Opinion: Perspective - Why Monkey Tennis has more mileage than adland's ideas

By Rory Sutherland, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 16 April 2010 12:00AM

One of the most painful moments from the archive of British television comes in the first episode of I'm Alan Partridge, in which Alan begins pitching increasingly desperate new programme concepts to the BBC. I last saw this scene 13 years ago, but three ideas - Youth Hostelling With Chris Eubank, Arm Wrestling With Chas & Dave and the immortal Monkey Tennis - have remained seared on my brain ever since.

Yet, pathetic though he seems, there are ways in which the Alan Partridge of this scene is in a less pitiable state than an agency in the same position.

For one thing, the ideas are his - if they are made, he earns money from the idea itself. Second, he owns the format, so is in line for another payout if Les Singes Qui Jouent Au Tennis is later sold to Canal+. Third, if the BBC chooses not to take up his ideas, he can take them elsewhere. Indeed, he threatens this early on:

"Inner City Sumo. You take fat people from the inner cities, put them in big nappies and get them to throw each other out of a circle that we draw with chalk on the ground. It's very cheap to make ... you can do it in a pub car-park. If you don't do it, Sky will."

We cannot use this ploy, nor the line: "If you don't do it, P&G will."

Seen in this light, the post-commission ad agency could almost be viewed as a purpose-built entity conceived with the sole intention of generating no money from ideas. In addition to the handicaps listed above, here are more:

1) Always conceiving brand-specific ideas - "If you don't run this, no-one else can" is not a powerful sales line.

2) Our self-limiting belief that every brand needs only one idea.

3) The notion that any idea, once it has run for any brand, however tiny, can never be used by any other advertiser, however vast. This means that ideas that win awards for tiny clients lose perhaps 99 per cent of their potential economic value - an extraordinary waste, rather like the Chinese inventing gunpowder and using it only to make fireworks.

So here's an interesting new model. Don't treat Cannes as an awards show but as a trade fair. Find the teams who've done award-winning work for tiny clients and offer them an option on their ideas - say, 2 per cent of media spend when it runs for another brand, plus £50K if it wins a pitch. Soon you will have a bottom drawer of 200 excellent campaign ideas. Next, halve the size of your creative department and take on a few extra planners to do the heavyweight post-rationalisation.

As Alan would say: "Cashback!"

Rory Sutherland is the IPA president and vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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