The History of Advertising Trust reveals how the Smash Martians campaign was a big step forwards for the advertising industry.
The ground-breaking and multiple-award-winning TV ad campaign for Cadbury’s Smash in 1974 not only saw the arrival of the adorable Martian family but also introduced animatics to the industry.
The first animatics were created by art director John Webster to help sell his revolutionary approach to promoting an instant mashed potato product - to his advertising agency Boase Massimi Pollitt (BMP), the client and the public.
Reels discovered in the archives at the History of Advertising Trust (HAT) not only feature the original Smash commercials but also the early animatics. Stills from these are illustrated here along with one taken from the final print.
“These are a bit of find for us,” said Chloe Veale, director of HAT. “They represent an historic development in the TV commercial production process and provide a unique record for researchers.”
It is said that the Martians were conceived at a meeting in a pub Webster had with writer Chris Wilkins. They were agonising over how to make a bowl of instant mashed potatoes tempting on the television – and they were also up against two established brands.
At first Cadbury’s were not won over. They envisaged a serious commercial extolling the nutritional values of Smash. This led to doubts within BMP.
It was the animatics that came to the rescue.
Until then pre-production research was often carried out using a stills slide show synchronised to a sound tape and involved stopping random passers-by in the street for their reactions. However, for the first time BMP produced animated drawings set to a soundtrack on video tape. As video was just emerging as the new audio-visual medium, agency researchers embarked on a series of nationwide tours lugging around bulky video players and a TV monitor to test the concept on regional audiences.
The results were overwhelming in favour of the Martians – ‘English Girls are Smashing’, with plenty of skimpily-clad girls eating mashed potatoes getting the cold shoulder.
The Martian puppets were a leap of faith as there was nothing cuddly about them but once the big beady eyes and wide smile were added they took on a personality. They also tapped into the space age era and, most importantly for TV viewers, Dr Who fever. Peter Hawkins, voice-over artist and voice of the Daleks, was brought in to voice the characters. He was called to the studios and asked to ‘have a go at laughing like a Dalek’.
Cliff Adams wrote the memorable ‘jingle’ ‘For mash get Smash’.
Quickly the public was won over by the Martians - affectionately nicknamed ‘heavy metal chimps’ - laughing at earthlings wasting time peeling potatoes.
They were such a hit with consumers that the ‘family’ expanded to include a child and then a cat and dog. Eventually a Smash Martian Manual had to be produced as there were so many requests for details of how to make them for merchandising.
“This is one gap in HAT Archive for the Smash story. If anyone has a copy of the manual, or perhaps owns any of the Martian characters, we would love to accept them either as a donation or on loan,” said Chloe.
Four books about the Martian family who regularly received ‘fan’ mail were published and the campaign made a popular comeback more than a decade later. As a result of this outstanding campaign, Smash became the market leader despite strong competition from Yeoman and Wondermash. It took first place in Campaign’s Hall of Fame, the 100 Best British Ads of the Century published in December 1999.
The ads might seem ‘light’ and fun but Webster always took his work seriously with a clear desire to make the breaks in TV programmes worth watching. He also believed in the fortuitous accident. One laughing Martian fell over at the shoot, and in the end was left in the final cut as it made the scene funnier.