Some Thoughts On Purple Cows

LifesaversAdYoung&RubicanOf the countless advertisements that have been produced since the beginning of the twentieth century this one for Lifesavers from Young and Rubicam is one of the best.

It combines simple graphics with a memorable, but direct, message that appeals to children and adults alike.

There’s none of David Ogilvy’s marketing to the intelligentsia. It appeals to the child within all of us.

It was created in an era when brands could appeal to the masses, something which marketing pundit Seth Godin today claims is fatal.

You need a ‘purple cow’ he claims. Something that stands out, if indeed the product may be sold by standing out. Not all can as he suggests in the film below.

I think it’s wrong to abandon the masses, and the majority when advertising. Coke seeks mass appeal in all its campaigns, and so do Unilever. What Seth is saying, however, is different.The safe middle ground just isn’t such a good opportunity for new products,  start ups and small business.

The same is true for photographs for commercial products. Concepts need to be clear, their execution simple, the result instantly recognizable. An advertisement photograph isn’t there to make you think, it’s constructed to engage your interest and encourage you to buy. According to the legendary art director and photographer Henry Wolf there  are at least 17 ways to create memorable images. Whether they stand out as purple cows will depend upon how well each concept is executed.

Acclaimed artists know how to make their work memorable. It’s true they know all about line, form, composition, and the behaviors of light in different settings as it illuminates objects, but that’s not enough to create art!

As for this purple cow by Raymond Rubicam, the fact that it has mass appeal is important but not the clincher. What matters is that it engages visually both through color and words. It forces you to salivate involuntarily and addresses you in friendly reassuring script. Even today it stands out like a purple cow in a field full of Jerseys. As Raymond Rubicam used to say: ‘resist the usual’.

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