2010 And Beyond. A Great New Decade For Advertising.

It's time to say goodbye to the noughties, a decade in which advertising has been knocked about like a slow heavyweight with a dodgy guard. 

Over the last ten years, advertising has been made to feel increasingly bad about itself by commentators, digital evangelists, and even its own, as a generation of self-loathing creatives, ashamed of their craft, have become creative directors and passed their distaste for the business of selling to a new generation.

People have told us that advertising is out of date, that no one is interested, that broadcast is dead, that it's a business of dinosaurs. 

In turn advertising people have spent the decade afraid to make advertising, ashamed to make things that openly sell, they've pretty much turned the business into some weird sponsored entertainment merry-go-round of oblique ideas, ass-covering bullshit and powerpoint presentations.

But the fact is that the really important stuff hasn't changed. Sure, there are new technologies, and new methods of communication, but people are still people, with their needs to be happy, be successful, have enjoyment, feel fulfilled. Human nature is still human nature.

And when was the time exactly when when advertising was actually welcomed? Truth is, that time has never existed. Advertising has always had to earn peoples' interest. It has always had to work hard to not be a rude intrusion into life. It's the same now as it's always been. Harder probably, but the same nevertheless.

It's time for advertising to shake off the negativity and be proud again of what it can do.

Really good advertising can make businesses a friendly visitor into peoples' lives, not a rude interruption. With careful consideration of messages we can be helpful and relevant, not annoying or an obstruction.

It's time for advertising to get back to the important basics of being a charming but persuasive salesman. And to be proud of that craft, thinking and creativity. 

The advertising business, through its unique and powerful blend of commercial nous and applied creativity, has the ability to transform the fortunes of businesses, to even help save them, and even to change those businesses themselves for the better. And I happen to believe that good businesses and good products contribute positively to society.

We should be proud of being the people who can make that happen, people who through the process of coming up with ideas, can make a positive difference not just to the economy but to everyday life.

Advertising is a great business, at its best a simple collection of people with a unique blend of commercial and creative skills, not bound by any one media, theory or technology. With a broad knowledge and understanding of the media and technological landscape, and more importantly an instinctive understanding of human nature and how people tick. We use these skills and knowledge to find ways to help our clients be more successful, and hopefully make peoples' lives a little bit better in the process.

We're at a time when the economy, and society in general, is desperate for something to help it climb out of this recession and period of gloom. The opportunity is there for us to make the next ten years a decade when advertising gets proudly back on its feet and fights back with energy and creativity, using techniques and technologies both established and new. We can help propel business into a new time of success, and play our part in creating an upbeat and prosperous decade.

Happy New Year.

Christmas! Christmas!

Sell! Sell! is taking a break for Christmas.
Have a great one everyone.

Beat Assailant Video

Slick video for recording artist Beat Assailant by Nassim Maoui and Christophe Mentz. Combination of Bond style graphics, live action and some excellent crime fiction style typography and art direction.

Say What You Like About McDonalds

They know their customer.

The Unreasonable Man

I was reading this post on Dave Trotts excellent blog the other day, and it reminded me of this great quote by George Bernard Shaw:

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

Sometimes in ad agencies, as in life, all people want you to do is to make their lives easier. To not rock the boat, or come up with anything difficult to do. The don't want you to be unreasonable.

Back in the old days in my first agency, my smashing partner and I earned ourselves a bit of a reputation for being difficult. What this meant was that some people in the agency didn't find it easy working with us. Traffic people, production, account managers, they would look at us with withering expressions as we explained exactly how something should be executed to make sure it was excellent, not just ok.

On one campaign for an important client, we had an idea that would be very hard to ignore if it was done well, which was difficult, but a bit so-so if it was just done the easy way. So we pushed and pushed for it to be done properly - clients rarely get to see just how passionate ad people are about making their advertising as good as possible, which is a shame isn't it? Eventually one of the creative directors at the agency took us to one side and gave us a little lecture about being less difficult. I thought it was a bit stupid. It's nice to be nice. But sometimes to do something truly interesting, or change the way something is done for the better, you have to be a bit unreasonable. That was one of the first times we realised that we needed to start our own agency.

It's true of clients too, some just want an easy ride. They just want someone to agree with them, or give them unremarkable work that will be easy to get signed off by the board, or won't potentially cause any fuss. Well there's plenty of people out there in the world of advertising willing to oblige. More than plenty. Those clients find themselves overwhelmed with choice. But the very best clients are always happy to be challenged, they realise that they're paying people to think, and they want their expertise. Those are great clients to work for. We're lucky to have a couple of those.

If you adapt yourself to the way the ad industry works, the systems, the conventions, the accepted norms, the consensus of what's good, the awards, all you'll be is another reasonable cog in big reasonable machine turning out reasonable stuff. Go into work, be reasonable, eat lunch, be a bit more reasonable, go home. It's the kind of reasonable behaviour that's turning advertising into just another corporate ladder for dull, reasonable people to climb.

All progress in advertising depends on the unreasonable man. As George Bernard Shaw didn't quite say.

A Perfect Storm Of Advertising Excellence, That Way

Vinnie Warren, top ad-man and creator of the Bud Wassup!?! spots, interviews the great Dave Trott over on the smashing Escape Pod blog.

It's way more interesting than anything you'll read on here today. Go over there and read it.

Stella Artois Christmas TV Ad

How the mighty have fallen. Keeping the festive theme going, here's the latest classic television commercial for Stella Artois. Stella's advertising might be an easy target at the moment but we just couldn't let this latest howler pass without commenting. A brand which once had truly great advertising which always put the product on a peerless pedestal now continues its spectacular decline from a creative perspective.
Putting aside the sheer lunacy that they're spending most of their advertising shekels trying to get more people to drink Stella because of it's impeccable green credentials [cue loud guffaw], it looks like they're now telling us that Stella Artois was originally crafted for Christmas. And they've done this with a commercial that even Coca-Cola or Werthers Bloody Original would have rejected for being so stomach-turningly twee. Hold on a minute, could it be that the story of Christmas is where the moniker of "Wife Beater" originated from? Maybe when Joseph found about Mary's "virgin" birth, Bethlehem witnessed the first bout of domestic violence. Answers on a Christmas card, please.

Oh Holy Night

I'm very Christmassy. Holly, Ivy, Noah, all that shit, I love it. However dealing with Christmas music from the last week of November makes it a challenge. South Park can always be relied on to help you through that. Here is one of my favourites, Cartman sings Oh Holy Night.

Back To Basics: Product Demonstrations

Product demonstration. Two words that seem to strike fear into the fashionable-trouser region of the modern advertising creative. But why? It it because they're seen as uncreadivv? Maybe it's because product demonstrations have become inextricably linked with really bad and unbelievable product demonstrations? Take the Vanish ads for instance - fake kitchen, shiny lady with Vanish, getting impossible stains out of white t-shirts, another lady looks on, clearly a hired moron, amazed. As a viewer you just don't believe it. But that's the bad side of product demonstrations.

Like lots of other really worthwhile techniques you can use in advertising, you shouldn't let really bad product demonstrations make you think all product demonstrations are bad.
When done well, and in the right circumstances, for the right product, product demonstrations can be very effective. And they can be interesting, entertaining and compelling too, the things that you need to help a consumer be interested, watch, and remember.

The current kings of the product demonstration are Apple. They do consistently good advertising for their products that show us things about them. Whether it's how an iPhone works, or just how thin a Mac Air is. And the thing is, they're always so unassuming and polite, we don't even know that we're watching a product demonstration. We just think 'wow that's clever'.And that's the beauty of really genuinely good advertising, you come out of thinking how good the product or service is, not how good the ad is.

The second part of their success is that they have their tone-of-voice spot on - the way they do the demonstrations - so every telly spot or print ad also contributes to how nice we feel about Apple.

As our grumpy friend the Ad Contrarian has said in the past, Apple is a great brand that people always aspire to matching, I've seen it wheeled out as a great example of brand-building many times. But their success has been built on great products, and good advertising that demonstrates those products with a strong tone-of-voice. Ad people always talk about the 1984 Apple ad as one of the great ads, but that is an ad-mans ad - an ad that makes you think 'what a great ad'. The real business-builders - the brand-builders - are the everyday ads for the products.

Product demonstrations don't have to be uninteresting, or uncreative, or unbelievable. They can be a great short-cut in communication. They can quickly and honestly dispel myths and show product advantages, they can be powerful pieces of communication that change the fortunes of business. And when you see one done well, its a sign that behind there somewhere were some advertising people who did their research into the product properly. And just as importantly they were confident enough in their own abilities to do something simple, or get out of the way of the product, and not try to over-execute some creative opus.

Here's a few examples of product demonstrations done well, if you can think of any others, please let me know...

Apple iPhone ads

Blend tec Will It Blend Website and Videos

Smart Car

Pepsi The Pepsi Challenge

Wendy's Where's The Beef


VW Snowplough

Lurpak Baked Potato

United Breaks Guitars

Last year musician Dave Carroll and his band Sons of Maxwell took a flight with United Airlines. Upon boarding the plane they witnessed the baggage handlers throwing around one of their Taylor guitars causing substantial damage. And after a painful nine months of trying to get compensation for the $3500 guitar they were rebuffed. So they decided to write a trilogy of songs about their experience, this is the first one.

Over 6 million views on youtube can't be very good for United Airlines pr.

Put The Lights On The Tree

Yep, Christmas time has finally hit Sell! Sell! towers. We've not dived in to the mistletoe and wine or decked the halls with boughs of holly yet, but we've put up our nice, big tree and started receiving some shit corporate Christmas cards from companies we've never even heard of. Anyway, to get us in the spirit we're about to start playing some Yuletide songs on the faithful office stereo. I'm not sure we've got the stomach to deal with Bob Dylan growling his way through Hark The Herald Angels Sing or O' Come All Ye Faithful just yet. Instead we've decided to kick off with something a bit more mellow. So, pop pickers, accompanied by a cockles-of-your-heart-warming piece of animation, we give you Sufjan Stevens with "Put The Lights On The Tree" from his festively fabulous "Songs For Christmas" box set. Now where were those mince pies?

OK Go WTF Video

I love how this is such a simple technique that they then build on with more and more imaginative ways of exploiting it. Worth sticking with all of the way through. Now, who will rip it off first for an ad I wonder? (answers on a postcard please) Thanks to Squa for the tip.


According to Marketing magazine, McDonald's have applied to the Intellectual Property Office to register the nickname Maccy D's as a trademark. Are they planning to use it? It would be great to see it on the front of one of their restaurants. Where I grew up, we used the nickname Micky D's, I wonder if will that be next? *Update, I'm told that Micky D's is commonly used in the US, and was trademarked in the eighties.

Will we see Stella Artois following suit by applying to trademark Wife Beater?

Creative Awards Are Rubbish

More creative awards bashing, but not from us this time, you may be relieved to note. A pat on the back to our mate Rubbishcorp for his great post on the state of the ad business and creative awards. We couldn't agree more.

If you haven't read it yet, have a look here.

It's business time.

From the fantastic Flight of the Conchords we have Business Time...

Fentimans Christmas Cola Poster

Our new 96 sheet poster for Fentimans, which pokes a Christmassy finger in the metaphorical eye of Coca-Cola's traditional claiming of the holidays, went up on Monday. Here's a closer view of the traditional pen & ink illustration by the excellent Steve Noble..

Good to see that it's already earning its keep...
It's the reet thing.

'Cardon Copy'

The latest project from NY based designer, Cardon Webb, aims to make our streets that little bit nicer, well, in terms of design and posters and stuff. 
Upon finding dismal, tatty looking posters and fliers - mostly lost cat posters and car-for-sale type notices - Cardon whisks them away (hopefully not for too long) and cunningly re-creates fancy looking Cardon Copies - get it?! 

The 'Cardon Copy' project redesigns unconsidered things, 'over powering their message with a new visual language'. Cardon then 'replaces the original with the redesign back in its authentic environment'

Nice idea. Nice executions (see more here). Spotted over on the It's Nice That blog. Nice.

And if you'd like to know what we think it takes to make a great lost cat poster you can delve into our archives, or simply click here for our lost cat poster theory - a nice blast from the past.

Three Chords And The Truth - How Advertising Is Failing At The Basics

American songwriter Harlan Howard once described great country music as Three chords and the truth. I'm not a country music fan, but it's as good a definition of music as I've ever heard. It boils country music down to what makes it one of the most popular genres in the world: the fact that people relate to the messages and stories that it tells, and that once you have that thing - the truth - that you don't need anything but a simple and honest way to convey it.

The very best advertising has always been, and will always be the same.

At the heart of all good advertising is finding something to say to people that is relevant or interesting or informative, or opinion changing - something of substance that will really help people, or strike a chord, or inform, or make them think differently about something.

As Bill Bernbach said: "Forget words like 'hard sell' and 'soft sell.' That will only confuse you. Just be sure your advertising is saying something with substance, something that will inform and serve the consumer, and be sure you're saying it like it's never been said before."

And although that was many years ago and technology has changed, and society looks different now, it's as true now as it was then. People are still motivated by the same things; to feel good, to look good, to enjoy life - all of those basic human things are still the main motivating factors in life. To me that is the fundamental of the business, finding that things that people relate to or that truth that hasn't been told. It's the real diamond, the real thing of value in our business.

It seems obvious, a basic. But why is nobody doing it? It's because it's so bleeding obvious that everyone has forgotten about it.

What's happening now in advertising and marketing is that people have forgotten to do the basics that make advertising great, and are just concentrating on the polish. Most contemporary advertising is over-executed nonsense. Highly polished nothingness. The twenty-first century version of blarney, flim-flam - talking a lot and saying nothing. Bamboozling the consumer with executional tricks without offering anything of merit.

And the thing is, people can see right through it.
People don't think any better of advertising now than they did fifty years ago, in fact the reverse is true. People find it more of an intrusion than ever before. And this is despite the fact that today much more time, effort and emphasis is put into crafting and production, and that people are much more focussed on making advertising entertaining. Why is this? Well one big reason is that most advertising is a complete waste of everyone's time and attention. It is visual and audio garbage. Nonsense that gets in the way of real life. Why do people put ad blockers on their browsers? Why do people fast-forward ads? Flick past double-page spreads? Or worst of all, just passively ignore advertising?

Because it's got nothing interesting to say to them.

Modern advertising is failing to be interesting by failing to be relevant, not by failing to be entertaining. Finding something real to say is seen by most as a bit boring, a bit uncreative - when that is the real heart of great advertising, and great advertising creativity.

All everyone is doing is focussing more and more on the smoke and mirrors, the creative fluffery, and moving further away from what would solve the problem.

A bit of substance.

The thing about finding something meaningful to say is that you don't need to have legions of young Scandinavians with funny haircuts or Latin Americans in the right trousers constantly trawling youtube for things to rip off, you don't need a resident trend watcher, or a gallery space.

You don't have to dance like a demented clown to get attention when you have something interesting to say.

Or put another way, when you have the truth, you only need three chords to make a real impact. 

Read more Sell! Sell! On Advertising posts here.