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.