When the ice melts

How Irish luck and English weather brought about the rise and fall of Magners’ advertising

That’s it for summer then is it? Despite the effects of global warming, the British weather remains staunchly unreliable, tending to bad. It’s unreasonable, inexorable, yet it influences everything, from the birth rate to sales patterns.

No one knows this better than Magners. You might have noticed their advertising over the non-summer just passed. This time it’s a headline campaign for their draft cider, with lines ranging from the obscure (‘Finally, a slow thing that cools you down’ … oh, you mean, unlike this train, how weird) to the mediocre (‘Slow matured for instant refreshment’).

Dire though it may be the campaign represents an improvement on the heritage drive that preceded it. Moody photographs of orchard workers were paired with their blarnified utterances. One told of a man who wore a great­coat so he could steal beyond his employee allowance of Magners.

Not so much an advert for cider then, as late stage alcoholism. Another suggested that there was a reason why all their workers were related. The reason was ha, ha, ha, incest.

For the London Underground these ads are only averagely bad. The really shocking thing is their ubiquity. There’s a reason for this too, and it’s a delicious advertising story. The brand launches in 2005. They run loads of TV, featuring an orchard and a soundtrack by The Zombies. There’s no idea, it’s all about mood. They also buy loads of media on the Under­ground.

2006 turns out to be the hottest summer in 350 years, transforming sections of the Piccadilly Line into a fairly precise simulation of hell. And so the ice:  those car-sized cubes, the beaded glass, you can see the commuters, their cracked tongues lolling, leaning towards the posters. Cool ice, clink, clink, clinky, clink….

The effect is phenomenal, sales soar, suddenly the streets of Soho are ankle-deep in black bottles. Their agency and media buyers collect effect­iveness awards and publicly pat themselves on the back for ‘revitalising the sector’. But, as summer after summer is rained off, the fatal flaw in this strategy is revealed, as it were, inexorably.

What follows then, is a denial of reality of a kind that could only occur in advertising. The agency set out to prove, using the power of media over matter that, no, it wasn’t just the ice. It was the heritage, it was the orchard, it was the slow maturation process. Because the brand knows that advert­ising can work spectacularly they keep spending, chasing the old figures. But what their agency can’t admit is that they’d pinned their hopes to a cloud. There was no idea, so there’s no idea to change. So they go on, flailing around for a new mood, defenceless victims of exterior forces, a tragedy played out on the nation’s billboards.

Now, finally, the £18m account is going to pitch. Perhaps you’re pitching. If so, do bear in mind that peculiarly British word for the behaviour of the weather. Spiteful.

Gordon Comstock blogs at notvoodoo.blogspot.com


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