Ad Breakdown: Sony’s “Stamina”

Lewis Folkard

Lewis Folkard

Suffolk-based conversion copywriter.

Sony Stamina ad

Getting the balance between too easy and too difficult is something advertisers often struggle with. Make the ad too easy, you insult (and bore) your audience. Make the ad too difficult, you lose them before they read the ad.

Ads need a little challenge. That’s what makes them engaging. 

But knowing how to make them challenging – and what breadcrumb trail to leave – will depend on who you’re trying to appeal to. Do you want everyone to have an ‘aha’ moment? Or a select group of people? And are you prepared to do one at the extent of the other?

Let’s have a look at today’s ad and try figure out what they did.

The main ad of this breakdown. Ad showing guy on phone, and a lady listening to music. Song lyrics to the right.

The Who

First, let’s see who created this wonderful ad from the 1998 D&AD annual.

Copywriter: Andy McLeod

Art Director: Richard Flintham

Photographer: Steen Sunland

Creative Directors: Dave Dye and Sean Doyle

Agency: BMP DDB

Client: Sony

The Idea

As ideas go, I like this one a lot. It’s open-ended, which makes the campaign easy to build on (so you can reinforce the same benefit/use case over a longer period of time and reap the benefits of ‘wear-in’). 

So what’s going on? Hopefully, you’ve figured it out already.

There are lyrics to a song that, when the batteries die, are interrupted by the environment. So, you effectively have a pattern with an expected outcome (the next line of lyrics) that instead dishes out an unexpected outcome (a line from the surroundings).

The unexpected outcome opens a loop, which the tagline and product at the bottom of the ad closes.

(The tagline reads: “Stamina extra life batteries. No sudden jolts back to reality.”)

It pokes fun at an annoying reality. It’s relatable. And it agitates a ‘pain’ many have felt… but only those who listen to music on the go.

Does it seem too difficult to grasp? Maybe. So, let’s look at the dots you can connect to.

The Dots

Connecting dots like this utilises the Generation Effect, which, in short, means the harder we work to reach a conclusion, the more it sticks to mind. Important with brandvertising, especially. 

So, if you look at the ad, there are a few dots to connect to. You have:

  • The song lyrics
  • The unexpected song “lyrics”
  • The person listening to music
  • The person on the phone in the background
  • The environment
  • The tagline/product

First, because the focus is on the person listening to the music, you’ll likely connect the lyrics to the person listening to the music. Easy. 

Next, you’ll likely realise the lyrics at the end don’t make sense. They’re obscure to help make this connection. If you aren’t (really) familiar with the song, you might not. But hopefully, you’ll realise the last line doesn’t fit the expected rhythm you had in your head, nor say anything close to what it should. You’ll then start to look around to find out why.

You’ll then hopefully connect the person – and spot they’re on the phone – to “saying” the last line of the lyrics. The body language, clothing and general demeanour should help. Although, it could be clearer they’re in Loughborough (maybe a sign in the background?).

And then to the tagline to send the message home and present the benefits of Sony’s batteries.

What’s important here, though, is that you have to feel close enough to solving the ad before you get to the tagline. If not, you won’t get to the tagline and give up. (At least someone seeing this out in the wild would). In other words, the tagline has to come last. The fact it’s small helps with this. If you do the tagline anything but last, it spoils the “get”, in my opinion.

Personally, I think the dots are too far apart. Or, it’s too tempting to look at the tagline before you’ve basically solved the ad.

So, let me show you another ad from the campaign where the dots are a little closer.

Another ad from the above campaign, showing a guy listening to music but a man and child in the background.

The dog poo does it, doesn’t it? 

It’s much more obvious that the little fella has stood in some poop, his dad is telling him off, and that the final line is clearly not “To find dog poo on your shoe, James.” 

Of course, both ads rely on the reader recognising the lyrics. So, at a campaign level, I’d assume you’d need to scatter wide to cater – and resonate – with a wide range of people. Because if you don’t recognise the lyrics, the ad won’t do much for you. But if you do, it’s a solid connection with the reader, in my eyes.

The lyrics are also where the emotion comes in. Let’s head there next.

The Emotion

You know emotion is important in all advertising. And because this isn’t a direct response ad as such, emotion is even more important. (It helps to change behaviour and aids with mental availability)

But how to use emotion in advertising is sometimes confusing – or misinterpreted. Tom Roach settles it in this brilliant article of his

When people talk about emotion in advertising they tend to think it’s limited to emotional storytelling in video. But some kind of emotional reaction is necessary in order to achieve a behavioural response to any kind of stimulus. People can have an emotional response to any format, of any length, albeit the intensity of the emotional response will vary. A seemingly rational messaging can have an emotional effect: a search ad saying ‘half price champagne’ could cause a strong emotional and behavioural reaction.”

And then most importantly… 

“…always think about emotion as a consumer response to communication, not an executional input into it.”

So, song lyrics are an interesting emotional device. Every song will generate emotion to some extent. The same song might generate different emotions for different people. And this is also why you need somewhat popular songs: you’ll miss huge emotional potential by picking a song nobody recognises – and thus feels nothing from.

The lyrics almost act like an emotional shortcut. They tap into pre-existing emotion rather than generating it with the ad’s content. (Although you could argue the humour the last line generates in the dog poo ad generates some emotion.) 

And shortcuts like this are good in advertising because they deliver more bang for less buck. Other examples of shortcuts include the symbolism in this Polo ad or the visual metaphor in this The Economist ad

The Conclusion

So there we are, you’ve seen the ads, who made it, the idea, the breadcrumb trail and the emotion the ad taps into/generates. It’s a great idea that plays into a funny little annoyance. Was it too difficult to grasp? The main ad of today, yes, I feel so. But that’s just my opinion.

The Rest of the Campaign 

Now, it’s worth adding that there were another four ads in this campaign (which email subscribers got). These, too, played into the same annoyance. But they used different lyrics and matched them with “unsuspecting” listeners, introducing humour in a different way.

So, if you want to get the extra insights with the next breakdown, sign up for my newsletter here. It’s completely free.

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