The Work That Never Ran #1: The Pearly King

Sometimes when we're looking for things in our archive we come across weird and sometimes not-so-wonderful pieces of work that never saw the light of day. We thought we'd share a few of these with you from time-to-time...

A few years ago our clients at SSP asked us to come up with a tactical ad for a new product that their brand The Pasty Shop was launching for the winter. This product was, wait for it... a Fish, Chip & Mushy Peas Pasty. Yes, you read that right. Fish, chips, and mushy peas – in a pasty. A weird conflation of two of England's most famous national foods. Possibly the most English food ever invented, we mused? So that's the way the ad went. The concept was quickly approved, and our crack production team got straight into simultaneously negotiating with various factions of the Pearly community in London and lining up a top-notch photographer to bring it to life. But then, at the witching hour, the budget for supporting this amazing gastronomic creation was diverted into another campaign. And so the concept never saw the light of day... until now...


Grading house GradeKC has put together this video showcasing some of their work for the movie, The House on Pine Street. It's a fascinating insight into the affect grading can have on the look of a film.

Director Jeffrey Zablotny has a good insight into the process.

"The ‘original picture quality’ that appears bland and tonally even—that’s not really representative of what’s captured by the camera; it’s just the most neutral possible picture to show all data available to the colourist. (It’s the equivalent of a RAW file.) There’s actually a tremendous amount of contrast and shape already built into that captured image by the cinematographer on set, and typically his or her intention is carried out and subtly enhanced by the colourist. It’s tempting to conclude that digital colour grading is the magic wand that truly brings the image to life, but it’s actually the last step of a long creative chain that begins before shooting even starts.

The versions of the shots you’re seeing fly by aren’t finished potential iterations, but more like important milestones as the grade progresses —hopefully, the cinematographer’s intent is the always final one. There’s an initial pass or two for overall balance and temperature (often called primary colour correction), secondary passes for subtler tonal values (subtly making things greener, bluer, etc), and then final cosmetic passes for vignetting, and special details. This video chooses not to address the wonderful world of keying and windows, which allow extremely particular details of the image (just one face, or whites of the eyes, or perhaps a certain specific shade of red in a lamp somewhere) to be isolated and tracked. Incredible technology."

It's a great primer on the grading process, there's more before and after stuff over at GradeKC's website too. 

"You Mean Just Say What The Product Does?"

Jamie Firth posted up this funny clip from Muppets Take Manhattan in reply to our post yesterday about content. Very funny. And sadly true...

The Problems With Content

It's one of the top buzzwords of the last couple of years. It seems everyone in marketing and advertising is constantly crapping on about 'content'.

Clearly, it suits agencies and production companies, because they get to make more stuff, and making more stuff earns them more cashola. And what agencies and production companies love more than anything is cashola.

And it suits a lot of clients, because they get to make something that people (theoretically at least) choose to watch. A lot of clients are in love with the idea of people 'loving' their brand (even though the notion of punters loving brands has largely been proved to be nonsense) so the idea of people choosing to watch their stuff seems very attractive. Plus, it seems (on the surface of it) like they will save loads of money on media.

All good right? Errr, right.

There are two not inconsiderable issues with content:

1 – Why on earth would someone choose to watch it?

2 – So someone watched it. Now what?

So, issue 1. The minute that you decide to make something that relies on people choosing to watch it, you're in competition with everything in the world that someone might choose to watch instead. You're in the content business. I don't make the rules, that's just how it is. If you're asking me to choose to watch your one minute, two minute, or god forbid, thirty minute piece, why should I choose to spend my time doing that rather than watch something that Pixar made, or that HBO commissioned, or an old episode of South park, or a video of a cat playing the piano? Why should I, why will I, watch it? Does it have some vital information that I cannot live without? Is it more entertaining than the best that TV companies, film companies and various talented ne'er-do-wells can muster? If you can answer this question well, you're a huge step in the right direction. If you're answer goes something like "Er... because there's a cat in it..." or contains the words "Hack" or "Tips" you might be in trouble already. A lot of agencies get around this fundamental problem through the practice of 'seeding'. What seeding really is is paying for opportunities for people to watch the content. This very common. When you are seeing brand videos suggested to you on youtube, for example, you are seeing a paid for space. So when an agency boasts about the five million views that its latest piece of content for brand X gathered, more often then not, those view were bought, yes, just the same as if they were bought on TV. Except that on TV no one brags because the audience actually watched the ad, that's taken for granted. And it's not quite the same, because TV is a linear format – if you start watching a commercial, it's more than likely that you'll see the end of it. Whereas, as I'm sure you'll recognise from your own behaviour, with content, you don't always finish watching what you start watching.

So that's issue 1. Quite a biggie. I'm not saying it's impossible to achieve natural, organic large viewing figures, but you have to have the answers to those questions. And they have to be good answers.

On to issue 2. So we got people to watch your content. Now what? The problem comes because largely to make the content watchable (see point 1) the makers tend to leave out things that viewers don't like (or that they think viewers don't like), like commercial messages, products, reasons to buy, strong role for the product or service, strong branding or attribution etc. and just make something that is entertaining. Now, even though that's the case, many of these pieces still aren't up to the level of broadcast content, but we'll leave that to one side. So someone watches your content that doesn't really relate strongly back to why they might choose to buy or use your product or service. What happens next? Are you hoping that because they watched it, they are going to like you more? And that liking you more is going to make them hand over their hard-earned cash in exchange for your product? I've got some bad news for you. Studies show that people's buying habits are not strongly influenced by their attitude towards your brand, rather it happens the other way around – people's attitudes are more shaped by what they buy. So what exactly is the value of that amazing kitten video or dancing baby film that you got them to watch?

And that's issue 2. Where does your content fit into the process of buying decisions that your customer makes? Be honest, and don't be tempted to kid yourself.

When brands become producers of content, there is a tendency to measure success by how many people watched it. But as we've seen, these views can be bought, and the value of those views is up for debate. So often the number of views is simply a proxy measurement, it measures something that is not necessarily of any actual use or relevance to the business, or proof of effectiveness.

And it makes brands and companies become obsessed with things that they don't need to become obsessed about. As the manufacturer of loo roll you should be obsessed about making good loo roll and being good value, and making sure that people know this. As a brand of chocolate bar you should be concerned with being a good chocolate bar and making sure that customers know why. The last thing you should be spending your time obsessing about is ratings. There are whole established giant industries full of highly-paid experts built purely and single-mindedly on the rabid pursuit of better ratings, and working out how to get more viewers. There are very few movie producers or TV comedy writers being distracted from their primary purpose by worrying about how to make a four-ply roll or a more velvety chocolate.

Of course, as with anything, there are the brilliant exceptions. And they are hypnotically impressive when they happen. They, in fact, keep the cycle going. Like the weekend golfer who keeps coming back because of the one great shot they hit every round. A hundred brands commission content based on the one brilliant exception.

The problem is, of course, that everyone promises the brilliant exception, and everyone imagines that their particular piece of content is going to be the brilliant exception.

Content is the height of fashion right now. And in marketing, something being en vogue is a rarely a good reason alone to do it (often quite the opposite). But, if you're tempted, for God's sake make sure you go into it with your eyes wide open, and that someone, somewhere, has good answers to these two points.

The Internets

Haven't quite figured out how to work the internets? Never fear, the 90s are here to help:

What have they done to the Honey Monster?

Outing rubbish advertising is just like shooting fish in a barrel, especially with so much crap around these days polluting the airwaves. We've tried to keep a lid on our outbursts recently but office consensus is that we should go public on the nonsense that is the new Honey Monster makeover.

Mr Monster is undoubtedly an advertising icon, created by the legendary John Webster back in the day to sell some sugary breakfast cereal. Many famous commercials were made. Many boxes of sugary cereal were sold.

Now, we all know the advertising business has changed beyond all recognition since then but I think this new commercial is an excellent exemplar of some of the things that are wrong with our esteemed profession.

For starters, they've "updated" what was a great brand property. "Updating" means taking all the joy and charm out of the character and pandering to the PC brigade who might be concerned about how such products are advertised to children.

Hence we see Honey Monster transformed from a heroic, bumbling, clumsy, knockabout figure [the "embodiment of childish mayhem" aptly put by Campaign] into something what the press release has painfully laboured to describe as "more athletic, responsible and reflective". A reflective Honey Monster? Jesus wept.

It gets worse too. Apparently, the new Monster is inspired by Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are. But, as far as I can tell, there's certainly no evidence of that judging by the new execution where the Honey Monster seems to be relegated to playing the bit-part role of a hairy extra.  The ad seems to be just a lot of kids straight out of central casting skipping around demonstrating a rather sanitised and cliched view of what "fun" constitutes totally unrelated to the breakfast cereal in question [water balloons, since you ask].

And is there anything less fun that the fact that they've even taken away Honey Monster's voice and replaced it with that a voiceover that lamely repeats the word "fun" several times? And to appeal to Mums and kids they've also ensured that the ad contains a Mum and loads of kids.

Rather than using Sendak as inspiration for the new Honey Monster they would have been far better off using Webster's old Honey Monster. What's happened is some sort of reverse shit alchemy where gold has been turned into base metal.

As you can see from the ad below, the interplay between Honey Monster and Henry McGee [as his 'mummy'] seems so much smarter and more appealing than the honeymonstrosity of this new ad. And who, from that generation, can forget the "Tell 'em about the honey, Mummy" line? Something still so memorable almost forty years on. Now the honey is relegated to a fleeting cut away shot in a jar before the obligatory 'child eating a bowl of cereal and really enjoying it' moment.

I know which ad my kids would much prefer and it's not the one that looks like an outtake from a CBeebies programme.

#FUNMONSTERFIED is the new hashtag.

#UNMONSTERFIED would be far more appropriate.

Human Technology

Beretta have released this lovely short to demonstrate the extraordinarily high level of manufacturing that goes into making one of their luxury shotguns. The film does a great job of bringing to life the impressive combination of traditional craftsmanship and state of the art technology that combine to produce one of their guns.

The intense, atmospheric feel, and undercurrent of menace are spot on too. At the end of the day it's a killing machine and the film doesn't shy away from that.

Great work by Paola Manfrin and Ancarani Studio.

Are We Witnessing The Return Of The Business Bellend?

I've read here and there about a regression back towards the horrific greed is good days of the 80's; the increasing gap between rich and poor, a new wave of yuppies, selfish, chest-beating bellends barking at each other about BUSINESS! whilst eating sushi or playing tennis, their whole happiness based around the relative movement of a few numbers on a spreadsheet or whether or not someone thinks of them as a formidable business person. Looking at some commercials that have launched recently (see below) I'm starting to worry it might be true. I find it hard to believe that there are still people out there in the world who act like this, but I guess there must be. We've seen this kind of character or lifestyle depicted in movies – American Psycho, Wall Street, Fight Club or Wolf Of Wall Street etc. as part of the telling of a dystopian story or dark, troubled character, but now it seems marketers are seriously expecting us to see it as aspirational. The idea that there are some advertising people who see this as something good to put in commercials is weird enough. But that a brand like Virgin Atlantic would want to align itself with this kind of business bellendery is completely perplexing. "Fly with us if you're a complete moron" appears to be the message. Is this a reflection of the regression of society a whole, or is it more likely a reflection the cultures of modern ad agencies and marketing departments? What do you think, dear reader?

Commercial for One Blackfriars (link to the story only, unfortunately the ad has been pulled).

A bit of Newcastle Brown Super Bowl gatecrashing

Newcastle Brown Ale have gone early in the SuperBowl advertising buzz stakes and maintained their maverick streak by producing a couple of new spots that pokes fun at the approach other brands take to try to steal the limelight at this marquee event.

One is a blatant attempt to infiltrate the Doritos User Generated Video competition. The other is a call for other companies to help fund the Newcastle Brown Ale Superbowl campaign as  they can't afford the $4.5 million asking price of the airtime.

Despite crying the poor tale, they've obviously spent a pretty penny on these well-executed gems to try to generate as much coverage and noise well in advance of the big day. It's a smart move to go early and whip up PR in the calm before the storm.

It's refreshing to see a beer brand with balls making mischief and being irreverent in a category which is increasingly losing its edge and falling under the dangerous spell of bland lifestyle advertising.

Good on Droga5 for publicly taking the piss with this work.

The People Who Ask New Questions – They're The Geniuses

Lovely short from The RSA featuring John Lloyd and animation from the talented I particularly liked the line "Any fool can find answers, the people who ask new questions, they're the geniuses".

New York by drone

Start your week with an amazing tour of New York's five boroughs.
Hard to believe all the shots are from a drone.

Michael Bierut

If you can stop laughing at the robot-like voice of Michael Bierut long enough to listen to what he's saying, watch this interview.

He has some interesting stuff to say about the impact of the internet on design and making logos that endure.

Bleep bloop bleep.

Michael Bierut Graphic Designer - The Creative Influence Ep.13 from MARIO DE ARMAS on Vimeo.

Equally Brilliant New Ad For Gordon's Gin

Yesterday's post seemed to cause a little confusion amongst some readers. There was a suggestion that the new Foxy Bingo ad we showed was in fact a commercial for Gordon's Gin. Foxy Bingo's own PR team even called us up to point this out. This was all really quite strange, so to clear things up, here is the new ad for Gordon's Gin. I think we can safely say that this is equally as good as the one for Foxy bingo from yesterday. Bottom's Up!

What Do You Think Of This Brilliant New Commercial For Foxy Bingo?

I thought I'd start the year with something positive rather than critical, so here we go. I'm not a big bingo fan myself, let alone online bingo. But this new ad for Foxy Bingo is well put together and has a great soundtrack. House! What do you think?

Happy New Year!

The doors of Sell! Towers re-opened with a cold creak this morning. We close the office for two full weeks over Christmas and New Year – I can highly recommend this approach, although we should have left the heating on a bit higher, so we're all sat here in hats for the time being. Anyway, here we are at the beginning of another period of 365 days. Another new calendar to fill. How are you going to use it? For our part, we'll continue to call it like we see it on this blog, continue to be uncompromising in the pursuit of excellence in our own work and of course remind ourselves to have fun doing it. Oh, and our first book will be coming out in a few weeks. What are your ambitions for 2015?

Have a great year.