In an otherwise embarrassingly bombastic speech at the Periodical
Publishers Association conference last week, Mandi Norwood, the editor
of Cosmopolitan, argued that commentators fail to understand how women’s
magazines work because they try to analyse their success using the
rational right-hand side of the brain, whereas the magazines use the
emotional left-hand side to extract from the collective ’creative
genius’ of their staff an instinctively smart product. Leaving aside for
a moment the huge amount of time and resource the National Magazine
Company, Conde Nast and IPC devote to the right-hand side in planning
and marketing their magazines, it is worth noting how remarkably
right-hand side the media and advertising industries in general appear
to have become.
How literal-minded we are all becoming. In recent weeks, in addition to
the familiar chorus of whingeing that advertising has gone all MTV,
there have been extraordinarily anoraky letters to Campaign about the
Commission for Racial Equality’s ’brain’ ads and executions for Ffwd
Precision Marketing roughly quoting Christine Keeler using Mandy
Rice-Davies’s words ’they would say that, wouldn’t they?’. ’Why use the
image of Keeler sitting astride a chair with Rice-Davies’s words?’ one
letter asked in the tone employed by Tony Brignull in his various
musings on the imagery of Peugeot ads or Tony Kaye.
No, if you buy a Peugeot 406, you won’t end up with Kim Basinger; if you
buy a 306 you are not guaranteed sex with your partner on the kitchen
table (especially as the BACC ruled the table out). By the same token,
if you buy a can of Tango, a fat orange genie is not really going to
smack you about the chops, Jack Dee can’t really talk to penguins, and
Gary Lineker would probably give a child his last crisp.
Most products don’t need to demonstrate benefit to be attractive,
because we, the consumers, do not have a genuine need for, say, a packet
of crisps or a can of beer. The debate between traditionalist and
contemporary creatives centres on where the line is. Does a car need to
demonstrate genuine product benefits? Does a building society or a tyre?
Not if the advertising is enticing enough. The product has to be at
least as good as its rivals - it must not let you down.
In a society in which we all suffer from commercial message overload,
the first trick is to get noticed (the new RAC ads) and the second is to
entice (’Who would you most like to have a One-2-One with?’). You have
to do both. I’d argue the former doesn’t, the latter does. Once you’re
in (be it the store, or you’ve got the product at home), it’s over to
the manufacturer or retailer. If you’re not disappointed then that’s
integration in the purest sense of the word.