Advertising folk who take their jobs a little too seriously, and I’d argue even those that don’t, want to be part of a campaign that becomes a cultural reference point. I’m no different. I’m endlessly fascinated by the campaigns that manage to penetrate folk’s heads.
During lockdown, I’ve become mildly obsessed by a campaign that achieved exactly this. The ads have developed a kind of cult status and — rather uniquely — have done so through a choice of media.
When ads achieve mass consciousness, it’s often because of a feature of the creative; the sadly-missed jingles of old, the stolen snippet of a great track, a featured celebrity, a strong end line. It’s rarely because of the media plan. Often, the media is the reason why the creative is widely recognised and remembered — providing the context, reach and frequency — but much like firing nerf bullets from a shotgun, with the wrong ammunition the campaign isn’t going to make much of an impression.
The campaign I’m obsessed by is different. The fact that it’s still being discussed, albeit in small, tight-knit circles, is entirely down to the media planning.
I love a bridge. It sounds like a throwaway remark but it’s absolutely not. I am endlessly fascinated and over-awed by their vastness, their heft and their unmoving victory over gravity. If I wasn’t a media type, I would 100% be an architect or a civil engineer. The fact that I’m not, is perhaps more down to my struggles with my physics degree than anything else. I know, I know, my current employers are desperately lucky to have me.
Anyway, I digress.
Where I live, there’s an overground railway bridge very similar to the ones you see across much of Zone 2. As long as we’ve lived here, it’s been painted with ‘The Cally’ in 6 foot high white lettering. There’s a similar design down the road on a railway bridge in Camden. When they were both repainted in 2012–13, it brought to an end the North London arm of an ad campaign that had been running virtually unchanged for more than half a century.
Before the new lick of colour, these bridges carried painted advertising for a brake pads brand called Ferodo. Founded in Chapel-en-le-Frith in Derbyshire in 1897, the company developed everything from bulletproof vests to brake pads, and played a role in Donald Campbell’s breaking of the land speed record in 1963.
At some point in the 1950s, the company decided to buy placements on a series of railway bridges across the country. From Cardiff to Sheffield, drivers worrying about the clearance of their vehicle would be thinking of Ferodo as their foot gingerly hovered over the brakes .
Whether driven by a commitment to consistency, media planning laziness or a lack of interest in those sites, Ferodo has been present on railway bridges for over 6 decades, with some bridges still carrying the brand’s logo today. That consistency has made sure that in a very niche category, the brand has secured mainstream mental availability, albeit in the communities in and around its bridges.
Ferodo has spent 60 years, and counting, popping up in directions, “the next left under the Ferodo bridge”, anecdotes and memories. For those communities who grew up alongside the bridges, arguably the ads will be even more noticeable in absence than their presence ever was.
So, did it work? Well, to be honest, I don’t know. I’m not minded to go into the annual reports of the company that owns the brand now, nor do a full category analysis but Les Binet’s new favourite analytical method seems to suggest it’s working. Google Trends shows that Ferodo is still being searched more than its competitors in the UK, despite a lack of any recent advertising. So, that’s something.
What is very telling is the number of forums, articles and blogs that reference the bridges. When was the last time you saw an article about a cereal or shampoo commercial, never mind one for brake pads? The ad campaign has even managed to cross into high culture, with a London-based theatre company choosing to name themselves Ferodo Bridges.
These online references are now all that remains of much of the ad campaign, and as the paint flecks off the remaining bridges and blogs are eventually mothballed and discarded, it will be lost and forgotten. So consider this an attempt to maintain the memory for a couple of years longer and a case study for the benefits of consistency over change, even for a very niche brand.
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