ADVERTISING MEDLEYS - DO THEY WORK? Nostalgic TV spots featuring hit ads from the past are the flavour of the month. Jim Davies discovers whether they are effective or just lazy, while four top creatives pick the work they think is worthy of a second airi

If you’ve got any kind of advertising heritage, flaunt it. That would seem to be the rationale behind a recent spate of commercials which, in essence, are little more than neatly edited compilations of ’greatest hits’ from the past.

If you’ve got any kind of advertising heritage, flaunt it. That

would seem to be the rationale behind a recent spate of commercials

which, in essence, are little more than neatly edited compilations of

’greatest hits’ from the past.

Those of us who have to endure pre-nursery television programming will

be well aware that on behalf of Sugar Puffs, Young & Rubicam is

reprising Honey Monster during his skiing, football and Boyzone periods

- a slick montage cut to Tina Turner’s stately rock anthem, Simply the


The Coco Pops monkey also pops up in various guises, starting in

scratchy black and white and ending in glorious Technicolor, singing a

specially composed ditty which begins: ’It was back in 1963 that the

British public first saw me.’ For the more mature audience, TBWA GGT

Simons Palmer recently blew the dust off 40 years worth of Cadbury’s

Flake ads, revealing that fashions may change but the gusto with which

beautiful women devour their chocolate bars remains undiminished by


There are several variants on the practice too. There’s the

’reinvigoration’ of familiar advertising icons such as the beefed-up

Captain Birds Eye or Delaney Fletcher Bozell’s recently modernised Man

from Del Monte. Alternatively, you might try reintroducing a long-lost

friend, as McCann-Erickson did for Golden Nuggets, bringing back the

cartoon characters, Klondike Pete and his donkey sidekick, Pardner,

after an absence of 23 years. How about reshooting an old script in a

contemporary setting, as Heinz did? Or, for the purist, you could simply

opt to reshow dusty ’golden oldies’ in their entirety.

On the surface, the medley solution is the advertising equivalent of

television archive shows, such as Television’s Greatest Hits, Have I Got

Old News for You or any lame excuse to re-run famous sketches by The Two

Ronnies or Morecambe and Wise. ’It’s a bit of a cop-out,’ Paul

Briginshaw, creative director of Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy, says. ’They

tend to be produced when a campaign has run out of steam,’ Dave Waters,

creative director of Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters, believes.

On the other hand, there’s much to be said in their favour. At their

most basic, they are cheap and easy to put together. There’s no casting,

studio booking, location scouting or hefty director’s fee. Indeed,

agency creatives need barely sully an art pad or pick up a magic marker.

If only everything in life was this simple.

More significantly though, they trade on and reinforce an already

well-established advertising heritage. ’I’m not sure how creative or

effective it is but it’s a valid way of exploiting the goodwill that is

felt towards a brand,’ Keith Courtney, senior art director at Publicis,


Using Penguin biscuits as an example, he observes that various research

groups he’s been involved with constantly hark back to the famous ’P-p-p

pick up a Penguin’ endline, which is why his agency decided to retain

it, albeit with a twist. There’s a great, long-standing public affection

for the line, which would be foolish to ignore. ’It has great recall, so

it’s tempting to revert back to that endline completely,’ Courtney

confesses. ’You can see exactly how these kinds of compilation

commercials come about: they start life in the research groups.’

They are also part of a surprisingly long and illustrious tradition.

Indeed, you could trace it as far back as 1961, when the prolific

commercial artist, John Gilroy, produced his final poster for Guinness,

which included his by then highly familiar toucan, sea lion, kangaroo

and pelican all in a single frame.

The headline read, ’Guinness - the ideal summer resort’ and pictured the

characters hopping out to sea. It had a slightly valedictory quality

about it but it played on the public’s affection for his menagerie of

stout-thieving animals.

Apocryphally at least, WCRS’s founder, Robin Wight, is credited with

having dragged the practice into modern British advertising. He has

always maintained that it’s a good idea to look backwards before looking

forwards, that it’s worth examining the existing brand properties before

deciding whether a client requires a new brand, identity or line. He

even coined a term for it - advertising archaeology. ’I started to use

the technique about ten years ago,’ Wight explains. ’An archaeologist

digs down through the soil assessing each layer. You can do just the

same with a brand, go through its history looking at what worked and

what didn’t to achieve an understanding of the brand.’

According to WCRS’s planning director, Debbie Klein, ’Sometimes a gem of

an old idea can be buffed and polished and made to work harder than any

new idea.’

The first application Wight can remember was for Danish bacon. WCRS

reintroduced the line, ’Good bacon has Danish written all over it’,

which had been abandoned 15 years previously. Then Arthur the cat was

revived on behalf of Cattomeat, before Bartle Bogle Hegarty won the

account and persuaded the client to go a step further and change the

name of the catfood to Arthur’s.

Even BMW’s classic line, ’The ultimate driving machine’, which had been

introduced in 1979, was swiped from a 1974 US campaign by Ammirati


’At one point, the client, John Wagner, asked me what he was paying me

for,’ Wight confesses. ’I told him he was paying me for my judgment. But

it’s not plagiarism. It’s simply reminding people of equities that

already exist. There’s too much zig-zagging and throwing stuff out for

its own sake in advertising.’

Over the years there have been medley executions for the likes of Fairy

Liquid, Colgate, Oxo, Gold Blend and PG Tips. All, you’ll notice, are

mature British household names that have tended to favour long-running

campaigns. Often they are used to celebrate a significant anniversary or

as a kind of ’thank you and goodbye’ before the advertising agency

introduces a new direction or campaign - a forewarning to the kind,

supportive public that they are about to lose a dear old friend.

Courtney likens the treatment to re-releasing an old hit record. ’People

have heard it before, it brings back memories and makes them feel good,’

he says. ’The same principle holds true in (the advertising)


Steve Henry, the creative director of HHCL & Partners, also uses a music

analogy to justify the recycling of old ads in this manner. ’It would be

tedious if we’d heard every song in the charts before,’ he says, ’but

cover versions can often be interesting. What advertising is trying to

do is build and maintain emotional bridges between product and consumer,

and raiding the archives is a legitimate starting point.’

Henry does have one or two provisos, however. ’You need to put a spin on

it,’ he maintains. ’Otherwise it could be perceived as lack of

invention.’ This hasn’t stopped both Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum and Fry’s

Turkish Delight resurrecting 70s commercials wholesale, despite their

poor quality sound and film stock. In fact, this slightly scratched,

washed-out look actually adds a certain nostalgia value, lending the

impression that you are watching a well-worn classic.

Although it falls into a slightly different category, Henry points to

HHCL’s reintroduction of R. White’s ’secret lemonade drinker’ in


Scripted by Naresh Ramchandani, these commercials tampered with the

original 70s formula, replacing the lemonade drinker’s wife with a cast

of unlikely celebrity stand-ins, who ranged from Ronnie Corbett and

Nicholas Parsons to John McEnroe in headband and frilly nightie. ’The

different endings brought an interesting dynamic,’ Henry says. ’You were

never quite sure who was going to pop up next. You owe it to the

consumer to provide a bit more than straight repeats.’

BMP’s executive creative director, John Webster, concurs. ’You’d be

surprised how often clients suggest you do a historic compilation,’ he

says. ’They assume the public will love it, but in truth it’s very


It’s often in lieu of a proper idea. Unless it’s done with pizzazz or

originality, there’s no excuse for it.’ Webster admits to having

succumbed just once, though there was a point of difference. He used a

series of previously unseen outtakes from completed George the Bear

Hofmeister commercials, where things hadn’t gone entirely to plan. ’It

was a kind of advertising parody of It’ll be Alright on the Night,’ he


Another commercial that managed to transcend its original source

material was an 80s effort for Brylcreem by Grey, which used

black-and-white footage from existing 60s commercials together with a

funky soundtrack by Art of Noise. This cleverly tapped into a vogue for

retro styling but recontextualised it by using the highly contemporary


’Some undoubtedly work better than others,’ Dave Waters says, secretly

chuffed that his Flake commercial (the one with the iguana and the

telephone) made the cut in Trevor Beattie’s recent tribute spot. ’The

Flake ads are a genuine chunk of film history. You can see different

camera techniques coming in and the quality of film-making gradually

improving. Some great directors shot them too - people like Ridley Scott

and Adrian Lyne. I don’t think that was a bad one to do.’

Ultimately, however, dredging up old adland favourites is a practice

probably best kept to a minimum. ’Generally the public like new stuff,’

Webster reckons. ’I think it’s just clients and advertising types who

hanker after the old.’

And it’s also just a little bit sad - like constantly rerunning Geoff

Hurst’s winning goal in the 1966 World Cup Final to make us believe that

we’re still a great footballing nation.


Kate Stanners - co-creative director, St Luke’s

I think an advertising medley is a rather self-congratulatory notion

from agency and client alike, somehow trying to claim advertising’s

place in history. What is its value to today’s punter? I don’t know.

But I couldn’t resist a marketing medley. A tribute to the history of

ideas that have collectively built an iconic brand of real value. From

the invention of a drink shrouded in the secrecy of a ’magic’


Then, years later, when the magic had faded, having the bare-faced cheek

to claim our own Father Christmas as theirs and turn him red - what a


The design of the universally recognised logo and the bottle shaped like

Marilyn Monroe. Even the introduction of the can has graced the gutters

of the world with an impossible-to-miss streak of red and white.

Somewhere along the line it became ’a drink for a generation’, taught

the world to sing, was ’the real thing’ and more recently proved itself

to be the drink of choice among elephants, polar bears and football


Phew. Coca-Cola. Always.


Keith Courtney - senior art director, Publicis

Anyone see the repeats of The Two Ronnies on TV the other week? You

forget just how funny they were, which is why I’d like to see some

repeats of The Two Johns. Remember them? Of course you do. When that

John Webster teamed up with that John Smith. Definitely good ads from

him, and good client from him.

They produced a fantastic series together. I remember my mum would let

me stay up late to watch them. There was that one with them two blokes

dancing like Laurel and Hardy. And did you see that one with the

performing dog? What about the one with the two ladybirds at it? All

accompanied by the lovely musical direction of Ronnie Hazlehurst and

several cans of laughter. I tried watching the new series, called Trev

and John, but you know what happens when great teams split up. Felt a

bit flat by comparison.


Dave Waters - creative director, Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters

I can’t think of a worthier medley than the Volkswagen Beetle ads. All

those US ads that the David Abbott generation worshipped. I’ve been

force fed them so many times I feel I saw them on TV as a kid. The

problem with most old ads is they look crap now. But some of the Beetle

ads you could run today if Frank Budgen re-shot them. This snippet sums

up the VW philosophy:

Presenter: So Volkswagen will constantly be changing, improving and

refining this car, not necessarily to keep in style but to make a better


MVO: Of all the promises made at the 1949 Auto Show, we kept ours.

They’re still keeping the promise and they’ve developed a new Beetle 50

years later. It’s an incredibly consistent philosophy and an inspiringly

consistent advertising tone of voice. Right up to the latest brilliant

Golf, Polo and Passat executions.

My imaginary ad would need a timeless soundtrack, probably a Beatles

medley. What else?


Paul Briginshaw - creative director, Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy

I’m not a big fan of medley ads. Isn’t it a bit of a cop-out, trawling

through a campaign’s back catalogue to make a new ad? But if I did have

to do one, I’d make sure the historic reel was full of gems before I

popped down to the editors. You’d be spoilt for choice with Heineken.

You could start with the policemen’s feet getting refreshed, next the

Roman galley going round in circles, then the aborigine and the

boomerangs, then Halley’s Comet with its inspired animation, then ’water

in Majorca’, and finish with a recent one, the quiet dustbin men.