My dad used to annoy me something rotten when we were watching something like Colditz or The Great Escape by pointing out inaccuracies in anything from the pilots not wearing masks through to how many stripes a colonel should or shouldn’t have on their uniform.
Now that I’ve reached a certain age, I find myself doing exactly the same when it comes to advertising. When some bright spark starts talking about how such and such a campaign has revolutionalised, disrupted or utterly transformed the category’s communication, it’s usually to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Yes, I know - people want simple stories of from:to, of heroes turning things on their heads, of creatives taking humungous leaps. Short attention span and all that. The vogue for storytelling has a lot to answer for.
Still, it’s sometimes worth putting the record straight.
Recently, in Campaign, I read an article from a chief strategy officer from a major international agency praising Persil’s Dirt is Good campaign. Now, I also admire this campaign, despite its occasional forays into false directions. The campaign has been running for 17 years, which is pretty good going. The chief strategy officer makes plenty of good points about the campaign, yet dismisses all pre-2005 detergent advertising with a sweeping generalisation:
"Historically, the casting and scenarios for washing powder ads were dreadfully homogenous, typically oppressive portrayals of perfect Stepford mums beaming at a neat stack of clean clothing.”
I wonder if he ever saw this Ariel ad from 1997 as a lad? Can you spot any of these:
- Mum’s perfect kitchen?
- perfectly folded piles of clothing?
- Stepford mums?
No, me neither. All I can see is a brilliant piece of communication, based on a universal human truth: the younger generation think they invented the world.