John Singleton, These Thoughts are Genuine (Kensington, NSW: Blake & Batcheler, 1971), pp. 41-44.
I write for Advertising News under the stipulation that I do not publicise our work for our clients.
Today I am going to break that rule to example the small, rear-vision-mirror thinking that may well prevent our industry moving into the 1970’s as fast as our consumers.
You see there is a simple fact of life: effective advertising does not move people’s thoughts; rather it reflects them.
And most significant contributions to the advertising craft have done just that.
It is a feeling thing.
Research can verify the feeling. Or reject it. Or even suggest it. But, I repeat, the initiation is a feeling thing.
People change and the effective advertiser senses the change and capitalises upon it.
In 1919 James Webb Young wrote an advertisement for Odorono deodorant.
The headline read: “Within the curve of a woman’s arm.” The ad first ran in the Ladies Home Journal and 200 readers cancelled their subscription.
The magazine itself, in the words of Young, “begged us to stop the copy. Several women who learned that I had written this advertisement said they would never speak to me again. That it was disgusting and an ‘insult to women’.”
But James Webb Young sensed the mood of the day while his critics stayed in yesterday and Odorono sales increased 112 per cent the first year his campaign ran.
In James Laver’s book on Victorian advertisements he demonstrated how effective advertisers of that day were able to sense how highly the consumer held nature and religion.
Bovril associated the infallibility of their cure with none other than the Pope himself.
In those days also it was the advertiser who first showed women in, get ready for it, underwear.
And this many, many years before women were ever shown in this daring pose in editorial magazines or even on film.
Even as recently as the 1950’s the now famous Clairol campaign “Does she or doesn’t she?” was rejected by major U.S. media.
It was “tasteless” people claimed. It was “suggestive.”
It also made Clairol number one and today the morals of ladies with dyed hair are pretty well accepted as par for the course.
And so we come to 1970 in enlightened, bi-centenary Australia.
Now one of our clients happens to be a discount house. And I happen to know that to many advertising people the fact that an agency handles such business, or the used-car business, or the real-estate business is looked upon with jaundiced eye.
These clients are not what are commonly known as “prestige” accounts.
I, perhaps a little cynically, define that as meaning they are the type of account where you can get found out.
You run the commercial today and the people buy it next day or you’ve got a bomb on your hands.
It is a little hard to discuss attitude-shifts and rating-points and computer-media-selection with a retailer who just spent twenty grand and didn’t sell a car all weekend.
I can understand most advertising people avoiding clients where results are immediately accountable.
And I accept the pleas that such accounts are unprofitable.
In fact I encourage the attitude because it is making us rich.
But I do question the right of those people to set themselves up as judges of what is right and what is wrong for the consumer as though they are some great St. Peter of the communications industry.
As I mentioned, we have a client in N.S.W., who runs a chain of discount stores.
It is a big chain with a turnover in excess of $15 million (today over $25 million) and a profit record which I suggest would better any advertising agency in Australia.
It is run by people who have a reputation which would be envied in any industry.
They are also virtually unknown.
They are also faced with a situation where hustlers within the discount industry have besmirched the reputation of all discounters.
Norman Ross does not seek to out-gimmick the gimmick merchants. All it seeks is recognition as stockists of nationally advertised brands at prices as good or better than anywhere else.
It even seeks to use it co-operative moneys as just that. It seeks to use the contribution from the manufacturers to extol the nationally advertised benefit of the product. To gain credibility for this simple objective we sought a personality whose reputation was beyond, absolutely beyond reproach.
We drew up a list of 12 such personalities and one of these was the Reverend Barrie Howard.
For those of you who may not know Rev. Howard is an ordained Methodist Minister who for the past five years has been Superintendent of the tough West Sydney Mission in the Glebe-Rozelle-Balmain area. His appointment ceased 31/12/69.
After five years in the mission Rev. Howard found that it was just impossible for him to get enough funds to get enough trained manpower to do his job properly. And he decided, at the end of 1969, to temporarily stand down as a Minister without Pastoral charge and work full time towards earning realistic funds to provide manpower for the Mission work of all churches throughout Australia.
One of the things he is doing is the Norman Ross TV commercials. He doesn’t gimmick, or price-off, or any of the usual trappings.
He simply states the availability of nationally advertised products, states their nationally advertised benefit and suggests that Norman Ross is as good a place as any to buy the stuff.
The commercials were only undertaken after almost three months of negotiation where the Rev. Barrie Howard and his advisors checked not only the financial standing and integrity of the Norman Ross company but also stipulated a stringent set of ethics in dealing with the public, during and after purchase, to which Norman Ross happily subscribed.
Now let us for a moment return to the West Sydney Mission. Thirty children and teenagers are being helped by the Mission. They haven’t been forced to come. They want to come. They seek guidance. They seek a chance.
A 14-year-old girl twice aborted and pregnant again. A 15-year-old boy who regularly has intercourse with his mother and his four sisters. Who also has intercourse with his dog. Who has homosexual relations with a series of men.
This isn’t your kid living in some blown-up plastic advertising man’s house overlooking the water at Clontarf. These are kids that belong to the people who buy your client’s tomato sauce.
And you know the saddest bit: Another 150 kids who want help and want it badly are denied it because there isn’t enough money so there isn’t enough manpower.
So the Reverend Barrie Howard doesn’t sit around bemoaning the fact that there isn’t enough money to do the job.
He doesn’t sit on the end of a phone passing the plate and begging for a quid here and a quid there.
He gets out and does something about it. Not just these commercials but a number of enterprises. And every penny of profit of every enterprise goes towards the Foundation.
Now the point to all this is that the first night the commercials ran in Sydney, Channel 10 received 12 phone calls.
Unrequested, out-of-the-blue phone calls.
Eleven people rang just to say they thought it was nice to see a company earning a quid for a decent cause as well as for themselves.
And there was a solitary phone call from a righteous gentleman who felt it “as tasteless a way for a TV channel to earn money as he could possibly imagine.”
He was shocked. His wife was shocked. It was awful. It was dreadful.
We would probably all go to hell and jolly good riddance too.
It just so happens that this typical, unbiased, objective consumer is also the deputy managing director of the branch of a non-descript American agency.
No doubt he had his reasons for his call. The only negative call any channel running the commercials has received.
No doubt he was unaware that in the United States Bishop Fulton Sheen once did commercials for Admiral TV.
No doubt he is unaware that 150 kids in one Mission alone can’t be helped because there isn’t the money available to provide the trained people to help the kids.
Or perhaps he just finds it offensive, or maybe just perplexing, to see the church moving into the seventies before his own agency.
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