This week, we have the battle of the car brands. Three of the six pieces of work I have been given to review are for cars.
Those of us with car accounts will know the rules for great car advertising have changed somewhat recently, thanks to Honda and those rather clever boys and girls over at Wieden & Kennedy.
To start with, they have changed the rule about time lengths. All Honda ads seem at least 90 seconds long. Then they have made car ads that do not look like car ads - there are none of your usual car-porn shots. That said, Honda's engineering skills are always welded to the heart of every ad.
Well, let's see how this week's crop measures up. First, we have an ad for BMW (2). This is a brand ad rather than model ad, so that gets it off to quite a good start. It is a 60-second spot, so that is not bad but not quite as audacious as a Honda 90-second one. It also has a close-up of some cogs in it. But, as the voiceover tells us "this is only a car", I'm afraid this is only a car ad. It does not live up there with Honda. However, I don't want to sound too down on this. It is absolutely beautifully filmed and written.
Next up, we have a new commercial for Skoda (5). This is only a 40-second film, so it is way down on the Honda stakes. In it, we see a secretary jump off a bridge on to a speeding train in a Mission Impossible kind of way and deliver a message to her surprised boss. It finishes with a voiceover that says: "Practical and exciting. The new Skoda Octavia RS." To me, you could have bolted any product on the end.
Skoda seems to have lost the tone of voice it had a few years ago. I know the campaign probably needed to move on, but I am not sure it has moved to a better place and certainly not a place that will worry Honda.
The final contestant for the Honda crown is a piece of direct mail for Lexus (4). Now, this really does what it says on the side of the can. It is an oil can and on the side it tells us Lexus contains "refined diesel". Reading on, it also tells me this has been seven years in the making. You would think in those seven years it would have thought of something a bit more original to send us than a can of bloody diesel without any diesel in it.
Now, that is enough of cars. Next up, a campaign for Innocent (6) smoothies.
I like the endline: "Nothing but nothing but fruit." It is really charming. The only headline of the four I have been given that lives up to that charm is the mung beans one. I feel, given the brand, the ads could have been better.
The Channel 4 (3) poster is for the new series of Desperate Housewives.
I am a fan of all of Channel 4's work. Most of it is done by the channel's in-house agency, 4creative, which, rather than put some advertising idea in the way, has accepted that the channel and the programme are the idea.
And it is how you present them in a Channel 4 way that builds a personality for the brand. So it comes down to the wit and intelligence of the brand's photographic tone of voice. I think this one for Desperate Housewives may not be as good as the Jamie's School Dinners or Shameless executions, but overall this is a very good campaign.
Finally, we come to the best of this week's bunch. It is for Amnesty International (1). It is a spoof of a shopping channel ad, except that it is selling an AK-47. This ad could have gone so badly wrong but, like all the best work, it walks that tightrope without falling off.
RADIO DJ - Richard Bacon, DJ, Capital Radio
I'm perhaps not the best person to query the artistic validity of ads, considering my sole foray into the medium was as the voice of Blockbuster's radio campaign. They've given it to Christian Slater now. May it bring him less abuse than it did me.
And I do not see many television ads with my mod-con set-up of Sky+, TiVo and Homechoice. But that is something I regret. There is often more creativity crammed into many 30-second TV ads than there is in entire series of certain tepid mainstream TV comedies.
I am a huge fan of Innocent (6) smoothies. Huge. This campaign makes me like the company even more. Placing the bottles in long, dewy grass associates the product perfectly with freshness and nature. It has a voice that is distinctive - knowing and tongue-in-cheek - but, mercifully, it does not come across as being elitist or wacky (the most repellent word in the English language). "Nothing but nothing but fruit" is the perfect tagline as well. It is a message it cannot reiterate enough, as so many consumers, myself included, are very cynical about the content of bottled drinks.
I don't really like the Channel 4 (3) Desperate Housewives poster. At first glance, you think it is a joke. But, at second glance, you find yourself looking for the missing punchline. If there is one thing I want to see in an ad for Desperate Housewives, it is their faces. The poses say nothing distinct about the separate characters: in fact, you could be forgiven for thinking there are two Gabrielles. But when you have a brand and a show that is now so well established, all you really need to do is tell people when it is on. It does that.
The Lexus (4) diesel can perplexed me. I am a fan of novelty freebies, but I do not quite know what to do with this, or quite what it has to do with the car it promotes. The leaflet has only two small pictures of the car, but ten pages of tiny, dense text, full of the type of language only ever used to sell cars. "At Lexus, we don't believe in making compromises." "Our aim was not to merely create a diesel, but to push the boundaries of diesel technology to new levels of refinement." Sentences like that just translate in my head to: "Blah, blah, blah." The Amnesty International (1) ad is fucking brilliant. A parody of a home-shopping channel, it might not be the first time you have seen the premise, but the execution is excellent. The standout moment is the softly spoken Scottish salesman keenly watching a child demonstrate an AK-47 and delivering the inane voiceover: "Head, heart, lungs obliterated - fantastic!" The contrast of the trivial, comforting surroundings magnifies the horror of the arms trade. A charity doing arch satire - I hope this will be effective for it.
The Skoda (5) ad is one of those car ads where you do not see the car until the very end. Having seen it, I can understand why. Until that point, I had absolutely no idea what the trailer was promoting. The strapline, "practical but exciting", screams: "We haven't got a clue how to sell this horrible-looking car." The Skoda brand has come a long way, but this is not a high point.
And the BMW (2) ad is sheer car porn. Ooh, look at that sexy close-up of a hubcap. Do you like the way the windscreen wipers go back and forth, back and forth? You like the way I drive through dry leaves at night, don't you, you naughty boy? The stylish, sophisticated and classy nature of the ad appeals directly to the people BMW wants to buy the car, or the people who already drive a Beamer and want to be reminded how upmarket they are.
That said, I lost an absolute fortune on my X5. That ad might be timeless, but the only thing my X5 has done over time is massively depreciate. They do not put that in the ads.
1. AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL Project: Teleshop Client: Kate Allen, UK director, Amnesty International Brief: n/s Agency: Mother Writer: Mother Art director: Mother Director: Dougal Wilson Production company: Blink Exposure: Cinema 2. BMW Project: It's only a car Client: Uwe Ellinghaus, marketing director, BMW Brief: Broaden the appeal of the BMW brand Agencies: WCRS, Meme Writer: Yann Jones Art director: Simon Robinson Director: Daniel Barber Production company: Knucklehead Exposure: National TV, online 3. CHANNEL 4 Project: Desperate Housewives Client: Katie Hayes, marketing manager, Channel 4 Brief: Excite people about the return of Desperate Housewives Agency: 4creative Writer: Adam Shutler Art director: Adam Shutler Photographer: Ellen Von Unwerth Typographer: Adam Shutler Exposure: National press 4. LEXUS Project: Refined diesel Client: Matt Button, CRM and database manager, Lexus Brief: Launch the IS diesel to the fleet market Agency: Partners Andrews Aldridge Writer: Helen Sharp Art director: Carole Epplestone Exposure: Direct mail to top fleet managers in the UK 5. SKODA Project: Train Client: Mary Newcombe, head of marketing, Skoda UK Brief: Show the new Skoda Octavia vRS is a car that defies expectations Agency: Fallon Writer: Lawrence Seftel Art director: Gary Anderson Director: Noam Murro Production companies: Independent, Biscuit Filmworks Exposure: National TV, cinema 6. INNOCENT Project: Nothing but nothing but fruit Client: Charlotte Rawlins, head of communications, Innocent Brief: Educate consumers about the benefits of Innocent smoothies Agency: Lowe London Writer: n/s Art director: n/s Photographer: Nadege Meriau Typographer: Neil Craddock Exposure: National press