A long time ago in a faraway decade I was promoted to account director at BBH.
But the cloud to go with this silver lining was that the promotion parachuted me into a difficult second album situation with the Cadbury client.
The first album was this very popular, very successful commercial for Cadbury’s Roses.
(Apologies for the poor quality).
Say thank you with Cadbury’s Roses.
A catchy, memorable and deceptively simple piece of positioning.
Used correctly it was an inclusively exclusive brand idea.
Taken literally and at face value it said that the brand was exclusively for saying thank you. That exclusivity, that specific focus, gave the brand a differentiated, ownable point of view and a narrative structure to hang its creative hat on.
But no-one took it literally or at face value. No one thought they could only use Roses as a thank you gift.
No one takes “Have a break, have a Kit-Kat” at face value either.
A brand that is ideal for a quick break is also great on lots of other occasions. “Have a break” is another inclusively exclusive brand idea.
In theory a brand that is ideal for small gestures of gratitude (Roses) is also great on lots of other occasions too.
But turning that theory into practice means handling the brand idea with care. In order to make the exclusivity of “thank you” suitably inclusive you had to pitch the gesture of thanks at the right level. Not too big. Not too small. Just right. The baby bear’s porridge of TV scripts.
And the Grannies film (above) totally nailed it. Just right, bordering on perfection. Everyone was very happy.
But the cloud to this silver lining was an understandable desire, on behalf of client and agency alike, to dissect and define the film’s just-rightness and create a sure-fire formula for repeating the success.
Enter hapless, newly promoted account director.
The recipe for repeated success manifested itself as a set of rules. I think it was ten. Let’s say it was ten.
Ten rules derived from one sweet, populist piece of film.
One rule for every three seconds.
I can’t remember them all but the rules would have covered things like the every-day-ness of the setting, the scale of the good deed deserving of the thank you gesture, the allowable level of creative exaggeration or surrealness in the deed, the prior relationship between giver and receiver(s), a credible place within the narrative from which the Roses would be produced.
And so on. And so forth.
These golden rules were the basis of the brief for the second album.
And these golden rules became golden rods for our backs and the bane of our lives for months and months.
We couldn’t deliver the second album.
I don’t think creative teams can use a ten part list as stimulus for ideas. But I do know that a ten part list, used as “objective” evaluation criteria, can be the basis of a brutally punishing quality control regime.
Every creative presentation was like going over the top in WW1, to be greeted by barbed wire and withering machine gun fire.
There was no nastiness from the client. More a case of bemusement that something so apparently straightforward was causing us so much trouble.
The agency had been complicit in sequencing the campaign genome. It’s what agencies do. We are ideas experts. We have to be able to explain and package ideas and present them as valuable intellectual property.
But we’d made two mistakes.
Firstly we’d based the packaging of the campaign idea on one successful ad, before we’d really explored its potential.
And secondly the rules went well beyond the packaging of the campaign idea and packaged the executional detail of the first film.
We’d lived by the make-ourselves-look-clever, packaging-the-idea sword. And now we repeatedly died by that same sword.
It was morale- sapping, soul-destroying and relationship-weakening.
Then, after nearly a year in the studio and with no second album in sight, this film from arch rival Quality Street suddenly appeared on air.
A small gesture of thanks from a boy to a long-suffering lollipop lady.
Positioning-wise it was clearly occupying similar territory to that “owned” by Roses.
It was “Say thank you with Quality Street” in all but strapline.
But we would never have written that script for Roses because it broke at least three or four of our golden rules – I can’t remember exactly which ones.
But I do remember our feelings of incredulity and indignation when the Cadbury clients said “Why aren’t you writing scripts like this?”
Had the Quality Street film aired, say, a month into the second album creative development process I think we’d have been ok. Common sense would have prevailed. The rule book would have been torn up and thrown away. We’d surely have cracked it.
As it was it was the straw that didn’t quite break the camel’s back, but did give it a slipped disc.
There were crisis meetings.
An uncharacteristically cowed BBH went back to the drawing board and finally delivered a second ad. A poor imitation of the first.
So poor that I can’t even remember what it was, and nor can the combined might of Google/YouTube.
Imitation of prior success is not the way to develop a campaign.
Imitations in advertising are almost always poor.
By all means package campaign ideas.
But don’t package executional detail.
What looks like a recipe for success is actually a recipe for poor imitation and heartache.
If you like this, you might also like this, about minimum viable brand frameworks.