The votes are in, counted and (drum roll) the winners announced: the public’s favourite ad of the last 60 years is Cadbury’s 'Gorilla' while the industry voted for Guinness 'Surfer'.
Polls like #60YearsTVAds provide a fascinating barometer of the cultural/creative/emotional messaging that resonates with consumers and industry experts long after an ad has disappeared from our screens.
But how do these ads work from the brain’s point of view? Marketers are increasingly turning to neuro-science to understand consumers’ subconscious reactions to creative messaging to gain more objective insights into what works – or doesn’t – in an ad.
The way the brain responds to creative messaging is informed by a number of factors – some obvious and some very subtle. So what makes 'Gorilla' and 'Surfer' special from the brain’s point of view despite their very distinct and dissimilar style and content?
There are three striking similarities and one interesting difference:
The art of the unexplained
Both ads are built on a strong sense of intrigue – we see unexpected images that aren’t immediately explained. 'Surfer' opens looking at a man’s face, as the poetic narrative (written for the advert by copywriter Tom Carty) unfolds over an intense, repetitive beat. From there, the white horses and the chaotic sequence of the waves is surreal and somewhat disorientating. Similarly, 'Gorilla' opens with a shot of the gorilla’s face to the introduction of Phil Collins In the Air Tonight, but, conversely, this very familiar soundtrack only makes the ad’s climax more surreal with no explanation provided.
In both cases the brain is highly engaged in wanting to know more, but never quite getting satisfaction until the branding appears at the end of each ad. This means the brain stays involved right through the ad and takes on board the final branding. It’s therefore not surprising that these two ads - and crucially the brands - have remained in our memories long after they finished airing.
No need to shout
In both examples, branding is present throughout the ad, but in the subtlest of ways. This is highly effective from the brain’s point of view because our brains often reject overt selling messages while brand cues like colours, shapes and sounds can get in "under the radar." In both ads, these cues evoke the brand at a subconscious level without raising any mental barriers: in 'Surfer' the black and white colour palette is evocative of the drink itself, and those foaming waves do an excellent job of conjuring up an iconic pint; meanwhile in 'Gorilla' the purple background shown throughout the ad is unmistakable, albeit at a subconscious level.
In each ad the only overt branding features appears at the end of the ad, effectively acting as a "reveal" to the story which in both ads is unresolved until this point. Crucially in each case the brand is the reveal – it has to be taken on board for the brain to make sense of the ads, so it’s highly likely to be remembered. (A lot of studies have shown that aspects of an ad that get encoded into memory subsequently influence decision making and purchasing intent).
Guinness 'Surfer' in particular adds to the suspense just prior to final branding by having very clear breaks in both the visuals and the music, creating a disruption for the brain and signalling that something important is about to happen.
Executional details appeal to specific audiences
Interesting executional differences between the ads perhaps reflect on the perspectives of the audiences that chose them and help explain why they did so.
'Gorilla' creates and resolves intrigue in a highly effective but relatively straightforward way – the narrative is simple; there’s only one setting and there are fewer brain-teasing executional devices.
By contrast 'Surfer' employs a lot more of the tricks that we know work well in the brain. These include subtle "clues" (the reference to Moby-Dick’s Captain Ahab), repetition (tick after tock) and disruption (the breaks in the visuals and music just before the end branding). It’s probably no surprise that the industry experts whose job it is to think about the effect of an ad in an explicit way, chose an ad that employs all these subtle features that influence effectiveness in the brain. The Guinness ad will work effectively with any audience; but it takes an audience of experts to fully appreciate its impact on an explicit level.