempt to mythologise Churchill through

advertising.



It was to be ’the people’s war’, an idea evident in the slogans we all

know today: ’dig for victory’, ’grow your own food’, ’careless talk

costs lives’.



But while the slogans and the variety of graphic design styles made the

Second World War period a purple one for posters, it also heralded the

rise of the broadcast medium. Radio came to the fore, as families

huddled around the wireless listening to the great wartime speeches,

anxious for news from the battle front.



Creative standards in the poster medium went into a three-decade slump

after the war (partly caused by continuing paper rationing). Its decline

was sealed by the advent of commercial television in the UK in 1956.



Commercial television’s arrival was anticipated with great

foreboding.



The BBC, the House of Lords and the Church all predicted that the

commercial medium invading from the United States would be a corrupting

force that shouldn’t be welcomed in our homes. In fact what we got was

Gibbs SR, as cool as the mountain stream which poured over the

toothpaste tube endlessly in the first commercial aired on British TV.

Its repetitive style was typical of much of the first television

advertising.



Received pronunciation, the dreadful jingle and men in white coats with

their product demonstrations were three of the major early trends. At

first it appeared that television commercials would do nothing worse

than bore the public into switching off their sets.



Then, in the early 60s, a new style of advertising began to flourish in

the US, epitomised by the titans that could be described as the two most

influential admen of modern times, Bill Bernbach and David Ogilvy.



Both were obsessed with simplicity, but had very different ideas about

tone. Bernbach, who raised the standing of creative people in agencies,

preferred ironic humour. Ogilvy detested what he described as ’frippery’

or ’artistic’ ads. Having worked for George Gallup, he was an early

pioneer of the use of market research techniques.



Both made their name with press ads: ’think small’, ’lemon’ and others

for Volkswagen in Bernbach’s case, and Ogilvy with ’the man in the

Hathaway Shirt’, ’at 60 miles an hour ...’ for Rolls Royce and others.

These (like the VW Beetle ’snowplough’ commercial) are American ads and

not eligible for the Campaign Hall of Fame Top 100.



It is worth commenting on the relative lack of press ads in the

list.



By definition, press has always been a targeted medium, and individual

ads have less impact than the more ubiquitous posters or television

commercials.



What’s more, it is in the press medium where the changes in taste of the

past two decades, let alone the century, are most visible.



The long-copy ads so loved by the creative directors of the Ogilvy and

early Collett Dickenson Pearce schools and their innumerable acolytes

just don’t have the same impact today. Well, perhaps they might - if

anyone could still be bothered to read them.



Today, many posters could be press ads and vice versa. It’s not

necessarily a bad thing, merely a reflection of the pressures on the

public’s media consumption habits.



We live in the visual age, post-MTV and the rise of the remote

control.



If an ad does not grab your attention instantly, then you move on, its

potential impact remains just that. The same can be said for some of the

’great’ television ads of the 60s and 70s. They seem interminably long

to the end-of-century viewer.



Nevertheless, almost half of Campaign’s Top 20 ads were created in the

70s, which (through to the early 80s) is the period that has come to be

regarded as the golden age of the British commercial. The work of a new

type of creative person in agencies was starting to come through and a

combination of big budgets with guaranteed mass audiences as a result of

the ITV monopoly meant that everyone saw the commercials.



It was the time of Hamlet, Hovis, Heineken, Benson & Hedges, Fiat,

Parker Pens, Cockburns, Birds Eye and so many other magical creations of

that fertile breeding ground that was Collett Dickenson Pearce.



And it was also the era of the great BMP advertising icons: the Smash

Martians, the Cresta bear, the PG Tips chimps. BMP also gave us John

Smith’s, Courage Best and The Guardian ’points of view’ in our top 20,

and it is difficult to think of a better Hall of Fame jury chairman than

the creative director of the agency for most of the past 30 years, John

Webster, indisputably the best British exponent of the television

commercial.



Choosing the Top 10 was not as hard as one might imagine. The most

difficult debate was over whether anything more recent than Tango

warranted inclusion (in the end it was decided that although Tango’s

influence is self-evident, there has been nothing quite as significant

since), and how we could leave out the PG Tips chimps (in at 11)?

Putting the ads in any order of merit, of course, proved ridiculously

hard.



While Lord Kitchener (at 9) has proved to be one of the advertising

icons of the century, and Hamlet (10) and Heineken (8) are ’merely’ the

best and best-loved of the many great comic ads, our final top seven ads

were all iconoclastic, hugely influential and have become part of

advertising history. The ’pregnant man’ for the HEC (at 7) can in many

ways be regarded as the precursor of the ’press ad as poster’ style of

advertising: its simple, arresting image achieved the desired

cut-through and was a foretaste of much of the best of Saatchi & Saatchi

advertising.



Levi’s (6) married the music soundtrack to the MTV image; the pop video

as commercial, an idea that was to be imitated to less good effect

endlessly as the need for pan-European television campaigns became

greater. It’s impossible to overstate the impact Levi’s had on the

advertising, fashion and music industries. It resurrected the brand and

many an old muso’s back catalogue. It was so consistently good and

innovative that ’creek’ appears in the Hall of Fame in its own right as

an example of a later style.



Fiat Strada ’robots’ (5) is often cited as the best UK ad of all time,

and certainly its craft skills and ambition were mind-boggling in

1979.



CDP took a relatively boring idea, ’hand-built by robots’, and created

an epic through the inspired use of Hugh Hudson’s direction and

Rossini’s soundtrack. Shame about the car.



The ’cheap’ visual style and the jerky narrative of the first Tango ad

(4) spawned endless imitators that could never quite replicate the

sublime confluence of Ray Wilkins’ deadpan voiceover, the mischievous

Orange genie, and the ’you know when you’ve been Tango’d’ endline.



There is little that need be said about the Conservative Party’s ’Labour

isn’t working’ ad, number 3 in our Hall of Fame. Also voted ’the poster

of the century’ by Campaign’s 100 Best Posters of the Century jury, it

is the single advertisement that had more influence on the nation than

any other, and the execution that finally convinced politicians of the

power of advertising.



The Benson & Hedges ’iguana’ cinema commercial (at 2) is a great example

of the advertising industry turning to creativity in the face of

adversity.



The first significant commercial to do away with narrative, its surreal,

enigmatic style was a direct consequence of greater tobacco advertising

restrictions. It was the commercial that made many viewers want to get

into the business.



Which brings us to our unanimous number one choice: the Smash

Martians.



We can all say ’for mash get Smash’ more than 30 years after the

campaign broke, and we all still love the icons. The commercial had an

impact way beyond its budget, and helped to popularise both advertising

and the concept of ready-made foods. It inspired an entire industry: if

you could do work like this for packet dried potato, you could do great

work for anything.



Although the product is now in decline, the popularity of the icon is

not. So much so that the Martians are being brought back to our screens

for the third time! Simply put, this was British advertising at its very

best: using the likeability of and the emotional involvement inherent in

the advertising to sell an otherwise unappealing product and build a

famous brand. It doesn’t get better than this: like the rest of the Top

Ten, a perfect marriage of creativity and effectiveness.



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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