Monday, May 26, 2008

Follow the Bear

His name is always mentioned in advertising creative circles, but as one of the most inspirational figures to me in advertising I think its time to put a Planning mark of respect out there for John Webster.

Not only did he create brilliant ads that captured people's imaginations, he made them work. He got the planning message across, he got the sales message across, but did it in such a way that you never felt like a salesman was shouting at you.

He was one of the first creatives to really listen to planning. To really listen to what they said, and to consider what people liked to watch in the same way as early planners did.

At JWT we talk about making people want to spend time with brands, well no creative ever did that better than John Webster. 6 of the top 100 UK ads of all time are his (that I know of), including the regular number 1 and 2 slot filler.

I talk a lot about how good brand characters can work brilliantly, and if you look at Webster's work; it's full of great characters that work both as message vehicles, but also as engaging entertainment. What was different about Webster was that he created full back stories for every character, they weren't just there for the ads, and that made them feel infinitely more real and likeable.

Take the first Hofmeister Bear ad, it literally tells you the story of the character.

Webster is quoted in Sam Delaney's book Get Smashed "Increasingly, people were using celebrities. Famously CDP had used Leonard Rossiter for their Cinzano campaign. I'd heard that most people in research thought their ads were for Martini so I realised that a celebrity could be a distraction from the product. But if we invented our own characters then we could own them. Plus, they wouldn't age and they'd be a great deal cheaper too"

Sugar Puffs eventually published a full biography of the Honey Monster, written by Webster.

Webster also said "With all the characters I invented I liked to imagine where they had come from and what their upbringing was like so that they'd be real, rounded characters as opposed to flimsy advertising mascots."

With the internet a sense of honesty and realism is more important than ever before in brands, and these rounded likeable characters have been rediscovered by older generations via You Tube. After 20-30 years they still remember them, possibly better than they remember the products themselves...


Age said...

Living in Australia I've never seen this ad, but damn, that's awesome!

Anonymous said...

Imagine never have followed the bear before?

speed* said...

sorry for being difficult but would you rather remember the character or the brand? the trouble with characters is that they can easily embody different values to the brand - especially when it is a celebrity rather than a character made up from ink & paper.

Rob Mortimer (aka Famous Rob) said...

Age: It seems dated, but then you watch other ads from the same era and actually its not too much.

Northern: ?

Speed: Thats right. Which is why celebs can be dangerous. Sainsburys got it right with Jamie Oliver but so many have got it badly wrong.

That said, it doesn't matter if more people remember the character than the brand, as long as more people know the brand than beforehand.

Bear in mind Hofmeister was one of the spate of early 80s lagers that had no taste to them at all, they were basically watered down lagers to be served as pints (beforehand lager was stronger but served smaller). There were about 5 products all pretty much identical. So a character was a great way to differentiate when nothing else about the product did.