So the most interesting man in the world has a pervy, German cousin. And he's been busy making a commercial/music/promotional video thingy for a big supermarket in Germany. Don't really know what to make of it, but I like it.

Feast your eyes.

Is This The Most Depressing Article On Advertising Of All Time?

I'm sure there are a ton of strong contenders for the above title, not least all those articles about how this or that is "dead" (invariably the thing in question always turns out not to be dead after all anyway). But last week's edition of Campaign served up something that could surely go in at the top of the chart.

The full article was entitled Fear and loathing in adland. For an analysis of the main article, Ben Kay's excellent post on the subject is well worth a read.

The part I'm more concerned with however, is the side bar to the article, which asks the question What is the bravest campaign of all time?

That is a hell of a question isn't it? An interesting question. I like very much that Campaign asked it. That's a big part of what Campaign should be about – asking difficult questions about advertising and looking critically at the answers.

The bravest campaign of all time. What could that conjure up? A client going out on a limb? Something so outrageous that it redefines the category that it's in? Advertising so out there that it crosses over into art? A strategic approach that defied the category norms? Advertising that shocked, stopped, moved the audience?

The question is good. Really good.

The answers are absolutely, fuckingly, gut-wrenchingly, arse-chlenchingly, awful.

Depressing as fuck. To put it mildly.

You can't blame Campaign for this, because they asked three people who should have bloody good answers; Andy Sandoz – creative partner of Work Club, Jonathan Burley, executive creative director of CHI & Partners, and David Kolbusz, deputy executive creative director of Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

They are three powerful creative leaders, with responsibility for the creative content of millions of pounds worth of advertising, important creative figures at three of highly-regarded London ad agencies.

And what did these leading lights of the advertising industry come up with? Pot Noodle 'Slag of all snacks' and Three's 'Pony'.

I will say that again. According to three of the UK advertising industry's most influential creatives, the BRAVEST CAMPAIGNS OF ALL TIME - ALL. TIME. are Pot Noodle 'Slag of all snacks' and Three's 'Pony.

Jesus. Fucking. Wept.

Let's get this out of the way, I really like the Pot Noodle campaign, really like it. Apparently it bombed, sales tanked, so that obviously taints it hugely for me, [correction: apparently that bit from the article isn't actually true – read read Steve Henry's excellent blog post on the subject here] but as a thing, I enjoyed it, it was racy, naughty, different. I was a fan when it launched. But the bravest campaign of all time? Come the fuck on. The Three campaign appears well regarded by the industry. But the bravest campaign of all time? Really? Really? A dancing pony? Really?

I was flabbergasted when I read it initially. And then I though, oh fuck it, forget it. But it has stayed with me for days, and I just can't get it out of my head. Out of all the campaigns ever made, ever, three powerful creative directors picked those as the bravest campaigns.

So then I thought, be fair, maybe they were doorstepped, or just given a quick phone call and had to think of something on the spot. That happens doesn't it? Maybe they were just spur of the moment answers. So I challenged myself to think up a couple quickly that are perhaps more worthy of being considered brave.

These aren't necessarily definitive, but this is what I came up with.

United Colours Of Benetton - used the clothing brand's advertising to cover substantial issues and subjects like race, terrorism, HIV and death, featuring things like real images of death scenes, the uniform of a fallen soldier, newly-born baby, inmates on death-row.

Volkswagen 'Lemon'. Okay, easy choice, but it was the first time an advertiser spoke with brutal honesty and openness about its product. It dared to talk about cars not meeting the quality standard. Lets be honest, it ushered in a whole new way of talking for advertising in general.

Avis 'We try harder'. A company takes on the leader in the category by openly telling people that it needs to try harder to earn their custom.

Dove campaign for real beauty. A 180 degree turn from the rest of the category. Challenges the notion of beauty.

The Pepsi Challenge. Publicly, directly challenges the market's (and probably world's) biggest brand with a straight-up comparative taste test.

Like I say, probably not definitive, I reckon I could do better, but not bad for a quick stab. I would venture each is far more worthy of the title than those put forward by our learned friends.

So then I thought, what's the difference between the ones that came to my mind and the ones that infuriated me so much in the article?

And I think it probably comes down to this. The Slag of all snacks, and the Dancing Pony thing are just stylistic things, one is fun and a bit racy (although it is cut through with typical HHCL honesty) and one is a fun bit of entertainment.

But they don't have real substance, they aren't brave, really, in the true sense of the word. They might be 'out there' executionally (especially in the case of Pot Noodle). But they are fundamentally simply enjoyable bits of styling and tone. And this is depressing as a recipe for bravery in advertising.

I reluctantly agree with Dave Trott when he says the role of the creative in most agencies is largely becoming that of a stylist. And it worries me that the best that these influential creatives can come up with is a couple of ads that make you go oooh a bit. It's worryingly close to Dave's assertion.

It makes you think, if the big guns in big agencies think that these two ads represent bravery in advertising, little wonder the output of the industry is largely bland, boring and banal, style-over-substance wallpaper.

If The Famous Volkswagen 'Lemon' Ad Was Written Today

Volkswagen's famous Lemon print ad, re-written in the language of modern car ads. Of course if it was also designed in the style of today's car ads, it would have an impossibly glossy – possibly CGI car shot (probably on some alpine road), a whopping great logo, and lots of social media icons too. Smashing. By and via Dr_Draper on the twitter.

Audiophile Heaven

Audio wizards Bowers and Wilkins have really upped their game over the last few years. From humble Sussex roots founded in 1966, it is now one of the most desirable and respected audio brands in the world.

Aswell as investing heavily in research and development, and creating partnerships with premium brands like Maserati  - they do some pretty sweet photography, or I should say Phil Sills does some pretty sweet photography for them.

It's easy to see why he is their go to guy - his ability to capture eye watering textures and contours with exquisite light is astonishing.

Challenge Your Assumptions

The work of Professor Byron Sharp challenges most current fashionable marketing and advertising thinking. Why not make yourself a nice cup of tea and spend fifteen minutes having your assumptions challenged...

If you enjoyed that, there is a whole pandora's box of great stuff on his blog, here.

What's The Point Of Advertising?

Today's blog post takes the form of a question. I know quite a cross-section of people read this blog; clients, creatives, planners, senior types, juniors, students, researchers, account men, photographers, producers and randoms. So I'd be interested to find out if we all agree on the fundamentals of what we all spend our days agonising over and thinking about.

So, over to you, dear readers.

What is the point of advertising?

The Collaboration Myth

Image from

It’s one of the most dangerous words bandied about by agencies eager to impress prospective clients.

It’s dangerous because it openly promises clients active and sustained involvement in the creative development process. Something that can complicate and slow down getting to the right creative solution as the world and his wife wade in and have their say at every stage.  

It’s dangerous because it promotes the idea of “working together” to come up with great ideas. Something that few clients are rarely qualified to do.

It’s dangerous because it diminishes and undermines an agency’s specialism as being advertising experts. High ground that is difficult to reclaim if relationships are started on a ‘creativity can come from anywhere’ basis.

It’s dangerous because it conveys a false sense of importance on harmony and overtly signals that the agency wants to be seen as being easy to get along and work with. Something that seriously underestimates the value of an agency challenging and confronting the client to help get to a better place with their advertising.

But mostly it’s dangerous because, invariably, great creative work doesn’t come from collaboration.

Great work might well happen despite of collaboration. Rarely does it happen because of collaboration.

Collaboration has become a buzzword and a bandwagon used to woo and reassure anxious, nervous clients that they will get the advertising that they want.

Now, as we’ve banged on about before, giving a client the kind of advertising they need is not necessarily the same thing as giving them what they want.

Ultimately, they’re paying us agencies good money to deliver something powerful that’s going to be in their best interests commercially. They’re paying us agencies good money to deliver what they are unable to do themselves.

They’re not shelling out cash because they’re creative wannabes who want to fiddle with everything and ensure it’s their ideas that come to fruition.  

By and large, clients just simply don’t have the skills, talent and expertise to take a truly great creative leap.

I know it’s heresy to say this kind of thing nowadays but the assumption that collaboration is inherently a good thing that always leads to better work is utter bunkum.

Clients need agencies to provide them with creative magic. And agencies need clients to give them enough space, trust and respect to do this.

This argument is nothing new. Ogilvy’s adage of “Why keep a dog and bark yourself”? and Lois’ legendary “You make the Matzos, I’ll make the ads” story demonstrates that this tension has been around for some time.

However, the current climate has made the situation much, much worse. And agencies have been complicit in this step change by encouraging a greater contribution from clients at the wrong point of the process.

I’ve spoken to a lot of creatives who regularly bemoan the fact that it feels like the agency no longer takes the lead and controls creative matters. Many feel that the Client is the ultimate Creative Director and that the agency uncomplainingly dances to this tune.

And that can never be a good thing for the end product of great creative work.

There’s a fear factor that resides in a lot of agencies who are shit scared to do anything that might rock the boat or compromise their relationship with the client.

They’re so intent on keeping clients happy that they’ll merrily drop their trousers to accommodate often unreasonable, unrealistic or downright rubbish suggestions about the creative work in case any pushback compromises the relationship in any way.

And they’re so intent on keeping clients happy at all costs that they have actually become blind to the fact that the main thing that compromises the relationship in the long run is poor quality advertising that does bugger all for a client’s business.

John Hegarty has already eloquently outlined the issues with the almost omnipresent obsession with the charade of ‘tissue meetings’ half-baked ideas getting in the way of great ones.

The culture of “co-working” and “co-creation” may have served to keep everyone in their comfort zone but this has also resulted in safe and comfortable work coming out of the end of the process.

I believe there is a direct correlation between collaboration and the general drop in standards when it comes to advertising.

Collaboration just doesn’t create the conditions for success. Rather than nurturing them, iterative and incremental creative development usually ends up killing great ideas.

Part of the issue is that you simply cannot create great advertising ideas by committee.

Somebody needs to sweat the small stuff and strike gold in a moment of inspiration.

Somebody needs to think really deeply about a problem.

Away from all the chatter, somebody needs to focus on doing the right thing regardless of what anybody else might think.

Somebody needs to actually sit down and have a great idea.

And, by and large, that somebody has to be a creative person.

Sure, anybody can have an idea. Sure, everybody can have an opinion.

But let’s be honest, here. All ideas aren’t created equal. And not everybody’s opinions hold the same weight.

It’s human nature for everybody to think that their own ideas are great. But a reality check in the history of great advertising would find that most great ideas originally came from someone who had the word “Creative” in their job title somewhere and not from Planet Collaboration.

Instead of increasingly being marginalized, it’s high time that the expertise of creative folk emerged from the smokescreen of collaboration and was put back front and centre in the world of advertising.

The nonsense of crowdsourcing, the misguided notion that audience participation is deep and widespread, the “how to” book and conference brigade all perpetuate the myth that all our ideas are worthy and coming up with them can be a democratic and universal process readily applied to solving any problem.

However, when it comes down to it, it simply just ain’t true that creativity can come from anywhere. Well, good creativity at any rate.

Coming up with great advertising ideas is a specialism. It’s a craft. It’s something that’s best left to the professionals.

It’s not a level playing field. Talent comes first.

Unfortunately, a lot of agencies are making it much harder for talent to genuinely shine due to the over-emphasis on collaboration. And this often leads to more time being spent talking and debating about ideas rather than actually having them.
Let’s face it. It’s much, much easier to talk and write about having ideas than getting down to brass tacks and actually having an idea.

It’s one of the unspoken truths in our business that everyone loves to talk about great ideas but not everyone can have them.

Another truth that makes collaboration counter-productive is that creatives tend to be introverts by nature.

They tend to work best away from the stage-managed “dog and pony show” of generation sessions and multiple person review where their ideas are thrown to the wolves for everybody to pick apart.

Although they thrive on having the responsibility to crack a problem, it’s fair to say that a lot of creative people don’t really instinctively know how to or want to collaborate. They’re just not hard-wired to have ideas that way. Sometimes they don’t even know where their own ideas come from.

Any creative person worth their salt would run a mile from a brainstorming session if given half a chance. Ditto being forced to be spontaneously creative on the spot in the presence of a client.

In my experience, the more people involved in the creative development process, the less likely it is that something great will come out at the end of it.

That’s not say that the best creatives don’t seek involvement and input from colleagues [and clients] who they respect and trust and whose opinions they value. They just need the freedom and authority to be able to get their heads down to work out the best and most interesting way of solving a brief. And sometimes that means leaving them alone to do this.  

I appreciate that this approach needs sensitively handling as it can obviously have an impact on agency and client relationships, especially if clients have been conditioned to expect significant input and involvement in the creative work.

It’s also completely understandable that many clients want to have this level of involvement and input as it’s often a reaction to a previous poor experience with an agency that has kept them at arm’s length and given them advertising that ultimately hasn’t performed.

The scars of the bad old days of advertising still remain in some quarters where intimidating, arrogant, aloof, head-up-their-arses agency types have made clients feel like second-class citizens.

The desire for clients to seek more control of the creative process is very often a symptom of the lack of trust that remains and a protection mechanism built in to ensure they don’t get bitten again.

Collaboration, however, is the wrong answer to this problem. With the average relationship tenure now down to just over two years, it’s clear that clients are making the same mistakes over and over, again and again by ending up with advertising that they feel they need to change.

Quite often, agencies will give the impression that they are collaborative when behind the scenes there can be ridiculous power struggles about the brief or the direction of the work. The veneer of collaboration is then exposed when it comes to making a decision about what work is actually going to be produced [or “sold” to use agency internal common parlance].

Now, I’m not suggesting that clients and agencies shouldn’t have a partnership or work closely together as a team. But there’s a big difference between teamwork and collaboration.

With teamwork there are clearly delineated lines of responsibility and rules of engagement. Everyone works to a common goal.

With collaboration, there are bunfights where everybody internally and externally involved with a piece of business seeks to impose their influence and input on the creative work.

Normally this happens because people haven’t been asked to contribute at the right stage.

Of course, clients should be listened to. Their knowledge about their market, their audience, their business is invaluable.

They usually have a very clear and insightful view about what their problem is.

If anything, it’s at the initial stages of a project where they can be most helpful before creative development actually begins.

Agreeing the objectives for the communication upfront. Finding out the most important information about the product and brand. Establishing the success and measurement criteria for the campaign. Understanding the politics of the business and any hidden agendas.

Most importantly, having a shared view of the advertising strategy.

If clients and agencies agree on what they want people to think, feel and do after seeing the advertising then there’s going to be much less pressure for both parties to spend time and energy debating the minutiae of detail about an ad that people in the real world won’t really give a monkey’s chuff about.  

If your clients always want to wear the creative trousers, there can only ever be pain and trouble ahead.

I know it’s hard but the advertising business needs to grow a pair and start reframing how the relationship should work for the best work to grow out of it.

Clients are experts in their business.

It’s about time we started acting like experts in ours.

And that ultimately means less collaboration rather than more when it comes to matters of creativity.

Weird 1920's Valentine Cards

These weird old Valentine cards are lovely. A great antidote to all the schmoozy Valentines crap being hawked by Hallmark. 

via Retronaut

The Makers Mark

Once upon a time, in an Agency far far away - a brief landed in an inbox. This brief was the most beautiful brief any at the Agency had ever seen, it glistened like the nape of a female tennis players' neck (mid set, a proper grunt ladened one), and all that regarded it swooned. After a number of weeks exploring its cavernous regions - a multitude of ideas were presented, each like a baby Lion proudly held aloft for all to celebrate.

After much applause and backslapping - and presentation of ballpark production costs associated with each - it was said with a heavy heart that the Client did not have the necessary budget to realise any of the ideas.

This is a story of enchantment, hope and heartbreak.

On Linkedin I've seen a few Producers post moan-y 'aren't-clients-stupid' things like the below:

These posts might raise a smile amongst those able to stop licking their elbows long enough to look at their computers ; however what does this really say about a Producer?

It's very easy to make amazing work if you have lots of cash - and doesn't take a genius to do it. Things can be done faster, and to a better quality if you throw money at it - human nature takes care of that one for us. With all the money in the world - all that is required is the ability to google 'best Photographer/Director', a talky box to repeat what some creative-type spouted along with any relevant adjectives, and a functioning hand to keep writing the necessary cheques.

A good Producer is able to realise an ambitious concept using sod all budget. They can find savings beyond the sum of a jobs parts, find efficiencies, and are able to deal with random last minute curve ball requests that change everything. It's someone who doesn't read off a rate card - but who's responsive and can anticipate and embrace change.

It's always nice to go into a job knowing if shit happens, you've got some cash in your pocket to help rescue things - but in my opinion a successfully run Production should do the idea justice, come in on time, and be under budget.

Vested Interests

You may have noticed that there was an "all-Lego" ad break the other night that featured remakes of some mostly unremarkable commercials [with the exception of Vinnie for the BHF] made entirely of those little toy bricks from Denmark.

What you may have failed to notice is that this stunt was supposed to be promoting the forthcoming Lego movie.

Yes, it was mentioned in the press release that all the trade publications recycled without comment or interpretation. But away from all the industry second screen chatter and gossip, did the general public really make the link or was this just seen as some PR noise for Lego?

The cult of remaking iconic film scenes from Lego is nothing new. Yet, the idea of giving a few ads the same treatment and running them together in the same commercial break is being heralded as "an inspired and truly innovative Media First" as ground-breaking and heroic as the moon landing.

Now, I can't deny that this activity hasn't captured any attention.

But like a sparrow's fart, I'd wager that this isn't going to last for very long.

I'm sure Warner Bros are delighted with their revolutionary media activity but was this stunt really in their best interests?

Did this idea really make people interested and excited about seeing the Lego movie?

Was this idea really the best idea to do that job?

Was filling an entire commercial break the best way to invest that money?

Or was it pursued because it was a newsworthy "Media First" that would make a great case history and win awards?

We've spoken before of the corrupting influence of other things like peer recognition, fame and awards getting in the way of agencies doing the right thing for their clients.

There's a hell of a lot of it about.

It seems that now more than ever that there's a massive disconnect between what clients ultimately need and what agencies ultimately want to give to them.

Just because you can package something up as being pioneering and original doesn't automatically mean it's any good.

The hidden agendas and vested interests that exist behind the magic curtain at a lot of agencies often come to light only when clients wake up to realise that bugger all difference has been made to the bottom line.

And only then does the penny drop that agencies are much better at selling themselves than they are at selling their clients' products.

Someone Got Paid to Make This #2

BlinkBox felt the need to send this to my inbox.

Can you believe money was exchanged for writing this hooey.

I just pray it was Monopoly money.

The most E-P-I-C Superbowl commercial you never got to see

Unless you live in Georgia (the only state where it aired), or read the New York Times, Daily Mail or one of the many other media vendors that ran an article on it.

Don't think I'd want to hire the fella though, pretty fundamental that.

Treating Consumers Like Mouth-Breathing Morons?

It's been said that the current advertising bandwagon for making emotional brand campaigns treats consumers like mouth-breathing morons, incapable of logic or reason, bereft of the ability to make a logical decision, whilst agencies and advertisers dangle shiny trinkets in front of them. Well, I think this new campaign for biscuits puts that idea to rest, once and for all. And, best of all, it's impossible for other brands to copy.

10 Myths About Modern Advertising

One of the best pieces of advice we can give to students who want to work in advertising is beware, be very aware of opinion that is masquerading as fact.

Right now, there's no shortage of deluded, militant evangelism polluting the business by proclaiming some kind of new world order where everything has changed.

There's also an alarming lack of common sense and, in Dave Trott's words, street smarts in agencies who seem obsessed by the ridiculous bubble of adland and less interested in how people actually behave in the world.

In particular, there are many prevalent schools of thought dedicated to propagating nonsense as if fashionable, zeitgeist thinking is some kind of law that must be obeyed. There are many "how to" conferences devoted to revealing the secrets of modern marketing so these theories can be followed and translated into action.

This is, by no means, an exhaustive list of modern advertising myths. It's just a starter for ten of the ones that we think are getting in the way of great, commercially successful advertising being produced.

We can sometimes feel like voices in the wilderness and I imagine that challenging the ten points below will sound like heresy to many agencies, clients and prominent industry commentators.

But, fuck 'em. It's about time the record was set straight.

1. Brands are more important than products.

2. Most people really do give a shit and actively want to have relationships with brands.

3. Collaboration leads to better creative work.

4. TV is dead.

5. A bigger logo means better branding.

6. The "interruption" model of advertising is no longer effective. It's all about engagement, innit.

7. Featuring great looking people from central casting will make your audience more favourably disposed to buying your product.

8. Creativity can come from anywhere.

9. Putting a call to action on your advertising means people will be likelier to act on it.

10. Advertising, these days, is ultimately not about selling.