ONE OF THE MOST MEMORABLE television commercial series of the 1970s was for American Express, created by Ogilvy & Mather.
In the first commercial, first aired in 1975, a businessman rushes up to an airline check-in desk with the words I’ve got to get back to Bahrain tonight. He produces his American Express card, which is accepted with the catchphrase That’ll do nicely.
The businessman’s first statement is a masterpiece of brevity that conveys a huge amount of information. Let’s break it down:
|I’ve||Not ‘we’ve’. This man isn’t travelling with companions, or with family. He’s on a solo mission.|
|got||Not ‘want’. This is a matter of urgent necessity rather than mere preference.|
|to get back||He’s already been there, and the situation is so volatile that events have moved on in the course of his previous flight—and he has already been informed of the fact.|
|to Bahrain||Not to Majorca, or Tenerife, or even New York or Paris. Nobody visits Bahrain except on high-profile business, probably in the oil industry.|
|tonight||His input is so valuable that, no matter how late he arrives, people will be waiting up in order to consult with him.|
In just a single sentence this businessman is presented as a jet-setting, influential decision-maker—in other words, the sort of customer American Express attracts, and to which the rest of us can aspire.
The pay-off line That’ll do nicely is an understated gem. It’s friendly without being obsequious, a nod to the man being a member of the club; and it affirms the card’s position as the enabler of all things.