The Lost [Intellectual] Property Box

I don’t know about you, dear readers, but it’s been genuinely heartening to see the return of the Honey Monster and Tetley Tea Folk to our television screens.

Now I, for one, am not holding those latest commercials up as being a bastion of unrivalled creativity but I do think these kind of comebacks are a healthy thing for advertising in general.

In a world where almost every other ad seems to be a mood film with a logo tacked on at the end or some corporate chest-beating nonsense, it’s refreshing to witness the resurrection of campaigns which have an entertaining and charming long term property at the heart of them which is intrinsically linked to the product which is being advertised.

I’d wager that the decision for Weetabix to focus on communicating “energy” again by bringing back the “had your/their Weetabix” campaign has also resulted in advertising that is really cutting through right now. Compare it to that dull as ditchwater testimonial dross of “ordinary” people force-feeding themselves Weetabix on a daily basis to demonstrate the different ways you could eat it [with strawberries, yoghurt, cat food, termites, small bits of masonry etc, etc]. I bet the client is almost as relieved as the WCRS creative department about this about-turn.

Taking a step back, it’s pretty shocking how few long-running campaigns are on air at the moment. And looking around it’s hard to see many new ads out there as having the potential to become truly great creative assets for a brand over time. In fact I can’t think of a single campaign that fits the bill. In case I’m being a bit harsh would anybody care to enlighten me?

I think the lack of great advertising with a long shelf life probably exists for a number of different reasons. And I can’t really see any of these factors changing unless the climate changes and there is some sort fundamental shift back to a world where this sort of creativity is really valued by agencies and their clients. Here’s some food for thought about what might be getting in the way;

1. Agencies get bored of the advertising they create long before people in the real world ever do.

The process of actually making TV ads has become much more convoluted and time consuming. By the time the world and his wife have chipped in with their opinions and the ad’s gone backwards and forwards a zillion times, the agency can sometimes be exhausted and sick of the sight of the bloody thing.

This can lead to a situation where everybody on a project wants to “start afresh” when it comes to doing some new creative work.

By our very nature, us advertising folk are restless creatures who crave constant change and thrive on new challenges. This momentum and unstoppable force can easily outweigh any things like evidence about whether a campaign should be continued because it’s actually working.

The brightest and most articulate people in the business can often manipulate research to say anything they want it to. If it’s on the agency’s agenda to change the direction of the advertsing, then that change will invariably happen and they’ll sweep the client along on a sea of excitement and anticipation. Sad but true.

2. “Not invented here” syndrome.

Creatives can often be primarily judged [wrongly in my opinion] by their capacity for original thinking and their ability to come up with something new and different. Same goes for planners too.

Those in the business chasing career fame, glory and riches are sometimes able to get there much quicker if they are the architects of something brand new. The whole awards shebang compounds this situation as what's new is often more rewarded than what's familiar.

This creates a hunger and pressure to re-invent the wheel every time rather than to continue a theme that already exists.

3. Some clients also want to make a name for themselves quickly.

These days, the people that pay for the ads are in more of a hurry to progress upwards quicker than ever before. They often want to judge success by a single execution rather than a campaign that builds over time and this impatience can have a knock-on effect on the kind of advertising that is produced.

It’s easier for Mr Ambitious Clients to shimmy up that greasy career pole if they can point to being the brains behind a brand new ad that gets a lot of coverage and goes gangbusters.

The cult of Honda “Cog” Sony “Balls” and Cadbury “Gorilla” has exacerbated this situation and there’s now a lot of Marketing Directors now out there seeking the next killer ad from their agency.

4. There are fewer brand guardians inside ad agencies.

In 2010 people are moving around much more from agency to agency than they did five, ten, twenty years ago.

I heard a horror story the other day about a big London agency that had turned around it’s entire account handling and planning department in just a few years.
Putting aside this hearsay as a probable exaggeration, it’s fair to say that there just isn’t the depth of experience of old timers on many accounts who have the length of tenure, wisdom and authority to not only take a long term view about what constitutes success but the brakes on any self-serving agenda to throw out the baby with the bathwater and do something new.

5. Money, money, money.

The lure of filthy lucre had to be in there didn’t it? This business is now more about making money than it ever was. In the world of advertising agency top trumps [where almost all the good agencies are owned by holding companies] there’s incessant pressure to keep margins up by squeezing clients for as much money as possible for developing advertising.

The weary old model of agencies charging for time places an undue emphasis on stretching out the strategic and creative development process for as long as possible.

Just think of how much extra an agency can charge if they pool all their brilliant minds and bodies in every department and focus on cracking an entirely new campaign! Just think how much more money they can make if they devote all their energy and resource into making a brand new campaign happen!

In the moneymaking stakes it certainly beats hands down the option of merely giving it to a smart creative team and asking them to come up with another ad in an already successful campaign.

6. Long term campaigns just ain’t in fashion any more.

It might be self-perpetuating but I think there are fewer long term campaigns being produced because there are fewer long term campaigns making it on air.

In reality, advertising is actually quite a conservative business and, like it or not, a lot of the creative output out there follows fashion or feels similar to whatever else is around. Sub-consciously or not, most people only do stuff that is in their comfort zone or which feels like it fits in with whatever else is being produced.

Nowadays, we worship at the altar of the single execution. Add to that an almost unyielding pressure and thirst for everything to be culturally relevant and you get a recipe for churning out one-off after one-off at the expense of a campaign idea with, dare I say it?, “legs”.

At a time when the whole issue of Intellectual Property has never been more relevant, it seems crazy that agencies aren’t investing more effort into creating advertising that can run and run and run for their clients.

The properties of Honey Monster and the Tea Folk must be worth millions to the companies that own them. For Tetley specifically, can anyone honestly remember any of the ads that they’ve been running since they hung up their cloth caps in 2001?

Next time a new campaign brief comes around, it might be worth us all looking in the lost property box of previous advertising to see if there’s anything lurking inside that might be worth reuniting the British public with. You never know, you might find something genuinely valuable in there.


  1. Good piece fellas, but it's not the sort of opinion i'd expect from a 'creative' agency. Has Johnny Hornby been ghost-writing your posts? Them cunning CHI chaps have made a fortune rehashing other peoples ideas.
    Glad you had no choice but to invent the oiled up builders in the My Builder work. Very original, well at least outside of Soho.

  2. Excellent article. I wonder if there is a point about the cultural and political times we live in too.
    PS My builder work rocks

  3. Yesterday, I noticed Kellogg's Corn Flakes making a return to "Rise and Shine" on it's posters, or did they never drop it?
    Do you recall Kellogg's launched a powered drink in the 70's too called Rise and Shine, here is the ad.
    It has fond memories for me, because I was never allowed it as a kid for some reason.

  4. I agree, although I can't be sure that affection for Honey Monster isn't clouding my judgement.

    What about Cillit Bang/Barry Scott for an (admittedly retro) modern-day equivalent? That seems to have been on for aeons - but I'm not bored of it.


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