campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 15 December 2006 12:00AM
Was there something in the water this year? There has to be some explanation for the epidemic of vacillation that afflicted clients. Morrison's, the Department of Health, Yell ... none seemed capable of making up their minds. Top prize - for want of a better expression - must surely go to easyJet, though. First it wanted an agency. Then it wanted an idea. Then it wanted a shop to execute its ideas. Then it decided an agency was the right choice after all ...
Who would have thought a piece of employment legislation designed to protect dinner ladies would rear up and bite the ad industry on the arse? Seems from now on, agency employees working solely or predominantly on an account are the responsibility of the winning agency when an account moves ... should make reviews more fun in 2007.
3. The new-business drought
Of course, TUPE won't amount to a hill of beans if the famous new-business drought of 2006 persists. The AAR published research showing new business was down 21 per cent last year, and 2006 has had all the makings of being worse. A bad year to launch a new pitch consultancy.
4. The Gutter Bar
It is with heavy heart and weakened liver we bid farewell to the Gutter Bar. A victim of its own success, you know it's time to find another place to escape from the Cannes top brass when you find yoursef elbow-to-elbow with the IPG chief, Michael Roth, in the queue for overpriced beer.
5. Junk-food ad bans
Advertising's remit at the coalface of moral corruption was expanded this year to include responsibility for the nation's collective waistline. Ofcom banned all junk-food advertising aimed at children. They can kiss goodbye to decent children's programming in the process.
6. United London
What a difference a year makes. At the beginning of 2006, United London was under new management, had an innovative, entrepreneurial share structure and was being touted as Sir Martin Sorrell's answer to the micro-network threat of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Wieden & Kennedy and their ilk. Today, there's a real possibility that Sorrell could pull the plug on the whole sorry mess.
7. World Cup advertising overdose
There are three laws in modern marketing: Christmas advertising begins earlier every year; no matter what product you point her at, Kerry Katona will never make a good brand spokeswoman; and each World Cup, you can square the number of brands attempting a spurious link with football. Our hearts sink at the prospect of 2010.
8. The Titanium Lion
Once upon a time, the Titanium Lion was all about integration - that alchemical mix of strategic nous, creative magic and media muscle. Not this year, though. The gong for "a big idea" went to a company that creates bar codes styled to the products they adorn. Genius.
9. Changes to postal sizes
Poor DM. Not only does the industry have to put up with the barbed epithet from its creative cousins that 99 per cent of its work goes straight into the bin, it now has to contend with new letter sizes limiting the canvas upon which it paints its below-the-line masterpieces.
10. The UK launch of Coke Zero
What a turkey! Full of out-dated cliches (annoying ringtone anecdote, among others). The best thing that can be said about this spot is that it's mildly less offensive than its tortoise Diet Coke predecessor. Surely VCCP and the mighty Coca-Cola could have come up with something better than this between them.
AND TWO TO REMEMBER
The outpouring of affectionate words that followed John Webster's sudden death in January, aged 71, was made all the sadder by the knowledge that one of the few remaining links with UK advertising's most self-confident era had been lost.
Webster, who was the creative catalyst of Boase Massimi Pollitt, was a legacy of the time when television's persuasive power was unrivalled and some of the most famous 30-second spots of all time sustained its potency.
As Sir Alan Parker, who directed a number of Webster's early commercials, put it: "If there was ever a golden age of advertising, then John was its golden goose."
Webster was responsible for the pick of the crop of great ads from the 70s and 80s. The Smash Martians, the Honey Monster and the Cresta Bear were all products of his fertile mind.
But these were much more than mere ephemeral comic creations. They lived long in the memory not just because of their humanity and wry humour, but because they were inspired by Stanley Pollitt's new-fangled idea called account planning.
"John's work was always based on logic," Dave Trott, a Webster protege, recalls. "He had great empathy with consumers."
Chris Wilkins, the copywriter on Smash Martians, said: "John understood that what outsiders call creativity is, in fact, a process of rejection - a painstaking and unsentimental sifting of the wheat from the chaff."
Webster's characters helped turn him into the most-awarded European creative of all time. Yet trophies never turned his head. The man himself remained modest and unassuming.
"My awards give me confidence," he once explained. "When someone walks into my office, they listen to what I say. When an account man wants to turn down my script, he thinks twice."
"Advertising genius" is a much-abused term, but in Webster's case it was entirely appropriate. Not least because his work has truly stood the test of time.
It is no exaggeration to say that had it not been for Stephen King and Stanley Pollitt, account planning would not be the mature, sophisticated and respected discipline it is today.
If planning is UK advertising's most precious legacy to the global industry, it was King, who died in February, and Pollitt who bestowed it.
During an agency career that stretched from the late 50s to the late 70s, King was not only fundamental to the birth of planning, but fostered the strong strategic heritage that has always been synonymous with JWT.
Looking back to the early 60s from today's vantage point, it is hard to imagine what a hit-and-miss process advertising often was at that time. Account managers often acted on information that was either flawed or biased because the researcher was not involved in the campaign process.
King thought clients deserved better and that advertising development should be rather less reliant on gut feeling and more on scientific foundation.
With that in mind, he established JWT's planning department in 1968 - the first in Britain - in order to fulfil his vision of having specially trained researchers and account people working as equal partners.
King's technique was deceptively simple. It involved a rigorous analysis of a brand and its position in the market to create a communication that reconciled marketing and business objectives.
King was never obsessed with statistics or jargon (it was said of him that he could spot bullshit at 100 paces). His fear was that the excessive use of both could handcuff creativity.
"Stephen turned proposition theory on its head," Jeremy Bullmore, JWT's former chairman and creative chief, says. "He invented and propagated an extremely simple, utterly workable way of setting advertising strategy so it liberated rather than restricted creative thought."
From Madison Avenue to the Champs Elysees and even Shanghai, King's legacy lives on.
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk