Icons are like aces. You hold on to them for as long as you can.
October 30, 2008
I was listening to an interview with famed art director, George Lois on AdAge.com. Among the many interesting things he said, one comment stood out. Lois was addressing the art of magazine covers, something he was famous for. The subject came around to which magazines he thought were doing covers right. Despite abhorring the New Yorker’s Barack & Michelle Obama cover for “unintentionally misleading a lot of dumb voters,” Lois spoke flatteringly of the magazine.
He recalled a recent conversation with its Editor-In-Chief, David Remnick. Remnick had asked him if maybe the New Yorker should move away from illustrated covers and explore photography. Aghast, Lois told him he’d better not. “You own the cartoon cover! Why on earth would you walk away from it?”
His comment stopped me because it reminded me of various examples in my career when some of my most famous clients wanted to walk away from the advertising campaigns that had made them so famous!
Heinz Ketchup (or do you say catsup?) for example. The iconic brand was seriously considering a departure from the “Anticipation” type advertising it had made for years. Who doesn’t remember the rework of Carly Simon’s huge hit? It turned the products biggest negative (takes too long to pour) into a monster benefit: slow equals best. With “Anticipation,” the brand’s eminence had reached its zenith.
And now Heinz wanted to change all that. They had some research saying teens were uninspired by the slow pour approach. Most of us at Burnett decried their passion for change. The debate became fear-driven. Do we walk away from what we know is the brand’s signature attribute or risk pissing off the client by sticking to our guns?
The solution became a gang-bang, in which all bases would be covered. Long story short, yours truly won this battle royal and, happily, Heinz stayed on point with a rework of the old cliché: Good Things Come to Those Who Wait. “Rooftop” was the signature spot in this campaign, and would get me my first Gold Lion at Cannes. It didn’t hurt Matt LeBlanc’s acting career either!
Ten years later, same agency, Maytag began questioning the efficacy of their long-running and beloved “Lonely Repairman.” They had research showing “dependability” was less relevant to today’s customer than style and performance.
Good God! I remember telling them that they could not create the Lonely Repairman today even if they wanted to. The message was too powerful. Implying their machines NEVER broke down would be illegal. That they wanted to move off this strategy was insane.
While mistakes were made, thankfully, Maytag held on to dependability and the Lonely Repairman.
We often talk about change in the ad game. With a new CMO comes change. With flat sales. With a new agency. Like in politics, change is always perceived as improvement.
But it’s not. Lois’s statement about the New Yorker is dead on. Hopefully, my examples are valid as well. How about you, Gentle Reader? Have you any examples to share?