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.

Monday, March 31, 2008

A hiding to nothing

So the new Cadbury ad is here, and the knives are out.

My opinion? In the circumstances, it's as good as it could have been.

A big part of what made Gorilla so effective was its novelty. Not just the freshness of the 'glass and a half full of pure joy' strategy, but the sheer audacity of spending 85-odd luxurious seconds focussed on something so simple. Any further executions that stuck to that formula were bound to feel slightly familiar.

As if that weren't enough, both the central idea ("trucks having fun") and the fact that there'd be another mawkish 80s soft rock soundtrack were revealed in advance.

Imagine if, before you first watched Gorilla, you knew you were about to watch 90 seconds of an animal playing the drums, and that the thought that tied it back to the product was "joy".

It wouldn't have felt anywhere near as fresh.

Personally, it missed a little bit with me, for a fairly stupid reason that I only relate because it illustrates just how irritatingly arbitrary viewer reactions can be:

Not being familiar with the song, I spent the whole first viewing trying to figure out who the familiar-sounding band was. I only clicked that it was Queen when the guitar solo started, and spent the next two viewings wondering whether there was ever another guitarist with quite such a distinctive signature tone as Brian May.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Real underground writers

Most public language is so dry and bloodless.

Public bodies would generally rather offend nobody and inspire nobody than inspire 100 and offend one. That's as it has to be I guess, but it's rather dispiriting for those of us who love language and its ability to move the spirit.

Every euphemism is a wasted opportunity.

That's why i love one particular delay announcement on the underground. It pulls no punches, but it's hardly setting out to shock. In fact, it's the prosaic, matter-of-fact tone that bestows its ability to make one shudder. That and the condemnation implicit in the refusal to gild the lily.

"The District Line is closed due to a person under a train"

You conjure up your own image, and it's more effective than any shock-horror don't-throw-yourself-under-a-train-you-inconsiderate-bugger campaign ever could be.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

...or the lives of ideas, at least.

Words - their nuances, their power to evoke and persuade - are part of our stock in trade.

Yet most of the agencies I've worked have been careless about the language they use, both internally and often externally, when speaking to the client.

Example: For a brief of any size, we present a "spectrum" of options for the client. Nothing wrong with that.

But what's at each of the spectrum? Generally, one end is marked "safe", the opposite "edgy" or "creative".

Let's take "safe" first.

With the possible exception of "inexpensive", I struggle to think of an adjective that would be more enticing to a client.

"Safe" means "my job is safe", "my mortgage is safe", "my kids' school fees are safe". Safe means "nobody can criticise me for taking this option".

And what does the other end of the spectrum hold out to answer this warm, inviting safety?

"Creative". For us, the word has overwhelmingly positive connotations. Not only is it our job title, it's the quality we strive for most in the execution of said job.

But for the client (and perhaps for the society at large?) it might means something a little different.

It has connotations of art, of the avant garde. It's an excuse for flaky behaviour ("He's very creative you know"). It's synonymous with self expression, perhaps even with us indulging our artistic whims at the expense of the brand. Many times i've heard it used as the opposite of "effective", as in "well, that's a very creative option, but we're here to SELL!"

Even if I'm overstating it, "creative" isn't the good-in-itself to a client that it is to us.

What about "edgy"?

Sounds dangerous. Sounds like something that someone might not like. Sounds like I might cut myself. (And, 99% of the time, it's a lie. Compare the any but the edgiest TV spot to even a mildly transgressive TV show and it comes out looking pretty tame. The same is true of most other media environments.)

So what's the solution? I don't know . But one thought might be to start talking about the creative stuff in a way that reminds clients of what they come to an agency for: "this is the more interesting/ more engaging/ more thought-provoking/ more attention-getting/ more involving option".

And stop calling stuff "safe" when the only thing it can be safely said that it'll do is be ignored..

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Obligatory "Stuff White People Like" post

The lead character of the immensely popular '70s sitcom "All in the Family" was a fairly unreconstructed bloke called Archie Bunker. His racist, sexist and otherwise offensive attitudes were part of the show's comic fodder - they were held up for ridicule.

Yet when the ratings people broke down the figures, they found that the show was a big hit amongst viewers whose attitudes mirrored Archie's own.

People just filtered the satire out.

Even an ostensibly one-way communication like a TV show is in fact a two-way exercise. A reader, viewer or listener plays just as great a role in creating meaning as a writer, a director or a speaker.*

Which brings me to "Stuff White People Like" (via Toad).

Take a look at the posts, if you haven't already. They're witty, well-written and beautifully observed. A friend of mine described it as "too close to the bone to enjoy".

So who would you imagine to be the readership? People more or less like those being satirised, right? "Upscale, urban, thirtysomething, white, male hipsters" (thanks again Toad) who like to laugh at themselves.

Now take a look at the comments: "I'm white but I don't like X", "This is racist","I am a racist", "Let's seriously discuss the cultural and political implications of this post" - people who don't get it.

The fact that something is popular tells us very little in itself. What matters is why it's popular.

What you're saying's important, but it's what people are hearing that counts.

* This is the basic principle behind creative advertising, right? - you can't stop people flexing their interpretive muscles, so you may as well direct them by giving them a little something to work out

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Ads not so bad

There's been much harrumphing recently about how badly we creatives are paid compared to our contemporaries in The City.

I'm not sure it's an apt comparison. Was investment banking ever really an option for too many of us?

In my first year of college, my lowest mark was in Commerce. In my final year of university, my grade in Commercial Law was almost bad enough to get me turfed out of honours. I realise a sample of one is far from scientific, but there's no way I was ever going to be writing the 'City Boy' column in my spare time.

It seems to me that, as a breed, we have more in common with other creative types like musicians than we do with bankers. In fact, probably half the creatives I've ever met outside of work have been musos.

On Saturday night I went to see The Zombies play at the Shepherd's Bush Empire. They were celebrating the 40th anniversary of Oddessy & Oracle, an album that routinely ranks along with Pet Sounds, Sgt Peppers and Highway 61 as one of the great albums of the 60s.

Yet within weeks of releasing the album, the band broke up. Despite already having a string of hits, including a US Number Two with "She's Not There", they simply weren't earning enough to live.

Singer Colin Blunstone went into the insurance business.

Suddenly, that latest round of client revisions doesn't look so bad.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Boys and Girls

My (female) AD and I are freelancing at the moment, so we're coming into contact with a lot more other teams than we normally would.

On Monday, two new teams started at the agency we're with right now. And both of them are also, for want of a better term, co-ed (I thought about "transgendered", but that seems a little ambiguous).

I hadn't realised until they turned up how rare that was. I mean, I'd noticed that by far the majority of teams consist of two blokes, but it hadn't occurred to me that most of the rest of them comprise two girls.

In fact until Monday, I'd only ever met one other girl-guy team.

Why is that? Is it a social thing - guys just like hanging out with guys better? Or is it something about the male and female minds not generally gelling well together?

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


I've never got that thing where clients get praised for their "courage" when they buy a decent ad.

It seems to me to be setting the bar patronisingly low. Surely they're just doing their job properly?

But I must admit to a certain admiration for whoever bought the new poster campaign for Heinz "Tastes Like Home" soup. And for whoever sold it to them.

No photo, I'm afraid, but for anyone who hasn't seen them, the ads consist of a massive product shot with the headline printed as instructions or ingredients on the label. Stuff like "Ingredients: aunties and uncles who aren't really aunties and uncles". The strap is something like "one taste and you're home".

It's not brilliant, but it's good. And it pops like hell. Why? In large part because there's no logo. Because there's no logo, it doesn't look like an ad. And because it doesn't look like an ad, you look twice.

When you think about it, the omission is entirely logical. The product shot is, as i said, huge, so the viewer is in no doubt about what's being advertised. Why add another element that communicates no new information?

But logic is generally no match for habit. And clients habitually advocate for few things more stridently than their logo.

Someone here has had the balls to break with habit and dogma. And they've been rewarded with an infinitely more effective ad as a result.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Mad men overhyped?

Is it just me, or was anybody else underwhelmed by the much-vaunted Mad Men?

In comparison to recent shows like The Sopranos, The West Wing and Deadwood, it seems kind of old-fashioned and one dimensional.

And unlike those earlier shows, it doesn't seem to credit the viewer with a tremendous amount of intelligence to connect the dots - at least not if the pantomime winks at the audience about technology ("It's not as if there's some magic machine that makes perfect copies of documents"), future events ("It shouldn't be too hard to convince the nation that Richard Nixon is the next president") and social mores (here's hoping there's no more troweled-on irony from the closeted art director) are anything to go by.

Still, it's early days, and first episode was worth it for the wish-fulfillment scene where lead character and Creative Director Don Draper threw a tantrum at a new client and stormed out of the room.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Brevity - lesson from the master

Nice column in latest New Yorker. It details a book of autobiographies: 'Not Quite What I Was Planning'. The wrinkle? Each is six words or less.

The column's form comes from function. Sentences are six words or under. (I'm slavishly imitating it here.)

It cites a famous Hemingway story:

"For sale: baby shoes, never worn"

A little schmaltzy, but what economy.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Defending two bad ads

Chimp Media Monitoring reports that the ASA has banned this delightful wee piece of redneckery on the grounds that it's offensive.

Elsewhere, my local rag tells me that Transport for London have refused to display this poster at Angel tube station.

Does this strike anyone else as a bit on the nose?

Let's go back to basics: we value freedom of speech because it allows thorough and unfettered discussion of important issues. It encourages all possible arguments to be put, helping us make better decisions. But more than that, it's actually a prerequisite for democracy.

No matter how offensive they are to some people, communications that deal with social, religious and moral issues are at the very core of the class of things that free speech ought to protect.

Should they attract a lower standard of protection simply because they take the form of advertising?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Belated Valentine's Day post

This campaign's been growing on me.

I didn't like it at first - having both Cupid and Fate seemed overly complicated, making the idea an unnecessarily difficult "get". And the repetition of the 6 month guarantee is redundant, but I'm guessing that wasn't the agency's idea.

What saves the whole thing for me is the art direction. Particularly the casting and wardrobe of Fate.

Instead of looking like a cartoon of a geek, which is how a lot of people would have portrayed him, he looks like an actual geek. The small details are crucial - his stripy socks, his cheap, patterned tie. And his cape, which you can so easily imagine him thinking makes him look badass, is a lovely touch.

Pulling back everso slightly from the stereotype makes it much funnier.

It helps, of course, that they've got the media buy to be able to tell their story. I've not seen the TV, but even across the half-dozen odd poster executions you get the feeling of a couple of blokes just arsing about, doing absolutely anything they can to avoid work.

Friday, February 8, 2008

A creative brief is not a quadratic equation

We "solve" clients' "problems". We write "rationales". We pursue creative "strategies".

Maybe this language has a purpose. Perhaps it reassures clients there's some rigour in what we do. But it does rather tend to suggest that creativity is just a subspecies of logic; reason ground superfine.

You could almost forget to leave room for inspiration.

That's why it's nice to read this article on Beck in the Guardian (itself about an interview in Rolling Stone, which I can't find).

Apparently most of the much-pored-over lyrics on his watershed album Odelay are self-confessed "utter nonsense".

They are not considered applications of the conscious mind, carefully constructed interplays of rhythm, rhyme, meaning and allusion. They're just placeholders, scarcely thought-through ramblings that sounded good at the time.

But they're brilliant nonetheless.

The Jiminy Cricket Rule

I don't know if my experience is representative, but at the agencies I worked at in Australia an unspoken rule applied between teams at a creative review: if you can't say something nice, say nothing.

My experience so far in the UK has been the opposite. Admittedly, I haven't been in many multi-team reviews yet, but the rule so far seems to be: if you can think of a flaw in the other team's concept, point it out.

I haven't responded in kind yet, which is odd because I rather like arguing.

In addition to getting drunk on small amounts of money and injuring myself on office furniture, it's one of the few things I'm good at. I've refrained because I think the Jiminy Cricket rule is better, for five reasons.

1) Crticism reflects badly on the critic
No matter how accurate or telling your criticism is, people will always think you're making it so your own work looks better in comparison. And if your concepts are so weak that you need to help them like that, maybe you should be concentrating your efforts elsewhere.

2) Criticising is easy; creation is hard
The Creative Director. The suits. The planners. All 16 people on the client side. Each of these people will be poking and prodding the work. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Critical analysis is essential.

But what makes you think you can spot something all these other people can't?

3) It's a slippery slope
Because it's obviously done with animus, criticism in reviews can lead to a nasty political situation - every team jockeying for position, seeking to undermine the others' etc.

True, teams are inevitably in competition with each other, but there's not much to be gained by being nasty about it (unless your political instincts are better than your creative ones).

4) You get better ideas up when everyone works together
I don't mean generating concepts together. But if another team genuinely comes up with a cracker and you throw your weight behind it, you help forge a culture where the creative stuff gets bought instead of binned.

If you have a level of trust between the teams, you can agree that none of you will undercut the others with crap, "safe" ideas. Then the client has no choice but to buy the good stuff.

5) Just 'cos you can criticise it doesn't mean it's bad
I'm not convinced there's any link between the number of criticisms that can be leveled at a piece and how good it is.

In fact, most of the average ads out there are products of compromise. Nobody could say anything too bad about them so they got made. Of course, nobody loved them either.

Great ads, on the other hand, take risks. And because of that, they're particularly vulnerable to criticism. "What if people just read the headline and turn the page? They'll think Beetles really are lemons!"

But perhaps I'm just being naive. Maybe it's time to batten down the hatches and get the mud out.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Playing to lose?

Tempers flaring over at Scamp, with a lot of people taking exception to the latest of his excellent Tuesday Tips.

In essence, what he seems to be saying is, "Don't put forward crap work, even when that's what the client wants".

I'm in no position to judge if he's correct that it's a good move career-wise.

But in terms of job satisfaction, he can't be wrong.

ADs and copywriters spend their working lives learning how to craft creative, engaging, persuasive solutions to communication problems.

In suspending your professional judgement and presenting something you think a client will buy instead of something you think will do the best job, you're letting that knowledge go to waste.

Ultimately, you're doing the client a disservice by denying them the full benefit of your expertise. But more importantly, you're doing yourself a disservice by denying yourself the pleasure of engaging fully in the creative and intellectual challenges of the job.

I don't know about you, but those challenges are the reason I'm here. Without them, all you're left with is an industry with poor job security, little community respect and fairly average pay.

You don't become a prize fighter just so you can take a dive.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

New Commonwealth Bank ad

- Pitches the satire precisely - outrageous yet believable
- Beautifully executed
- The rollout strategy was brilliant. The first 30 seconds was leaked over the internet, ostensibly confirming everybody's lowest expectations of Goodby, a US agency, doing ads for Commonwealth, and "iconic" (think that word's maybe just a tad overused?) Aussie brand

- The brand promise sucks. "We're different" positionings are so generic as to be meaningless.
- It's not even trying to convince the Commonwealth are different (although that, to be fair, would be a lost cause). It's just telling us that Commonwealth would like us to think they're different. Well guess what, I'd like everyone to think I'm the next Juan Cabral, but telling you that does absolutely zero to persuade you that I am.
- (And this is the kicker) It's not really advertising the bank at all. It's advertising the agency. The whole spot rests on taking the piss out of some adland drama no-one in the real world has even heard about.

So it's not talking to Commonwealth customers at all. It's talking to us adgeeks. And only us.

But hey, at least it's entertaining.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Casting today

Tell your friends you spent the day in an editing suite, on a set, or cracking a great idea, and watch them stifle the yawns.

Mention you spent the day casting models, however, and all of a sudden they're green with envy.

But, once the initial schoolboy excitement of "I'm going to be spending long periods of time in a room with exceptionally beautiful women" wears off (not, admittedly, as quickly as it should), I think there are few more tedious parts of the job.

Because, once you get past "I like/don't like her look" and "I think/don't think she's right for the part", it's really hard to say anything intelligent or useful.

There are few areas that are more purely an exercise in taste. And like anything else, the more opinions get taken into consideration, the more bland and compromised it becomes.

So New Year's resolution: from hereon in, I'm going to leave it up to my partner as much as possible.

Not only does her AD's eye she mean she has much better judgement about these things, she's also much less likely to suspend it because a candidate smiles sweetly at her.

Friday, January 25, 2008

But what if people think...?

Probably my least favourite way to begin a sentence.

It usually emanates from an account handler, and it usually presages some way your concept could be misinterpreted, often to be offensive.

Normally, that misreading involves drawing a fairly long bow. Which doesn't mean that consumers won't do it.

As in this article from today's Guardian, which maintains that "some companies are now revelling in taunting environmentalists over climate change".

Not on the strength of the ads presented here they're not.

Only one - Jeep's "The end is never nigh" - openly espouses denial.

The rest - with lines like "Greed is good" (in which alliteration disguises the lack of an idea) and "Most people prefer a hot climate" (used to advertise an allegedly hot-looking car called a Climate. Ho ho) - are certainly insensitive to climate change. But they're not setting out to provoke. They're clumsy rather than malevolent.

The most grievous misreading is saved for this French edf ad.

French energy company EDF appears not to have done its homework before deciding to use the famous Easter Island statues to convince customers that it "develops tomorrow's energy for future generations." Erm - the Easter Island population collapsed from deforestation and overpopulation. "The statues are a symbol of hubris and denial in the face of an impending environmental disaster," says on its website. "What staggering stupidity to use them to promote nuclear power."

Somehow, I think edf realise all of that. In fact, the whole point of the ad is to promote nuclear as a green option that will prevent us all suffering the fate of the Easter Islanders. A load of old cobblers of course, but your argument is with the underlying message, not the way they've chosen to communicate it.

All in all, a fairly sobering reminder of just how difficult it can be to get your message across coherently if you touch on an area that inflames the passions.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Advertising makes me dumber

blog readability test

Movie Reviews

Late last year I tried this and got a "Genius" rating.

Now I'm down to undergrad.

Evidence of a newfound pithiness? Or merely further testament to the rapid decline of my polluted grey matter?

Oh well, I think undergrad suits me better on a lot of levels.

I'm off to stick up my new Velvet Underground poster and look grumpy in the hope that a girl will think I'm deep and talk to me.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Like this world, only different

For some time now, I've been trying to get a handle on this peculiar parallel world advertising can sometimes inhabit, the little fictions and palatable glosses on the real world manufactured to make our lives easier.

Like when we call a headline that revolves around a tired play on words "funny".

Or when a campaign is described as "edgy" even though, compared with the articles that surround it in a magazine or the programs that surround it on TV, it's positively Pat Boone.

I fear that, unless you get a handle on these little fictions, figure out their contours, where they're coming from, you start believing them.

The other day I was talking to an AD about a direct mail pack he was working on. He was trying to put himself in the shoes of someone receiving it: "OK, she goes to the mailbox, she sees this envelope and rips it open - she's all excited..."

I'm sorry, but that's an outrageous lie. Nobody over the age of five is excited by a DM pack. Ever.

Fair enough if you're trying to pretend otherwise to sell an idea in, but I really believe this guy had spent so many years making DM packs he'd convinced himself people sat by the mailbox waiting for his next elaborately folded acquisition piece.

That's one of the reasons this piece in the Media Guardian interested me. It's about the campaign for the Underground Writer competition currently running on the tube.

Why, asks Alastair Harper, are we using Bill Burroughs and Jack Kerouac as examples of underground literature?

It's a good question. These guys have been around for 50+ years. They're taught on university courses. Any technical innovations they made have long since been assimilated into the mainstream. They are, in fact, mainstream. Your grandparents probably read them as teenage rebellion.

The only place you could still consider them to be heterodox iconoclasts is in an ad.

So why not choose a genuinely underground figure? Because then the ad wouldn't communicate: if someone's really in the vanguard, they by definition will not be recognised by a mass audience.

Only Bill and Jack pass the Family Fortunes test.

So maybe that's one of the keys to our parallel universe: perhaps because we often have to use something that represents a class of objects or people, rather than an actual example of that class, we sometimes sacrifice the ring of truth?

Friday, January 4, 2008

A thing well made

Look at the way this gun fits the crook of your arm
To make a thing like that you’d need to know what you were about
You’d need to know where you were going and go there in a straight line
And everything else you’d have to shut right out

Can you see the man who made that?
Can you see him putting it down and standing back?
Can you see the moment when he said, “that’s it, that’s perfect”?
At a time like that you wouldn’t care about your job
Or your mortgage or the fight you had with your wife
‘Cause when a man holds a thing well made there’s connection
There’s completeness when a man holds a thing well made

Sorry, I know this is getting a bit musicky and less addy, but i kind of feel Don McGlashan hit the nail on the head here for anyone who aspires to craft something.

Albeit in a fairly creepy way.