BACK IN 1985 when I was a skinny brown-haired art director, I worked briefly for the Houston office of Benton & Bowles. One bright spring day, the New York office called: the Pampers brand, a mainstay of the business since 1961, had been placed in review. To access as much fresh thinking on the brand as possible, people from B&B network branch offices were summoned to an all-hands working session in New York.
Creative teams from around the country came in for a couple of days orientation on the Pampers brand story and previous campaigns. Breaking for a late lunch after a working session, I joined a group of writers and art directors in an elevator, headed down to the ground floor burger joint.
One account guy in a suit came with us, talking animatedly about the huge knowledge base that the agency had built over the years about the disposable diaper business. Over lunch, he spoke about how Pampers had spent years in testing and focus groups before the brand rolled out nationally. The agency knew which benefits most appealed to their target, how to show mothers caring for their babies, which angles worked best to present the diaper, to emphasize how sanitary disposables were, even to mention they could be flushed through “modern plumbing.”
The difficulty B&B found themselves in was that the buildup of well-trodden techniques used in presenting the benefits of disposable diapers had been accumulating in the agency since 1961. The original marketing innovation which focused on the bond between mothers and children had been overwhelmed by the number of benefits and bullet points tested and proved effective over the years. The agency had become over-reliant on familiar and well accepted techniques, and now was forced into the embarrassing position of a creative review.
As the account executive at our table put it, “The Lore will kill you.”
It’s a memorable warning to be cautious of the reasonable tendency to keep doing what has “always worked” as the world changes around us.
Benton & Bowles survived the review, possibly in part by merging with D’Arcy Masius later that year.
The $2.45 billion deal was the largest in advertising history at that time. The combined entity, DMB&B, managed to retain the Pampers business until 2002. “The Lore will kill you” account guy turned out to be Roy Bostock, then president of B&B, later to become chairman and CEO of D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, later chairman of Yahoo, currently on the board of Delta Airlines. Thanks for the wise words, Roy.