Ad Breakdown: Kellogg’s All-Bran

Lewis Folkard

Lewis Folkard

Suffolk-based conversion copywriter.

Kellogg's All Bran Digger Ad

I found this Kellogg’s ad in the 1989 D&AD Annual, and it immediately drew me in. 

From what I can see, the photo opens a loop (you want to find out why the digger is clearing rubble out of the way). And this kept me hooked long enough to connect the dots and grasp the message. 

Hopefully, it did you too.

The ad was written by Mark Wilkins and art directed by Mike Murphy during their time at J Walter Thompson. And it was photographed by Geoff Smyth.

I really enjoy ads like this – where the logo/product completes the message. (Try this one, or this one – for example)

Naturally, it requires a bit of thought… but after a little bit of ‘research’, I’m debating whether the ad requires maybe too much thought? More on this soon.

Anyway, here’s a closer look. Let’s see what’s going on.

The three unexpected perceptions

Now, this probably isn’t a great question to be asking because an ad shouldn’t be that hard to grasp. But after asking some ad (and non-ad) folk, I realised the ad wasn’t that easy to get. 

In fact, from my small data sample, I found three perceptions:

  • All-Bran is dry 
  • All-Bran tastes like dirt
  • All-Bran removes a proverbial “blockage”

I’m hoping most of you think the latter. 

But what’s interesting is that most people were expecting to see the product in the ad – and were trying to make connections with the image and the product… rather than what All-Bran can do for you instead.

And I don’t blame them. That’s the risk you take when you don’t include the product in an ad.

The concept

Assuming you get the ad, I think the idea behind it is good. It’s translating something ‘natural’ into something not. And I thought that would make it somewhat relatable and easy to grasp… but clearly not.

I’d imagine the creatives had fun coming up with this. And there are certainly plenty of avenues to explore with a similar mechanism.

It plays on the fact that most people know what fibre does. Anyone who doesn’t might not understand the ad. But we’ll touch on this more later.

It takes “a truth” about why people buy All-Bran and reinforces it in their minds.

Up-playing the art

If you’ve looked at some of my earlier breakdowns or signed up for my newsletter, you’ll know I really like visual metaphors – particularly because they don’t spoon-feed the reader. 

Of course, they require great execution and balance. If the metaphor is too abstract, you’ll lose the reader before they give the ad chance. But if it’s too simple, then the ad looks lazy and half-arsed. Almost insulting the reader. 

So you need to get it right.

When executed well, visual metaphors are a powerful right-brained ad technique. Because we have to hold multiple thoughts simultaneously, we increase mental availability – a vital part of ‘brandvertising’. 

I’m not entirely sure why, but many of the visual metaphor ads I’ve seen also tend to elicit a positive response. I.e. the take-home message is generally of surprise, humour or joy. This also aids mental availability.

And, of course, visual metaphors deliver a lot of bang for your buck. They work hard. They convey a message quickly – often without needing to say a word. 

Down-playing the copy

Now, if you look closely, you’ll notice a small line of copy in the ad. And it’s actually doing quite a bit.

“The original high fibre cereal. As natural and effective as ever.”

You could argue that the ad doesn’t need the line (a sign of a great ad) because the logo/product completes the message. 

But the small line of copy adds another dot to connect to for those who need it.

What’s more, the “original high fibre cereal” helps to establish credibility in the reader’s mind and better positions All-Bran for when the reader’s in the market for it. It also helps swat away any competitors.

I also want you to pay attention to how small the line is. Like font size.

This is the outcome of a copywriter and art director working together. You see, had that line taken up too much space, it’d look like they’re trying too hard with the metaphor. It wouldn’t have the same impact. 

But because it’s subtle and played down, the art can do the heavy lifting, and the message appears more confident.

Is it emotional?

Kind of? As far as ads go, it’s funny, no? It made me smile, at least. 

In all brand advertising, emotion is important for mental availability. It deepens those neural pathways and helps tie a feeling to the brand.

And whilst humour isn’t an emotion, it does help to evoke other emotions. Like surprise (a cereal ad talking about poo)… or joy (if this kind of humour amuses you).

“By trying to appeal to everyone, you appeal to no one”

Or do you…

In the world of “sales activation”/“performance marketing” (aka anything that in essence uses direct response copywriting), yes, you need to narrow who you’re talking to. And speak to your most profitable persona.

But for brandvertising, a narrow appeal isn’t necessarily better.

Because, at the end of the day, the main purpose of brandvertising is to increase mental availability – so your brand springs to mind before others. 

And to reap the most reward, you need to appeal as widely as possible, and sow seeds in the minds of people who aren’t yet customers.

When the time is right, and your prospect feels ready to buy, you can then reap what you’ve sown. (And likely use your direct response copy to help do so.)

Of course, appealing to everyone is much easier said than done.

And our ad here is walking the border. 

Because, to get the ad quickly, you need to be familiar with All-Bran and what fibre does for you. For that to happen, you’re likely already a customer (or have been previously).

It doesn’t speak to those unfamiliar with the brand. And I’m not sure if that’s good or not.

Sure, the goal of this ad might to be solidify existing/previous customers. In which case, it’s great. 

But if it’s to expand their customer base and attract new customers, I don’t think this works. It’s too abstract.

You could rightfully argue… “Who the f*ck doesn’t know about All-Bran?”… and I’d be inclined to agree. 

But of course, some won’t. 

A summary

I like the ad a lot. It made me – and others smile. The great photography, art direction – and visual metaphor – get a big tick from me. 

It requires maybe too much thought and risks not having broad enough appeal. 

But for those that do get it, it’s a sweet (smelly) penny drop.

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