Ad Breakdown: Cow & Gate’s ‘&’

Lewis Folkard

Lewis Folkard

Suffolk-based conversion copywriter.

This one’s going to be fun. A copywriter breaking down an ad without any copy.

Today’s ad is for Cow & Gate, and it was created by Rob Oliver (art director), Peter Russell (copywriter) and notably Nadav Kander (photographer) in 1995 for AMV BBDO. 

Let’s take a look.

No sh*t, Sherlock

A business grows by increasing its market penetration. And naturally, not everyone is looking to buy your product right now.

…but that doesn’t mean they won’t in the future. (Take baby food, for example)

So rather than trying to convince people who don’t need your product, you can, instead, prime them for when they do.

“Brandvertising” plants these sales seeds, whereas activation advertising harvests them.

Because it’s difficult to create activation ads without any copy, and there’s no copy here, we can safely assume today’s ad is a ‘brandvertisment’.

Maximising memorability

For easier future selling, you need to spring to mind before your competitors. This ad taps into some of the factors that help do this.

First, simplicity. 

To make it as easy as possible for your market – and future market – to remember you, you need to share your brand in its simplest form.

This is one association that springs to mind every time your market sees you. (Like Volvo’s are safe or Levi’s are tough).

Over the years, Cow & Gate have reiterated that their baby food nourishes. And as we know, ‘nourished’ babies are happy babies.

Long-standing campaigns

A simple value prop like “nourishes” has broad appeal. It’s not fixing a specific vitamin deficiency which maybe an activation ad might tap into.

Instead, it stays broad so that, over the course of a long-standing campaign, the association can be reinforced from different perspectives.

The “quick get”

Like many of the ads here, there’s an engaging breadcrumb of dots for you to connect to.

The “quick get” revolves around figuring out who the ad is from. The direct presentation of a “happy (nourished) baby” and “a cow and a gate” reinforces the core association, planting future sales seeds. 

It’s like a “bent” journey with a “straight” takeaway.

It is risky, though. Without some familiarity with the branding, you won’t grasp the only real dot they’re giving you to work with (the red ‘&’ sign). And the message is lost. 

But the advantage of being a big brand is that most people recognise you – or parts of you – without much effort, and you can deliver messages like these.

Evolutionary emotion

Another part of “springing to mind before your competitors” is the emotion you evoke. It’s like the force behind the message. 

Babies, and especially happy babies, are emotional triggers. Their innate appearance, positive associations and innocence speak to us differently. And when you’re talking to new parents – people in a heightened state of “baby focus” – it’s particularly potent.

And what’s more, babies are also great attention grabbers. Like the emotional trigger, it’s a primal thing. It’s embedded into our psyche. And an evolutionary grabber works a lot better than a big, bold headline.

(Not quite the same, is it?)


This brandvertisment reinforces the association that Cow & Gate nourishes babies. It does this directly – once you’ve connected the dots. Babies are emotional triggers. Their evolutionary significance helps the association stick, so Cow & Gate springs to mind with less effort in the future.

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British Airways



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