Even back in the late 60’s in a small New Zealand town called Whangarei, there was advertising and it was effective.
I was just an average, seventeen year old, trying to push the boundaries, my hormones raging and yet I was pretty uncool. With my father on the School Board and a small town, you tended to choose your moments fairly carefully.
And girls weren’t particularly interested. Maybe it was the glasses, but there was no life behind the bike shed. Then I got the dream job. Not just any job but a driving job and driving a brand new Ford Zodiac. This thing had more chrome than a brass band. It was powerful, luxurious and for about twenty minutes every Thursday, it was mine. The job was to transport cakes and pies between a Bakery in town to a retail outlet about 12 kms away. So as everyone was walking to school, I could drive up the main road, the amazing smells of freshly baked pies and bread wafting out of the windows, and the car looked fantastic. The car gave me confidence but it also attracted attention. My mates were envious and girls were happy to know me – I became their taxi driver. For me, it was a classic piece of packaging; suddenly I was interesting – at least for a few minutes every Thursday.
At about the same time, I remember arriving at school one morning and there in huge metre high letters, emblazoned across the main school building; ‘Harley for Export’. Our headmaster, Harley Spragg, a very dour authoritarian, had finally dished out enough and a budding copywriter who was never identified, had snapped. It was his ‘Free Tibet’ moment. Sometime in the early hours, he had painted this quite clever headline in black, tar-based paint. It was probably the first piece of outdoor, effective but fleeting. It was removed in the next few days but the point was made and the town was buzzing. Harley Spragg was better than that but was almost certainly affected so perhaps this was another early exposure to advertising effectiveness.
There has probably never been a generation so agitated. We railed against conformity, listened to the depressing words of Leonard Cohen and played our music really loud. But even then, even as many were marching down Queen Street in Auckland, yelling obscenities at policemen in the belief that we might stop a war, we were still happy victims of effective advertising. We all wore Levis and smoked Gitanes, or coloured Sobranis if we were wankers. We all wore tie-died T shirts. We were slaves to every bloody movement that came along. And brands were what connected us. Coke, Chianti, Quane Surfboards, Lion Red, Peter Stuyvesant (the passport to international smoking pleasure), and bands were brand icons. Years later, Kevin Roberts from Saatchi coined the phrase ‘love marks’. These were ours. The brands were part of a movement.
Testing the effectiveness of advertising has become a lot more difficult. Yes it needs to ‘do something’ but often, everything will conspire against it being effective. Because there are almost always far more critical issues in play. Product that isn’t quite right, sales staff who aren’t motivated, distribution that doesn’t deliver or a competitor who is willing to give his stuff away – any or all can nail the best creative in the world. And now customers everywhere apply an even more enlightened set of criteria; will consumption grow hair in odd places, did whales die in the manufacture, was it necessary to use powdered dung beetle as the active ingredient?
We can only control the things we can control, leaving little to chance, delivering each and every brand we touch, the very best opportunity for success. Because after years of expensive, exhaustive market experimentation, great work still works.