Misfit right in

How great is Fallon’s latest ad for The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas resort and casino? It moves the brilliant ‘Just the right amount of wrong’ idea on into a new direction. It’s bold, brash, ballsy, provocative. It looks and sounds absolutely amazing. It’d stand out big time in the ad break on telly. And it tells me all I need to know about the product without telling me anything at all. But most of all, it makes me want to drop everything, get a flight to Vegas and book myself into The Cosmopolitan for a week. Job done.

Shit Idea

Following on from yesterday’s post, here’s a campaign that encapsulates everything rubbish about advertising today. It was the ad that got Charlie Brooker’s goat and you can see why. Reality checks were clearly not conducted in the creation of this nadir of modern marketing. It’s not a spoof, I promise. This bog roll brand really did want to know how you wipe your arse. Actually, they wanted more than that – they wanted to spark a national debate around how we all wipe our arses.

It’s a grim, ridiculous idea, made even worse by the incongruously upbeat execution. Watching the montage of cheery people tell us whether they ‘scrunch’ or ‘fold’ is surreal enough, but things get nightmarishly uncomfortable at the 15 second mark when an attractive girl gets all seductive about it. You’re not imparting sexy bedroom secrets love, you’re telling us how you wipe your arse!

To give this car crash substance, they’ve applied the must-have modern stamp of credibility, the hashtag. So, do you #ScrunchorFold? Will you continue this great debate down the pub with your mates? Tweet live from the bog tomorrow morning? And get involved at andrex.co.uk? Or do you, like me, want Andrex to #GetAGrip?

Bucket Of Shit

Bucket Of Shit

The quote above is clearly a sobering take on our world of always-on, social media-obsessed ‘participation’ marketing. I love doing things that involve the audience as much as any creative out there. Kids telling their mates in the playground about some cool new thing one of my client’s brands is up to is far more credible, powerful and cost-effective than spending shedloads carpet bombing paid-for media. The rapid spread of a great idea across social media networks is an amazing thing to behold (did you see the brilliant #SurrenderYourSay campaign?) But before we build our dizzyingly complex integrated campaigns, create our clever hashtags and start ‘populating’ our ‘content calendars’, we should put ourselves in the shoes of the consumer and ask ‘why would I give a shit?’ The reason Charlie Brooker is a genius is that however hysterically abusive he gets, his rants always start from a kernel of truth. So we should take his words as a valuable reality check. And remember, our job, in the context of his analogy, is to make sure it’s not shit in the bucket but something worthwhile, valuable and life-enriching.

The greatest endline ever written

As a young copywriting nut I’d pore for hours over D&AD and One Show annuals, squinting to read the body copy on some obscure press ad from 1979, being blown away by poster headlines from 1982. I immersed myself in the work of Ed McCabe, learned David Abbott ads by heart, aspired to be the next Neil French. The Copy Book, when it came out in 1995, quickly became my bible.

One of my first bosses, the legendary Siimon Reynolds, had an encyclopedic knowledge of advertising history and would test us junior creatives. “Barbara Nokes’ 1980 Silver Pencil-winning VW ad?” “You’re in this cell for your own protection.””Who claims all Timberland shoes are based on Red Indian moccasins?” “Tim Delaney.”

But despite diving into this ocean of sublime copy, the greatest (and toughest) lesson I learnt back then was economy. Tim Riley told a story about how he’d written a brilliant Nike ad. He’d been reading a piece about Michael Jordan in an old American Esquire and came across a bit that described Jordan’s game as “an ongoing dialectic with Isaac Newton”. He’d boiled it down to Michael Jordan 1 Isaac Newton 0. I marveled at the way Riley had edited the thought down, how so much meaning could be packed into so few words. The more experience I gained, the more I saw that the job is to squeeze the maximum inspiration/pathos/humour/excitement/intrigue/persuasion into the minimum words. That way lies powerful communication. Hence Just Do It. Labour isn’t working. E=iq2. Impossible is nothing. Think small.

Which is why I think the endline in the ad above is one of the greatest ever written. Just the product name and three short words. But a line so tonally right for the brand, so laugh-out-loud funny, so brilliantly economical and so perfect for the ad that precedes it that it’s as close to genius as advertising gets.

How the fuck did they get to that?

The best advertising takes simple human truths and stretches them to their limit. Messing around on electrified railway tracks is a really stupid thing to do. Let’s turn that thought into a cute song. People often feel proud to the point of being aggressively defensive about their nation’s esoteric quirks and preferences. Let’s dramatise that thought with a patriotic battle-cry for a fizzy drink (Blackcurrant Tango St George). There’s a special bond between blokes who are really close mates that allows them to be utterly relaxed in each other’s company. Let’s focus on a group of mates who have their own daft language. (Budweiser Wassup!)

The insight doesn’t have to be earth-shattering – just true. The important thing is how far you push it. For example, the brilliant ad above, for Buenos Aires Independent Film Festival is based on the pretty basic insight that not everyone likes the same films. But where they’ve taken it is wonderfully unexpected. With most ads, it’s easy to see, in retrospect, how the creative team got from the insight to the execution. This one – and most of the really great ads – leaves you wondering, How the fuck did they get from the brief to that?

Maybe They’re Right

Maybe They’re Right

Did you see the ‘interviews’ episode of The Apprentice last week? Neil Clough, the guy who was country miles ahead of the other (frankly, dreadful) candidates, got knocked out. His business plan was rejected – no make that annihilated – by the rottweiler interviewer Claude Littner, but he refused to back down.

Claude: “You’ve got no chance.”
Neil: “I have.”
Claude: “You can’t compete with them.”
Neil: “Yes I can.”
Claude: “It won’t work.”
Neil: “It definitely will.”

Later, in the boardroom, Lord Sugar told him his plan was rubbish but still he stuck to his guns. “It don’t bloody work!” bellowed the pint-sized Spurs supporter. “I think it can” responded Neil.

It got me thinking about advertising and how our entire working lives are based around how we deal with rejection. Your partner doesn’t like your idea; the CD blows it out; the planner doesn’t think it’s right; the account director thinks it’s off-brand; the client says it’s not right for the sector. We face these and hundreds of other obstacles in ever getting anything off the ground. The fine art that determines exactly how far you’ll go, is knowing when to back down and when to push back. When to make changes/start again and when to dig your heels in.

Which brings me back to Cloughie. As much as I admired his unshakeable self-confidence and refusal to back down, it backfired on him. Perhaps he’ll go on to make his online property marketing business a massive success. But without Lord Sugar’s £250k and backing, I doubt it. If he’d have just listened to Claude, given himself a reality check and tweaked his idea a little bit, he could’ve – no, would’ve – won the thing.

If you think that’s a cop-out or a compromise, bear in mind that Bill Bernbach, the greatest ad man there ever was, used to carry a little card around in his shirt pocket. Written on it, to keep himself grounded in reality, was the reminder – Maybe they’re right.