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

Lewis Folkard

Lewis Folkard

Suffolk-based conversion copywriter.

The Guardian Interview ad

So, last month, I posted a breakdown for The Guardian. If you haven’t seen it, it’s here.

But a week after posting, I received another message from Laurence Blume, the ad’s art director and copywriter, highlighting the ad was a trade ad – and not a consumer ad.

So, I’ll keep the existing ad breakdown up as an alternative POV but add a note explaining the audience isn’t correct. It still has value and explains my take on the “accepted knowledge” the media planners and marketing directors use in the analysis below.

Let’s take a look… again. 

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

Like last time, the core premise is: What does a newspaper choice say about its reader? 

In situations like an interview, where interviewees are hyper-sensitive to how others perceive them, you can assume they’re going to think carefully about their decision and pick the paper they think makes them look the best. That’s a pretty natural behaviour – and I’m sure you can think of situations where you’ve acted similarly.

But unlike last time, the ad isn’t talking to newspaper readers. It’s talking to the people talking to newspaper readers. And they want to talk to the best. Let’s see why.

Why this ad works: Playing with the implicit

An established copywriting cue is to think of the benefit of the benefit. It helps reveal a deeper, more potent (and often) emotional benefit of a product. And the end benefit of this ad is that The Guardian will help media planners and marketing directors grow the business they work for.

But whilst it’s correct, ‘helping you grow your business’ is – and has been – said a lot. It’s weak in its explicit form. And weak claims don’t move the needle.

So, what should you do? 

Well, great advertisers are great communicators. And great communicators know to factor in the fatigue of a message. So, because a lot of products (in essence) promise the same end benefit as each other, a lot of great advertising avoids stating the end benefit directly and instead implies it, inviting you to put 2 and 2 together. This opens the door to having an impact with not just the product benefit but also how you communicate the benefit.

And as we’ll explore next, there’s a lot of strategic implying here. 

Why this ad works: The route to the benefit

So because we know it’s not just the destination but the route to the end benefit that can impact the reader, let’s see what Laurence does here.

As is often the case in advertising, the product is the benefit mechanism – or the “vehicle” that takes you from no benefit to end benefit.

Here, The Guardian becomes the mechanism for helping you find more interesting interview candidates. Better candidates mean better employees. And better employees mean better business performance. 

But note how each level of benefit is implied. Nothing is told directly.

And because you have to put in a little bit of effort to conclude the end benefit, you actually magnify it. It carries more weight because you’ve “thought of it yourself” versus being told directly. And as a result, the potential of The Guardian’s readers then seems higher and the ad more persuasive.

This is why so many ads use the Generation Effect – you get more bang for your buck. 

Why this ad works: The setting

So, because we know there’s a lot of strategic implying, let’s see how Laurence colours in this journey to the end benefit and heightens the intensity of our conclusions. 

When someone has something you want (i.e. a job), and you’re in a situation where you’re particularly sensitive to others’ perceptions of you (i.e. a job interview), it’s natural to want to impress them to better your chances.

What I think Laurence does particularly well is how he implicitly ramps up the stakes of the situation to magnify the importance of choosing the right paper. In other words, it’s not just any old interview. The paper choice means a lot. And because it means a lot to the candidates, it means a lot to the ad’s audience.

Notice how Laurence tells you this through peripheral details. Take the headline’s use of “the one” which almost objectifies the candidates. And look at the candidates’ clothing. Their body language. The marble pillar behind them. The framing on the wall. The varnished floors. Even the “classy” colour choices.

As Laurence explains, it’s all carefully curated.

“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.”

Why this ad works: Repetition

Dale Carnegie once said, “Tell the audience what you’re going to say, say it: then tell them what you’ve said.”. And despite being originally intended for speech writing, it’s very fitting for advertising. Some copywriters say 3-4 times, some 10+. But I think the real answer is to repeat your claims/core message as many times as you can without boring your audience. 

Longer-form sales pieces contain a lot of information and if they’re not well-written, their takeaways can be murky. So, to ensure the reader remembers the intended message, copywriters repeat it in different ways. For example, they might state it directly in a crosshead, highlight it in a review, show it in an image/video, or even tell it through a story.

Ads like the one above don’t have the benefit of space. So, the ad has to repeat (or reinforce) the same message in a clear, quick and sophisticated way. And it does. The confident, free-thinking body language of The Guardian reader and the more direct headline reinforce one another so everything points in the same direction.

Why this headline works: Rhetorical devices

“Who would you like to interview first: the one with the Telegraph, the one with The Times or the one with a mind of his own?”

There are a number of rhetorical devices used in the ad’s headline. We have…

Parallelism which repeats a grammatical form (e.g. “the one with…”) and gives the line rhythm. 

Tricolon which is the three-time repetition of a form – or The Rule of Three. This, again, adds rhythm to the line and makes it more enjoyable to read. 

And an antithesis which is the juxtaposition of contrasting words in either the same or consecutive sentences. For example, “…the Telegraph… The Times… the one with a mind of his own…”. This emphasises The Guardian because it breaks the expectation of seeing the final member of ‘the big three’ at the end of the sentence.

Together, they aid memorability, make the headline more enjoyable to read and then more likely to take the short journey to the end benefit.

The next one

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it. If you enjoyed reading, consider signing up to my newsletter. You’ll get some extra email-only insights with each breakdown.

>> Sign up here. 

And then for the original but incorrect audience (still valuable insights) try this. Think of it as getting inside the reader’s mind and why they might pick up the paper.

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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