The Ads in the Attic

It seems that my past work falls into two categories:
the ads I remember doing, and those I don’t.

Every year, at the end of autumn, I clamber onto the roof of my house and remove the leaves that clog up the rainwater drainage system. Don’t worry. It’s not as dangerous as it sounds. My house has what is known as a ‘valley roof’. I can get onto the roof by climbing a ladder into the attic and then squeezing through a hatch. As I poked my head into the attic recently I found my way impeded by two large pieces of laminate. I tossed them aside, but not before noticing that they were samples of two ads that I’d done.

 Having cleared the leaves, I took stock of the laminates. One was an ad for Colman’s Mustard that I’d forgotten all about; the other, for Olympus Cameras, I remember well. But let’s look at the Colman’s ad first. In many ways, it’s a classic Collett, Dickenson and Pearce ad of the time, using only three elements: the headline, the picture and the copy. It’s a hoary old cliché, but I honestly believe this ad could run now, in 2013, without a single change being made. To borrow the famous Hovis end line, it’s as good today as it’s always been.

The ads from the attic. Apologies for the poor quality. Laminates never photograph well, especially by me.

The ads from the attic. Apologies for the poor quality. Laminates never photograph well, especially by me.

To begin with, we were equally at a loss as what to do. The picture, obviously, was a given: a pretty straightforward photo of Sellers holding an Olympus camera. So the only creative option open to us was to write a headline. Not as easy as it sounds when you can’t concoct your own visual idea to accompany it.

For a day or two we struggled until we remembered an ad that Doyle Dane Bernbach had done in the sixties for the Volkswagen Station Wagon. It showed a large, eccentrically shaped object, wrapped in brown paper, poking out through the sunroof. The headline asked ‘What is it?’  The copy went on to say ‘Glad you asked. It’s a Volkswagen Station Wagon’. It isn’t until the last line of the copy that we learn what really intrigues us – the contents of the large parcel. It turns out that amongst many other things, the parcel provides the wrapping for a full-size reproduction of The Winged Victory of Samothrace.

Doyle Dane's Winged Victory of Samothrace ad.

Doyle Dane’s Winged Victory of Samothrace ad.

That was it, just what we needed for our Olympus ad. Peter Sellers’s face was so well known that we reckoned we could ambush the readers of our ad using a similar approach to the VW ad. In no time at all, we came up with the headline ‘No prizes for guessing the name’. Our copy went on to say, ‘I don’t suppose you were fooled for a moment. You knew straight away I was holding an Olympus OM1’. Job done. We booked lunch.

Were we plagiarising? Up to a point I suppose we were. But I don’t think anybody noticed. And even today I look at this Olympus ad and still like it. But if you don’t, or are offended by plagiarism no matter how well disguised, or both, please have a go at writing a headline yourself. Send your suggestions via the contact page of this website. To pinch two words from the existing headline, there are no prizes. Just the satisfaction you’ll get from writing the line. There’s no greater reward, believe me, than knowing you’ve created a terrific headline, especially when it’s better than the one that actually ran.

Copyright: Michael Everett 2013

About Mike Everett

I am a freelance creative director and writer of all forms of communication.

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