This Campaign Shows the Power of Advertising
How a lousy ad killed a product and a good one took it to number one
We all know the power of advertising, right? You wouldn’t be reading a Better Marketing article unless you were interested in marketing and advertising.
Some commercials are great, most are OK, and some are downright terrible. But never have I seen an example of how much an advertisement can do for a brand than in the case of Strand Cigarettes. You haven’t heard of Strand? Well, there is a reason for that.
Their brand was killed by a commercial that missed the mark and then revived and rocketed to success under a new name and advertising strategy.
So join me in the time trip back to 1959 to look at the curious case of Strand Cigarettes. And how one ad can make or break a brand.
You’re Never Alone
Strand was a British brand of cigarettes launched by W.D. and H.O Wills in 1959. The company wanted to grab attention for their new product launch and as such, had a big budget set aside for TV and movie advertising. This was complemented with coupons in newspapers, and the company was confident of gaining immediate market share.
They enlisted the help of an advertising executive named John May to write and produce the advertisements. May wanted to give the impression that Strand was cool and mysterious like many of the characters in the popular film noir movies of the time.
The creative concept he devised was of a cold, dark, wet deserted London street. The main character, played by actor Terence Brook, wore a raincoat and portrayed a brooding Frank Sinatra type as he puffed away on a cigarette.
In the background was a lovely instrumental piece, “The Lonely Man Theme” by Cliff Adams, and it ended with the narrator saying.
“You’re never alone with a Strand. The cigarette of the moment.”
It was really well-made and executed and is worth watching below.
The commercial was popular as a piece of art. Brook soon became a star, and the instrumental song even made it to Number 39 on the U.K. Singles Chart.
You may think this would lead to a successful campaign.
While people enjoyed watching the ad, it failed to deliver the number one goal of the ad — sales. It was seen as a nice piece of entertainment — well made, well shot, and well produced. But what May had failed to realise was that he had associated Strand cigarettes with being lonely. The image of a man on a deserted street by himself didn’t inspire people to try the product. While the tagline said that you were never alone, the commercial showed something different.
Even the name — Strand — was associated with stranded or left behind. The unwanted outcome was that consumers subconsciously associated Strand with loneliness and unsociability. No one wanted to try the product. In fact, only 0.3% of male smokers and 0.7% of female smokers ever bought a pack of Strand cigarettes.
The ad failed due to one primary reason — emotion. Consumers most often buy on emotion, and the one associated with this product was loneliness. Much like drinking alone, no one wanted to smoke alone. May had well and truly missed the mark, focusing on creating a great piece of footage rather than one that would drive sales.
The advertisement and the product were both scrapped, though the album remained on sale.
A Rebrand and a Relaunch
W.D. & H.O. Wills didn’t want to give up and decided to rebrand Strand completely. It would be called Embassy. It was the exact same product under a new name and packaging.
This time they took a completely different route than the one taken by May. Instead of one guy on a deserted street, they went for a party atmosphere.
They had a new commercial produced, and this time the main character is at a party when he pulls out a pack of Embassy cigarettes. People swamp him, and the party starts pumping thanks to the popularity of this guy and his cigarettes. The Embassy man is the life and soul of the party.
It was a very different message and emotion, and unsurprisingly it worked. Embassy became the biggest selling cigarette in the United Kingdom in the 1960s.
Again it shows how emotion works for products. Popularity, friends, success, and fun were all conveyed, and people believed if they bought Embassy cigarettes that’s what they would experience.
It’s relatively simple. Emotion is what sells.
Too many advertisers attempt to be too creative or arty when they would be more successful if they stuck to the simple concept of using emotions that resonate with consumers.
The commercial did provide the inspiration for the music video for the David Bowie song “Absolute Beginners.” The video features the famous tagline “You’re never alone with a Strand” and uses footage from the film.
So while the brand failed and is now ensconced in the Marketing Hall of Shame, at least May’s commercial lives on in pop culture.