Words of Ernie, Part I: There Are No Uninteresting Products?

When I was a student, the school gave us each a mentor. Because I was very good in a previous life, I got Ernie Schenck. If you're not familiar with him, you're not spending enough time with the annuals.

I still have all the e-mails we traded over the course of a few months. I'd like to share one of them with you. It was given in response to my question about how to approach a product that isn't all that interesting. He'd done some incredibly cool ads for a bottled water company called Akva, and I wanted to know how he approached such a seemingly dull assignment. How many of you would be thrilled if I assigned you a bottled water company this week? Not an energy drink. Not bottled water with vitamin supplements. Just bottled water. Pretty dull, right? Here's Ernie's ad (for a better view click, or just go to the 1993 CA Annual):

So how do you do an ad for an uninteresting product? Ernie says:


Actually, there are no uninteresting products. Only uninteresting ways of doings ads for them. I'm serious. When I was at Leonard Monahan, we had an account that made baby nipples. Baby nipples. Talk about boring. But those ads, at the time, with huge winners because the creative team was able to get beyond their blind spot about boring baby nipples and get into the head of young mothers, who as it turned out, had a huge appetite for learning about stuff like this. What's more, these were long copy ads. But they spent a lot of time talking about babies and how soft their mouths are and how important it is that a nipple be designed to accommodate their mouths, etc. Essentially, a lot of that copy was educational about babies and their oral anatomy as much as it was about the product.

As for Akva, yeah, water is water. But that campaign wasn't really about water, was it? It was really about Iceland. And that, I'm telling you, is a very interesting place. I won't get into it if you've seen the ads. But the point is that when you're confronted with what seems like a parity product, you have to come at it from some wholly different angle. It could be a country, Could be a baby's anatomy. I refer you to John Hancock. Wretched product, insurance and mutual funds. Bottom line-- don't take everything at face value. Not every product is a Porsche or a snowboard or ESPN. You've just got to work harder to drill down beneath the obvious dull stuff.

--Ernie Schenck