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What good is outrage

Recently, Steve Henry and I separately wrote that creatives naturally enjoy getting into trouble, and that’s a good thing.

In our terms, trouble means creating controversy. Controversy means people will take sides. Which means discussion and debate and consequently free media.

I gave some examples of this, and how well it had worked. Then Tod Norman wrote in to say that all the examples I had given “had generated no income.”

He went on to say that this “proves that outrage engages, but does not create profit.”

I think that’s an interesting point, and worth debating. Outrage for its own sake isn’t what we do. Everything we do must have an objective purpose. Otherwise it’s merely decorative, not functional.

It didn’t occur to me to at the time to choose examples that had generated profit. I see the job of the creatives as maximising the effect of the spend.

Our job is to deliver the strategy as loudly and memorably as possible. So that we generate many times more media than we’re paying for. But it did make me think.

Did any of the examples I gave actually generate income? Well LWT certainly.

We didn’t even have the actual LWT account. Just the trade budget that they usually spent in Campaign and Marketing.

Mike Gold persuaded them to put it on 48 sheet posters and run them next to ad agencies.

The controversial campaign caused outrage, and won lots of awards. Normally this wouldn’t matter. But in this case it got LWT talked about inside agencies much more.

Which got it on the media department’s radar. Which caused advertising spend to shift from their rival, Thames TV.

So yes, outrage generated profit. The Cadbury’s campaign I mentioned worked well, too. Crème Eggs were only available between Christmas and Easter. Stock that wasn’t sold hung around until next year. By which time they didn’t look so appetising. So we had to get people buying them at times other than Easter.

Planning told us everyone had an individual way of eating Creme Eggs. So we found a way to make and run six 48 sheet posters for the price of one. This meant we could run a campaign with cheeky rhymes like, ‘Give It A Suck, Chuck’, ‘Stick It in Your Gob, Bob’, ‘Give It a Lick, Mick’.

They got into the language and made the product more current. So much so, that you can now buy Crème Eggs all year round. Another time controversy was good for Cadburys was the Flake ad that. Gordon Smith and Dave Waters made.

A skimpily dressed girl was perspiring and sensuously eating a Flake, while a lizard clambered over a ringing phone.

It was so erotic, even Spitting Image lampooned it. They showed a man entering a porn shop and asking for ‘something really hard core”. He’s offered some magazines like ‘Screw’ and ‘Hustler’.

He says, “No, something really hard core, like the new Cadburys Flake ad.”

They throw him out of the porn shop in disgust. Dominic Cadbury, was so outraged, he wanted to pull it straight away. (The ad that is.)

Then the marketing department explained to him that they’d had to turn another product line over to making Flakes. Just to satisfy demand.

Another instance would be the Saatchi gallery in North London. There was a photographic exhibition of snapshots of a family. It was innocuous, not to say dull, and not many people went to it.

Then someone (we can speculate who) called the police to complain that the children were naked in some of the photographs. The police closed the exhibition down.

Immediately many media celebrities (we can speculate who prompted them) protested this infringement of the artist’s creative rights.

The police were forced to reopen the exhibition. And hundreds of people came to see what all the fuss was about. It was one of the most successful exhibits in the gallery’s history.

And that’s a gallery you had to pay several quid to enter. For another example, ask Steve Henry about Tango’s advertising. Tango was a moribund orange drink when his agency got the account.

HHCL’s first commercial showed a little fat orange man slapping someone’s ears with both hands. Newspapers carried stories that parents and schools were outraged at the damage done to children’s ears. Tango seemed anti-establishment and even rebellious. Sales went through the roof.

Another example would be London Docklands advertising. They were going nowhere as a development site. They were being made to look really bad by Milton Keynes’ advertising.

Their commercials showed beautiful fields, cows, trees, and happy families. They made Docklands look gritty and urban.

We figured we’d reposition Milton Keynes as the place to play. And show London Docklands as the place to work.

So we ran a campaign for London Docklands with the line, “Why move to the middle of nowhere, when you can move to the middle of London?”

The Environment Minister and a group of 11 MPs were so outraged they tried to ban the advertising. They failed because the ads were shot and the media already paid for. The ads ran, and London Docklands now has the tallest buildings in Europe.

And Milton Keynes still has fields, cows, and trees.

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