Don't eat the pack shot: the client, the muesli bar and the jargon

  • Opinion
  • January 26, 2016
  • Damon Stapleton
Don't eat the pack shot: the client, the muesli bar and the jargon

This story may or may not be true. Or, may or may not have been altered slightly, to protect the innocent.

Many years ago I worked on a breakfast cereal client. The client was very keen on marketing speak. She loved marketing theory and could talk for hours about it. The only problem was when it came to actually buying something tangible she didn’t have a clue. She had no gut feel. Trying to sell something emotive to her, which was the brief, was like doing stand-up comedy in English in Warsaw.

To be fair to her, the organisation she worked for was part of the problem. They had trained her in the ways of the jargon. What this did was create structure without purpose. It was a blueprint that created confusion and killed time.

The company’s number one stated ambition was to create a bond with mothers and families. 'Emotion' and 'feeling' were words they used over and over. These words were simple and easy to understand. The problem was they were encased in a process so long with so many steps that if there was any feeling at the beginning it had died after months of analysis.

Tell the best story in the world. Then explain why it’s the best story in the world. Now do it over and over and see what happens. After a while it’s not so good. Repetition can kill feeling. This is how ideas with merit often die.

It's one of the great mysteries of our business. There are many that believe that layer upon layer of logic and ticking boxes will end up in an emotive piece of work that will make somebody laugh or cry. If we just have enough process and logic we will create the correct emotion.

Logic creates emotion. Madness.

But I digress.

After almost a year we ended up on the shoot early one morning. In those days, before the wizardry of post and computer graphics, we had to get very gifted model builders to make the final hero pack shot. The packs had to be perfect. They took a lot of time and cost a lot of money to create. This ad totally depended on this pack shot for the concept to work. It was quite large and it had to have real product (muesli bars) inside of it. And because of cost we could only afford one. It had to be pristine for it to work.

And then it happened.

While we were discussing the shot outside one of the runners called the director and I. The client had walked onto set and peeled back one of the corners of the pack shot and eaten one of the muesli bars. I asked her why and she told me she was quite hungry. After 12 very long months the shoot was screwed. It is the only time I think I have felt like laughing and crying at the same time.

And at that moment the phrase 'eating the pack shot' was born.

To me, 'eating the pack shot' means focusing on what is truly important.

In our business, there are many abstract discussions. There are a lot of words and concepts. There is ego, opinion and endless theories. And, through this forest of process we often forget that something has to be made at the end of it.

We forget that the length of a process impacts on the product. They are not separate. Bad process, bad product. We also forget that words are not things. You can have thousands of meetings and not one of them will help you if you eat your own pack shot. Words are not things.

In the last 20 years I have watched advertising seemingly get more complex.

However, when you get right down to it what hasn’t changed is there are only four reasons the consumer is going to notice your communication.

You give them an unbelievable deal they can’t ignore.

You reveal an important piece of information they can’t ignore.

You give them a service or experience they can’t ignore.

You create a feeling or story they can’t ignore.

When you do this, you give the consumer something of value. And they give you something even more valuable. Their time.

For advertising to be great it needs to be this simple.

So, my fervent prayer for this this year is to make things that are worthy of people’s time. And to keep it simple. For me, that always begins with the lesson of this story.

Focus on what matters. Forget what doesn’t.

Don’t eat the pack shot.


  • Damon Stapleton is the chief creative officer at DDB.  
  • This post was previously published on his blog, Damon's Brain.


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