Don't forget the basics of advertising

What worked in the past often still works, but is the industry in danger of losing experience and understanding of advertising?

In the Advertising Association’s new booklet (free with this week’s issue of Campaign – so, if someone’s nicked yours, you need to wrest it back pronto), advertising’s big thinkers address advertising’s big questions.

Somewhere in there, you’ll find rationale for the results of the annual Adwatch of the Year charts. Let me summarise: if you’re looking for an easy formula for standout advertising, get yourself a cute animal, a brand mascot or a well-known celebrity.

No surprise, then, that Grey’s work for McVitie’s, starring a kindle of kittens, is the nation’s favourite TV ad. Yeah, yeah, Grey deployed some clever neuroscience to test the formula but, heck, most of us are pretty simple souls and any casual research on YouTube could have told you that it’s hard to go wrong with a kitty.

Then there’s silly.’s epic dance-off was the year’s most memorable ad, pipping, Halifax and Jeremy Clarkson (for Amazon Fire). If you need a scientific reason why (meer)cats or bears or epic strutters or celebs hit a nerve, read Paul Feldwick’s essay in the AA booklet. Apparently, it’s because they are enjoyable or make us laugh or feel good or they’re famous and we like them. And if we laugh or feel good, then this colours our overall feeling about the brand.

Feldwick refers us to Byron Sharp’s view that all that advertising does is increase "mental availability" for a brand. And all that the creative execution needs to achieve is to create and maintain distinctive "brand assets" (characters, imagery, design, jingles, slogans etc) uniquely linked to the brand, and keep them top of mind.

Of course, it’s not really quite that simple. But nor is it always as complicated as our industry – drunk on data and tools – often likes to suggest. People liked cute and funny and famous 50 years ago (before big data, the internet and kit that monitors brain patterns), and they like them today. Some things never change. What worked in the past often still works. But the Advertising Association worries that the industry is in danger of losing experience and understanding of what advertising is and how it works.

As Campaign has been writing over the past few weeks, that’s easily done when so few over-45s survive in agencies or marketing departments. Sir John Hegarty told us "we’ve lost that sense of where we’ve come from and understanding how to go forward", adding that "our industry overly worships at the altar of youth".

So in case we forget some of those basics of advertising, the AA’s booklet is now at hand.

At the end of a year of political upheaval that has exposed a disconnect between our industry and the people it’s marketing to, a reminder of advertising’s fundamentals seems appropriate.

Claire Beale is global editor-in-chief of Campaign.      

Subscribe today for just $116 a year

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free