Thursday, June 12, 2008


Like "insight", "integrated" is a word that seems to be used a little too generously by many agencies.

I don't have an OED to hand, but gives us: 

1. combining or coordinating separate elements so as to provide a harmonious, interrelated whole: an integrated plot; an integrated course of study.
2. organized or structured so that constituent units function cooperatively: an integrated economy.

I've argued before that, when it comes to creative work, many agencies seem to think it means "make everything the same", the so-called "matching luggage approach".

What I've only recently realised is that somehow the term seems to have become synonymous with "Below the Line" or "Through The Line" when it's used to describe an agency.

This pisses me off for two reasons:

1) It's a category mistake. Integration is about the relationship between the part, not what those parts are.

Far and away the best integrated campaign I've seen in ages is largely ATL. The bits that aren't ATL are digital / cross-promotional. It's Volkswagen 'See Cinema Differently". You can see the whole thing here.

2) My AD and I have just come out of a long freelance booking. We've started hawking ourselves around, and somewhat naively, we made the mistake of describing ourselves as an "Integrated" team. I guess we had in mind stuff like the Volkswagen campaign.

But, as a result, we've had our book sent to a bunch of very tactical, very DM-focused agencies. No disrespect to them, but adapting a creative strategy handed down to you from another agency does not make you integrated.

It's also not really where our skill-set lies, so I can't see them being that interested in us.

So it's a bit of a waste of everyone's time. really.

Friday, April 11, 2008

On originality

Iggy Pop's 'Lust for Life' lifts its hook from The Supremes' 'You Can't Hurry Love'.

Does that make it any less of a song? Not in my book.

It might, however, affect how much credit you give Messers Pop and Bowie for writing it.

Why shouldn't the same criteria apply to ads? Two separate questions:

1) How good is the ad? (How engaging/ entertaining/ novel/ interesting - all the normal questions we ask ourselves in assessing whether an ad is worthy of veneration or not)

2) How much credit ought to go to the creative team?

So you look at an ad like TfL's DoTheTest, you don't have to think about the fact that it's a direct rip-off. What matters is how you felt when you first saw it. In my book it's still the year's best ad so far.

I just don't think that the blokes from WCRS that did it deserve as much credit as they would if they'd come up with it themselves.

Of course, the two questions start to bleed into one another when the original source is so well known that its notoriety makes the ad feel stale.

Perhaps the moonwalking bear only worked for me because I hadn't seen the original, so DoTheTest felt fresh and novel.

It certainly feels a far less egregious rip off than either of these two, one of which lifts from the most well-known music vid of the past couple of years, the other from one of the UK's most original recent comedy series. To me, they're far more worthy of condemnation.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

In praise of the specific

I once had to write a piece aimed at mothers of one-year-old children.

It was framed as a thankyou, and contained a line that went something like "...after a hundred 4 am wake-up calls.

The client came back asking us to change the line, because "babies don't always wake up at 4 am".

Much to-ing and fro-ing ensued, and I think we ended up with something like "after waking up many times in the night to see to your baby."


In the laudable desire to make sure a piece appeals to everyone, it can be easy to to become so bland you resonate with noone.

Because what resonates is truth. And truth isn't general, it's particular.

As this lovely wee number by Chris Knox demonstrates. It's not much of a video, but there's a reason it was voted New Zealand's 13th best song of all time by the Australasian songwriting community.

It's even become something of a wedding standard:

Soon I was getting pretty regular requests to play the song at weddings, something I was loath to do, being shy as hell under the aggressive persona. And also, the song was pointedly, specifically aimed at “John and Liesha’s mother” – the lyrics said as much. It was not a universal love-song. But, as with so many things, the more nakedly specific you may be, the more people all over the shop seem to be able to relate.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Nice work for TfL

For all the talk about media-neutral "big ideas" in the last few years, they're still few and far between.

Most campaigns still just slap a key frame from the TVC onto a billboard and go "look - it works cross-media".

It doesn't. And not just because, most of the time, you need to have seen the TVC to make sense of the other media.

Because the executions all looks the same, your brain goes, "Seen that before. No new information" and filters out any encounters subsequent to the first. It's a missed opportunity to engage the consumer with the message in a new, fresh way.

Props then to M&C for the new TfL young drivers campaign.

The TV looks like this:

And the outdoor looks like this:

(OK, the Art Direction's not brilliant. They could lose the top steering wheel for a start)

Vastly different as they look, the core idea is strong enough to hold them together.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Brain gym time

I once heard of a Creative Director who insisted that all his writers read the New Yorker each week, so they could learn from its lucid, elegantly crafted prose.

I'm not sure that's how useful that is any more. Lucid, elegantly crafted prose is rarely called for. Even when it is, the entirety of the copy required is likely to be shorter than a single New Yorker sentence.

But aside from the fact that it's a great mag (along with The Economist, The New Yorker has done a brilliant job of crafting a brand that reflects only a tiny part of its reality. Both have a rep for containing highbrow, serious stuff about Important Issues; true (sometimes), but first and foremost they're just highly entertaining reads) I think there's still one reason for creatives to read the New Yorker: the Cartoon Competition.

The mental muscles it exercises are not too dissimilar to those required for crafting an ad, or even coming up with a concept. And if you're working in one of those situations where part of the ad is already locked in before you start work ("use a shot from our image library", "put the offer in the headline"), it's not too far from reality at all.

If I were a CD, I'd hold an agency-wide contest each week to come up with that week's caption (no submitting entries to the hoi polloi for judgement though - I'd decide the winner) .

Creatives are competitive bastards, I can't see them passing up the chance for a little aggrandisement.

Any CDs reading this are welcome to steal the idea for themselves. No charge (although a couple of weeks freelance wouldn't go amiss).

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

I want to be a Virgle Pioneer

As a copywriter, petulant fop, and possessor of some good, strong genes (if you go for thin blokes), I believe I am uniquely qualified to colonise Mars.

Thanks to Virgin and Google's new initiative, released today, April 1, I may be able to.

Brilliant. And not a penguin in sight.

The application form is particularly good.

Cake and eat it

Despite our best efforts to be fresh and cutting edge, advertising generally is - and is generally perceived to be - somewhere near the end of the pop cultural food chain.

We're not helping ourselves by ripping off YouTube all the time, but, unpalatable as it is, I suspect derivativeness is inevitable.

Anything that's too avant-garde and confrontational is unlikely to strike a chord with a mass audience; even if it would, you'd have a hard time convincing a client of the fact.

So it's refreshing to see an area where advertising is - inadvertantly, no doubt - leading the charge.

For a long time, it was acceptable to sell certain products - booze, cars - simply by showing them in association with sexy girls.

Than at some point (someone older than me will have to tell me exactly when; I suspect it happened earlier in NZ 'cos we're quite PC) social mores began to dictate that women oughtn't to be viewed as mere sex objects.

But creatives weren't quite ready to give up such a powerful means of persuasion/ good excuse to meet hot girls. So they discovered irony.

You could still show girls in bikinis. You just had to make a joke out of it, preferably at the expense of a bloke.

It was perfect: the ad equivalent of a final reel redemption. On one hand you showed you were socially aware by satirising sexist attitudes. On the other, you still got to look at hot girls.

Now consider first-time author Ruth Fowler, who has written about her experiences as a stripper. On one hand, her public persona and the promotion of her book revolve around questions of what modern feminism really means. She writes opinion pieces for The Guardian as part of an ongoing conversation about how the exploitative realities of the industry bely its 'girl power' rhetoric.

Yet, at least if the excerpts on her site are any indication, parts of the book are unashamedly erotic. I mean, check out her author pictures.

It's not a new phenomenon either. Australian journo Kate Holden's memoir "In My Skin" juxtaposes harrowing passages about heroin addiction and street walking with the odd spot of erotica.

Now there's no doubt an argument that nuance is all-important here. That a bunch of leering ad lads trying to get tits on the telly is worlds apart from middlebrow lit that investigates issues of gender and sexuality .


But because they both involve taking pleasure in something you're simultaneously condemning, both rest on the same fundamental contradiction. And people don't like contradictions. Unless they're very, very familiar contradictions.

It was ads that got 'em used to this one.