There is an old joke in the marketing business.
“No one believes in advertising until their cat goes missing.”
But as Dave Trott notes in a recent blog post, a lost cat poster typically has just three elements. A photo, phone number, and the words “lost cat” in large letters.
There is no place for nuance or subtly, and perhaps many modern advertising campaigns have forgotten this important fact.
People still fondly reminisce about the Martini campaign featuring Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins. Except the brand being advertised was actually Cinzano.
And they remember the brilliant Nike campaign with the “Impossible is Nothing” slogan.
Except the campaign was not for Nike, but for Adidas.
This is an example of the Mandela effect, where people are quite certain they remember something that turns out to be wrong.
Car brands are particularly guilty of investing huge sums in bland campaigns that feel all but interchangeable.
“Bring on tomorrow” (Ford). “Let’s go places” (Toyota). “Innovation That Excites.” (Nissan). Urgh.
It all feels a long way from “Vorsprung durch Technik”, “The lion goes from strength to strength”, “The car in front is a Toyota” and “Have you driven a Ford lately?”
As Trott notes, much of the advertising we see is attention-grabbing and sometimes even memorable, but it does not necessarily relate to the product it is actually supposed to be advertising.
“With any advertising, we have to ask, what is the point of standing out and getting remembered if the punters don’t remember who or what it’s for?”
And when it comes to the missing cat poster, Trott says, “The equivalent for us would be to concentrate on a beautiful picture of the cat but without any words or contact details.
“So everyone would say “What a lovely cat” without knowing what to do about it.
“That’s the level we’re at, we’re so interested in the details of the execution we’ve forgotten what the job of advertising is.”
Trott notes approvingly of the recent McDonald’s campaign, which has managed to culturally imprint the simple act of raising your eyebrows as a signal to others that it might be a good idea to get a cheeky Big Mac.
And thanks to the clever link with the Golden Arches, there is little risk of anyone mistaking the campaign for one by Subway, Burger King or KFC.