For ad effectiveness, truth is stronger than fiction
A view from Jim Carroll

For ad effectiveness, truth is stronger than fiction

Have you seen Gogglebox on Channel 4, the TV show where you can watch people watching TV? It's a kind of real-life Royle Family and further proof that pop culture will eat itself. It's also my guilty pleasure.

In Gogglebox, we observe the British public commentating on random encounters with the previous week’s TV schedule. We see them at their most relaxed, in the comfort of their own homes, eating their own favourite takeaways, with their own infuriating families. It’s reassuring, exasperating, entertaining. People are funny, stupid, clever, eccentric, absurd. All at the same time.

Many years ago, Wieden & Kennedy’s brilliant creative leaders, Kim Papworth and Tony Davidson, worked at Bartle Bogle Hegarty. Tony had a habit of rejecting ideas because they were "too ad-y". "But Tony," ?we cried, "we are planning to make an advertisement." Of course we knew what he meant. So much commercial communication inhabits an unreal world of staged conversation and telegraphed gags. Speech patterns are pedestrian, contexts are clichéd. Sometimes, it feels like we’re creating an industrial-strength tribute to Terry And June.

It takes considerable observational skill to capture people as they truly are, rather than how they should or could be. Harold Pinter was often mocked for his pauses but, real speech, like real people, is often hesitant and flawed. And authenticity is worth working at. Because, when it comes to ad effectiveness, I’ve found that truth is stronger than fiction.

So much commercial communication inhabits a world of staged conversation and telegraphed gags

I went to the Frieze art fair last week. The opposite end of the social spectrum to the stars of Gogglebox, perhaps, but, if you like looking at people, all demographics offer interest. And, whisper it quietly, there may be more pleasure to be had examining the people than the art.

Of course, it’s rude to stare and more difficult than you might think properly to observe the culture that surrounds us. An occasional treat is to dine in a restaurant with my wife sitting alongside me on a banquette seat. It’s a kind of reality TV dinner. And one of the reasons I enjoy going to the theatre is the chance to regard other people directly without fear of causing offence. When the lights are down, I like to turn from the stage and stare at the rapt expressions of the audience around me. It’s curiously intimate.

This week, we launched the BBH School of Ideas, an apprenticeship leading to a full-time job. We’ll be seeking people with a flair for ideas, who can solve problems, who can bring diverse experiences and skills to our business. But we’ll also be looking for candidates who are observant, who delight in the quirks and inconsistencies of ordinary folk. I guess we’ll be looking for people who like people. It’s a shame to have to say it, but this is not a business for misanthropes.

Jim Carroll is the chairman of Bartle Bogle Hegarty

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