‘Greatness’ in advertising

Can a product or service promise ‘greatness’ in advertising? Of course, why not? It does need to seem at least reasonably convincing though because ‘greatness’ is a positive extreme feeling/emotion and when less-than-deserving or barely-functional products or services promise to offer greatness, it may sound hollow.

So, if a brand of chocolate chip cookies, butter, instant noodles, home loans, insurance, among others, promise you greatness, the surrounding reasoning and story better be really, really good, for you believe the premise.

That brings me to Colgate.

In 2019, Colgate had launched an Indian campaign called ‘Smile karo aur shuru ho jao’ featuring real personalities with their real names. I had felt back then that one of the series seemed more plausible/believable than the other.

The one featuring Haimanti seemed more believable to me because the result was rooted in a product benefit, albeit indirectly (this is understandable in advertising) of her being able to connect with others, while the one featuring Arnold seemed like a stretch because the toothpaste was powering his inner confidence to do something in life.

When a product is advertised as offering a higher-order benefit, far removed from the actual functional benefits it is usually expected to offer (and offer well), the story-telling needs to really think through the ways audiences may consider or deconstruct it so that it can answer all questions and cross-questions in their head and still seem plausible.

But, here is Colgate pulling another one on the lines of the Arnold ad above – this time, it is from Thailand (launched in November 2020), though the basic thread remains the same: use a real personality, featuring the real name and real achievement, and position Colgate as the power behind that achievement in some way.

In an incredible suspension of disbelief, Colgate and its agency, WPP’s Red Fuse (the WPP wing carved to manage Colgate-Palmolive account) believe that a mere toothpaste could help you achieve greatness.

The caption they use for toothpaste is ‘Made For Greatness’!

The ad features Jimmy Chin, a climber and Academy Award-winning filmmaker, try to do something really hard. He is not able to complete it, pauses for the night, wakes up… brushes his teeth with Colgate Total… and achieves his climb!

The film made me laugh out loud as Jimmy brushed his teeth while being perched in the middle of a steep mountain, half-way through. I’d have assumed he may have used mouthwash and then coffee, to propel his drive. Given the many close-up (pun unintended) shots of Jimmy’s hands reaching to get a grip of the rocks, I thought he might use his teeth to hold on to the rope at some point, in a demonstration of his strong teeth, thanks to Colgate. Alas… Colgate and its agency didn’t have such vibrant ideas 🙂

‘Made For Greatness’, for toothpaste, sounds laughably absurd and perhaps is indicative of how well the agency was able to sell the concept to the client, and how much the client drank their own koolaid to believe this concept.

To be sure, toothpaste has been framed as being instrumental in many other things to do with confidence within the interpersonal space – meeting someone, impressing someone, and so on. In those these, the functional benefits of the toothpaste (fresh breath, shiny teeth) instill confidence in the user to go out and do something. There is only Jimmy, and a mountain, in this ad film – Jimmy’s confidence and motivation could have come from so many things, but to frame the toothpaste as being responsible for it seemed like a severe stretch.

When you read the statement by Colgate’s regional marketing director, you may realize how much of their own koolaid they seem to have consumed: “Now, more than ever, people have a stronger resolve when it comes to the world becoming a better place for all. This campaign really shows a turning point – not just for Colgate Total – but for the category as a whole that we can move into a broader, richer territory to connect with people in a way that our category hasn’t done before. Greatness is about demanding more every single day, and that’s the exact attitude we bring to Colgate Total“. Seriously?


But, ‘greatness’ has been used in advertising even before this sorry attempt by Colgate. Here are 3 more instances that I recall from the last decade.

Nike – ‘Find Your Greatness’, July 2012

A truly great campaign by Wieden+Kennedy.

The insight was simple: When professional athletes and sportspersons are competing in the 2012 London Olympics, Nike wanted to motivate the normal, everyday people to get moving, for their own sakes. As normal people, we do not (need to) compete with professionals – we compete with our own selves. So, we use Nike’s products (shoes, clothes, fuelband etc.) to measure our own performance and do incrementally better day after day. Our motivation is simply to do better than yesterday/last week.

So, Find Your Greatness personalized our own quest, away from the world, and the glaring lights of Olympics where greatness happens on a professional basis.

The results were astounding: It was the most talked-about campaign during the 2012 Olympics and drove US $506 million in revenue growth. And it got people moving, increasing Nike+ membership by 55%.

Here are the set of films Nike did as part of this campaign:

Nike has extended this campaign for quite a few years.


Sony PlayStation – ‘Greatness Awaits’, June 2013

The PlayStation 3 was launched in November 2006. It was a troubled launch, and when Sony was looking to launch its sequel, PlayStation 4, they really needed a standout campaign.

The campaign was launched in June 2013, 5 months before the scheduled launch of the product in November 2013. BBH was the agency roped to work on that campaign.

BBH’s creative device was a story told from a player’s point of view and is comprised of many recognizable video game characters, weapons and locales. The idea was that you, the player, could be anybody you want – an NBA star, a footballer, a dragon killer… you can live your dreams when you’re playing games. And hence, ‘Greatness Awaits’.

The film was truly an Easter Egg hunter’s dream (Sony claimed that there were 35 Easter Eggs in the film), much like the Oasis in Ernest Cline’s book Ready Player One, which was later made into a film, by Steven Spielberg.

The lead character’s monologue is a brilliant piece of writing, immersing you into the action even as the colors and scenes in the backdrop are another huge draw in itself.

Sony has used the same line subsequently for multiple individual PS4 game title launches.


Head & Shoulders, ‘Shoulders of Greatness’, August 2015

P&G’s shampoo brand, Head & Shoulders, started working with the agency Saatchi & Saatchi in 2014. The brand signed New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in August 2015, who was designated as the ‘Heir to the Hair’ from Pittsburgh Steeler, Troy Polamalu, who was the face of the brand for 6 years.

The launch campaign was intended to communicate that the player’s shoulders are made for carrying hopes and dreams, of himself, and others, not for dandruff! It’s a bit of a stretch, but considering the fact that the product itself is called ‘Heads & Shoulders‘, it makes sense that the idea is ‘Shoulders of Greatness’ 🙂

The brand has since extended the theme to many other players across the globe.

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