Craft your communication “to make every second count”, like Stella Artois

The return on investing time and budget from crafting your TV communication was discussed last week in Marketing by Phil Rumbol, of agency 101. He discussed what he learnt from working on the client side on the Stella Artois campaign and on the famous "Gorilla" campaign for Cadbury. 

1. Great execution drives distinctiveness

The actual proposition behind the Stella Artois campaign was not that differentiated: "A beer of supreme quality and worth". And the communication idea was pretty simple: "You'd do anything for a Stella Artois". Yet the campaign helped drive a sales growth CAGR of +16% over a 10 year period. Key to this success was superb execution that produced highly distinctive communication with real impact. "You only have to see an amazing film once for it to live long in the memory. We tried to apply the same care and attention to  storytelling, cinematography, music etc. that you’d see in a feature film," says Phil in his article. Indeed, each of the Stella ads was like a mini movie, such as one of my favourites, "Red Shoes": see below, or here.

Importantly, this creativity was not focused on producing beautiful advertising to win awards. It was born out of need to get more bang of the buck, as Phil describes, "In the early 90’s Stella was the 17th biggest beer brand, competing with brands with 10 times more budget. This led to a real focus in advertising on the quality rather than quantity of impact."

2. Invest in talent 

The Stella team backed this strategy of quality of impact with hard cash. "One third of the budget was spent on production," says Phil. "But rather than view this as ‘non working’ media – surely the dumbest phrase ever invented – we took the opposite view. It was our hardest working media." In addition to crafting great scripts, Stella also invested in world class directors such as Jonathan Glazer, Ivan Zacharias, and Frank Budgen. 

3. "Sprinkle magic dust" during production

Phil explains how these directors "had the ambition and talent to sprinkle their magic dust on an idea." Production was not just a case of shooting the film as scripted, but rather "continuing to build on the potential of an idea." One example of this is in the film "Last Orders", where a man on his deathbed ask for a Stella as his last wish: see below, or here. One of most memorable moments, when a relative makes a hand gesture to suggest the arriving priest has gulped the prized Stella for himself, was apparently not in the original script.

4. Respect consistency, not just freshness

The Stella brand/agency team also did a great job of balancing freshness and consistency. Each ad in the campaign used the same setting (rural France), music, endline ("Reassuringly Expensive") and narrative structure. The temptation to change too much in the name of creativity was resisted. And yet each film in the series brought a new twist, as I posted on here.

In conclusion, teams should work have the discipline of ‘making every second count’ in their communication, with excellent execution used to deliver smart strategy in a highly distinctive way.