Someone once told me that TV was the ultimate challenge for a copywriter. That it was the most difficult of all the ad communications to write. Why? Because it’s more than just words. While it’s still basically a one-way dialogue between you and your ‘reader’, with a TV ad you’re not just writing dialogue, you’re setting up a scenario, telling a story, hooking your reader both verbally and visually.
Having written quite a few TV ads in my time, I can confirm: it is bloody hard. But every now and then you come across one that looks so effortlessly put together, so brilliantly executed, that all you can do is applaud the writer.
Here are five brilliantly written TV ads, with a hat-tip to each of their creators.
David Abbott: Yellow Pages “JR Hartley”
The late David Abbott is perhaps most famous for writing the irrepressible poster campaign for The Economist. But he wrote some lovely TV ads too. This one was his first. For those too young to remember it in its print form, the Yellow Pages was a directory of local businesses, organised according to profession. You turned to its newsprint pages when you needed to pay someone to unblock your drain or mend your fence. But as this ad so charmingly demonstrates, the Yellow Pages was also useful for pleasanter problems, like where to find a particular book you’re after. The story of the ad is essentially a 50-second quest narrative, with a satisfyingly cosy ending. A classic that’s well worth another look.
Paul Arden – Solid Fuel Advisory Service – “Kisses”
Paul Arden was one of advertising’s most colourful characters. I first came across his book, “It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be”, which is kind of a self-help book for ad people. He helped launch the Independent newspaper with the slogan, “It is. Are you?”. And he was famous for producing ads that were lavish spectacles, such as the British Airways “face in the desert” spot. But it’s one of his subtler, tender spots that I’ve picked here. How do you sell the benefits of a real fire? A simple scenario starring three unlikely friends, it seems.
Trevor Beattie – Carling “You Know Who Your Mates Are”
Having researched this a bit further, I don’t think Trevor Beattie actually wrote this spot, but he was the ECD, so I imagine he would probably claim some input into it. I know I would, because I think it’s an ad that does a brilliant PR job for what is, let’s face it, a pretty average lager. Oddly, Carling is apparently the UK’s most popular lager but its least loved. So what this ad set out to do was demonstrate how the brand understands the bond between young male friends. I think it achieves that with plenty of wit and charm by retelling the classic ‘nightclub-bouncer-says-no’ story that we’ve all experienced once in our life. “Looks rubbish, anyway” Brilliant.
John Hegarty – Audi – Vorsprung Dursch Technik
I love the story of how this ad was conceived because it reminds of how little, seemingly insignificant details can often turn into something big. When I wrote a TV ad for Hoseasons, I got the intro line from a trailer for the Tim Burton-directed, Johnny Depp-starring movie, Alice in Wonderland. When John Hegarty was looking for a slogan to finish the new TV ads he and his team has just put together for Audi, he recalled a line he’d seen on an old poster when he was touring their factory. Research groups said it definitely shouldn’t run, that people would hate its German-ness. But its German authenticity was what made it powerful as far as Hegarty was concerned. His clients agreed, the slogan ran, and still does, three decades later.
Sue Higgs – Comfort – Naturists
Admittedly I change my mind now and again, but right now I’d say this is my favourite TV ad of all time. There are so many things to applaud. I love the art direction of it, particularly the descriptions of the ‘offending’ garments. I love the many quotable lines (“prawn balls” “we were only sniffing!”). But most of all I love the idea that the irresistibility of a fabric softener would cause someone 25 years a naturist to fall off the wagon. It’s an ad that sets up a scenario, tells an entertaining story and gives you a compelling reason to buy the product. Perfect.