The greatest ad of all time is in my view, McCann Erikson’s 1971 Hilltop ad for Coca-Cola. It reframes the brand’s core emotional benefits through America’s countercultural zeitgeist in, well, perfect harmony.
Among the worst ads of all time is the 2017 Live for Now ad for Pepsi made by PepsiCo’s in-house agency (a lesson in itself). Tone-deaf, insulting and a hopelessly ill-fitting casting choice, it is generally considered to be an all-round disaster.
Crucially however, the brief for both these ads was probably quite similar: “capture the feeling of today’s counterculture and play it back to our audience, have them hold the product.”
Good creative is really a composite of two things, the quality of the concept and the quality of the execution. Of course, these two things are themselves huge discussions, but all creative whether its advertising, copy, or packaging design can be evaluated by starting with these two basic categories.
The concept is the creative idea that conveys the value proposition, with the execution being the means by which you communicate and craft that.
Moving from advertising to branding, we can see from the examples above how an execution can let down a strong concept, as is the case of Heineken Silver. A lighter, more refreshing version of Heineken for a younger audience bored with mid-tier lager, great. But the design fails to capture that creatively, lacks clarity and feels awkward with its ice effects and type choices.
On the reverse you have something like Madri, which was Molson Coors’ attempt to landgrab the growth Birra Moretti experienced during 2020-2021. The brewer fabricated a Spanish-looking brand and spent vast sums on distributing it far and wide. The design is good and distinctive, but behind that is pure marketing vapour.
When strong concepts and strong executions align, the results are compelling, as is the case with Stella Artois Unfiltered – a product which looks inspired by the world of natural wine without feeling contrived. Long term, it’s probably the single best move the brand has made to polish its tarnished reputation.
When bad concepts and bad executions align, you get delisted – sorry Birra Moretti IPA.
In some cases, one can make up for the other. Madri for example, could be saved by its excellent execution and fierce distribution, along with focused communications that should try and retrofit a strong concept. Heineken Silver may already be looking into a redesign.
When evaluating creative it’s useful to start by putting the work through these two lenses. Does the concept need to be enriched? Or is the design not working hard enough? Once it’s on the shelf however, consumers won’t see these as separate categories at all. But getting them both right results in something they will notice – a strong brand.
By Fred Lenox-Conyngham – Business Intelligence & Brand Strategist