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Emergency analogy overkill

20 Apr 2020  |  Dominic Mills 
Emergency analogy overkill

From newsbrands to advertisers, there seems to be a lot of competition for the title of fourth emergency service, muses Dominic Mills. Plus: are jingles due a comeback?

It is probably no exaggeration to say that newsbrands are in crisis, and some may even be in intensive care or on life support. But not all: those with subscription or alternative funding models are in better shape than those wholly or mostly reliant on advertising.

Nevertheless, anyone who cares about the future of newsbrands should take some comfort from two things. One, the response from government and the likes of ISBA to Newsworks’ call for advertisers to stop using blocklists linked to coronavirus.

Second, the government’s decision to put its money where its mouth is by spending a large part of its coronavirus media budget in print and newsbrands’ online properties.

This was highlighted by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden’s use of a colourful analogy to describe newsbrands. They were, he said, “the fourth emergency service”.

While Dowden’s Spads no doubt high-fived each other over Zoom for coming up with such a clever line, there will be a large cohort of ad industry folk having a wry chuckle. “Fourth Emergency Service” was of course Howell Henry’s brilliant insight, parlayed into an endline, for the AA in the late 90s.

Of course it was a claim too far — Mountain Rescue or the RNLI might equally have a claim to the title, but not the ad budgets to make it stick — but as with Howell Henry’s line for Ronseal, it became part of the vernacular. I once heard a radio quiz where a listener was asked to name the three emergency services. He began confidently: “Police…ambulance…” and then had a brain freeze… "er…er…argh…the AA.”

And while I feel there is a kernel of truth in describing newsbrands as providing emergency services in the current climate — although there will be many in government who don’t feel that way after yesterday’s forensic portrayal by the Sunday Times of its dithering and incompetence — there seems to be a lot of competition for the title of fourth emergency service.

Just Google 'fourth emergency service' and you will find other challengers: schools, childcare, care home workers, mental health workers and so on. And we could all add our own candidates for fourth, fifth, sixth.

Indeed, someone said to me last week, only half in joke, that Birds Eye’s latest ad, 'What’s for Tea' (below), was positioning the brand as the fifth emergency service, dealing in “reassurance”.

I have some sympathy with Birds Eye, and it should be applauded for keeping its advertising going. It’s relevant too; if you’re not going to stock up on frozen foods now, when are you?

But I fear an overkill of emergency service type claims when what advertisers really mean to show is how useful they can be.

As for newsbrands, I think it’s better to see them as playing a ‘national service’ rather than an emergency service. And when the lockdown is lifted, and the press leads the inquest into PPE shortages, testing shortfalls and the absence of a plan, they really will be performing a national service.

We should all do our bit to keep them healthy enough to allow them to perform that task.

The jingle and the discipline

As promised, last week’s look at sonic branding prompted me to think about jingles or, more precisely, the almost total lack of them in current work.

Now that Gio Compario is giving his vocal cords a break, I can only think of one, Just Eat, which is really a jingle on steroids seeing as the whole ad is essentially a sing-along.

In no particular order, here are some blasts from the past…

Wall’s Cornetto, which is so powerful that some people even think “Just One Cornetto” inspired “O Sole Mio”.

Mars bar, although in today’s more health-conscious climate the so-called nutrition benefits are laughable.

Heinz Baked Beanz. No explanation needed and so enduring Heinz produced some limited edition tins labelled thus for the product’s 50th anniversary.

Smash. Everybody loves the Martians but a lot of people forget the three-chord jingle at the end.

Smith’s crisps singing potatoes. I loved it at the time but now I come to think of it, it owes a large debt to Smash.

Chicken Tonight. Did an ad jingle really inspire a nation to do that ridiculous dance? Here’s one for Arsenal fans only featuring Ian Wright.

Fairy Liquid, which is actually excruciating to watch and an anachronism too far, but a reminder of how patronising some advertising could be.

It still stuck in the brain though and that’s the magic. Just sing the jingle and you know the brand, and vice versa.

Of course, none of these jingles are remotely sophisticated, which is one reason they have fallen out of fashion. And as with Go Compare, they suggest the hard sell.

These days no self-respecting CMO wants to be seen as either unsophisticated or promoting a hard-sell. Barry Manilow started as a jingle writer and singer, which may also be an explanation.

And anyway, why bother with a jingle when it’s easier and quicker — and way cooler — to licence a bona fide hit from a rapper or R&B star everyone’s heard of. They’re as keen on a bit of brand-endorsed publicity as the brand is to rub shoulders with a star.

And I wonder if there’s another reason they’ve gone out of fashion. A good jingle has just one message to convey. It’s one-dimensional, and that is its strength. That core message is, or used to be, the essential discipline of advertising.

But we live in a multi-dimensional world these days, with multiple ways to reach the consumer which is why, when you watch ads these days, it’s hard to discern the single most important message.

But the jingle, even if it sounds cheesy and outdated today, is a discipline that forces that single-mindedness. Maybe it’s time to bring it back.

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ChrisMundy, Chief Exec, RSMB on 27 Apr 2020
“As a kid LBC was always on in our house and I can remember 40 years later the jingles for London Car Telephones (beep beep london car teeeeeeelephones), Houndsditch warehouse and interseal 2000 (961-2000 is the number you should call).”

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