I remember the first ad I really loved. Thousands of coloured bouncy balls bounced down a San Francisco street. They bounced off cars and windows, with the cityscape standing proudly in the background. The colours were luminescent and lit up the sky. José González’s cover of Heartbeats was the perfect accompaniment to the visual. And then, it ended, with the perfect tagline ‘Colour… like no other’. The ad was for a Sony TV.
I was in awe. It was enthralling that a story of colour had been told in such a significant, beguiling and simple way. I realised at this point that ads weren’t just really fast selling points being yelled at me through the TV, but they were a chance to tell a story in 30, 60 or 90 seconds. It pushed storytellers to tell an entire plot in a tiny window.
Perhaps to a TikTok generation this isn’t seen as a feat of any kind, but it is. Ads have to be tied to a brand or a product, they have to resonate with the audience, and hit key demographics. They have to be beautiful or funny or irreverent. If they’re not sexy then they should be entertaining. Or both. Or even emotional.
Ads are also universally hated.
Perhaps the hardest road block of them all is that people hate ads. They’re the time in a TV show when you nip off to make a cuppa. YouTube gives you the chance to skip ads. You can download ad blockers. Ads are bitched about as being irritating, louder than the TV program or completely missing the point.
That’s why when an ad resonates it’s an incredible achievement. It can cut through all the noise, targeted marketing and advertising that you’re exposed to every day and leave you with a core memory.
Advertising in pop culture
In fact, advertising plays such an integral role in popular culture that it has become meta (not Meta, but meta).
In 1989, British Airways released the iconic ‘The Face.’ ad. It became a sensation before things could even go viral. It featured an aerial shot of hundreds of people running towards one another, creating a face visible from the sky. Eleven years after its release it was named in the top 100 ads of all time by Channel 4.
In 2005, Aussie beer brand Carlton Draught took the same idea, but rather than creating a face, it directed hundreds of men to create the silhouette of someone enjoying a beer. A clear parody of the original British Airways’ ad, the aptly titled ‘Big Ad’ won 30 awards globally, including the prestigious Gold Lion at the Cannes Lion International Advertising Festival the day it was released.
I love both of these ads. The way they use the unexpected medium of, well, humans, to create a spectacle, accompany that with the memorable sales tools of a song and a video that’s worthy of a hundred rewatches.
Music in advertising
Music in advertising is an integral part of capturing the audience. For a distracted audience, the sound will grab attention before the visual. The masters of advertising music is local beer brand Toohey’s.
In the 2007 campaign ‘Harvest’ about Extra Dry, the beer company featured the 1971 song Yama Yama from Belgian group The Yamasuki. The unknown track brought the ad to life, with an unusual tempo and even more unique sound.
Perhaps Toohey’s most famous is a ‘love it or hate it’ kind of ad. Backed by the thumping beat of Benny Benassi’s Satisfaction, a man’s tongue separates from his mouth on a strange journey through a party to find the beer that will satisfy it. The ad was divisive, but you can’t help but associate the dance classic to the now classic ad.
Relying solely on the song to bring the ad to life, Cadbury released ‘Gorilla’ in 2007. A 90-second spot – with the purple background providing heavy associations with the chocolate company – had a gorilla banging the drums to Phil Collins’ classic In the Air Tonight.
When it comes to brands that create strong colour associations, no one did this more successfully than Apple when it released the iPod. All subsequent ads featured the white headphones. A bold strategy for the brand that paid off, as the white headphone cord became synonymous with the iPod.
Jingles have their place
If it’s not a soundtrack, it’s an advertising jingle that remains memorable. Jingles are a jungle because the more irritating it is, the more memorable. Australians all over will remember the Lube Mobile jingle as it’s burnt into all of our collective imaginations. We can recite being a Cottee’s Cordial kid and the Reading hotline.
Perhaps the most successful jingle globally of all time is Melbourne-borne. ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ remains an ad that is revered for its catchy jingle accompanied by adorable graphics. Simple, yes. Effective? Incredibly so.
I just really love ads. I love the spectacle, the romance, the cleverness and sometimes the stupidity. Created by some of the brightest minds, the skill in advertising is always that less is more, because you only have a short time to tell that story.
When I first got the job as editor of Marketing mag, I was absolutely floored that I got to do the thing I love the most (write) about one of the things I know the most (advertising). For the following two years, I’ve connected with people who can tell stories that stop a crowd of 90,000 at the MCG and make them turn their heads to a screen. I’ve written about how Larry David became the face of cryptocurrency, if only for a moment. During my tenure at the magazine, I’ve been able to reach into my memory bank and reflect on all the ads I’ve loved. Why did my sister and I rewind a Hallmark ad on an old video tape and watch it again and again? Because it told a simple, emotional story in 60 seconds.
To most people an ad released nearly 20 years ago, which, at its core, is about some bouncy balls rolling down a street, is just a naff video with nothing else to offer. But to me, it will always remain someone’s incredible creative vision. A lofty dream of dropping 50,000 bouncy balls in a crowded metropolis brought to life. And it might be silly or completely capitalist and uncultured of me, but I think it’s art.