Plot twist, even in today’s society, ads like this have more respect for their reader than many ads from today.
Why? Because they respect their intelligence. They treat them as though they have brains. And that they can figure things out.
Ads like this invite the reader to connect the dots and complete the message themselves. They become a part of the ad. And it genuinely engages them.
To an extent, reading an ad like this is also somewhat enjoyable – even to non-ad-folk. Imagine that…
As creatives, it’s our choice whether we dumb our ideas down and, effectively, belittle our audience. I know you’re shaking your head, but it is.
And it’s all too common nowadays – but why?
Is it because we lack faith in our ideas?
Do we not trust them to convey the message we want?
Is that why we, then, overcompensate and tell the reader what and how they should feel?
Maybe? Food for thought.
Anyway, let’s turn this on its head and celebrate work that does convey the message we want – this gem from Fisher-Price, made by Frank Budgen and Bill Gallagher when they were at BMP in 1986.
And what a gem it is.
Let’s have a look.
The Art and Headline
There are three ‘dots’ here the reader is encouraged to connect.
Dot 1 = empty space
If the space was on the right, I’m not sure it’d have the same effect. As is, it plays on our brain’s tendency to process from left to right. And it creates more of a ‘void’. It looks more dramatic and gets more attention because it disrupts a pattern.
Dot 2 = mischievous lad
Next, the young lad looking awfully mischievous. Almost like he’s seen something funny and trying not to burst out in laughter (I wonder what…).
Dot 3 = question headline
In isolation, the headline makes very little impact. But paired with the art, it brings the ad to life. They complement each other (as they should). And even without the body copy, you’ve got a strong ad.
Once the reader connects these dots, they realise two others are missing, and the lad still standing must be wearing the anti-slip roller skates. It doesn’t require much thought – but just enough. It’s what Luke Sullivan calls a “quick get”.
The reader comes to a solution themselves, meaning the message will be stickier. It requires more brain power and embeds it in our memory – at least as much as an ad can.
Main-Body and Structure
As it’s a bit difficult to read, I’ve written the copy for you here.
And here’s how I’ve split the copy up.
This section kinda sets the scene. It paints a picture of the roller skate market and becomes the foundation for improving Fisher-Price’s positioning.
A lot of ads create ‘bad guys’ – someone/something to personify all the crap on the market. A ‘bad guy’ lets the ad direct and focus negative attributes of multiple products to better position their own. It works so well because, as humans, we’re lazy. We’re looking for mental shortcuts. And a ‘bad guy’ blankets the market. It consolidates it. And encourages us to underthink a rival product’s individuality. For us, here, “commercial skate designs” is the bad guy.
There’s also an element of brand signalling in this section – the desire to be innovating. For those unfamiliar with the term, I’ll quote Rory Sutherland, who explains it very well in his book, Alchemy: The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life.
He describes signalling as “the need to send reliable indications of commitment and intent, which can inspire confidence and trust. Cooperation is impossible unless a mechanism is in place to prevent deception and cheating; some degree of efficiency often needs to be sacrificed in order to convey trustworthiness or to build a reputation.”
In a nutshell, signals help us decide whether we’d trust a business enough to buy from them.
It’s only subtle here, sure. But in its context, I’d say it’s pretty believable.
The first sentence has quite a bit going on, so let’s focus there quick.
“We asked literally hundreds of children, and their parents, exactly what they wanted in a roller skate.”
First, saying they asked “literally hundreds” shows their commitment – another signal. It’s also pretty colloquial language. The chattiness disarms the reader and makes it easier to charm them with the selling points (that come later). And then, saying they’ve spoken with “children and their parents” (their target market) helps coming points carry more believability and makes Fisher-Price seem more trustworthy.
So with this point, I go into more detail later (in the ‘Other Observations’ section), but I can’t not include it here.
The ad mentions, in some way or the other, Fisher-Price’s collaboration with children and their parents four times.
The first framing: “We asked literally hundreds of children, and their parents”
The second: “exactly what they wanted”
The third: “between us”
And the final: “we came up with”
By repeating the point in different ways, the collaboration gains credibility and becomes more convincing. Scroll down to the bottom of this article to go over this properly.
This section goes into more detail about their skate design that’s “unlike any other” on the market.
First, I want to bring your attention to the language shift between the existing designs and Fisher-Price’s new design. In particular, “angular metal construction” vs “rounded, virtually indestructible plastic”.
Which one sounds more child-friendly to you?
Note how it doesn’t directly tell you one is more child-friendly than the other. It lets you figure it out (although it’s pretty obvious…) – another “quick get”.
It also helps build up the ‘bad guy’ and gives him another feature.
“Laces and buckles” are awkward – for the child and the parent. “Simple velcro straps”, on the other hand, are easy for the child and require no effort for the parent. An appealing selling point.
Looking at part 2, the reframing is a big part of this section, but again, I go over the reframing in ‘Other Observations’ below. To save repeating myself (and boring you), scroll down to read it.
Instead, I’ll bring up another way the ad encourages the reader to think – about what simple indirectly means. Again, it doesn’t require much thinking, but ‘simple’ also suggests reliability. And because it’s still one step away and not said directly, it sticks better.
Additionally, simple means parents have to do less because their kids can put their skates on themselves. There’s also less to go wrong, so the skates will last longer (making it a better buying decision).
The ad, then, explains how the anti-slip works (and coincidentally, that’s simple too). This makes the parents feel better knowing how it works and reassures them that it is as simple as it seems.
This believability booster carries over into other features they’ve already explained and makes Fisher-Price look more credible.
Here we see more trust building, primarily through the use of social proof – “…Fisher-Price have already sold nearly a million pairs of skates in America.”
Pay special attention to the use of “Fisher-Price” and not “we”. “We” seems like an obvious choice – and would work – but using the brand name helps tie in the claim with the brand. It’s squeezing a bit more out of the social proof.
And then the final sentence is great. It’s a really fun and clever way to close out the ad and reframe the anti-slip in a casual, memorable way.
I think it’s interesting there’s no direct ask for action, where they can be found, or numbers to call. It just closes out with how popular they are and lets the audience decide whether they want them, or not. I guess, in some ways, it signals their confidence which further builds trust. Regardless, it’s great.
OK, now for some other points.
First, the reframing.
As copywriters, we’re always trying to minimise the perceived effort of achieving the promised benefit. Showing a product’s simplicity is one way of helping us do that. Sure, we can say something is simple, but it might not be sufficient – or believable. Another way, which lets us highlight a product’s simplicity more convincingly, is to reframe it.
A point repeated in multiple lights, without seeming obvious, carries more credibility than it would otherwise. There’s real skill in reframing something so many times in so few sentences. And we see it here in this ad – particularly with the ‘simplicity’ reframes in Section 3. In fact, it’s actually reframed five different ways there: “built-in”, “doing away with”, “simply”, “a switch”, and “prevents the front wheels from spinning backwards”.
As you can see, sometimes it’s inferred. Sometimes it’s said directly. And, sometimes, it’s built on top of existing associations.
Of course, it doesn’t just have to be ‘simplicity’ that’s reframed. It can be anything. But you get my point.
Second, the trust building.
The ad uses many mechanisms to build trust. One I’ve explained above, but there are many more. Because it’s a common need in advertising, here are the rest:
- Colloquial language
- Social proof
- Stating visceral pains (“spanners and keys”)
- Collaborating with their target market
- Innovation (brand signalling, leading to more trust)
- Explaining how their unique design works (suggesting confidence and therefore appearing more trustworthy)
- And to a certain degree, the product’s simplicity rubs off on Fisher-Price and makes them look more trusting.
See what I mean… there are a lot of mechanisms.
And that’s your lot. I hope you enjoyed the breakdown.
If you’d like to be one of the first to see the next one, you can subscribe to my newsletter here. I’d love to see you there.