A good idea is a good idea, and, in my opinion, good ideas tend to be based off of good insights. As I have discussed on this website, often this insight is tied to “the benefit of the benefit,” that insightful truth about not what the product does for you, but about what the product’s doing what it does ends up doing for you.
You can read that post, with good examples of ads, here.
Well, sometimes, great advertising ideas are not expressed in ads at all. This falls into a loose terminology that changes from agency to agency. The old term (late 90s, early aughties) was “guerilla,” and some places loosely conflate this (often wrongly) with “digital.” Other terms I have heard creative directors, planners and more use: “other shit,” “not ads,” or “I don’t know, like, something else…” Or just “ideas.”
The kings of this style, for a while, were the folks at Crispin Porter + Bogusky in the late 90s through the aughties. As an agency, they re-defined what the advertising award shows considered to be awardable for clients like Mini Cooper, VW, Burger King and many, many others.
My personal favorite of Crispin’s was a series of video game for Burger King, sold exclusively at Burger King around the holidays.
Crispin had a terrific insight here: 1. Their customers were young dudes; 2. young dudes forget to go Christmas shopping; 3. young dudes don’t have money; and 4. when young dudes do have money, they are going to spend it at Burger King. So Crispin developed 3 videos games (one of which was supposed to be really fun) and sold them at Burger King. They cost $3.99 with a burger, but were later sold online for much more.
A pretty awesome way to bring “have it your way” (y’know, with a video game!) to life. But it certainly wasn’t their most famous.
The most glaring and memorable of all Crispin’s efforts was arguably Subservient Chicken for Burger King. This was both (truly) digital at a time when most agencies weren’t, as well as brilliant, groundbreaking and “not an ad.” It was so popular, ten years later, they brought it back.
The idea was a simple digital extension of the brand’s tagline, “Have it Your Way.” Essentially, a full-grown man, in a chicken suit, did whatever you told him to, from flapping to perversions. Fun, entertaining, shareable, memorable, and (arguably) on brand (though not very appetizing).
Seems crazy now, but when this came out a little over ten years ago, the ad industry didn’t know what to do with themselves. Which seems odd, as people had been doing it for more than a century before – a fact that even agency creative leader Andrew Keller pointed out.
In fact, this was such a part of Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners’ (now KBSP) model, they wrote a book about it called Under the Radar. They even nodded to one of their famous “guerilla” (actually merits the term in this case) pieces on the cover.
The piece they are referring to that I am now referring to was an ad for a New York lingerie store. Having no money to spend on media, the story goes that Richard and Jon created a staple and spray painted a message on New York City sidewalks. The message was, “From down here, it looks like you could use some new underwear.”
A brilliant way to address women – by upskirting them with a message. They got in trouble, but the store got tons of PR and so did Richard and Jon.
Kirshenbaum also advertised Snapple on fruit in grocery stores when the brand was a fledgling start-up.
But it goes way, way back. Two of my favorite examples are over a century old, but really demonstrate an insightful discovery of the “benefit of the benefit” of products.
The first is Guinness, the Irish Stout. Guinness figured, we’re a brand that people come together to celebrate and share over. So when Guinness heard that men frequently got in bar fights over sports legend facts and records, they decided to do something about it.
They put out a book to stop bar arguments and fights. A definitive end to trivial squabbling that could lead to fisticuffs (and fewer patrons drinking stout.) Here’s the book:
The Guinness Book of Records went on to become the Guinness Book of World Records, spawned it’s own museums and culture and more. And it’s all based on a perfectly valid brand insight: men argue over trivial crap while drinking. So, if Guinness stops bar fights, they keep drinking Guinness.
My other old favorite is from the French tire company, Michelin. In 1900, Michelin came to a fairly obvious epiphany: if French people drove more, they’d buy more tires. (In my class I always say, “advertising – it ain’t brain surgery.”) The trouble was, you had an agrarian and metropolitan economy that didn’t have a reason to travel. So Michelin distributed a travel tool:
The first Michelin Guide ensured French people that they could travel – it gave them maps and locations of fuel stations and hotels.
But the real genius was added in 1926, when they added the Michelin Restaurant Star system. Here is the actual copy, explaining the significance each of the three stars:
: Une très bonne table dans sa catégorie (A very good restaurant in its category
: Table excellente, mérite un détour (Excellent cooking, worth a detour)
: Une des meilleures tables, vaut le voyage (Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey)
What does Michelin need people to do? Drive. What do French people love to do? Eat. Therefore, the benefit of tires is you get to drive. The benefit of the benefit is you get to eat very, very well.
The Michelin Star System, like the Guinness World Records, has transcended the brand. It is the premiere rating system for restaurants in much of the 1st world. And it started as an ad. An ad that was, well, not an ad.