Not perfumed, not coloured, just kind
As an advertising copywriter with over 25 years in the business, I can honestly say that there are very few occasions where you get to work for a client who you know instinctively has a potentially brilliant product with a very strong message to convey. Back in 1987 my Art Director partner and I were fortunate enough to receive an advertising brief for Simple Soap. This was a small independent company that produced a small range of products including soap, shampoo and conditioners – all of which contained no perfume or colouring.
In 1987, Channel Four was still pretty new, so the cost of buying media spots was relatively cheap, and it was for this reason that Simple asked the agency to propose a TV commercial. Simple had made the bold decision to redirect the money it usually put behind its sales force and plough it instead into a modest TV campaign on Channel 4.
They couldn't have timed this decision better. There was a huge trend at the time against the use of additives and colouring in the food we all consumed. And this public sentiment was being effectively stoked by the media, particularly television. The previous year had also seen the publication of 'E is for Additives' by Maurice Hanssen and Jill Marsden, which went on to become a bestseller.
So against this background, we were tasked with creating a TV idea for the product. In fact, we were briefed in the late afternoon and had the evening at home to mull it over.
The spooky thing was that my partner and I had thought independently about this project and both of us arrived early at the agency the following morning with our ideas scribbled on pieces of paper. We had both thought of precisely the same idea – a white lily being sprayed and perfumed. Colin my partner drew up a storyboard and we showed the idea to our Creative Director who loved it. I think we presented the script to the client a few days later. The presentation was the swiftest meeting I've ever been in. We took the two marketing men, Keith and Ian from Simple through the script. From my experience, clients usually like to keep their cards very close to their chest. This wasn't one of those kind of meetings. Keith smiled broadly. “Chaps, this is fabulous,” he said, “when can we make it?”
We approached the legendary film production company Brooks Fulford, and ran our script past the charming and talented Len Fulford. He reckoned we'd have to make a model of the lily as a real one would wilt very quickly under the lighting. And a model would allow us to do as many takes as we wanted to get the best shots. So model makers, Asylum Models were brought in and briefed to create a very lifelike lily, as well as a pair of elegant robotic arms to spray paint and perfume. The commercial was shot in a day and the music was composed to picture by David Dundas. The voice provided by Joanna Lumley was the last piece of the jigsaw. Though, amusingly it took a few goes to get Joanna to read the script in her normal everyday voice rather than her sultry advertising voice.
The commercial ran on Channel 4 and sales went through the roof. Months after the commercial first broke, Simple Soap was approached by Smith & Nephew and snapped up for a small fortune. Needless to say, Keith and Ian retired early. But before doing so Ian wrote to Colin and myself thanking us personally for creating the commercial.
The commercial stayed on air for two years, and today, 23 years on, the commercial has been remade with a Rose. Gilding the Rose doesn't sound quite right to me though. But then, I would say that, wouldn't I?