Why an ancient print ad might be just what we need in advertising today.

 

Photo of Robb Burnham

Robb Burnham, Creative Director

Great ads are timeless. Many of those great ads get even better with age.

Like this ad for the Toyota Land Cruiser. Aside from the sexist bit of copy in the 3rd sentence, this is bolder, more informative and more persuasive than 99.9% of ads you will see today. It’s probably even better than whatever Toyota is saying about today’s Land Cruiser. My guess is it’s something like “There’s no telling how far you will go” or “You have arrived.” (Nope, it’s worse. I just looked it up. They’re going with “The peak of capability and comfort.”)

The copy is brilliant. “The Land Cruiser doesn’t have sleek styling.” I get goosebumps when I read a line like that. But there’s not a client alive today that would approve that copy. And yet, it’s perfect. It’s honest. It’s bold. And it’s true. The way this would work today is the client and agency would sit around the table wringing their hands trying to figure out how to talk around the not-so-sleek looks of the Land Cruiser. Meeting after meeting and revision after revision they’d try to find a way to talk about the styling without admitting the obvious.

So we know what the Land Cruiser doesn’t have, but what does it have? “It’s made of steel, heavily reinforced. held together by nuts and bolts, rivets and welds.” (Copy so good, it almost reads like poetry.) “Not by sheet metal screws.” (A nice swipe at the competition, which I always love.) The ad also goes on to point out there’s a chain connected to the gas cap and oil cap so you won’t lose them. Very smart.

The ad is a joy to read. That’s something I notice about the copy in a lot of older ads. Particularly those from the late 60’s and early 70’s. The copy is natural and conversational. It’s persuasive. It’s sets up a problem, offers a solution and informs the reader. The reader can decide from there if this product is right for them.

Imagine this ad today, but recreated in video and run as pre-roll on YouTube. A simple photo. The camera pans over the vehicle with cut-ins to show the various features the voiceover is describing–a voiceover that is confident, friendly, direct and a matter of fact, but coming off like a conversation you’re having with someone in the know. This ad would stand out, it would be informative, fun to watch and above all else, persuasive. Which is the point of what we do in advertising. I’d buy one.

Now, is this a really great ad? Like one of the best ads of all time? No. In fact it’s no where near my top 50 of all time. But the directness of language, its clarity and honesty as to what the vehicle is and isn’t is so clear. We need more of this direct boldness in advertising today. Tell me exactly what you are and what makes you good. Don’t pull any punches. Don’t try to convince me that you are both capable of off-roading and a comfortable ride. Don’t make your product something it’s not, and don’t apologize for what it is. In a world where you should be zigging while the others are zagging, an approach like this would be very effective today.

It’s also good to note that I saw this ad framed on the wall in the bathroom of a trendy restaurant. So clearly it worked (and still works) with a non-advertising audience as well. I’m not sure exactly how we could collect the data on this ad’s effectiveness and put it in a dashboard. (I’ll leave that in our media team’s capable hands.) But from my perspective that’s some serious liking and sharing of something that ran almost 50 years ago.

Maybe in 50 years someone will go back and frame tweets from a brand and hang them on the bathroom wall of a trendy restaurant. Maybe.