Are you a lazy cliché collector?

Experience_Collectors_3

When I came across this campaign recently I mentally marked it down as a set of really lame ads with an embarrassingly bad planner-written headline. But as it rolled out across Sydney to the point of near ubiquity I found myself giving it some more thought. In addition to the ad above with the (cliché alert!) bloke walking out of a job with his boss shouting at him in the background there’s another one where the he’s sitting on the floor next to a hot girl in an unfurnished apartment. I wondered if there was some deeper meaning that I was missing or perhaps an accompanying execution that explained the ‘experience collector’ idea further. Perhaps a telly ad where the guy asks the girl if she’s up for a threesome or admits that he’s been secretly wearing her underwear. Or perhaps the creative team had pushed it even further:

Guy (sincere): Janelle, I have something to tell you. 

Girl: What is it Dave?

Guy: I’m into hardcore German bestiality porn and I’ve been watching it while high on crack and wearing your cousin Elaine’s lacy G-string.

Girl (confused, distressed): What the…Dave…you’re sick. Are you some kind of pervert…addict…underwear thief?

Guy: No Janelle. (He cracks open a Hahn) I’m an…experience collector.

Sadly, I’ve now seen the mood video…I mean telly ad, and the bloke’s idea of collecting experiences is to quit his job and embark on a litany of lifestyle cliches so predictable you could swap him out for a girl and have a perfectly acceptable Bodyform ad. To be fair he doesn’t rollerblade through a park or play beach volleyball in a white onesie but I strongly suspect those scenes have been held back in the edit for the second execution.

Now it may seem harsh having a pop at this campaign. After all it’s well crafted and it does have a human truth at its core. The issue is that the truth’s been executed in such a first-thought, by-numbers way that it’s plopped out still-born. By way of contrast, Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild/the film with Reese Witherspoon has a similar truth at its core. But its execution is so far from the the Hahn ad’s lazy montage that the comparison is almost preposterous. Cheryl Strayed is an (ugh!) ‘experience collector’ but she’s busy turning the sad, ugly, confusing madness of her life into something real which is ultimately purifying and transcendent. That truth is depicted in all its messy, painful and frightening detail…the shit that we as human beings have to go through to learn, grow, understand ourselves. At one point she says:

What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if I’d actually wanted to fuck every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?

The truth of this strikes me as so confrontational, honest and real that I find it intensely powerful and moving. It reminds me of the interview with Roger Waters from Pink Floyd that I blogged about recently, where he talks about the meaning of the song Wish You Were Here and says:

Can you free yourself enough to be able to experience the reality of life as it goes on before you and with you and as you go on as part of it? Or not? Because if you can’t, you stand on square one until you die.

These ideas and expressions are so profoundly insightful that they make the Hahn ad feel like the shallow rom-com self-help cliché that it is. Now it may seem unfair to compare a beer ad with great art, but while advertising isn’t art, we are dealing in the business of insights and the powerful expression of them. And if Roger Waters can boil the meaning of existence down into a five-minute song and then boil the essence of that song into a couple of sentences, we – and I’m very much including myself in that ‘we’ – should be able to do far more with 30 seconds/a headline/press ad/online copy. Surely the point is to connect – something that the Hahn ad and so much of advertising doesn’t do. Bill Bernbach once said that “the most powerful force available to us is simple, timeless human truths.” Great art like Wild and Wish You Were Here take them and turn them into gold. We need to do the same. To resist every  cliché, banality, easy choice in search of something that touches, moves, motivates people. Much easier said than done I know, but it’s something to absolutely aspire to.

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About antmelder
Creative Partner at DDB Sydney; passionate vegetarian; lover of books, boxing and Bruce Springsteen.

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