Video diary ads are fun to watch and make financial sense. John Tylee
Lana Turner may have caught Hollywood’s eye while waiting tables but
whoever heard of being offered the chance of TV fame when you’ve just
popped out of Superdrug clutching your plastic bag full of hairspray,
styling mousse and nail varnish?
Admittedly, this search for a star didn’t match the one for Gone with
the Wind. Nor was the budget of Spielberg-like proportions.
Nevertheless, the 300 people picked out formed the raw material for a
piece of British advertising history and a unique experiment in ‘DIY’
commercials shot with no script, no director, no film crew and with
nobody present from either the agency or the client.
Instead, the chosen few had video recorders installed in their homes,
were shown how to operate them and asked to talk to them each day for
two-and-a-half weeks about life, love and eyeliners.
The creative strategy, devised by Superdrug’s agency, Bates Dorland, was
born out of research showing that the retailer’s championing of low
prices - and particularly its battles with fine fragrance houses - had a
strong resonance with consumers.
What better way to harness that appeal, suggested the agency, than by
adopting the ‘video diaries’ technique and letting Superdrug’s customers
speak for themselves?
A Dorlands team led by Chips Hardy, the creative director on the
business, tested the idea using five agency secretaries. Even allowing
for the fact that the women knew about the ad business and what they
were expected to do, Hardy was excited enough by the results to seek out
a suitable director.
The choice was Martin Head, of Daryll Tate Associates, who combined
experience of TV documentary making with good casting skills. His
talents were to be crucial as the original 300 punters were pared down
The first stage involved sifting through biographies and reducing the
list to reflect Superdrug’s core market - young girls and women with
The final selection, made after a series of home visits by Head and his
crew, was aimed at finding the people who seemed likely to be most at
ease with the video recorder. The team also had to weed out those who
looked as though they might threaten the honesty and freshness of the
films with over-the-top performances.
The result was almost 100 hours of footage, all of which was viewed by
Head, Hardy and the the copywriter, David Prideaux. The best material
was ‘so good it almost jumped out at you’, he says.
One example is the long-suffering lady who confides that ‘my husband’s
walking down the stairs with no clothes on and I’m not batting an eyelid
because he looks so disgusting’. As Prideaux says: ‘You couldn’t get a
performance like that if it was prompted.’
And the cost? About pounds 250,000 for a dozen films - equivalent to
what you’d normally pay for one ad featuring that ubiquitous model
tossing her silken mane.