OPINION: Mills on ... M&G

Perhaps it's just me, but when it comes to the use of visual metaphors, no sector is more cliched than that of advertising by investment managers.

Allusions to teamwork (in itself, a big lie: when did they ever share our pain?) abound, invariably illustrated by pictures of rowing eights, ocean yachting or, when those are exhausted, mountaineering. Copy too is notable by its absence and what there is comprises little more than grandiose claims backed up acres of small print too boring to read.

Thank goodness then for M&G, whose long-copy ads by Harrison Troughton Wunderman not only represent a zig while everybody else is zagging, but are also among the freshest press ads I've seen in a long time. Let's marvel too at an investment manager prepared to advertise its services while stockmarkets and pension values plunge and at a time when, for those of a cautious mindset, sticking the money under a mattress looks like an increasingly attractive option.

As Robin Wight notes in a provocative Campaign Essay to be published later this month, press ads increasingly contain no words at all. Isn't that weird? Why would anyone set out to use a medium and then ignore its principal strength? The equivalent would be a TV ad with no moving pictures and no sound. But it's almost as if we accept wordless press ads as the norm.

Like Wight, I also find this trend disturbing. These days, it seems, the only place you can find anybody with any copy skills at all is in a direct marketing agency such as Harrison Troughton Wunderman. Perhaps that's not surprising given that words remain the basic craft skill of direct mail, but it doesn't mean it isn't worrying.

Back to M&G. The first thing to say about these ads is you can't miss them. Obviously, their size means they have an impact, but the clever piece of media thinking is to put them into the main body of the paper - thus providing a nice surprise factor - rather than the usual ghetto of the City or personal finance sections. Even if the positioning doesn't stop you in your tracks, the headline and photo (Fanny and Johnny ... what on earth are they doing there?) do.

Hooked, I read on. As the copy charmingly admits, "thrills and excitement are not bonds' forte". But then it goes on to explain exactly why, in the current climate, that makes them attractive.

None of this is easy. The thing about long-copy ads is that the copy has to be as interesting and as well-written - if not better - as the editorial that surrounds it. Compared to, say, the saga of Fat Boy Slim and his wandering missus or the latest ructions at the Security Council, investment management is a boring subject and bonds are, well, boring squared. All of which the ad self-deprecatingly explains while, at the same time, making the case in an entirely reasonable way. While we're at it, let's hear it for the power of reasoned argument. Too often these days ads are based on assertion, rather than reason. That's either daft or lazy. Consumers like to be persuaded, not instructed or lectured.

It would be remiss of me, however, to concentrate only on the words in this ad, powerful and persuasive as they are. The art direction, typography and illustration may look somewhat idiosyncratic and old-fashioned, but they complement the copy without distracting from it. In fact, they make the ad easier to read than not to, which is the whole point.

Dead cert for a Pencil? If there's any justice in this world

File under ... P for persuasive