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SILENCE IS GOLDEN IN AMSTEL PILS ADS

By Published on .

The people at Amway used to base their entire recruitment program on something called "the curiosity approach."

If an Amway distributor had you targeted as a potential member of his sales organization, he would never say to you, "Have you thought about becoming an Amway distributor?"

No, on the theory that most rational humans would respond "I'd rather bleed internally," Amway for years encouraged recruiters to be a bit more elliptical in their approaches. A couple you hardly know, for instance, might invite you and your spouse over for coffee and Danish with some vague explanation of "something we'd like to discuss with you."

But once they had you in their web, suddenly one of them would be hauling out an easel and poster board. Then, with you wishing you were somewhere more pleasant-like solitary confinement -they'd commence to drawing marking-pen circles to illustrate how you can become rich beyond your wildest dreams by selling laundry soap to your cousins and ensnaring others to do the same.

Amway doesn't encourage such subterfuge anymore (bad for the corporate image), but that curiosity approach built a multibillion-dollar global direct-sales empire.

Because it works.

Because people are inherently curious.

Because the absence of information is often more tantalizing than information itself.

And how fortunate that is for the people at Amstel, who have built their Hungarian marketing efforts on that very phenomenon.

As a beer advertiser in a country where the advertising of beer on TV is illegal, the Amstel Pils brand had been-like all of its competitors-thwarted in its efforts to most efficiently cultivate the mass market. In order to use TV, its ads would have to leave out certain critical information. Such as the brand name. And the product category. And everything else.

But Leo Burnett Co., Budapest, was not about to let such minor restrictions get in the way. The agency simply created eight brief TV spots that give no clue whatsoever as to what is being advertised. Indeed, they are about giving no clue as to what is being advertised.

The first begins with a little guy, the presenter, entering the picture to begin his pitch. But just when the viewer is expecting him to plug a product, he just shrugs and says, "I'm not allowed to talk about it." Five seconds. End of commercial

In another, he uses international sign language to say-or not say-the same thing. In a third, he uses semaphore flags. And so on.

With his shaggy hair, blue suit and red tie, he is unmistakably the guy who comes on TV but can't say why, and therefore inevitably the subject of viewer interest, speculation, amusement.

Curiosity.

Who is he? What's he advertising? Why the mystery? It is human nature to want to know.

This leaves it only for Burnett to answer the question, which it has-in another medium. Amstel Pils outdoor boards throughout Budapest show the shaggy little presenter, this time being slightly more revealing. "We're still not allowed to talk about it," he says, "but we're allowed to taste it."

Very clever. Very resourceful. And (what else can you say about stealth advertising?) very curious.

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