What makes good advertising work?

Why does this television ad for the TC bank from Taiwan work as well as it does? The TV commercial, called Dream Rangers, is based on a touching true story of five elderly Taiwanese friends. Please watch it – but fair warning: get out your hankies.

To help answer this question, let’s look at how Bob Garfield once reviewed the Top 100 Ads of the 20th Century for Advertising Age, observing that ads could qualify for this exclusive list in one of three ways: 

1) If the ad was a watershed, discernibly changing the culture of advertising or the popular culture as a whole.

“The early Volkswagen ads (‘Think Small’) work clearly met this standard. So did the Avis campaign, which dared, heretically, to boast about ‘We Try Harder!’ Number -2-ness.

“Of such boldness, legends are made. Another was the Jordan Motor Car Co., famously – albeit counterintuitively –  targeting women for motorcar purchases with its print ad titled ‘Somewhere West of Laramie’. Woodbury soap, which had been marketed for years for its medicinal properties, turned its attention on the user. Helen Lansdowne Resor’s headline ‘A skin you love to touch’, in implying a romantic advantage, may have been the first triumph for sex in advertising.

“Four decades later, Clairol turned its category upside down by doing more or less the same thing. ‘Does she. . . or doesn’t she?‘ was a tantalizing question in the midst of the simultaneous sexual revolution, even if the ostensible answer was about hair coloring: ‘Only her hairdresser knows for sure.’

“And in yet a more aggressive double entendre, Calvin Klein scandalized viewers with the first foray into ‘shockvertising’: Brooke Shields, all of 15 years old, lying on her back in tight blue jeans, cooing ‘Nothing comes between me and my Calvins.’ Klein’s much-imitated scheme of generating outrage to generate publicity to generate consumer buzz has altered the advertising landscape, mainly for the worse, probably forever.

2) If the ad itself was credited with creating a category, or if by its efforts a brand became entrenched in its category as Number 1.

“Before the DeBeers mining syndicate informed us ‘A Diamond is Forever‘,   associating itself with eternal romance, the diamond solitaire as the standard token of betrothal did not exist. Now, thanks to the simple audacity of the advertising proposition, the diamond engagement ring is de rigueur virtually worldwide, and the diamond by far the precious gemstone of choice.

“By the same token, the overnight package industry barely existed before Federal Express vowed to deliver ‘Absolutely, Positively Overnight’. Miller Lite‘s ‘Tastes Great, Less Filling’ claim took a single beer brand and transformed it into an industrywide segment now on track to overtake the tastes-better, more-filling premiums.  Absolut Vodka achieved what Stolichnaya could never do: establish a burgeoning marketplace for premium vodkas. It was a neat trick for a product that is by law and by its very nature a flavorless commodity.

3) If it was simply unforgettable.

“Consider, for instance, the granddaddy of all jingles:

“Pepsi-Cola hits the spot
12 full ounces, that’s a lot!
Twice as much for a nickel, too.
Pepsi-Cola is the drink for you!”

“In 1949, that little number played 296,426 times on 469 radio stations – not counting jukebox play, where it was also a favorite. The Pepsi jingle embedded itself not so much in the nation’s psyche as in its very nerve endings, or – depending on your viewpoint – a case of shingles.

“Periodically a campaign comes along that not only captures the public’s imagination, but penetrates the vernacular. Wendy’s hamburgers’ ‘Where’s the Beef?‘ was on the lips of an entire generation, including at least one U.S. presidential candidate. A succession of Alka-Seltzer campaigns, from a succession of agencies, achieved the same – effervescently and hilariously – for two decades. Plop plop, fizz fizz, oh, how memorable advertising sometimes is. . .   Smokey Bear has been in hibernation for years, but thanks to him everyone knows what, precisely, only you can prevent.

“Every Baby Boomer knows where M&Ms do and do not melt. Everyone knows what is 99 44/100ths per cent pure. (Hint: it is not the advertising industry.) Everyone knows what is “Mmm, mmm, good.”  

© Advertising Age

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I think I’d take the Taiwanese TC Bank TV commercial featured in our first paragraph here and place it in that third category.  Watch it again and see if you agree.

Simply unforgettable.

See also: “Falling In Love in Six Acts” – the best ad campaign ever

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