When Tom Cruise is given his latest assignment in Mission:
Impossible 2, his boss warns him that the task is not just going to be
difficult: it really is going to be impossible. It is hard to imagine
any marketing director being as honest, but mission: impossible can
sometimes be an accurate description of the briefs they nonchalantly
Last week, the Central Office of Information appointed Delaney Lund Knox
Warren to handle its teenage pregnancy brief. The agency’s mission: to
spearhead the Government’s drive to halve the number of unwanted teenage
pregnancies in the UK.
It’s one of those briefs that agencies go all out to win because of the
potential to create attention-grabbing, award-winning work. But, for the
winning agency, it’s something of a mixed blessing. How can a few ads be
expected to stop teenagers from doing what comes naturally?
Greg Delaney, the chairman of Delaney Lund, concedes that using
advertising to control people’s sexual urges is a tough call. But he
says it is often the difficult ad briefs that yield the most interesting
One brief with the potential to be a bit of a nightmare came from the
Teacher Training Association, which called on Delaney Lund to increase
the numbers of teaching training recruits.
’Almost every day on the radio you were hearing about teachers’ concerns
about poor pay, violent pupils, overcrowded classes - the list goes on,’
Delaney says. ’But when we asked teachers why they stayed on, they said
it was simply knowing that you could make a difference to some kid’s
The agency won awards for the resulting campaign, in which Tony Blair
famously talked about his favourite teacher. But the account has since
moved and the TTA has changed its strategy to emphasise the (dubious)
financial benefits of entering the profession.
When a client suffers from such disastrous PR, it is difficult to see
how advertising can counteract its ill effects. Laurence Green, the
managing partner at Fallon, had a major challenge on his hands when the
agency was appointed to handle Skoda’s advertising. How could
advertising turn around the image of the car that had been the butt of a
But, he says, the agency’s job was made easier by the fact that Skoda
had a genuinely good product to promote.
’The client didn’t so much have an articulated brief as a sense of
bewildered injustice,’ he says. ’Their feeling was: ’we’ve got great
cars and no-one believes us’.’
For Green, one of the classic traps to avoid when handed such a brief is
to bury your head in the sand and ignore the problem. As he says, the
agency could have made a great car ad for Skoda with a car going as fast
as the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre would allow down winding
country roads, but that wouldn’t have achieved what Skoda wanted.
Instead, the agency came up with a campaign that gently mocks people’s
preconceptions, while showing off the car to its best advantage.
But acknowledging that the product you are trying to promote has a bad
image can be a dangerous path to take. One classic trap is to blame the
consumer for the problem, rather than admitting that the product isn’t
perfect and asking the public to give it another chance.
Perhaps the most famous case is the New Millennium Experience Company,
which recently changed its advertising strategy in an attempt to
confront the PR problems that have beset the Millennium Dome since it
The campaign features men dressed as sheep, giving a warts-and-all
appraisal of the attraction. Only at the end of the ads does it emerge
that they haven’t been to the Dome, but are repeating what they have
heard in the press.
Unfortunately, the campaign comes across as an attempt to absolve the
Dome’s organisers of any blame, and to portray the sceptical public as
stupid - a strategy that seems unlikely to win the Dome any new
Perhaps not surprisingly, the list of impossible briefs is dominated by
one client, the COI. Using advertising to persuade people to fork out
for a product they never knew they wanted is one thing, using it to
change lifelong habits or alter social trends is quite another.
Peter Buchanan, the group director of the COI, says the biggest
difficulty for agencies is getting into the mindset of the minority
groups they are targeting. ’There is a big difference between an agency
planner and someone on a very low income, and that’s a huge challenge
for agencies,’ he says. ’It’s also very different from the ABC1 audience
that consumer advertising normally targets.’
So what are the most difficult briefs Buchanan has given?
Recently, there were two: the Millennium Bug campaign, of which he says:
’We were planning it a year ahead and we were in uncharted territory. We
had to find a way of providing the information without causing
His other example is the euro preparation campaign, of which Buchanan
says: ’The brief was to provide small businesses with information and
advice about the euro without appearing to endorse it.’
But these were more mission: very difficult than mission:
So what is the truly impossible brief? For Buchanan, it’s persuading
Italian men to drive more slowly. And for Green, it’s the Belgian
Even Tom Cruise might find those two a bit tricky.
YOUR MISSION, SHOULD YOU CHOOSE TO ACCEPT IT ... THE TOP TEN IMPOSSIBLE
Client Agency Brief
New Millennium M&C Saatchi Give people the ’real story’ about
Experience the Dome and appeal to them to make
Company - up their own minds rather than
Millennium Dome simply believing the negative press
COI-kill Abbott Mead Emphasise that speed is a factor in
your speed Vickers BBDO a third of all accidents, especially
in residential areas. Make speeding
as socially unacceptable as
COI-teenage Delaney Lund Help the Government to halve the
pregnancy Knox Warren number of teenage pregnancies in
COI-anti- Abbott Mead Concentrate on the help available
smoking Vickers BBDO for those who want to kick the
habit, avoiding the scare tactics of
COI-nurses D’Arcy Recruit more nurses and midwives to
recruitment the National Health Service, which
is suffering critical staff
Teacher Training McCann-Erickson Help sign up 30,000 new teachers a
Association Manchester year. The new strategy is to focus
on teaching as a rational career
option and highlight the financial
COI-single TBWA GGT Simons Prepare the UK’s small and
currency Palmer medium-sized enterprises for the
introduction of the euro, without
promoting the idea of the single
COI-anti- Abbott Mead Encourage 11- to 16-year-olds to use
drugs Vickers BBDO the National Drugs Helpline, moving
away from mentioning and therefore
promoting specific drugs.
Skoda Fallon No formal brief, simply a desire to
ditch its outdated image and see the
quality of the cars recognised.
Iceland HHCL & Change people’s perceptions of the
Partners brand and promote the retailer’s
organic produce and boycott of GM