What all brands can learn about making a difference from a sixty-year-old shirt commercial

On this month's theme of 'making a difference' Harbour Collective's Kevin Chesters says you need to spend your time focusing on one thing

Rael-Brook Toplin, the shirt you don’t iron.
“Rael-Brook Toplin, the shirt you don’t iron.
“Rael-Brook Toplin, the shirt you don’t iron.
“Rael-Brook Toplin, the shirt you don’t iron


This is the jingle from a TV ad from the early 1960s. It’s for a shirt that you… didn’t need to iron. I’m sure the shirt was also available from all good stores. I’m equally convinced the client would have wanted you to know that it was available at a good price, and that it was quality made. Maybe even something about its provenance or process or materials. But they decided to focus on one thing. And hammer, hammer, hammer it home.

The sentence is repeated in a jingle eight times in thirty seconds. It is reinforced by being on screen for the entire ad, with the type dancing on top of a shirt. Obviously.

Most brands aren’t known for anything.

Let alone one thing. At Harbour we always work closely with clients to work out the ‘one thing’ that you should be known for. Why? Well firstly, all consumers are humans, and the human brain is very very lazy. It craves cognitive closure and what behavioural scientists called cognitive ease. It loves simplicity. From its brands as much as anything else. It was the most efficient way to survive and thrive back on the savannah.

There is a tendency in marketing to always want to say too much. To add a big list of RTBs. To tell absolutely everyone, absolutely everything, in absolutely every media, at absolutely every opportunity you have. This is not only odd, but the data shows that it is incredibly detrimental if you want your marketing to make any sort of difference.

The best lesson I was ever taught was that great strategy is sacrifice.

The biggest impacts are made because of what you choose to leave out, not put in. Create the space for landing your key point-of-difference. I remember listening to some idiot once tell a client that “the more you say, the more you sell’. Literally nothing could be further from the truth. Statistically robust analysis by Kantar/Millward Brown across their entire global database of ads showed that ads with one message in them land that primary message with 30% of the audience. The introduction of a second message reduces that to 21%, and a third message to only 14%. If you want a customer to remember something you are best to not interrupt and muddy the waters with something else whilst you’re doing so. Duh.

Leaving aside (if you wanted to for some weird reason) the proven evidence that saying multiple things to your customers at the same time is marketing stupidity, then just look at the evolutionary science. Reactance Theory shows that the more reasons you give for something being the right thing to do the less effective your argument will be. It triggers the primal fight-or-flight response that you are spending so long telling me something is right, that it must be wrong.

The scientist, Edward Dean, did some great work on this in the 1960s to analyse the impact of ‘nagging’. It doesn’t work. If you want to make a difference in your marketing, spend time working out your one thing. The most important thing you want people to get from you — rationally or emotionally. Work out your version of the “Rael-Brook Toplin” sentence.

The game to play here with what you want to say is the ‘what’s in your backpack’ one from the George Clooney film, Up in the Air (2009). Put all your supposedly vital things into your strategy messaging backpack. You’re allowed five things. OK, now you must take two out. What’s really vital? What can’t you do without? Now take out another. Finally, decide what you absolutely must take with you. If you can’t decide, use research to work out with your key audience what they think is vital. Now, take that with you.

And now a test. What was so special about a Rael-Brook Toplin shirt?


Featured image: Up In The Air (2009) / imdb

Kevin Chesters

Kev Chesters is the Owner and Strategy Partner of Harbour Collective.Kev started his career in account handling at Ogilvy in the mid-90s, making the transition into strategy in 1999. Since then, he has progressed through the ranks in a number of different strategy roles – client and agency, domestic and international, across every type of creative and media output through a diverse range of networks, micro-networks and independents.After working as Head of Marketing Strategy at BT from 2001 to 2004, Kev made the jump back to agency life as Planning Director at Saatchi & Saatchi. He joined W+K in 2007 and was appointed Head of Strategy in 2009. He was the lead strategist on Honda for a number of years and led the successful pitch for Three.Kev left Wieden in 2013 to become the Executive Planning Director at McGarryBowen, seeing the agency enjoy its most successful period ever, winning two Cannes Gold Lions and 16 out of 19 pitches.In 2017, Kevin joined Ogilvy & Mather as Chief Strategy Officer as part of a new management team, along with Harbour Collective Creative Partner, Mick Mahoney. The team was tasked with putting the London agency back on the map and succeeded by topping the New Business Performance League for 12 months and being named runner-up in Campaign’s Agency of the Year 2017.Kevin was then promoted to be head of strategy across all its disciplines at Ogilvy, before joining Harbour with Mick in May 2019.Kev is a regular commentator on industry issues, writing for publications including Adweek, The Drum and Campaign. He is a blogger for the Marketing Society, a member of the APG Committee, and has been a judge for both the APG and Effie Awards.Along with Mick, Kev is the co-author of the recently published book, The Creative Nudge.

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