Ed McCabe wrote ads, he sold things.

In the days before planners, when creatives could think.

He worked out what the product was, what the market was, what the problem was, and he solved it.

But the solution doesn’t work if the ads are invisible.

So Ed made sure his ads were in the 4% of ads that get remembered positively by consumers.

The one out of 20.

He did this by the lost art of thinking.

Ed had a motto “You can’t do anything until you know everything”.

The answer is always in one of two places: either the product or the consumer.

So Ed would find out about everything about those two things.

Like the time Frank Perdue gave Ed his account.

Chickens were a commodity product, there were no brands.

Just supermarket chiller-cabinets full of chickens.

To grow Perdue as a brand, Ed’s job was to take market-share.

So he needed something that couldn’t be copied.

Something that would make Perdue unique.

Frank Perdue was constantly talking about the quality of his chickens.

What they ate, how they were kept, how they were packed, why they were plumper, why they were all-round better.

And the more he talked the more he reminded Ed of a chicken.

So Ed made Frank Perdue the spokesman in all the advertising.

And so began a series of hard-hitting, funny commercials.

Like this one:

(Frank Perdue straight to camera):

“Government standards would allow me to call this a Grade A chicken, but my standards wouldn’t.

This chicken is skinny, it’s got scrapes, it’s got hairs.

The fact is, my graders reject 30% of the chickens government graders accept as Grade A.

That’s why it pays to insist on a chicken with my name on it.

If you’re not completely satisfied, write to me and I’ll give you your money back.

Who do you write to in Washington?

What do they know about chickens?”

(Cut to pack shot and VO):

“Perdue: It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.”

After just one year sales more than doubled.

Perdue became the first branded chicken in America.

And “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken” became one of the most famous straplines ever.

The advertising was so successful it ran for more than two decades.

Proof that hard-hitting product-based advertising is not incompatible with building a brand.

Quite the reverse.

Having a great product and talking about it can build a great brand.

Because product is what you say. Brand is how you say it.

  • Flow Bo

    “Product is what you say. Brand is how you say it.” … and “Planning is why you say it.”
    … is what I would dare to add.
    Great post.
    As always, mister Trott.
    Thank you.

  • paul c-c

    What a legend McCabe.

    ‘In the days before planners, when creatives could think’ & ‘4% of ads that get remembered positively by consumers.The one out of 20′, says it all for me.

  • Dave Trott

    As Bill Bernbach said: “If no one notices your advertising, everything else is academic”

  • paul c-c

    So true Dave. I wonder if to win in Cannes, irrespective of category, you have to meet the ‘4% rule’ – no 4%, no gong

    • Dave Trott

      Cannes is summed up for me by something a creative director at a ‘big bad’ agency said to me years ago.
      He asked me if I’d noticed how the standards had fallen in recent years.
      I never go to Cannes, so I said no.
      He said “I mean they’re using CANNED peaches in the Bellinis. Shocking.”
      That always summed up Cannes for me.

  • David Lucas

    Good stuff, Dave. Well chosen examples and well written. It’s wonderful to see the inside of the past and those who made the glory days, the glory days. You couldn’t pick a better ad guy than Ed McCabe. High minded, deep thinking, radical researcher, with an ego to match any competitor head on and face to face. Our favorite Bulldog! My friend to this day. I love Ed. We all do. Thanks for placing him where he deserves to be and reminding us of the brilliance that once reigned supreme in American advertising. With gratitude… David Lucas (Composer) Ad man!

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