CREATIVE STRATEGY: Is The Spectator as original as it likes to think?

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The Spectator: train campaign by Ogilvy & Mather
The Spectator: train campaign by Ogilvy & Mather

The other week my fiancée graduated from Birkbeck, University Of London. Please bear with me, gentle readers, I am going somewhere with this.

As she’d been studying at the capital’s university for part-time students over the past four years, we had reason to notice the institution’s advertising on London Underground. Like all the ads I’ve ever seen for universities everywhere, they’ve been pretty dire.

There seem to be just three, equally poor, solutions to the uni brief – show happy students lounging on some green sward outside a suitably academic-looking edifice.  Or make a straightforward claim that the degree will improve post-graduates’ career options. Or grasp at something resembling a highbrow proposition... such as "great minds don’t think alike". (See what they did there?)

That headline has been appearing on Birkbeck’s tube card panels for some time. But then I noticed the ad next to it, for The Spectator.

Unlike the rather dusty Birkbeck ad, this is the brand spanking new campaign for the right-of-centre-person’s toilet reading of choice. Odd then, that the strapline has such a close resemblance to Birkbeck’s headline, because it reads: "Don't think alike."

Pure coincidence?  Quite possibly.  How many truly original straplines exist out there?  And unless you have the same genius for them as Mr David Trott, you’re always in danger of this kind of minor embarrassment. 

But what do we think of The Spectator ads themselves?  Well, I can see the strategy shining through well enough.  Oh, you know, we’re just so radical and provocative at The Spectator, you have to be a real freethinker to handle it.  Hmmm.

So an example headline is "The poorer the diet, the bigger the flatscreen".  I beg your pardon? I guess if juvenile snobbery posing as social commentary is your bag then subscribe now. 

As for the art direction, you can take two views. Why not keep it dead simple and echo the typography of the masthead?  Why not be bone-idle and get down the pub pronto?

In short, I don’t think The Spectator ads are on a par with the standards set by David Abbott and Ron Brown’s posters for The Economist. Not yet, anyway. But, as always, results could well prove that the agency knows its target audience much better than a mere reviewer.

Simon S Kershaw is a creative consultant and a former creative director at Craik Jones.

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