The editor of the esteemed Today programme, Rod Liddle, is
apparently very cross with Geoff Capes. Why? Because the former Olympic
shotputter hoaxed him over an interview in July about the demise of the
great British takeaway shop. Nor was he alone: Radio 5 Live, The Sun and
The Mirror also ran the story.
In the Today interview, Capes, apparently fronting a lobby group set up
to save takeaways from extinction, debated in full seriousness the
nutritional values of takeaways. I heard the interview and remember
thinking that it was a bit of harmless summer fun, but a bit dumbed down
for Today. Who exactly was behind the group, and where was the evidence
that takeaway shops were under threat? The Today programme obviously
made no attempt to check these basics out and I'd guess that it's the
fact that he's been made to look like a fool that accounts for Liddle's
Anyway, as Campaign has revealed (31 August), all this was a cunning
ploy dreamt up by McCann-Erickson to set the stage for this month's
relaunch of Snack Stop. This, by the way, is Nestle's attempt to grab a
bit of instant noodle market share from the likes of Batchelors.
I dare say the fact that the hoax was perpetrated in the cause of
something as trivial as an ad campaign for a fast-food snack has only
added to Liddle's vexation. Me, I'm just enjoying the way the nation's
most self-important broadcasting programme has been taken for a mug; few
sounds are so sweet as that of pomposity punctured, which is why a good
hoax is a joy indeed.
Ads based on hoaxes are as old as the hills. And, of course, it's a
legitimate and mostly harmless tactic. In this age of advertising
congestion, finding a way to give your campaign extra mileage and
resonance makes sense. No doubt, inspired by McCann's success here, we
will see more agencies give it a go.
Sometimes they backfire, however. By coincidence, Snack Stop is reviewed
in this week's Private View (p36) by Steve Dunn, the creative director
of Ogilvy & Mather, perpetrator of the "Lucky the lost dog" hoax for
Royal & Sun Alliance. Yes, that's the same Lucky hoax that the
Advertising Standards Authority stamped on last month. When I say
"reviewed", I use the word loosely. It is my impression that Dunn is
distinctly sniffy about the whole Capes business. From a man whose own
hoax ended up as a pile of metaphorical dog crap on his doorstep, this
seems churlish to say the least.
So why do some advertising hoaxes work and others fail? The answer, I
think, is plausibility and relevance. To succeed, any hoax has to be
rooted in truth. The Capes hoax worked because, as someone who looks
like he goes to the chippie twice a day, he was entirely plausible as
the front man for a campaign to save takeaways.
Was running a series of posters and national press advertising for a
lost dog - complete with freephone and website - plausible? Was it
As for relevance, the idea that instant pot snacks threaten takeaways
may not be original (I recall a BMP DDB campaign for Knorr that featured
chefs who feared for their livelihoods), but it is self-evidently true
and therefore relevant to the brand proposition. The connection between
a lost dog and a new virtual financial services company is at best
tortuous, at worst irrelevant. Having followed the Lucky trail through
to the end only to find someone trying to flog insurance, I felt
And that's the point: a hoax that leaves you feeling diminished is a
failure; one that brings cheer and charm is a success. Bit like
Dead cert for a Pencil? If there was a category for ingenuity.
Will it work? I liked the ad so I tried the product. Yeeurghhhh!
What would the chairman's wife say? Are you sure Geoff Capes is a good
role model for a fast food?