First reactions are notoriously untrustworthy. Time Out’s first
review of the Quentin Tarantino film, Pulp Fiction, was a tepid
Fast forward a couple of years and it’s number one on its list of the
100 greatest movies of all time.
The reviewer gave us his opinion, informed by his experience of films
and film reviewing. It just so happened that, in this instance, the
film’s massive popularity ran counter to his judgement.
I watched a room full of agency people copping their first look at
Blackcurrant Tango’s ’St George’epic. A few liked it, a few didn’t.
Nobody seemed quite sure.
A week later - and a tidal wave of industry approbation - everyone knew
it off by heart and was reciting it like Monty Python’s dead parrot
Yet so many ads live or die by their first exposure in reviews,
presentations and day-after recall. Still more are watered down to
appease their detractors.
However analytically we try to evaluate creative work, the commonest
measure by far is gut reaction. Do we like it? Will the punters? Will
the marketing director and the chairman’s wife?
Folklore has it that Heineken bombed in research before becoming the
most successful beer campaign of all time.
Everyone loved the Joan Collins and Leonard Rossiter Cinzano campaign
but it was canned because (more folklore) people bought Martini.
So how can we be sure that anything’s any good? You either have or
develop a nose for good ideas and good advertising, then get paid to
exercise it, personally and collectively. But the truth is, you can’t be
sure because, whatever anyone reckons, it might be tosh. And even then,
perversely, it might be good in ways you never imagined. Consider the
Second interview time for undergrads. One after another, candidates
stand up and present ads to the selection panel. Predictably, up pop
Nike, Durex Select, Volkswagen and other distinguished members of the
’nice work, fella’ school of advertising.
Predictably, we get very bored very quickly being told how great they
are. It was the candidates’ willingness to pitch from the bunch at the
arse-end of the spectrum that really grabbed interest and, in
particular, one who elected to sell a truly shocking piece of detritus
for a well-known brand of chewing gum.
The ad in question defied every rule of good advertising. There were
about four propositions (extra minty, extra fresh, extra this, extra
that, good for your teeth). It tried - excruciatingly - to get on the
side of youth by starring a cheesy hunk and his sidekick mixing special
effects at a rock concert. Most important, it was just completely
But herein lay its genius, argued our candidate. It was so bad it was
It emerged, stinking, from a toilet of dreadfulness, like Ewan McGregor
in Trainspotting triumphantly brandishing his suppository.
You couldn’t help but notice it. Its awfulness commanded your attention.
Through badness it achieved distinction, which is half the battle.
Ferrero Rocher’s ’ambassador’s reception’ was cited as further evidence
of an ad whose sheer risibility has catapulted it to cult status.
Apparently, ambassador’s reception parties are all the rage in student
circles. Makes you think.
Recent research into a campaign close to my heart showed that roughly
half the sample loved the ads, but the other half hated them. This is an
excellent outcome. Indifference is the worst reaction and there’s enough
vanilla-flavoured advertising out there anyway.
But will the brand manager see it this way? I fear not.
There again, everything I’ve written here might be garbage. But who’s to