Known in advertising circles as a great example of how not to do it; W.D. & H.O. Wills launched a new cigarette brand in 1959 with a television advert that declared a comforting “You’re never alone with a Strand”.

It was ahead of its time artistically, had a cool character and a soundtrack that reached number 39 in the UK music charts (and possibly higher had the BBC not banned it from their airwaves). It was also supported by a free sample campaign through newspaper adverts that reportedly led to 90% brand awareness in a matter of weeks. It had everything going for it… but Strand was purportedly only ever bought by 0.3% of male smokers and 0.7% of female smokers. So what went wrong?

The advert sees a Frank Sinatra-esque figure wondering slowly through empty London streets, stop to light up, and puff away in an earnest state. The common view is that rather than be comforted by the company of the cigarette, viewers saw a lonely, sad man. Depressed and smoking alone. Not aspirational qualities for many of us.

But a good advert can’t sell a bad product – and a number of people reported that the cigarette was simply a bad smoke, and that’s why this story sits firmly in our New Product Disasters section too.

What does good look like?

Creating a brand for post-war thirtysomethings probably had its merits, and would have ticked most of the boxes for Strand’s R&D team. Had they sufficiently tested the product with their target market, they would have found out that not many people liked it, and saved themselves from launching and withdrawing the brand in the space of a few years. No matter how good your marcomms are – consumers will vote with their feet if the product is poor. Always test new products with your target market.

The advert and campaign was innovative – but creative advertising isn’t necessarily good advertising, and the basic rules still apply (think AIDA). To be persuasive, consider how your messages will make your customer feel. Positive, aspirational feelings will always trump lonely and depressed (even if you’re hoping to address any negative thoughts).

Moving forward

What’s the moral of this Bad Marketing story for you? What should Strand have done differently? What will you do differently in future?

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