Marking the marketers: 3 ads in the key of racy. Good, better, best.

Normally “sex in advertising” means nudity, or shilling Viagra. Here are 3 fully clothed ads using it to sell food and drink. One is ok, one is better, and one is the best… but which? Make your picks, and I’ll share mine below.

No peaking now!

#1: Yorkshire tea:

#2: Kenco:

#3: Stratos:

So which one do you think is better?

[spoiler space]

All very entertaining, no?

The Stratos one is a lovely bit of story-telling. The narrative pulls you in, gets you to empathize with the little boy, and has a great twist at the end that works because it suddenly and retroactively flips the antics you just chuckled at into a cunning master plan. It’s a first rate bit of film making. So a great ad then?

The problem is that it doesn’t really say anything about Stratos. Does the chocolate bar make the kid smart? Lonely? Love football? Is it an expression of satisfaction at a job well done? Any of those could have worked, and probably more too. The ad builds these clever associations in your mind, and then never links its product to any of them. As a result you can’t even remember what the ad is for 30 seconds after it’s over. With no meanings to encode, it’s gone as soon as it rolls out of your short term memory banks. If it had jumped straight to the kid biting the chocolate bar, without any of the preceding story they they would have got just the same brand exposure – and that’s not a bad thing, but if you want just that to make an impact on people you have to show it to them a LOT, and only then do the more subtle learning mechanisms like mere exposure and classical conditioning start kicking in. That waste of potential for really strong brand positioning makes this, in my book, a pretty mediocre ad.

The Kenco and Yorkshire ads are both very similar. They splice naughty activity into a form of observational humour, and link in a brand meaning to boot.

For observational humour, think of Seinfeld.

What makes these whimsical stories into real funniness is that (when they work) they reference something that rings true to the audience, in at least some loose way. And that ring of truth, however distant, lends a little tiny bit of weight to the absurdity of the joke, and there is no absurdity more absurd than the weighty kind.

These ads try to pull a similar trick by creating a dramatic situation that (they hope) rings as just very slightly true to the audience. If that happens, a similar sense of weight should (they hope) vivify the brand message encapsulated in the ad.

Take the Yorkshire ad. It pokes gentle fun by invoking the central place tea has in the daily life in much of Britain. People here view themselves as notorious for taking a break for a nice cuppa. The young couple in this ad appear willing to do apply this cultural norm even to their sex life.  It’s an exaggeration (probably), but one that aims to ring just slightly true, giving people a feeling that “yes, we really do that a lot, don’t we.” And if you have that reaction, then you can appreciate Yorkshire’s invoking of it – and putting themselves at the centre of the ritual in doing so.

This reaction obviously won’t resonate any place that tea isn’t held in quite such cultural high regard – without that gentle sense of recognition it  just comes off as a bizarre set of priorities.

The Kenco ad has a couple sweeping everything out of their way in the throes of love-making, until they get to their Kenco coffee, which is apparently a bridge too far. Again we have a comic drinkus interruptus, but instead of playing off English cultural sensibilities about tea, it taps into the reverence for coffee as an awakeness lifestyle aid, and/or evangelically pursued taste experience (this is a culture which unquestioningly accepts grown adults asking for things like double skinny late grande’s. In public).

Poster of this available here.

Poster of this available here.

Combine the wide resonance of this insight with the high production values and attention to detail (e.g., using the baby monitor to efficiently establish the reality and urgency of the moment), with the clever construction that implicitly contrasts the coffee as more important than all the other things that are swept off the table… put it all together, and this is a very clever ad with a lot to recommend it.

Bottom line: I score that a B- for Stratos, a B+ for Yorkshire, and an A- for Kenco. And now I need a brew something fierce.

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