If you see Sid...

December 1986 – Captain Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise made the Voyage Home; Den and Angie were enjoying a short lived second honeymoon at the Queen Vic; Mel and Kim were getting set for the weekend while The Bangles walked liked an Egyptian, but the people of Britain had only one thing on their mind – ‘Tell Sid’.

Picture the scene (1) – an old cove furtively whispers a telephone number to a man he meets in the pub. The man then rushes out knocking the postman off his bicycle and generally causing chaos in the High Street while at the same time not forgetting to urge the winded postie to pass the message on to the enigmatic Sid – if he sees him!

Picture the scene (2) – the staffroom of a busy council office in Birmingham, an ardent socialist and staunch trade unionist is holding forth on the privatisation of British Gas. The only way, in his strongly held opinion, to counteract Mrs Thatcher selling off the family silver and keep public companies in public ownership is for the workers to rise up…and buy shares!

Only one of these scenarios appeared in the campaign created by the firm Boase Massimi Pollitt, who were also responsible for the Cadbury’s Smash Martians, to generate interest in the British Gas floatation. As a strategy it was phenomenally successful, the slogan was everywhere, on hoardings, in newspapers and magazines and on television night after night. It caught the public imagination to the extent that even almost thirty years later, every baby boomer knows what we were meant to tell Sid if we saw him.

The effectiveness of the campaign is undisputed, some 1.5 million people registered for the £9billion share offer, the largest ever at the time. Ironically this sophisticated and expensive campaign, drawn up by a ground-breaking agency was based on the simple fact that the best of advertising is ‘word of mouth’. In a certain light you might even be able to trace back the birth of social media to this very campaign. Whether you are buying a car, planning a holiday, looking for an electrician or going for a curry the personal recommendation of someone you know carries the most weight and any service you use, whether it’s Balti Garden or Dave the Sparky will be asking you to like their Facebook page and pass the message on.

For not for profit organisations such as charities and credit unions, word of mouth advertising is crucial. Without the marketing budgets of British Gas or Wonga we are heavily dependent on personal recommendation; and whereas in the past one satisfied customer could tell four or five friends a similar comment on Facebook or Twitter may reach three hundred. So if your new car is running on a credit union loan or your Christmas is eased by your payroll savings perhaps you could take a moment to share this with your family and friends and while you’re about it tell…Steve, Sue, Sam, Sally and Bob!

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