Can a great ad also be a bad ad? I ask the question with one series of adverts in mind, the Cinzano ads from 1978 to 1983 that starred Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins made by Collett Dickenson Pearce.
‘One of the greatest advertising campaigns in British television history’, says this website. And Number 11 on Channel Four’s 100 Greatest Adverts. In fact, the ads can be said to stand as an object lesson in the lesson in the law of unintended consequences.
The series was conceived as a parody of the adverts for Martini, a few of which you can see here. ‘Any time, any place, anywhere’ the adverts said – so long as that place was a sun-drenched yacht, the Monaco Grand Prix, or a ski resort where flared Lotharios clinked glasses with doe-eyed girls. Martini: the beautiful drink for the beautiful people in beautiful places.
Woody Allen and Sean Connery were originally pencilled in for the Cinzano response, before Leonard Rossiter was brought in. Alan Parker, later to find fame in Hollywood, visited him at his home and it was Rossiter who suggested using the old gag of spilling a drink as he checked his watch.
Parker directed the first three ads in 1978. Hugh Hudson, later to direct Chariots of Fire, made the famous aeroplane and ski lodge versions, and Terry Lovelock the final two ads in 1982.
There were ten ads in all with Rossiter and Collins as the long-suffering and perpetually-drenched Melissa, victim of Rossiter’s attempts to seem a good deal more sophisticated and classy than he really was. Nothing appeals more to the British psyche than when a pretentious, pompous snob makes a complete ass of themself.
Now, judging by the popularity of the ads suggests they were a huge success. There was even talk of a film starring the two, and during the ITV strike of 1979 there were more complaints about missing the new Cinzano ads than about missing programmes.
But here’s the rub. The ads ended up being too entertaining. When research was carried out it was found most who had seen them believed they were adverts for Martini, rather than Cinzano. And it was Martini sales that went up on the back of them, not Cinzano.
‘Viewers have a way of remembering the celebrity while forgetting the product’. So wrote David Ogilvy, and such seems to have been the case with the Cinzano ads. However witty and memorable they were, they failed in their primary function which was to promote the product and brand.
More than that, they ended up boosting the sales of the very product whose ads they were parodying and who were Cinzano’s main rival in the drinks market.
Advertising is, I suppose, simply a means to an end rather than an end in itself, and that end is product promotion and sales. In that sense, then, perhaps these great ads can be said to be bad ads too.
Cinzano dropped the campaign in 1983.