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.