Why Not?

There’s a TV commercial running at the moment for Direct Line Insurance with the sign-off “Why not call Direct Line…” Why not is such a lame call to action; it might as well be followed by “…if you’ve got nothing better to do.” On the other hand, one of the cleverest and bravest ads on tele lately has been the one for Marmite, the strong-tasting yeast extract spread. The ads are based on “love it or hate it” showing clips of people either relishing it, or virtually gagging on it. What’s clever is that they’ve recognised that people who hate it aren’t going to change their minds based on something they’ve seen on TV, so they may as well alienate them. What they want to do is remind the rest of us how much we like it and make us feel special, part of an elite.

The Economist had this down to a fine art with their poster advertising, making people who read it feel that they must be a cut above the average. For example:

You can so tell who doesn’t like read The Economist

They’ve also played on the fear of looking ignorant, for example (approximate headline from memory):

“I never read the Economist.”

Assistant Manager, 49

An Economist TV commercial which ran a few years ago showed a man sitting in business class on an airline, when Henry Kissinger sits down next to him. The voice-over went something like this:

So, you’re going to be spending the next 4 hours talking to Henry Kissinger. Nervous?”

I admired the Economist’s advertising for years and I think it explains why something with such a dull sounding title punched seriously above its weight. For years they continued to invest in advertising, even when times were tough, which is why their circulation sales were the most robust in the industry. But in the last three or four years even they seem to have been hit by the downturn in print media; I don’t see so much of them these days and what they’re doing lacks some of their previous cleverness.

When I was at BusinessWeek I was tempted to run a poster campaign that had the word “Economist” on a red background, and then the word “Pragmatist” below in BusinessWeek colours. Thankfully someone further up the line decided that waging war on The Economist probably wasn’t a good idea.

The FT’s ‘No FT, no comment’ tagline played to similar fears – that if you don’t read it, you won’t have anything to say on important issues. But their advertising has never been quite as clever or consistent as The Economist’s. My favourite moment of schadenfreude (I was working for the competition at the time) was when they used a pink yacht to promote the launch of their Australian edition, but it hit Sydney Opera House and sank. Picture here.

Probably the best advertising that the FT has done involved no copywriting at all – they wrapped the newspaper around Hong Kong’s tallest building, Two IFC. My friend Mary-Frances Bellman was behind that ground-breaking and memorable stunt, which garnered a huge amount of press coverage. Click here for pictures. The moral of those two FT stories is to be memorable, but for the right reasons. And why not?


2 Responses to “Why Not?”

  1. Chris Collins Says:

    Dear Tim,

    Nice piece.

    You didn’t quite get the ‘Management Trainee’ ad. right. It was;

    ‘I don’t read The Economist’. Management trainee. Aged 42.

    Good stuff.


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