Old Spice or Charmin?

This I Know, is a book the advertising by industry veteran Terry O’Reilly. O’Reilly not only is one of the best storytellers out there, but his hilarious take on the advertising industry reveals a lot of secrets about great advertising, and what makes it successful.

In this first installment of our 3-part article, we will take a look at what makes an ad memorable and why Charmin has nothing on Old Spice when it comes to creativity.


What makes a memorable ad?

Think about a memorable ad that you’ve seen - any one of them will do - and now try to remember why it stands out in your memory, even years later. Chances are it was unlike any other ads of the time and perhaps even since.

The most memorable of these are funny, irreverent, sometimes downright outrageous (warning: NSFW - sound off), highly creative and often do not focus on the product or service offered, but rather how the offering makes the audience feel.


Old Spice does it right.

These ads usually fit two criteria: they are creative, often by employing humour and they manage to create a strong connection to the audience. The creativity enables the ad to stand out. By presenting the subject in an unexpected way, it commands the audience attention.

Take any of the Old Spice ads with Terry Crews, they are funny, nonsensical and talk less about the product than its supposed benefits for the user. Seeing Crews being a goofball is a treat in itself, but hearing in the subtext that Old Spice will somehow make me smell and look like him, makes me want to buy Old Spice, even though I would never in a million years buy a scented shower gel. It does so by connecting with the deepest desires and fears of their target: men. Indeed, who wouldn't want to smell, look cool and ripped? The creators of the ad went through the trouble of understanding their audience - empathizing with them - and used this knowledge to address their fears and desires.


Charmin does it wrong.

Conversely, take Charmin toilet paper ads for example, are for the most part safe, ultra-boring and speak to their audience like children. There is a reason we never remember any of them. They place the product firmly in the commodity box, where one roll of toilet paper is perceived as the same as any other roll of toilet paper.

As we’ve learned to tune them out after a lifetime of conditioning, they lose their effectiveness. They end up sounding condescending as they are the advertising equivalent of someone robotically repeating the same sentence over and over with no end in sight. I don't know about you, but I personally find pastel-colored bears irritating, insulting even. I am looking forward to the day where we see old-spice like TP adverts.

We’ve just looked at how effective advertising can be. In the next instalment, we will take a look at the power of creativity and risk-taking. Stay tuned!

What are some examples of bad ads that have stood out to you? Comment below to share your thoughts.