Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A Fienne ad

I'm guessing this is a scam, but that doesn't make it any less brilliant. Indeed, in these days of viral emails, it's probably just as effective for the brand as it would be if it really did appeared on a billboard, plus it has deniability.

Does it articulate a compelling reason for me to choose to fly with Virgin?


Does it even make any sort of claim at all about the brand?

Does it communicate with me in a memorable, engaging way that makes me think fondly of the brand and propels it into my consideraion set the next time i'm thinking of flying?

Yes. And in that regard it's infinitely more successful than any number of price-led offers that are only really talking to a tiny slice pf the potential audience - people thinking of flying to destintion X at time Y.

It's certainly a hell of a lot more effective than the ANZ outdoor campaign floating around at the moment, which consists almost solely of the nuanced, persuasive copy line "More convenient banking".

They say in the old days there were ways to convince people other than repeatedly asserting your proposition, but I've never seen it myself.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

"A bunch of cats"

I heard a senior Art Director use this lovely expression at work today.

He was using it to refer to a TVC concept which was not strictly relevant to the proposition (but was kind of cool anyway), and which the writer had liberally slathered with words from the brief in order to make it look like it was on strategy.

Apparently, it stems from that episode of The Simpsons where Martin asks a props guy on a movie set why he's painting horse to look like a cow":

Martin: Uh, Sir, why don't you just use real cows?
Painter: Cows don't look like cows on film. You gotta use horses.
Ralph: What do you do if you want something that looks like a horse?
Painter: Eh, usually we just tape a bunch of cats together.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The tricky business of positioning

Crafting a positioning is a delicate balance.

On the one hand, you want to have a single strong sentiment that's present every time consumers interact with the brand. On the other, you don't want that overall positioning to confuse the point of any individual piece of communication it may have to be attached to.

As this spot from Westpac demonstrates.

On it's own, it's quite a powerful spot - a message of social responsibility from a bank that takes serious credibility from the fact that it starts with a mea culpa. It's even making a unique claim.

But then comes the positioning line and cuts the whole thing off at the knees (that said, on its own it's not a bad thought).

So, what do you do when you have to cap a green message with one that promotes endless economic growth and rising living standards?

My guess is you stay very quiet during those awkward silences in the creative reviews and try not to look anyone in the eye.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Vale Robin Cooke

I don't really move in those circles anymore, so I only found out yesterday that Lord Cooke of Thorndon died last August.

I'm not sure if it's quite right to describe yourself as being a fan of someone's jurisprudence, but insofar as you can, I was a fan of his.

Cooke was President of the NZ Court of Appeal in the 80s, and retired in 1996. By the time I started law school, his robust, natural-law tinged approach to statutory interpretation was deeply unfashionable.

In the minds of many of my friends, Cooke's expansive approach was a sign of mental and sentimental weakness, and inability to simply apply the law in cases where to do so would result in unfairness.

He became something of a joke. Students would groan in class when his judgments were discussed. His name became, like Lord Denning's, a byword for sloppy, woolly-minded, bleeding-heart thinking.

Even at the time this struck me as unseemly. A bunch of jumped-up private school kids headed straight for commercial practise for whom a "black-letter" approach was a handy pose, the ideological equivalent of a meerschaum pipe and leather elbow patches, making themselves look smart by sneering at the expense of an intellectual heavyweight who had devoted his life to the public service. If he on occasion refused to bite the bullet, it was because he was aware that his decisions had major effects on the lives of real people.

But as time went on, I became convinced that my friends' disdain was not just unsightly, but wrong.

I wrote my honours dissertation on a series of cases the Cooke Court of Appeal had decided. They weren't glamorous or heart-rending. They didn't involve human rights or criminal law or any of the other fields that usually spur judicial adventurousness. They were mostly just about public utilities. But they arguably formed the high water mark of judicial legislation in New Zealand - and it mostly passed unnoticed.

In the 80s, upon inheriting a bloated and rotten public sector from its predecessor, the newly elected Labour Government undertook a hurried program of first corporatising, then privatising public utilities. Unfortunately, the program was pushed through so hastily that much of the legislation was poorly drafted and, if taken at face value, would have been impossible to give effect to.

Under Cooke, the court had little difficulty filling the gaps, substantially overstepping the generally agreed bounds of judicial power to effectively write provisions into the law giving effect to the legislative program.

It was only when I got to grips with those cases that I became certain that Cooke was not merely an otherwise brilliant judge who occasionally let his emotions get the better of him. In fact, he was as consistent and rigorous as any of his contemporaries, and every bit as eager to give effect to the intent of parliament.

It's just that in doing so, he was willing to strain the meaning of individual sections in order to make the law as a whole coherent. He would always assume, in the absence of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that parliament's intentions were benign, and that they too were working with this goal in mind.

In the process he propagated a far more lively brand and intellectually engaging brand of law than his contemporaries, one that encouraged good government by asserting the role of the courts as a counterbalance to legislative overreach and executive populism.

If he also stopped the odd little old lady from getting turfed out of her family home and onto the street, then so much the better.

I suppose he was something of a hero of mine. The world is richer for his work, and poorer for his passing.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Evangelical culture jamming

So walking down Bridge Rd the other day, I saw this:

A couple of thoughts ran through my mind:

1) Were it not for the sticker, I never would have looked at the poster. To that extent, it was counter-productive.

2) It's probably the first time I've ever seen culture jamming from a right wing/social conservative angle. It's understandable, because culture jamming is inherently a counter-hegemonic form of communication - it's the voice of those expressing discontent with the people in power, who are traditionally the right.

But it makes me wonder if maybe, as social values grow progressively more liberal with each generation, we'll see more of it.

3) WTF? What was whoever pasted this sticker trying to communicate, and who were they trying to convince? If they were trying to convince the secular majority, they don't even get off the ground, because they're arguing from a first premise - the existence of of the Christian God - that said majority don't accept.

But if they're arguing to theists they don't get much further, because their contention (that Jesus Christ is the son of God) doesn't necessarily lead to the conclusion they presumably want you to take (euphemistically, God don't dig the Mardi Gras).

Couple that with the aggressive, serial killer-style dehumanisation of the guy in the poster by blocking out his face and you have a spectacularly dysfunctional communication that's more than likely to sway readers to the opposite point of view.

Why is this interesting to me? Because I wonder if anti-capitalist/left-wing/anti-war culture-jammers make the same error. They generally don't bother to make their case, tending to assume agreement and focusing instead on demonising their opponents - Bush, Coke, Blair, Maccas, Howard.

If you're sympathetic, it's easy to miss how alienating vitriol can be to those who aren't entirely onside.

There are few things less convincing than hysteria.