Pillows, she-devils and oiled thighs. Thoughts on advertising and star riders.

Hovis bread. Hot Pendleton.

Pillow talk first, then sexy girl.

The new photo of the Quick Step team engaged in a group hug with sponsor Latexco’s pillows had a number of people laughing. The always insightful Inner Ring called the idea bizarre, fake, pointless and a joke.He also criticized the recent Sidi ads with Alberto Contador and Filippo Pozzato.

Now, we have tremendous respect for Mr. Inner Ring and his blog is a daily must read but we’re going to have to disagree with his assessment. As the only cycling journo with a long career in the sordid and silly business of advertising, we can state with authority that the Latexco and Sidi work is better than 95% of the crap out there. We’ll also add our professional applause for the new Hovis bread work starring the women with the massive sexy thighs, brit babe Victoria Pendleton. (Side question: why wasn’t she in the Cyclepassion calendar?)

Quick Step Pillow talk.

A few basics on the dark art of marketing. First rule: never bore. The goal is to capture the attention of a stressed-out consumer with no attention span. An arresting photo, an unexpected image, a surprising juxtaposition, an amusing or dramatic new twist are required. The pillow shot immediately gets your attention for several reasons.

The same goes for Pozzato and his little sex show with his shoes, tattoos and oiled thighs. Sure, it’s homo-erotic but things could be a lot worse — it could be dull. And it goes without saying, that Pendleton in a little red dress and devil horns and also an angel get-up is going to grab plenty of eyeballs. All successes.

Pozzatto. Oily advertising.

Now, we will admit the Contador execution with the Pistolero wandering around trying to look menacing in a white suit and bare feet was a failure. But again, think of the alternative: Contador in his Saxo kit holding the shoes saying basically, look at me, I’m a champion, behold my shoes. People tune out mediocre crap instantly. It’s a waste of everyone’s valuable time and attention span.

So score a goal for the pillow folks who now have an arresting image with Tom Boonen and Gert Steegman that’s going viral. The playwright, comic genius and social critic Oscar Wilde didn’t mean to sum up advertising way back when but he did anyway. He was responding to criticism of his book scandalous book A Picture of Dorian Gray when he said it doesn’t matter whether you’re famous in infamous as long as people are talking about you. That’s how advertising works and the word viral is just today’s buzz for the power of controversy. Chapeau (filled with euros) to Hovis and Sidi on that count.

The most two most basic measurements in advertising are recall and likeability. It’s one of the main reasons conservative clients ignore the creative ideas of their ad agency and instead go out and buy a celebrity everyone admires.

Creative teams generally hate celebrity campaigns because they can’t do anything with them and stars are often a pain in the ass to work with.  You end up with Star holding Product. Which, sadly, still works if it’s a major star like Contador.

The only way you play with celebrity advertising is by showing a new side to that personality or really playing with the existing one. Pozzatto likes to show off his bod and his tats. So hand him some oil, crank the sex music and let him auto-eroticize. You’ve got attention and recall and viral. Not a work of genius, but effective. Pissing off and offending a few people is a smart business tactic. Better to be outrageous than invisible.

Would I have personally done this execution? Nope. I might have had Pozzatto going to the tattoo shop again and again until his entire body was covered and there’s only one place left untouched: his feet. Then, even though he’s dying to get another tat, he can’t bring himself to put on there. Why? Because that’s a sacred spot reserved for only one thing, his Sidis. That’s off the top of my head but is it as viral as sex and oil? Maybe not.

Viral obviously applies to devil girl Pendleton. They played with the good girl, bad girl dynamic and that’s always a winner. The reason these approaches fail is when the idea doesn’t fit with the brand or message. Eating healthy is a will power/temptation scenario. So the devil and angel idea is a natural fit. Remember, never bore, snatch attention, aim for recall.

Cannibal. Genius.

Would you rather have a blandly dressed Pendleton sitting at the breakfast table talking earnestly about the fascinating benefits of fiber? Don’t think so. Do you want Boonen to recite some pillow factoids or Pozzatto to tell you about the minutia behind the Sidi carbon sole? I say bring the hot oil — product benefits are mostly me-to features or cosmetic, meaningless hype invented by people like me.

Which also reminds us of the Boonen “Cannibal”print ad for Merckx bikes. Even old man Eddy himself admitted he was uneasy with the idea, saying he didn’t really understand advertising like this. Rest easy, Cannibal senior, it was brilliant. Recall scores skyrocket with an image of a crazed Boonen, his mouth covered with blood like he’d just eaten Cancellara alive and then snacked on one of Pozzatto’s oiled thighs. Graphic, viral, unforgettable. Likeability in this case is the “cool” factor. Genius — wish I’d done it and you can be sure it won several advertising awards.

Scorecard: Hovis she-devil Pendleton A, Latexco pillow boy Boonen A-, Sidi oiled Pozzatto B, Side white suit Contador C-.

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  • Ricola

    I would like some of the Di Luca hair spray! :D

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  • Bill Rupy

    I'm waiting for someone to come out with a parody of the Sidi – Contador ad. You know, Contador look-alike in white tie and tails, gripping a bloody steak and bouncing it off his lapel, leaving red splotches all over, with the voiceover saying "Meaty! Cycling Moo's". Or Snooze. Or something. Heck, I'm just an unemployed engineer, someone in Creative take it from there!

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com TwistedSpoke

      Bill, that would be funny. Maybe you should freelance as a copy writer. Matt