Friday, 15 February 2019

Should advertising always be a mirror?

I read an excellent article this week by Graham Booth, entitled Why your advertising should be MAD. Graham presents a reel of 15 ads that he's helped to create during his 30 years' experience and comes to the conclusion that all of these - though very different  - have something in common: a genuine creative idea. The ads are well worth a look, and I'm sure even someone not employed in the ad industry could say, with confidence, what the idea in each is.

By contrast, we're surrounded these days by idea-free advertising, as I bemoaned a couple of posts ago. But, as Graham says, "every ad should aspire to be more than the strategy put on screen, or the brand purpose spoken over generic visuals, or some reflection of the 'real life' of the consumer." Looking at his 15 ads, he remarks that they all employ metaphor, or exaggeration, or contrast. None of them "tell it straight." Hence the title - Make Advertising Drastic (or Daft, Dangerous, Dada ...)

But Graham is just an account man turned researcher. What does a creative director say?

Here's a creative director getting a bit mad, too, but in another sense. I suppose you do get mad when you have someonething telling you that you don't exist. But I do wonder when and where all this "demanding to be reflected" business started. For someone creative, it seems to be taking things terribly literally. I am sure that Graham Booth had plenty of respondents in his group discussions saying they didn't like the ad because the woman on the storyboard had blonde hair, and they've got dark hair.

"Representing diversity" is not a creative idea.

How does this creative director know that the woman in the trainers/chocolate/car ad isn't lesbian? Is sexuality of any relevance whatsoever when you're selling floor cleaner, anyway? Shouldn't we be looking at finding universal human truths that unite us, instead of being divisive?

I vote for getting away from these real life ads (which all look like what we used to call "mood videos") and get creative, and MAD.

But if you're going to do real life, do it well. This ad from Coke is a terrific example and, I'd say, uses a slightly MAD mirror.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

On (and off) the road

In the light of the recent UK advice to parents about restricting children's screen time , I was interested to see a new idea from Volkswagen's Amsterdam-based agency, ACHTUNG!

When I was young, car journeys inevitably involved looking out of the window, either aimlessly, or possibly in conjunction with an I-Spy book or a game of something like Pub Cricket. But these days, children probably don't even know if the car has windows, so intent are they on peering down at their screens.

But using an idea rather like Pokemon Go, the new location-based app, "Road Tales" (Snelweg Sprookjes) combines real-life objects with the imagination of children's authors and the young listeners and viewers to create personalised adventures - for example, a tunnel may turn into a rocket.

An imaginative idea that's entertaining for the 4-11s, useful for their parents and will add to the perception of the VW brand as both family-friendly and innovative.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

This septic isle?

Thirty years ago, at the beginning of my planning career, I was working in the most famous agency in London on "the world's favourite airline." I don't think I need to name either.

Three decades on, that airline is celebrating its centenary (or at least the centenary of one of its predecessors). And, for the first time in six years, has created a brand campaign. Described as "a love letter to Britain" the ad shows scenes of BA employees getting ready for the centenary flight, as well as a cast of celebrities and everyday passengers travelling on the flight.

Nice as it is, I find it rather underwhelming. It's meant to show the creativity and pioneering spirit of Britain but there's nothing creative or pioneering about this ad. It's derivative of the Nike "Londoner" ad as well as any number of films that were put together for the 2012 Olympics (I expect Britain will continue to milk that one for ever, rather like the Battle of Britain or the 1966 World Cup). And where is the famous British humour? A no-show, apart from a weak joke about tea. What exactly is the idea behind this ad? It comes over rather like a safety video without the safety bits.

It's not clear whether this is an ad for Britain in general, or for the carrier. Is it meant to make people feel good about British Airways, or Britain?

I know I'd feel better about Britain if I had a clearer sign that despite all the Brexit crap, the spirit of innovation and creativity is alive and not just well, but kicking.

Like a commercial that will still be remembered in thirty years' time.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Tickling the funny bone instead of pulling on the heartstrings

What I would call "cause marketing" - anything that tries to elicit a behavioural change on a social or environmental issue - is something I've spent rather a lot of time whingeing about on this blog.
Plinky piano music, "social experiments," dubious "insights" - I have had a go at them all here.

This week, I've been pleased to see at least two ads where their creators have looked at social issues, but used real insight, cultural awareness and clever observation in the development of the creative strategy, then executed with charm and humour. One is  DIVERSish for the Valuable500, created by AMV/BBDO, above, and the other is a completely different audience and issue - Eat them and Defeat them, from ITV and Veg Power, created by Adam & Eve/DDB.

I do hope this is a change in course from that cheesy morass of sentimentality we've been seeing in recent years.

Friday, 18 January 2019

Macho Metamorphosis

I'm not going to wade in with my tuppence worth on the Gillette ad, suffice to say a couple of things. It's yet another prime example of this, employing the good old Procter & Gamble problem-solution formula, with a bit of band-wagon-jumping thrown in.

In addition, it's more ammunition for those who consider "Purpose" per se at best a fluffy marketing buzz word. But isn't it time to distinguish between "purpose-driven ad campaigns" (take a popular social issue and churn out a film that will polarise opinion/get lots of YouTube hits) and "purpose-driven brands" (everything the brand does is driven by its unique purpose, which is related to the product/service/experience the brand offers).

I wonder what Unilever make of their arch rival's attempt? I first blogged 3 years ago on the Lynx/Axe turnaround in the direction of Find Your Magic. Here's a Lynx film from a little while ago as part of the brand campaign:

I find the Lynx/Axe approach infinitely better than Gillette creatively,  but to me the strategy still feels awfully generic. It could have been hung on any number of brands targeting a broad audience of men. I fear that "male empowerment" will become as much of a cliche as "female empowerment" has become for brands over the last few years.

I do wonder whether the vogue for this men/women marketing en masse isn't just a little lazy.

Take this man:

He's famous for not holding back the tears.
He's done brilliant things.
He's even done heroic things.
But he's also been accused of sexual assault and racism.
He has (or has had) a number of mental illnesses.
But he has probably done unacceptable things just for the heck of it.

People are complex, and putting all men/women in the same box with a big "toxic" or "victim" label on it doesn't get us anywhere.

I'd like to see brands looking to their product, service, experience and values to find their unique purpose, and using that to drive all they do. And it doesn't have to be about the latest Twitterati issue.

If your brand does have a large proportion of men in its user base, how about looking at some masculine values that may be due for a revival (or maybe they never went away): courage, honour, strength, grit, decency, loyalty, respect.

Or are there no more (brand) heroes any more?

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Unchain your brain?

Photo from Francis Frith

I would imagine a New Year's resolution to work less, or at least work more productively when you're sitting at your desk, and unchain yourself from the desk(top) now and again, is a popular one this year.

There's even a movement, with the clever title Wednesday Offternoon , led by psychologists and behaviour change experts, to encourage companies to give their staff an afternoon off mid-week. It's not the full four-day week, but a step in the direction of increasing productivity and happiness in the workplace, and decreasing stress.

An admirable idea, but the cynical part of me suggests that the "free" afternoon will be used catching up on all the dreary bureaucratic must-dos that overwhelm the 21st century workplace, with its obsession with form-filling, controls, assessments and so on.

But looking around at semi-rural Germany, where I live, in some ways the glorious "Wednesday early-closing" days that I remember from my early childhood have never really gone away. There are shops in our town who still have early closing on Wednesdays. Many have a lunch break - which can be up to two hours - and it's not so very long ago that almost every retail establishment closed its doors at 13:00 sharp on Saturdays. Schools still finish at lunchtime, and the majority of workers seem to knock off on Fridays at mid-day, judging by the state of the roads at this time. 

Is this a quaint leftover from the past, a stubbornly analogue way of working that doesn't quite fit in the 24/7 always-on digital world?

Or have the Germans maybe known all along that efficiency only comes from giving it a rest now and again?  

Monday, 7 January 2019

The constancy of change

Just before Christmas, I commented on a post by Paul Feldwick, of The Anatomy of Humbug fame.  He'd compared two quotes about young people and advertising, over four decades apart:

Audiences these days, especially younger millennials, are super adept at seeing through cheap efforts to sell to them. If brands want to engage they need to be authentic and subtle.
Andrew Mole writing in Campaign Sept 2016
The under-30 generation loathes sham and hypocrisy... ‘tell it like it is’ is the touchstone.... more wit, honesty, verve, self-deprecation and irreverence.
Lee Adler writing in Business Horizons, February 1970

Can you spot the difference?

As I was in the midst of the annual deluge of innovation and trend reports, almost all of which start with some commentary about the "pace of change," I asked Paul whether he knew of any quotes from way back then about the extraordinary pace of change. He pointed me in the direction of this:

Whang! Bang! Clangety-clang! Talk about the tempo of today - John Smith knows it well. Day after day it whirs continuously in his brain, his blood, his very soul.

You can read the rest of A.B. Carson's 1928 description of an ad-man here.

There's a certain amount of arrogance in thinking that we live in times of greater change than ever before. But even the ancient Greeks knew that the only constant in life is change. I should think John Smith and his colleagues back in 1928 believed that the the electric, jazz world of the 1920s was "peak change" or whatever expression they used. 

As I read yet again about autonomous this or that, gameifying whatever, cryptocurrencies, smart cities, extended reality, voice technology, facial recognition, artificial intelligence and all the rest, the real world outside continues to confound the shiny new world of the future where everything works on demand. 

Maybe it's a fall of snow that makes everything grind to a halt. Maybe it's artificial stupidity instead of artificial intelligence. Things don't work, things get broken, unpredictable stuff happens.

Annoying, yes, but charming too, in the way that perfection lacks soul.

OK, time to scurry off to catch that train.