Ad Breakdown: Lyons Coffee’s “Has beans?”

Picture of Lewis Folkard

Lewis Folkard

Suffolk-based conversion copywriter.

Lyons Coffee "Has beans? ad

Substanceless ads are boring. They always have been, and they always will be. You need a little spark, a little something to get your reader’s mind ticking. And finding the balance between too easy and too difficult is something many advertisers struggle with. 

If you make it too easy, you insult your reader. If you make it too difficult, you lose them before you start. It’s something where, as your experience grows, your “gut feeling” guides you.

But until your gut feeling is well-oiled, you need to find alternatives. 

Looking at the greats and identifying advertising techniques is a sure-found way to get closer. You know that. You’re here. 

But one of the techniques I often find myself speaking about is double meanings (like this one… and this one…). And in the run of breakdowns, I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a double meaning with this many layers.

Let’s take a look and see why. Today’s ad is from 1966 for Lyons Coffee.

(Unfortunately, I couldn’t find who wrote this one)

The Idea

The desire to fit in, to be part of a group, is hardwired into us. It’s a deep driver of changing behaviour. And next to that is the worry of giving someone a bad coffee.

As you’ll see, the ad does a great job of combining the two. 

It introduces social pressures to almost make you feel guilty for potentially doing so. But what I really like about this idea – and this ad – is the execution. Moreso, how it plays with the idea. The tone basically disguises the serious edge under humour and double meaning. And it feels a lot less confrontational than it would otherwise.

The first double meaning appears in the headline. We head there next. 

Headline & Art

I think you’ll do well to spoil a double meaning. They’re so inherently simple. Yet challenging enough to provide what Luke Sullivan calls a “quick get”. 

Today’s double meaning has layers to it. A lot of depth. But it starts very simply. It does just enough to pique your curiosity and draw you into the ad. And it also does it with a hint of humour.

The art is pretty simple and follows the “bent headline, straight visual” approach. Making both elements ‘bent’ makes it messy and overly competitive for attention. So here, the art adds context to the bent headline and feeds into the double meaning. 

There’s also a simple product shot in the body copy to help you recognise the product in the shops.

And then the sub-headline (or tagline?) gives you the “take home” message. Combined with the headline and art, you almost have the start and end point of the story. The body copy gives you the journey in between. This is another curiosity-piquing mechanism that I like a lot.

Body Copy

In case you can’t read the body copy, here it is typed out. And also how I’ve structured the ad for its analysis.

Section 1: Problem

In this first section – or the first two sentences – we see the ad create/call your attention to a problem. I’m not sure whether it’s educating you on a new problem or reminding you of something you already know. Either way, it’s a short sentence. And it’s very assertive. This gets your attention and pulls you into the ad – as first sentences should.

The second sentence dramatises the problem by making it sound inevitable – which I guess it is. The “already on the way out” brings a sense of urgency, moving you swiftly into the next section. 

Section 2: Humour

This next section is all one long sentence. With a very assertive tone and short sentence to begin the ad, this seems the opposite. It’s very satirical, and the main reason why you interpret it as humour is because it’s all one long, bouncy sentence. Short sentences saying the same thing would seem very confrontational and raise your defences.

But despite being almost 60 years old, this sentence feels like it could be written today. Slay. It pokes fun at the silly extent we (still) go to show off to our peers. So, whilst it’s meant to be fun, it still has that serious edge to it. It agitates a sense of vulnerability because you could be going through your dramatic coffee routine and still giving them stale coffee. Nobody likes to feel like that.

This is what I mean by the layers of double meaning. On the one hand, the humour disarms. But on the other, the literal interpretation agitates uncomfortable feelings, making you want to take action. 

Understanding this is said tongue-in-cheek requires the right side of our brain – the side of our brain that correlates to better response.

Section 3: Product

By now, the problem is clear: you could be giving your guests stale coffee (worse still, after showing off to them). So, now it’s time to introduce a solution. Lyons Coffee. 

The ad starts this with a short sentence to keep you moving so you can learn about the product – and want to buy it. It’s assertive and confident, like the very first sentence. 

The next sentence’s passive tense puts the attention on the beans rather than Lyon (for doing the roasting and capturing the flavour) – and keeps the focus on the solution, which you, the reader, will be more interested in. It’s what’s going to get you out of this embarrassing stale coffee problem.

From Section 1, we saw how the coffee flavour inevitably leaves after roasting the beans. The ad now directly solves this problem by explicitly stating the flavour “never has a chance to get away”. Of course, they battle believability here. But the confident, assertive tone and disarming humour we’ve already seen help this seem more believable.

I like the last two sentences – it’s a nice repetition. Although, I feel like it could be even better if they used the same number of syllables (it’s 7 vs 9). Nevertheless, it emphasises the end result of their coffee, further solving the problem.

Section 4: Perspective

And then the final section shifts the perspective. This builds on the already-present social pressure and sorta drives its finger into it. This makes you want to take action – and remove the risk of serving stale coffee. 

By agitating the social pressure, the ad adds more emotion. But it does so with a sprinkle of humour. 

There’s an intentional use of “stale” to reiterate the problem but also to foreshadow a new way of serving your coffee (with Lyons). 

And then, to finish, a tongue-in-cheek, serious… but not serious… close. Can you see how the juxtapositions and double meanings are present right up to the end?

Conclusion

And that’s today’s ad for you. One big double meaning that slips in a serious social ‘problem’ under a blanket of tongue-in-cheek humour. 

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