Ad Breakdown: Langley House’s “Unbreakable”

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Lewis Folkard

Suffolk-based conversion copywriter.

Langley House Unbreakable Flask ad

As winter digs its heels in, what better time to think about keeping your soup (or drink) warm than with this lovely flask ad from the 1992 D&AD annual? I have a few points to discuss, so let’s dig in.

Who

  • Art Directors: Andy Cheetham, Chris Hughes
  • Copywriter: Tony Veazey
  • Agency: Broadbent Cheetham Veazey
  • Client: Langley House Limited

The Idea

A new product will always face resistance as it enters the market. And a big part of said resistance comes from believability – or lack of. So, the ad ‘proves’, or claims, the flask is unbreakable by tackling this resistance head-on. And they do it via (what’s effectively) a product demonstration.

It’s a confident approach, no doubt. Because whilst the copy mentions only the post, they’re subliminally throwing down a challenge that extends to everyday uses. In essence, try break the damn thing*. 

And that way, the proof is in the pudding.

*I’m not saying people would (they might waste their money)… but the creatives want the reader to feel like they could, so the creatives can dramatise how “unbreakable” it is – without actually proving it. Hopefully, they don’t mind people calling their bluff…

Headline & Art

With an offer, or idea, like this a direct headline works. It’s bold. It stands out. It pulls you into the ad. It’s exactly what you want a headline to do. 

But its more important feat is that it also reduces the risk of mis-communicating the idea – which, here, could be fatal. 

Why? Because a bent headline would cut the impact and undermine the confidence of what they’re saying. It sucks away the boldness and suggests they’re not as confident in the flasks ‘unbreakableness’ as the claim makes out. You need to own something like this.

For such a short, direct response ad, you need to work quick. You need to get the reader in a buying mood from the get-go. This ad does this with two elements: 

  • The end of the headline: “…order it by post.
  • And the very distinctive green price tag

Art-wise, it’s a very simple – but pleasing – product shot. There’s a lot of space around the flask which really emphasises the contrast between the flask body and the background. This further draws your attention to the flask, complementing the challenge. (It also likely explains the “rule-breaking” reverse print) 

Body Copy

Here’s the copy, and the structure I’ve given it. It’s basically one sentence per objective.

Section 1: Make

In this first section, well, first sentence, there are three main points. 

“At last” builds anticipation and exclusivity, which helps with positioning and getting the reader ‘excited’ to move through the ad. It also suggests a solution to a problem – i.e. that flasks aren’t tough enough to withstand our regular use. 

In direct-response fashion, the ad starts with a short sentence to get the reader into the ad – or the “slippery slope” as Joe Sugarman calls it. It also repeats the main claim once more. You’ll see how this claim is repeated throughout the ad. 

Section 2: Prove

Whenever you make a claim, you raise doubts. Naturally. And the best way to settle those doubts is to prove the claim. (Duh!)

So, in line with the “proof is in the pudding” approach the ad takes, they “prove” the flask is unbreakable by highlighting the main feature that allows it to be so. Its steel body.

In one light, this works. You can see in the art that the flask is made from steel. Its shiny, high-contrast surface gives it away… so, sure. Proof.

But in another light, it raises a more important question: Can the flask still perform its primary function and keep its contents warm? I’ll cover this in more detail later.

Section 3: Expand

Once you’ve made a claim and proved it, you’ve gained believability. Now’s a good time to nudge it further and broaden the appeal. In other words, show what the flask can do so it’s accepted with less resistance.

The ad does exactly this – it gives a mix of use cases. Note the mention of “factory floor” to dramatise the flask’s robustness. (Thanks to a factory floor’s pre-existing associations, we assume this is a tough place for a flask to survive)

At the same time, the content in this section could be considered as the logical reasons to justify the purchase. Important, as we know.

Section 4: Disqualify

Here, they separate themselves and mildly disqualify other options. They do this by saying they have more capacity than the others. The informal chatty “drop or two” helps to keep your defences down.

Of course, it’s not a complete disqualification, but once you’ve nulled off other options, it’s a good time to include your price because you’re positioning yourself as the only viable option.

Section 5: Action

Again, there’s good use of chatty, informal language to disarm the reader. This is particularly useful because you’re about to ask your reader to hand over more money.

However, I don’t like how this section directly repeats the challenge again. Repetition is important, I know. As is closing out the body copy by repeating the key point once more. But I think you can be more creative with it. This is too explicit and doesn’t get our minds moving.

If someone like Abbott or Foster were to write this, I feel like they’d end with a touch of class. And leave a pleasant taste in your mouth. This ad lacks that, in my opinion. 

Bonus Section: The Form

As a little bonus, let’s take a look at the response form. Here it is in more detail.

The form has two simple functions – be easy to fill out. And to keep the reader sold. 

The form does this by prompting a micro-commitment. We see this a lot in website copywriting, specifically button copy. They act as call-to values, and when the reader clicks “wanting an unbreakable flask”, for example, it becomes a micro-commitment to wanting the product. (Research suggests that we tend to act in accordance with that commitment, meaning, in our case here, we’re more likely to complete the form and send it off). 

There are a lot of “micro-steps” from reading the ad to handing over your money. And between each step are chances for drop off. So, by increasing prospect commitment, we can increase our chances of the reader buying our product – even when the form isn’t attached to the ad.

The Missing Ingredient

A good copywriter knows that what they write will prompt further questions. And an even better copywriter will write so they can prompt the questions they want to answer. In other words, they guide the conversation to shine the best possible light on the product… but by allowing the reader to think they’re in control (and coming up with the questions themselves).

As I touched on earlier, I think this ad raises an important question but fails to answer it. Does this new steel flask work? 

Of course, now, we know steel flasks do – but if this product has “at last” reached the market, it’s got to be new. No?

So, if it genuinely is, then I think others will also be questioning the same thing. What’s slightly more frustrating is that it doesn’t even need to play a big part in the ad. Just a short sentence to clarify. 

(Though, if their research suggests that people are particularly sceptical, it’ll need more to convince)

Repetition

Another theme we’ve seen here is the repetition of the claim/main idea. Repetition is good, as we know. But you need to keep it interesting. If not, you’ll lose the reader. 

This is definitely on the cusp of being uninteresting. In the form, the repetition works fine because it “feels” different. But in the rest of the ad, it’s repeated three times: the headline, the first sentence and the last sentence. 

And they use the word “unbreakable” each time. I can see why you might repeat the language (it helps it stick), but it isn’t as engaging. And engagement has to come first.

There are countless ways you could reframe “unbreakable”. And I think, because of the lack of time between each repetition, it’s only the last sentence that needs changing. 

Next

That’s it for today. Hope you enjoyed it. If you want to be one of the first to see the next one, click here. 

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