In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Classic Campaigns - “You Know When You’ve Been Tango’d” The Orange Man Commercial
  • Linda M. Scott (bio)

Creative types love to think they have shocked people. Still, it is rare for a commercial that has won loads of awards to actually be banned. And even rarer still for that advertisement to lead to a substantial increase in sales and not just awareness. But British agency Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury (HHCL) could claim all three for its 1992 spot for Tango soft drinks, called “Orange Man.”

Tango, a line of fruit-flavored soft drinks produced by Britvic, was “gathering dust” on the shelves of fish and chips shops when it was rescued from anonymity by HHCL, one of those short-lived “naughty” agencies with an amazing run of work.1 Begun in 1987 out of Rupert Howell’s flat, HHCL originally positioned itself as a socially responsible agency, following the left-leaning politics of its planning director, Adam Lury.

HHCL’s social responsibility was meant to be manifest in the use of real people instead of actors and low cost production methods. In fact, the agency’s first few campaigns were more scandalous than socialist, but success quickly made them the agency “everyone loved to hate.”2 HHCL was one of the first agencies to switch from a media commission compensation system and to strip down their office space to impress clients. Their listing in Campaign’s 1993 Client’s Guide to Choosing an Agency makes fabulous claims about the effectiveness of their advertising and promises to (1) base campaigns on the company rather than the consumer, (2) involve the client directly in the creative process, and (3) keep a firm lid on production costs, all of which read like shameless pandering to me, but were clearly effective inducements, as they attracted many advertisers.

Indeed, the agency was well recognized for a client list that was impressive, but had an abnormal degree of churn. HHCL was sacked by their client, Thames Television, for their very first trade ad: the image was a couple making love in front of the television; the headline was “According to current audience research, this couple are watching your ad. So who’s really getting screwed?”3 After that, HHCL was fired by MTV, Fruit of the Loom, and Avis, among many of the other big name advertisers who tried them out.

Nevertheless, HHCL performance did set records. They won agency of the year, advertiser of the year, and campaign of the year in the first five years of their existence, the first agency ever to win all three in that short period. HHCL had been absorbed entirely by Sir Martin Sorrell’s empire by 2003, but they had been Agency of the Year three times within a decade. Their first big campaign made Fujifilm Advertiser of the Year. Another, for Dane-pak featured a nude family called “the Andersons,” who barbequed while discreetly covering their private parts with cooking utensils. This campaign allegedly increased awareness from 10% to 35% and raised the firm’s financial value by 63%.4 A campaign that is also famous in the United States (one of my favorites, actually) was for Maxell audiotapes.

Video 1 – Maxell.

Video 2 – Maxell.

It showed a young man with the wrong lyrics to a song written on a placard while the same song played in the background–implying that you would hear the song all wrong if you used the other brand’s tapes. Maxell reportedly went from fifth ranked to second ranked in the industry and their market share rose 32%.5 In the UK, however, advertising experts agree that it was Tango that put HHCL on the map.

The ad itself is the kind of thing the British...