Richard Alford is the managing director at M&C Saatchi
Richard Alford is the managing director at M&C Saatchi
A view from Richard Alford

Richard Alford: Ditch the 'mantrad'. They're not half as clever as they sound

"Manifestos and mantras, we're giving them all to our clients at the moment," the chief executive of an agency told me the other day.

"They lap 'em up," he added gleefully. And it is true there is a current, unwelcome, vogue in advertising for the vacuous, cod-philosophical mantra. Devoid of any actual idea, the "mantrad" is oozing into all media and there can hardly be a pitch these days where there isn't a semi-poetic manifesto - all coolly typeset, or artfully hand-scrawled - being presented.

What is most repulsive about these ramblings is that they manage to look terribly clever from afar. Trite but important-sounding utterances abound. But on closer inspection, they are completely hollow. So who is writing them? And, more pointedly, who is buying them?

Ideas - the old currency of creativity - are far too hard to come up with; to sell; to buy; to air. They are challenging. They are such awful hard work. So in their place we've created something that looks clever, that looks thoughtful, that feels high-brow ...

yet it is easy to write. It's unchallenging. It's basically just really bad teenage poetry.

The formula is simple: stick to generalisms about "life" and the importance of being an individual. Throw in a bit of GCSE philosophy about "going your own way" or "not being told what to do by others". Make sure the syntax is broken up. While the overall tone must be deeply serious, it should positively assert that life is great (no shit). In fact, rather than describe it, here's one that's doing the rounds at the moment. From a brand that was historically a producer of the greatest advertising in the UK (courtesy of the brilliant Bartle Bogle Hegarty), Levi's and its new agency are focusing its marketing around a rather peculiar poem by Charles Bukowski (I've edited out some of the most ludicrous parts, but you'll get the drift):

"Your life is your life ...
Don't let it be clogged into dank submission (sic)
There is light somewhere ...
... The Gods will offer you chances.
Know them. Take them
You can beat death in life sometimes ...
Your life is your life
Know it while you have it
You are marvellous.
Pass round the sick bag."

OK, so I added the last line, but the rest is true, honest-to-Gods (pluralised, of course, in the style beloved of the mantrad). In summary, my request is simple. Please stop using mantras (whether home-grown, or stolen from the Faber Book Of American Poetry). And, to marketing departments across the UK, please stop buying it.

It isn't clever. It's embarrassing.

Richard Alford is the managing director at M&C Saatchi

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