Two weeks ago, an elderly lady looked out of her bedroom window prior to going to bed in a house close to Hampstead Heath in north London. It was dark, but her attention was caught by the sight of a rising flying saucer, which was emitting a ghastly orange light. The lady momentarily lost sight of the evil Martian menace, but, when it reappeared, there were also five more malicious Martian machines.
So, she did what any right-thinking person would do. She wrote a letter to our local newspaper, The Ham & High, to warn the local populace of the likelihood of encountering little green men congregating outside The Flask at opening time, and also posted an alert on the UK UFO Sightings website.
Huge jolliness and silliness erupted throughout the local population.
I rang the Ham&High and told them that there’s a chap who goes on to the Heath from time to time with his two sons, and launches Chinese lanterns. They have a small candle to power them, and these candles, which burn at a fairly low temperature, emit an orange light. I’ve seen them whilst I’ve been having a run.
I spoke to two reporters, and explained. They were clearly disappointed. Literate aliens might have bought the Ham&High, too. And, anyway, it was a great story. Of course aliens would prefer Hampstead High Street to the stony and shopless Arizona desert after all that time travelling. Further, I think Arizona is dry, so if you need a beer after traveling 58,908,647 light years to get here, Hampstead is more likely to serve you a decent beer.
Well, people used to believe in spontaneous human combustion, but post mortems, irritatingly, tended to favour the following explanation. The dead person had had a heart attack, usually fatal, and fell on a candle but did not extinguish it. The candle melted the dead person’s fat, and burnt it. This explains, firstly, why the walls and ceiling of the room in which the person died always had a greasy, orange residue on them. It also explains why their hands and feet were never burnt, since they do not contain fat. And, finally, with the adoption of electric light, it is very unlikely to occur in wealthy neighbourhoods, such as Hampstead.
But we all like the idea of UFOs. And we’d love it if we were walking along the street with a particularly irritating client whom we would just love to disappear in a sudden fiery ball of orange flame as he’s shouting, “The logo isn’t big enough..aagggghhhh!”.
And that, I think, is why people love wacky stories.
Advertisers should bear this in mind. Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream had a seriously wacky story, which their customers adored. So did the GM Saturn, which GM killed as soon as the car started to sell significant volumes. Ben and Jerry’s is simply not the same since Unilever bought the business. And, very likely, Apple will never be the same again now that Steve Jobs is dead.
I watched an hour-long program about Apple last night. Cindy Gallop, whom I hired years ago in London at Gold Greenlees Trott, appeared three times to comment on Jobs and Apple. When we hired Cindy, GGT had Honeywell Computers as a client, and I was in charge of account management. I’m certain that she never asked me if she could work on the Honeywell business even though we were winning awards on it. We even launched the first digital TV commercial anywhere in the world.
But, but Cindy was unmoved.
And I’m not surprised.
Honeywell had no story to get the blood flowing. And, if your business or brand doesn’t have something to make your customers want to remain buying from you, you’ll need to invent a story and then bring it to life, just as Jack Daniels has done.
Finally, I don’t know who the lady was who mistook the lanterns for UFOs, but I hope she doesn’t read this post. If she’s like me, the lady would prefer the UFO explanation.