Where has advertising's sense of humour gone?
Having just completed the judging of Campaign's 2013 Big Awards - a rare chance to spend a day immersed in "the work" - a couple of things struck me about the nature of British advertising today.
First, there is still some truly inspiring stuff out there, if not exactly a glut. If truth be told, the first team was bristling with top talent, but there wasn’t a lot of depth on the bench. Maybe it was ever thus. Second, I don’t think any ads raised more than a wry smile or occasional snigger from the assembled judges.
There is certainly a lot of worthy thinking – from Channel 4’s "meet the superhumans" Paralympics spot to some truly outstanding charity campaigns – but very little to make us LOL, or even cheerfully chuckle.
The best brands have always had a swagger and have used humour to cut through the clutter and connect with us
Unfortunately, this is a sign of the times. And I’m not just talking about the recession. During the past five years, most institutions in this country have suffered some sort of crisis of trust: the banks that almost brought down the economy with their manipulation and cavalier investments; the politicians who fiddled their expenses; the police who took bribes or lied over Hillsborough; the journalists who hacked people’s phones.
Businesses, brands and political bodies gradually sensed they were under siege. A new generation of journalists, fuelled by the reach and transparency of the internet, unearthed endless examples of corruption, hypocrisy or simply poor customer service.
Quite understandably, many businesses went back to basics. The thinking is that we must get our operations right before we start "talking the talk". Barclays is the perfect example after revelations that it manipulated the Libor rate. As its head of communications, Stephen Doherty, told a conference last week, reputation is based on a company’s behaviour – not communications.
But the danger is that brands lose all faith in bright communications as a brand-building tool. The best brands have always had a swagger, a unique take on the world, and have used humour to cut through the clutter and connect with us.
I’m not suggesting we revert to the 80s and the jingoistic laughs of Carling or the blatant sexism of Castlemaine XXXX. Nor should we chase the laddish nostalgia of Tango or Wonderbra from the 90s. But perhaps we do all need to lighten up a bit.
Mad Men has helped rejuvenate the glamorous reputation of advertising, albeit from a bygone age in New York, with a welcome dash of dry humour. Perhaps it’s time British advertising also discovered its legendary creative levity.
The Big Awards will take place on 23 October – tickets are available at campaignbigawards.com.
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk
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