Home > blogging for Britain, marketing ramblings > Cut through versus content, part 1

Cut through versus content, part 1

As Bill Bernbach said, “If nobody notices your advertising, everything else is academic”.

You’d think that all advertising and marketing professionals would agree with such an obvious truism. The trouble is, Bill’s statement assumes that those marketing professionals want their advertising to be noticed. And that isn’t always the case. Sometimes, keeping your head down is less risky than sticking it above the parapet.

Over the years, I’ve worked with all sorts of clients. The majority want to do the job for which they’ve been hired; which, most often, is to increase sales or awareness for their brand. But some are scared to do anything different, or stand out from the crowd. For them, maintaining the status quo is good enough; taking a risk could see them lose their job. I’ve met others who are preoccupied with ensuring that their budget levels are maintained, and don’t care much what the money is spent on as long as it is spent.

Unfortunately, some agencies have a similar mindset. Taking a risk might lead to success, but equally, it could see them getting fired. And it’s that culture of fear that leads to us ignoring the majority of the marketing messages we see.

In some categories, getting noticed isn’t optional – it’s mandatory. Comparison websites offer pretty much the same service and live or die by their market share. It’s why Compare the Market, Go Compare, Confused.com and their ilk all began by creating ads that hammered home their name, regardless of how irritating the resulting commercials were. The only way they could guarantee getting noticed was to annoy the hell out of the audience.

But this approach is unsustainable. It, too, is based on fear. Because anyone can get noticed. The man with a megaphone shouting about Jesus at Oxford Circus tube every night is proof of that. But I’m not sure anyone’s listening to his message; mainly, they want him to shut up. The trick is to say something in a way that makes people want to listen.

To get noticed and do something people like is the hardest challenge in advertising. Which is why Brian the Robot and the Meerkat campaign deserve applause: they combine cut through with interesting, and, depending on your point of view, likeable content.

That brings me on to Moneysupermarket. For years, they have thrown the kitchen sink at their TV ads (both in terms of their budget and ideas) to try and do both. And I haven’t really liked any of them. Well, maybe one. Then I saw this, in a room full of people:

It made me flinch. I don’t think I’ve seen a less likeable ad for a while. At some stage – on paper, on the storyboard, maybe even on the shoot – it might have seemed like a good idea. But the people I was with hated it; it made a couple turn away from the screen. Witless, devoid of charm, objectionable to look at and missing the boat by several months as far as relevance is concerned.

And it occurred to me that maybe they weren’t trying to make something people liked, but simply to make something that got noticed. Maybe I’d been giving them the benefit of the doubt. I didn’t like their previous ad very much either.

That’s why the best ads – and advertisers – understand that Bill Bernbach’s famous statement isn’t an end in itself. It is still surely encumbent on us (advertisers and clients) to create ads that don’t offend or antagonise people unnecessarily, something that I would suggest this ad does. Using Sharon Osbourne (deployed in a witless, charmless way that encapsulates everything wrong with the ad) is the giveaway here.

Postscript: According to the YouTube comments underneath the ad, lots of people love it. “It’s better than anything else on TV… if only all advertising was this good.” I haven’t been this depressed since reading the some of the comments on Twitter about the Sun banning/ not banning page 3.

There’s another well worn epithet: give the people what they want. As advertisers, it’s our job to connect with our audience, but sometimes you have to exercise your judgment too. After all, lots of people like page 3…


  1. January 22, 2015 at 3:21 pm

    I also flinched when I saw it. Un-f-ing-believable. The gall. So we all want to be freaks?! I don’t think so! This ad reeks of desperation, which speaks volumes about those responsible. At least the elephant ad has it’s moments. The kid saying, ‘Graeme, you’re so money supermarket’ I found surprisingly delightful – in an otherwise annoying, attention-grabbing and gimmicky advert

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: