French Connection

Zis is the campaign. Fallon have launched a new campaign for French Connection, I'm sure that won't have escaped the attention of our observant readers.

I've always thought that ad agencies have an interesting relationship with fashion brands. Pure fashion advertising is very single-minded and focused (I might do a post on that separately some time), they tend to get on perfectly well without advertising agencies, thankyouverymuch.

I think where you get that crossover point between fashion products and more mass-market or retail, like Clarks, Gap, Diesel maybe, M&S and French Connection it's an interesting place. That where ad agencies get involved - and they sometimes have a tendency to treat these like any other product that they advertise. They're desperate to put an addy idea into them. I don't really like terms like addy, so let me try to explain what I mean. I think they try to put a layer of idea or execution over the top of the product, something that seems to try hard to be clever. Agencies try to do that too much anyway - often what they think is an advertising idea is just a layer of complication that gets in the way rather than helps.

But fashion is a different business again, and finding the balance between a strong, consistent mass-market idea but that feels like it's still in fashion is hard thing to do. What people want from fashion is a mix of things, but basically very simple and very human - ultimately they want to look good, in order to feel good, they want to feel like they're wearing stylish clothes that are right for them. They also want something to aspire to, it's a cliche, but they want to feel better about themselves through the clothes that they wear. Its the age old thing of wanting to be more like or be with the man or woman in the ad.

I think that the new French Connection campaign walks this difficult line outstandingly well. It portrays classic masculine and feminine characters in the way that fashion advertising often tries to do, but it instantly subverts them with a perfectly executed wry knowingness and just the right amount of self-mocking. It has humour and self-awareness that's missing from most fashion advertising. There is so much about it that's well done - a great tone of voice that you can read, as well as hear, lovely style and production values (and let's not underestimate the guts it would have taken someone somewhere to go completely with black & white). The pace of the film/TV/video stuff is lovely and relaxed.

I'm going to reserve my most embarrassingly fulsome praise for three things - the casting/characterization, the writing, and the embracing of the product. The casting of the man is outstanding, bold and excellent, he's the man that blokes want to be; strong, individual, confident, but he's not afraid to be silly - doesn't take himself seriously - and he's not too clean cut. The character of Woman is feminine, young, and is portrayed with that confidence slash innocence slash utter utter disdain that the strongest female movie characters have.

The writing has a strong tone-of-voice, I saw the print ads first and couldn't help but have in my mind the kind of voice that then turned out to be on the film stuff, credit to the typography and art direction for that, too. In the film-based stuff it walks a perfect line between celebrating and taking the piss out of these perfect masculine and feminine characters, it's a bit like classic fashion advertising on a weird mix of uppers and downers. And there are some well-observed little human truths in there. Occasionally it slips into the odd little 'allo 'allo moment, but quickly recovers.

And thankfully, the product is celebrated and integral to everything. Praise the lord.

It may get some criticism from your typical ad-crowd along the lines of 'where's the idea?' in that lame sort of way, or because it's not in-your-face. But fuck 'em I say. This is classic creativity. Doing its job very well, but not overdoing it. It's such a difficult thing to get right. It's probably the piece of Fallon UK work that I most envy. And a great piece of mass-fashion advertising.

Perfectly-styled hats-off to all involved.

I'm here

If you haven't seen Spike Jonze's latest 30 min film, 'I'm here', then we recommend you do. 
Jonze teamed up with Absolut Vodka to create the short - a story about two robots who fall in love in LA - and it seems to be quite an integral part of their latest campaign, which bears the strapline, 'In An ABSOLUT World, Ordinary Is No Place To Be'. 
According to Absolut, 'the film honours Absolut's history (hmm), while embarking on a new and innovative alliance with one of today's most original film makers' - well they're not wrong there. And to follow on with this theme, the film is set to be screened in interesting and unexpected locations, which challenge people's 'ordinary' perceptions. 

Advertising aside, it's beautifully shot, has gentle touches of humour and not too many glaringly obvious Absolut references (note the title and credits in Absolut's futura font), with just the right amount of weird - bucket loads. 
Take a sneek peak below.

Star Wars on Earth

aka "The Dark Lens Series" by C├ędric Delsaux.

Over the last 5 years the French photographer has been slowly releasing this brilliant series. Each shot shows Star Wars stuff in different parts of France and Dubai. Last week he released the final installment. You can check out the whole collection on his site here, and read a bit more about it over here.

The Credit Expert

A pig called Sophocles, a posh bloke that plays the harpsichord, a Chinese butler, ice from the sea of tranquility. It's a pretty bizarre combo to get people to check their credit rating.

On the one hand, I like the pace and feel of these ads. That, along with their downright weirdness, certainly makes them stand out amongst the frenetic clutter of most commercial breaks. The casting and performances are good and I also like the way that the logo is shamelessly incorporated into the ads.

However, I'm less certain about the messaging. These ads don't really give people a reason to visit the site and get their credit checked [a free 30 day trial is offered up in one of the executions but I'm not sure whether this will be the main take-out of that ad].

It almost seems as if the agency has taken the "let's make sure that the one thing people remember from this ad is the brand name" mantra from the insurance comparison website battleground and just simply applied them to this market.

Getting a cheap insurance quote and signing up to a site to get your credit report are two very different things in two very different markets.

I reckon that people need much more of a push and a reason why to engage with the world of credit reports. The line "I know you're curious about your credit rating" is used in one of the ads as if it's some kind a universal truth and that it's something that the entire population are already interested in finding out about.

I think the reality is that there a loads of people who aren't curious about their credit rating. Millions of people probably don't know what one is or how to get one. Or even, more crucially, why they should actually get one.

The campaign might be more effective if the role of advertising was to actually make people curious about their credit rating. And having a good old-fashioned benefit in the ads that explained why it might be important or useful to check your credit rating would have undoubtedly helped.

I'm sure that triggers like how to improve your credit score, how to find out what information companies can see about you, how to help prevent ID fraud, how to see who's been checking your credit could all be motivating things to talk about that would get people clicking.

"Nice execution, shame about the message" seems to be a bit of a recurring theme at the moment. Can't help thinking that this is symptomatic of many creative departments being marginalised into simply focusing on how something is being said, rather than what is being said in the first place.

Newer readers to this blog [and planner-bashers] might like to find out a bit more about this topic in an earlier post here. Or indeed another one here.

Please, please, please

Spotted last week. Perhaps an innocuous slip lead to a face plant into a freshly laid, still steaming, slightly wet mound of doggy doo. It must have been something pretty nasty to lead this poor person to write such a desperate poster.

Self Delusional Salesmen

If you don't already read the blog of ace marketing man Dave Knockles, I Am The Client, then I heartily recommend that you do. I couldn't agree more with his observations of the lunacy of the advertising world, and his latest post Things I Don't Understand About Agencies is a perfect example. I particularly enjoyed this part:

"The industry-wide self-delusion that they aren't salespeople.
Come on, folks. Let's the two of us have a heart-to-heart here. Nobody else - just us. Let me be honest, because I like you / you buy me beerz.

The only difference between you and a car salesman is an ironic T-shirt."
It's something that I think is very true, very sad, but very funny about the most of the ad industry. Maybe it's a distaste for the idea of selling among the oxbridge graduates and precious, business illiterate creatives that find their way into advertising? Maybe it's a result of agencies trying to guarantee their role at the top table of business by hawking the nebulous role of Brand Builder? Whatever the reason, it's a delusion that has confused the ad industry in a state of perpetual denial crossed with verbal diarrhoea.

The real irony is that business valued advertising agencies much more when they accepted (and moreover enjoyed) that they were in effect, highly skilled, creative salesmen.

Bob (The Ad Contrarian) Hoffman has written brilliantly on this strange and damaging phenomenon here, I've wittered on about it too, most recently here.

Self delusion.
You never quite know that you suffer from it.

Confused New TV ads's new advertising campaign kindly informs me that any money I save by using their insurance comparison website can be spent on items like a pair of jeans, a guitar or a tennis racket. Thanks!

Without that helpful reminder I would have been putting any savings I made towards a barium enema or a job lot of Andrews Liver Salts.

Now, there's nowt really wrong with these executions [as you would expect from BMB they're well put together]. It's the strategy behind them and core message that will limit their effectiveness as pieces of advertising.

Using your advertising to communicate that you can make savings by going online and using a comparison website is hardly a revelation or new news for people. It's a generic benefit in a relatively mature market that's already widely understood by anyone with half a brain.

The question isn't why would you go to a comparison website. It's which one are you going to use when it's time to switch on your computer and renew your insurance.

This market is all about a battle for front of mind. Salience is king in the insurance game.

That's why the Meerkat was born. That's why that fat bastard opera singer was inflicted upon us. That's why we had to endure Michael Winner. That's why a big red telephone with wheels came racing onto our screen. Oh yes! that's why a nodding Geordie bulldog was used. That's why some Aussie gals in pink spangly clothes and a big pink car sang a little ditty. You get the picture.

You know the brands I'm talking about even though I haven't actually mentioned them by name. That's because their advertising has burnt them into our memories.

I doubt whether this new campaign for Confused will do the same thing or have the same staying power [It's a big shame really, as their brand name is such a gift].

Keith Davis Young

Keith Davis Young's got some really cracking photos on his site. This Texan photographer has a keen eye for a composition and captures scenes beautifully. 
We particularly like the food stuff shots. Mmmm. Pancakes and meat. What's not to like?
You can check out more of his smashing snaps here.

New Visa Ad

Continuing our theme of featuring high budget, technique based credit card commercials that fleetingly feature a glimpse of what they're supposed to be advertising, here's the latest magnum opus from Visa. As a piece of film it's undeniably really well shot and entertaining. As a well branded commercial that contains a truly motivating, meaningful and differentiating message for Visa? Hmmm, I'm not so sure. A penny for your thoughts, dear readers?

This Is The Truth About People Who Work In Advertising

I read this great story from Drayton Bird over on his blog:
It is now over 50 years since I read the famous conversation between Max Hart of Hart, Shaffner and Marx and his ad agent,

Hart said he would never read long copy.
His agent said, "I'll just give you the headline of a full page all-copy ad. You would read every word."
"What is it?" asked Hart.
"This is the truth about Max Hart," his agent replied.
It reminded me of one of my favourite quotes, from Howard Gossage: "People read what interests them, sometimes it's an ad".

The thing is, these days people are always saying that people don't read or pay attention to advertising, I've met plenty of people myself who say that they never watch adverts or pay attention to them (although it always transpires later in the conversation that they can trip off a few recent ads or strapline, so go figure).

Indeed, within our own industry it's rife. But the basic human truth is this, people will read or watch, or pay attention to something that interests them. People are selfish like that, but that's just human nature.

But what happens a lot in the ad business these days is that agency folks just say people aren't interested in chocolate/cars/detergent/bottled water/insert other product here, and off they then pop to create some piece of barely related entertainment to stick the logo of the product on the end of.

As I've banged on about before, making good advertising is a simple business, but it takes hard work. One of the things that requires real smart thinking and insight is when you have a low-interest product (and let's face it, most products fall into this category to normal people), finding the thing about it that people will find interesting. And this doesn't mean interesting like a documentary about weird sexual habits, or interesting like Joe Pesci doing a robot dance naked in silver paint. But interesting in the context of the product and the potential customer's relationship to it.

These days, most ad people don't bother. The work either comes out workmanlike and uninteresting to the customer and goes unnoticed, or is entertaining but that entertainment does a poor job of communicating anything of interest that moves the prospect closer to buying your product.

If you're a client, how many times have you been made to feel like your product is uninteresting, and been presented with advertising that is just barely disguised sponsored entertainment? How many times have you felt that your ad people aren't really interested in finding something to say about your product that will interest your prospective customer?

It's just because the thinking is lazy. The truth is, if you find something genuinely interesting to say about your product or service, people will listen. Or read. Even if there are quite a few words.

The title of this post.

The title of this post is a bit naughty, because the information promised in the headline isn't delivered. That's not something I'd suggest you do in your advertising. But I'd bet fifty pence of someone else's money that if you work in advertising, you wanted to read on and find out what it said.

Which I guess was Max Hart's ad agent's point.
And Gossage's, come to that.

Art Direction

I found this illustration over on the AMASSBLOG, and thought I'd share it with you lovely people. Make the elephant bigger and amoeba smaller - that's a funny line. There's a funny story that goes with it about someone's definition of the difference between a Graphic Designer and an Art Director.

Spice Is Nice

Old Spice. Synonymous with Gerald going down to the conservative club in his Rover 3000. Anyway. Wieden & Kennedy over in the States have been doing an excellent job of flogging this stuff through the good old-fashioned medium of television, and this is the newest ad. Fresh, very well written, cast, shot, and it's fun, and ooh, look over there, the product has centre stage. Catch up Britain. Great stuff. Hats off to all involved.
Me? I prefer to smell like a laydeee.


How To Work Better

I love this poster/print, we've had a copy of it up on office wall for quite a while, I think it's a great set of values to work to.

Originally written by Peter Fischli and David Weiss.

Thanks to Delicious Industries for the info.

Cheers for the Captivating Commemorative Crockery

The lovely people over at The Escape Pod sent us a pair of their exquisite commemorative plates, which celebrate Republican America 2001-2008.

It's a delightful piece of work, that gives rightful recognition to the fine achievements of the last US republican government. They'll have pride of place next to the Charles & Camilla plates kindly given to us by the Daily Mail. Thanks to our American friends.

Is Modern Advertising More Stupider Than It Thinks?

Fifty years ago advertising was incredibly simple.

A client would go to see some advertising people.
More often than not, he would be wanting to sell more of his product.
The advertising people would think about who buys the product, who might buy it, and if the people who already buy might be tempted to buy it more often.

They'd work out where they could best reach these potential buyers.
And then they'd look for things that might persuade the potential buyer to buy the product.

They'd find out as much as they could about the product, and the potential customer, and they'd keep thinking until they thought they might have some persuasive thoughts, or facts, or ideas.
Then they'd work out a way of putting that message across in way that would catch the attention of their potential customer, and communicate it to them in a way that suited the product.

If the advertising was successful, the potential customer might actually buy the product.
And if they were happy with the product, they might buy it again some time.
Heck, they might even tell a friend or relative about it.
Over time, if the product met their expectations, they might come to think of it, and the maker of it, as pretty good.
That's how most of the great products and brands we know today were built.

It all seems so simplistic, doesn't it?

How the modern advertising professional laughs at the very notion of such a basic and naive approach.

These days advertising is so much more sophisticated.
So much more clever.
Now we have brand marketing.

We have brand diagrams, some shaped like onions, others like pyramids.
These things are very sophisticated, because they've been considered long and hard by branding consultants and strategists.
They've been through three rounds of development, including one on an away day in Oxfordshire, with a pub lunch and free teas and coffees.

Then we have planning.
An entire whole new clever department was set up. Originally it had the simple and useful task of finding out more about the customer. But now planning is much, much more clever. It watches trends, it theorises about society, it taps into the zeitgeist.

And even better than that, it can create presentations that last for whole days on these subjects.
And it can write books, too. When you've spent that long thinking about things quite often you'll have enough things to fill a book. Or go on a speaking tour. Other planners will buy the book and go to see the tour.
This cycle continues until absolutely every planner knows absolutely everything there is to know.
Modern planning takes advertising to a whole new level of sophistication and cleverness.

So now the modern advertising person imagines what kind of relationship the customer might have with the product. What emotion they might associate with it.
Oh yes, also now the potential customer has a much more clever name, the target demographic.
How fucking clever is that?

And we don't really think of the product as a product anymore, that's simplistic thinking. The brand is what's important. What the brand has to say, what kind of conversation it might have with the target demographic. What emotions it would convey.
This is more sophisticated stuff.

When all of that has been decided upon, which of course can sometimes take a year, because of how incredibly clever and sophisticated it is, then it is time to unleash the modern advertising creative.

This sophisticated creature has a computer.
They know what a facebook is.
They have an amazing website called YouTube saved into their bookmarks.
They tweet, and they interact, which is a bit like talking, but without the boring old talking bit.

They watch a lot of new and clever techniques on their computers. Very clever things, animations and film techniques, photographic trickery.

They really do have their fingers on the pulse of what is new and sophisticated, and of course, clever.

So what happens next is that the sophisticated message that the planning people have worked out based on the sociological findings, trend-watching, and the brand onion, is made into a piece of communication by the advertising creatives using one of the clever techniques they have decided is appropriate.

The correct use of the latest technique can sometimes win the modern advertising creative a modern advertising award (these are very sought after).

Then, with almost absolute certainty, as a result of using the correct application of brand engineering, planning, social insight, the relevant emotional pulls and cues, and sophisticated creative communication techniques, the target demographic, enthralled by the conversation it is having with the brand, nips into tesco and buys the product.

Modern advertising is a highly evolved, highly sophisticated communication business.

Or is it?
Modern marketing and advertising professionals believe that the business has evolved into a much more sophisticated, more thought through, more professional and smarter business than it was say in the 1960s.

But how is it then that 99% of all advertising put in front of us is pretty much absolute shit?

Why do messages fall flat?
Why do they fail to connect with the man-on-the-street?
Why do people find advertising more annoying and less helpful than ever before?
Why does the advertising turn out to be so complicated that it is generally indecipherable, even if someone wanted to decipherable it.
Why, if advertising is so damn clever, is no one any the wiser as to whether a piece of advertising is actually going to work or not?
Why is a company that I know for a fact makes excellent, well engineered, well designed automobiles droning on at me about joy?
Why is a confectionary company trying to promise the very same thing, when all I really want from them is some delicious chocolate made from not-too-bad ingredients?

Why, if advertising is now so damn clever, is the stuff produced by modern ad agencies so consistently, terribly bad?

Could it be that advertising, in trying to become cleverer and cleverer, has actually completely forgotten what it is doing? That it has disappeared so far up its own sophisticated posterior that it can't even tell, as it gets even more and more complicated? That all of the systems, theories and approaches developed to make it more sophisticated, are actually the very things that are making it much less smart?

Will the modern, sophisticated version of advertising ever be a match for the simple discipline of smart, talented people in a room coming up with smart ideas to sell products?

The modern advertising business is locked in an irreversible cycle of nonsense.
It's actually incredibly stupid compared to the business fifty years ago.
But it will never realise it.

Typeface The Movie

Trailer for the film Typeface, about a rural midwestern print show and museum. Find out more about it and the campaign here, and you can also buy posters, including this lovely one by Nick Sherman...

Saul Bass: Making Money vs Quality Work

A lot of the time, as a designer or advertising person, to achieve the standards that you strive for in your work, you have to spend much more time on something than a client has actually paid you for. Realising that that's true even for the great Saul Bass makes it feel better.