[Alternative POV] Ad Breakdown: The Guardian’s “Interview”

Lewis Folkard

Lewis Folkard

Suffolk-based conversion copywriter.

The Guardian Interview ad

Last year, I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a big pile of D&AD annuals. And by big, I mean big. Because sitting at home right now, I have every D&AD annual from 1981 to 2019 (and a couple others I’ve picked up since). And they’re not the smallest (or lightest) of books…

A wonderful adman named Laurence Blume sold them to me. We stay in touch – and he’s made a very generous contribution to this breakdown. Because not only are we (you and I) looking at one of his ads, but he’s shared his thoughts on it too. Some 35+ years later.

Let’s dig in.

*Update: Apologies, Laurence pointed out a (rather obvious) mistake with the analysis below. I’d written it thinking it was a consumer ad when it was actually a trade ad. So rather than trying to convince reader’s to switch papers, it’s actually trying to convince media planners and marketing directors to put recruitment ads in The Guardian instead. The updated trade ad version is here. And then, for this analysis, just imagine it’s a consumer ad and use the alternate POV as food for thought (it still has some value!).

The Guardian Interview ad

Who made it?

Art Director: Laurence Blume | Copywriter: Laurence Blume | Photographer: Ken Griffiths | Agency: BMP | Client: The Guardian | Annual: 1987

The idea

The core premise here is: What does your newspaper choice say about you? In situations like an interview, where you’re going to be judged and compared to others, the impression you make directly affects the outcome. Obvious, right?

But The Guardian being the better choice isn’t explicit. The ad delivers this message in a way that invites you to think about your choice and then piece together that The Guardian is a more favourable option. 

Keep this two-pronged approach in mind as you read through.

Newspaper choice

In the ad, if you haven’t already seen/read, there are three different newspapers. And each paper has its different values and ideologies, and hence readership. Let’s see what Laurence says about the candidates, the papers and their choices.

“And how have they picked their newspapers? The young man at left has the Daily Telegraph. Conservative. Reactionary. It, and so he, would be the tired, old fashioned choice for the job. The young lady in the centre (our creative secretary at the time) has The Times. Establishment. Predictable. It, and so she, would be the safe, expected choice. And then there’s the young man on the right. A bolder, more open-minded pose. He has The Guardian. Free-thinking. Liberal. He is the more interesting choice. The candidate with a mind of his own.” 

Because deep down, the information you consume does shape who you are. Newspapers, books, videos, films (etc) create neural pathways that effectively establish and/or reinforce a lens through which you see the world. 

Let me give you an example. If Newspaper X shows a situation through Lens A, but Newspaper Y shows it through Lens B, then over time, you’re more likely to see similar situations through the lens of your chosen paper.

But what’s interesting, though, is that we then tend to seek (somewhat unconsciously) information that already aligns and reinforces our lens. This is the Confirmation Bias. And the more you read and ‘confirm’ your lens, the stronger it gets. So disrupting it becomes increasingly difficult. 

This lens alters how you feel about the world and how you carry yourself too. So, in judgy situations (like interviews), others will sense (at least parts of) your character.

Why this ad works: Relativity

In The Choice Factory, Richard Shotton discusses the impact of price relativity. In short, we base the value of a product on what we can compare it to, where the comparison set is the value anchor. 

Shotton gives the example of beer. If a new expensive beer hit the market in a typical “beer bottle” we’d compare it to other beers and decide whether the price/value is “OK” or not. But if we put that beer in a wine-like bottle, we’d compare it to the price of wine, which is usually higher. And so the new, more expensive beer faces less price/value resistance.

Well, the same principles apply outside of pricing. For example… if you’re waiting to be interviewed alongside two other candidates… 

The two other candidates are the comparison set. And to win the interview – or to be “bought” – you need to maximise your value vs the others. But due to the nature of the situation, you’re not yet able to verbally convey that value. So, other data points (like your newspaper choice) signal the value you provide.

Let’s not forget these are first impressions too. So the Confirmation Bias will prompt the interviewer to confirm their initial impression of you.

Sure, this might seem obvious. But it’s important to see what/how the ad taps into this.

Why this ad works: Fear

Now, we already know that the Confirmation Bias is hard to disrupt. So logical arguments are easily swept away. But emotional ones… well, they can wiggle their way in. 

Nobody wants to be thought of as “less valuable” or “worse” than someone else. And this fear of negative judgement is deeply embedded in our nature. We want to be part of the group. 

So, Laurence’s choice to use an interview as the emotional vehicle is a smart one. It’s easy to imagine and carries a lot of fuel. 

Why this ad works: Reevaluation

By tapping into the fear of negative judgement, the ad invites (not tells) you to reevaluate your choices. And that’s important. Because if it did, your Confirmation Bias would just swipe it away. But by wrapping it in emotion and sliding it under the door, you choose to reevaluate on your own accord.

Why? Because the emotion stirs your view of your decisions and puts you in a more vulnerable, distressed state. It creates FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt). And you’re now more susceptible to persuasion (because our rational mind loses its voice and can’t provide counterarguments to alternate ideas).

And what’s more, because the ad shines a light on a problem you didn’t realise you had, you feel an urgency to fix it quickly.

Why this ad works: The Generation Effect 

Your world has been flipped upside down. You can’t be trusted to make decisions for yourself. 

“What newspaper should I pick instead then?”, you question. The ad (of course) answers.

It’d be easy – and maybe still effective – to explicitly say The Guardian is the better choice. But Laurence does it cleverly. By letting you connect the dots yourself, the answer you come to feels like your own. And you hold it closer. So, by suggesting The Guardian is a better choice, you happily adopt it without much resistance.

But what I really like is how widely applicable the “benefit” is. Everybody thinks they have a mind of their own. Nobody will say otherwise. And that, again, makes this new lens easier to adopt.

Wrapping up

A clever combination of fear, relativity, and careful thinking invites you to reevaluate your newspaper choice. It’s very strategic within itself. And I like that a lot.

I’m sure The Guardian did too, because once you’ve been woken from your sleepwalk, the Confirmation Bias will help pull you into another one. Newspaper purchases on auto-pilot.

The next one

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And then, see the updated version of this breakdown. (If you want to…)

Okay, one more thing

Laurence, being the kind, generous soul that he is gave a lot more information about this ad. And I didn’t want to interrupt the flow of his thoughts, so I’ve put everything he shared for you here.

“Looking at this ad today, I’m startled by how much of it requires explanation. Who are the three people and why are they dressed so formally? They are young, professional candidates for an important job, and they are dressed that way because, in the mid eighties, that was how you dressed for a job interview.

Where are they supposed to be? It looks like a stately home. Well, it’s actually somewhere on Parliament Square, but I can no longer recall precisely where. The point is that it looks as though it could be the HQ, in those days, of any august financial or commercial institution.

Why are they all sitting there? Because that’s how recruitment was conducted, pre internet. Jobs were advertised. Candidates applied. Those shortlisted attended an interview and sat in an ante-room waiting to be called.

Why are they all holding newspapers, and why are those so huge? They all have newspapers because, in those days, every thinking person read a newspaper just about every day. And if you knew you were going to sit awaiting an interview, you’d quite possible take yours along in your briefcase. If you did not, there would probably be all daily titles available in the waiting room, laid out on a low table for guests to browse. Your choice of newspaper was highly significant, however. With their varying heritages, ownerships and readerships, they were a sign of your leanings; a badge of your allegiances. Size? They are broadsheets, because in 1986, the quality dailies were all still broadsheet. Only the popular ‘non intellectual’ press was tabloid.

And how have they picked their newspapers? The young man at left has the Daily Telegraph. Conservative. Reactionary. It, and so he, would be the tired, old fashioned choice for the job. The young lady in the centre (our creative secretary at the time) has The Times. Establishment. Predictable. It, and so she, would be the safe, expected choice. And then there’s the young man on the right. A bolder, more open-minded pose. He has The Guardian. Free-thinking. Liberal. He is the more interesting choice. The candidate with a mind of his own.

I had been on the BMP team that had pitched for and won The Guardian from JWT. The great John Webster took the consumer TV campaign, but I got to keep the trade press campaign, much as I’d presented in the pitch, and aimed at persuading media buyers and marketing directors that at least some of their executive recruitment budget should be spent with The Guardian. For me, it was a gift. Every couple of weeks, I had a full colour, double page spread in Campaign, all to myself. In those days, everyone, in every agency, read Campaign, printed on gorgeous, large format, brilliant white, art-coated stock, every Thursday, cover to cover. To have that canvas gave me an exposure in the business that a young writer could really only dream of.

I wasn’t always the easiest of writers to work with, in my twenties, and sometimes I’d be between art directors and work alone. This seems to have been such an instance. I am credited as both writer and art director. The late Ken Griffiths took the shot on a 10”x8” Gandolfi plate camera, and David Wakefield, probably the best agency typographer of all time, styled the ad, as he had the whole campaign, after our Joint Creative Director rejected out of hand the minimalist layouts I’d had the eighties god of typographic cool, Peter Saville, do.

In The Book. And a Silver, to, that year at Campaign Press Awards for Best Media Advertisement. Clients get the ads they deserve. Jon Gordon, then Marketing Director at The Guardian (and who also bought the famous ‘Points of View’ TV commercial, was some client.”

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