It was a risky approach, so I knew the concepts might never see the light of day. But it remains the best advertising campaign I have ever conceived.
Our goal was to slice through the chaos, to pitch our product to two coveted groups: C-level executives and investors. Our “product” was a bit unconventional in these circles in that it wasn’t a product at all. It was a credential. We were pitching the merits and the value of working with a professional who had a particular set of letters behind his or her name.
I was giddy when the idea came to me. Use the actual, genuine people who held the credential – not models – with all of their physical imperfections. Use the highest-quality photography. Put them in the most elegant setting possible. Make sure that everything in the ad oozed grace, style, and refined taste.
But there was one catch. The people in the ads? They would be naked.
Well, almost naked. They would be holding a strategically positioned, over-sized certificate that represented their credential. That large rectangle would cover everything that mattered. But, yes, in clear, unambiguous fashion, we would be leveraging the provocative concept that, behind that credential, this person was “totally nude.”
The story? The narrative? Well that’s the best part: “When you’re wearing this, nothing else matters.” That was the general ideas played out in five executions in advertising, on “boards,” that many years later still sit in my garage.
These were powerful ads. They were funny They were shocking. They were memorable. It brought focus to a concept that otherwise had proven elusive to investors and employers: First, that it was important to seek people with a credential and, second, that they should seek people with this particular credential. These ads would get their attention. Having actual people literally standing behind and wearing the credential – and wearing nothing else – would demonstrate the pride they held in the distinction.
We took the concept to our target market for reaction. We assembled focus groups around the world and presented four separate campaigns – including the naked campaign – to investors, C-level executives, and also to the most important group of all, the people who held the credential. The naked campaign won in every group and with every audience. Nothing else was close.
We then took the advertising concepts to the CEO. He said that he liked the risk we were taking with the naked ads. He acknowledged that this was a marked departure from our typical approach. But he wanted some time to think about it. He took the advertising concepts home with him. That weekend, he hosted a cocktail party. He used the opportunity to post the ad concepts on easels and asked his guests to vote on which they liked best.
Poof! My naked campaign disappeared.
The guests picked one of the other three, less memorable campaigns. There’s a reason I can say that the selected campaign was “less memorable” because that’s what we ran and I can honestly say that I can’t remember which it was.
Fast forward many years and I still hold a little bitterness about the “naked campaign,” a feeling that is particularly acute when I see the inferior advertising that makes its way to our eyes and ears every day.
In particular, there is an advertising campaign that runs all the time on television these days. The tagline is: “Bada book! Bada boom!” I will bet all of the money in my pocket that:
- A) You are familiar with this campaign,
- B) You can’t remember the brand or the product it is pitching, and
- C) You can’t articulate what the company is trying to say with the commands “bada book” or “bada boom.”
OK, there is no money in my pocket right now. If there was, I wouldn’t bet against your ability to summon the answer “Choice Hotels.” After all, the ad runs ALL THE TIME. But I would risk a great deal of money that neither “bada book” nor “bada boom” has compelled you even to think for a moment about booking a room with one of the brands in Choice Hotels’ network.
Come to think of it, what are the brands in the Choice Hotels’ network? Seriously, this company is sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into an advertising campaign with a tagline that is devoid of meaning and that is utter gibberish.
Consider how this might have played out. An advertising agency was paid millions of dollars to generate a concept. The agency was to distill the company’s essence into a single phrase. This advertising agency then went to the executives and a board of directors and made a big pitch that ended with the “words” “bada book, bada boom.” Enough heads nodded that this nonsensical, idiotic, moronic phrase became Choice Hotels’ new brand identity in the marketplace.
I don’t care what metrics Choice Hotels can generate, absolutely anything would have been better. You could have told people that your hotels were dirty, too expensive, and unsafe and enough people would have rewarded you for your honesty that you would have outperformed “bada book, bada bing.”
In college, I developed a practice of sprinkling unrelated, non sequitur-type jokes into my papers. During my junior year I had a British professor who was fond of telling stories of questionable taste during class. In particular, I remember Dr. Morley-Mower recounting the story of waking up in the middle of the night when he was very young and walking into his parents’ room to find that “there on the bed, my father was killing my mother.” I figured this man, of all people, was an ideal subject on whom to direct my own humor. So, I dropped a joke into the middle of a paper. Over the years, my college friends conveniently have forgotten the time another professor gave me an extra point of credit for a comparable joke. No, they only remember Dr. Morley-Mower’s reaction to this joke. He wrote: “Humor is the chanciest of all ploys. This one didn’t work.”
I offer the same response to Choice Hotels about “bada book, bada bing.”
And I can’t help but think that if Dr. Morley-Mower had seen my “naked campaign,” he would have approved.