Andy Stubbings writes:

Pessimism is an often underrated emotion. In this dismal economic climate, brands like Schweppes (with their series of woodcut style print ads that send up British political figures) and even the Evening Standard (with their “Sorry” bus and tube advertising) have sought to capitalise on consumer discontent and, most probably, a simmering resentment towards our political and economic institutions (for a wonderfully vitriolic example of this anger, see Matt Taibbi’s ‘The Big Takeover’).

However, no mainstream brands appear to have done this as explicitly as Shredded Wheat in the US. The “Progress is Overrated” print ad above is part of a campaign by cereal manufacturer Post to publicise the simple, unchanged origins of their product. As you would expect, the long-copy form and type-setting feel of the print ad are wantonly old-fashioned, conveying “back-to-basics” message (although the slapstick tone of other campaign media feels at odds with this). What is especially interesting about the copy, however, is that it namechecks waste concerns, resource shortages and the impact of climate change as evidence that we have not progressed (though curiously no mention of the financial crisis. The people who buy Shredded Wheat are mainstream American consumers, many of them mums buying for their kids. The tone of the campaign (by Ogilvy & Mather in New York) implies that research has found this attitude reasonably prevalent in the target audience, which suggests that consumer discontent may be quite widespread.

While it may be difficult for established brands like Schweppes and Shredded Wheat to reinvent themselves as the Voice of Discontent, I think there is a substantial opportunity for less well-known brands to take this on, in the way that Mountain Dew reinvented itself as the ‘slacker’ brand in the midst of the corporate greed of the 1980s. With so many brands offering similar messages of solidarity and empathy with consumers at the moment, it might be that pessimism proves a smarter and more distinctive position.

The picture is borrowed, with thanks, from Noise Between Stations.

One thought on “Old and unimproved

  1. tomding says:

    More “anti marketing” from Post cereals here:
    (you need to listen to the voiceover).
    It also seems timely and does a good job of passively denigrating the competition. Who would have thought that a brand of cereal would produce such challenging work?

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