I have discovered a sure-fire way to take your mind off financial Armageddon.
Drop a bicycle on your three-month-old baby's head. The bloody graze on her scalp wipes the credit crunch clean from your thoughts. And negative equity anxieties melt away under the accusing gaze of the medics in A&E as they strip your child bare to see what other horrors you may have been inflicting on her. ("A bicycle!" you can almost catch them muttering. "That's a good one.")
This isn't necessarily leading anywhere particularly addy - I just can't stop thinking about it. But knowing this column's merciless intolerance of irrelevance and feeble non-sequiturs, I should quickly say that if you are trying to obliterate thoughts of financial doom and you have neither baby nor bicycle to hand, you could try the T-Mobile (6) ad.
It does what Busby Berkeley did during the Great Depression (soon to be renamed the First Great Depression): it lifts a nation's spirits through the medium of dance. It may be shorter than one of Busby's musicals, but it uses the same size cast. Several hundred people end up formation-dancing on the Liverpool Street station concourse. It's part-flashmob, part-West End chorus, and it's utterly brilliant. For the full effect, and joyfully random soundtrack, you should only watch the two-minute, 40-second version online. It's a genuine thrill to see such ambition, planning and risk fully rewarded by the final outcome. There is the smallest of professional niggles about whether the line "Life's for sharing" amounts to anything strategically robust, but let's give it the benefit of the doubt and see what it tries next.
It clearly has a long way to go before it can claim to match the consistency and cleverness of its most impressive rival in the sector, O2 (3). On top of good advertising, O2 pulled off the branding coup of the decade by turning an unloved tarpaulin in the boondocks into a cool music venue. It has now spread the franchise into the nation's Academies and has sponsored Channel 4's Skins to promote the tie-up. All very shrewd and, therefore, all the more disappointing that the idents themselves are so lame.
Another star pupil is also underperforming this week. The spot for Lynx Instinct (5) is a curious fusion of two of Bartle Bogle Hegarty's greatest hits, Levi's "Mr Boombastic" and Lynx's "cavewomen", and ends up being half as good as each of them. Even the online activity in support feels a bit half-hearted, and the highlight of it all is probably the endline: "Unleash the man leather."
Pfizer (4) has made a disgusting cinema ad in which a man regurgitates a rat after taking drugs he bought online. This is to highlight the point that dodgily sourced drugs can apparently contain rat poison, but Pfizer's real concern - that you're not paying them full whack for your pills - is thinly disguised. It's so unpleasant to watch that you end up disliking the perpetrators of the ad rather than heeding the warning it contains.
No such nastiness for Quorn's (2) slight and unmemorable slice of animation or Vision Express' (1) 118 118-style twins with giant eyes instead of heads working out in a gym to promote their thorough eye tests.
The most notable thing about both campaigns is that you'd never know by looking at them that the consumer world is in collapse. So let's be clear. If you work in advertising, your hour has come. No-one really needs you in the good times when people are flinging money around, but now is the time to show the world how clever and visionary you really are. As charismatic American leaders are back in vogue, let's paraphrase one to give us a motto to work by: ask not what your accounts can generate for you, ask what you can generate for your accounts. Good day and good luck.
PLANNER - Dylan Williams, strategy director, Mother
I'm going to need some new material. I've been getting by with a chart that says "From Me To We" for ages. I normally set up the Friedmanite delusion that our economic meltdown is simply a "market correction", before contending that something more fundamental is afoot. Like a ... "social correction". A rejection of the Age of The Individual and the emergence of a new spirit of collectivism and community. It sounds good and it stacks up. Thirty years of growth in personal disposable income inversely co-related to personal happiness, fulfilment and well-being? I've given worse PowerPoint. But every strategist has a version of "From Me To We" now. Moreover, the really good ones have been making stuff off the back of it. Like helping T-Mobile (6) make a film so timely and feel-good that more than two million people have actively sought it out for themselves. I really like this. I prefer it to Improv Everywhere's frozen flashmob last year. That felt like Situationists looking to spook people. This performance just left folk cheering.
I'm not so keen on Pfizer (4)'s attempt to shock people into getting their drugs exclusively from nice companies like it. Does it honestly think that the Chemical Generation is bothered by a little rat poison in their Viagra? These are the people whose formative years were spent watching their parents snuggle into the reassuring arms of Valium addiction. The same people that danced their way through the next two decades on anything that tasted revolting or made their nose bleed. They're not going to jump out of their cinema seats at the sight of some old boy hoying a rat out of his mouth.
Benefit laddering is the lazy strategist's tool of choice. It's helped a succession of brands elevate beyond the drudgery of product benefits to achieve some higher purpose. Up on the ladder, detergent becomes a badge of maternal care. Cosmetics become hope. The downside of this approach is that it can encourage delusionary levels of self-importance. Chewing gum as social lubricant was pushing it. But I look at this Vision Express (1) spot and I can't help wondering whether it might be worth getting the ladder out. We're dealing with sight here. The brand has the word Vision in its name. There's got to be more potential than two eyeballs having a supervised gym workout.
You can't knock O2 (3). It works. Media fragmentation? Glue it all together with consistent design principles and get a cumulative effect. Turn invisible service brands into tangible positive experiences. Sort the Dome out. And now the Academy chain. Nothing fancy. But effective. It's easier to say nice things about the campaign in aggregate than any of the specific parts, but that's the O2 way. So while I'm not belly laughing at blokes playing air guitar in these Skins idents (it just didn't happen round my way), I can appreciate their role in the brand's wider plan.
I'm struggling with Quorn (2). And it's not really its fault. I love the animation style. It's just that when you begin a VO with the word "Because", you immediately set me up to be convinced by logical argument. And that line of persuasion is not going to work when the old "... as part of a balanced diet and active lifestyle" caveat appears halfway through.
Finally, the launch of Lynx Instinct (5). This one combines the brand's familiar promise with the colour and fragrance cues of the new variant. And all wrapped up in the intriguing concept of "man leather". And it's fine. But you can't help but feel that the brand needs to reveal a new facet of its character. Perhaps a new perspective on the mating game? Lynx is at its best when it does this. I wonder how the brand would approach something like teenage pregnancy?
Anyway, all in all, I enjoyed this batch. I'm a bit worried about Saatchi & Saatchi, though. It's getting good again.
1. VISION EXPRESS
Client: Karen Williams, head of marketing, Vision Express
Brief: Highlight Vision Express' health credentials and its great offers
and extensive range
Agency: Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy
Writer: Gavin Torrance
Art director: Danny Hunt
Director: Valerie Pirson
Production company: Partizan
Exposure: National TV
Project: Eat Qlever brand campaign
Client: Rafi Arkin, senior brand manager, Premier Foods
Agency: McCann Erickson
Writer: Neil Clarke
Art director: Jay Phillips
Directors: Kim Burdon, Greg Mills (Democracy); Alan Newnham
Production company: Hibbert Ralph Animation
Project: Zac and Jim
Client: Ed Pellow, advertising manager, O2
Brief: Raise awareness of O2's new partnership with O2 Academy venues
Writer: Jonny Parker
Art director: Nik Stewart
Director: Steve Bendelack
Production company: Spank Films
Exposure: TV, online
Project: Get real, get a prescription
Brief: Warn of the dangers of using illegal medication
Writers: Mihai Badic, Andrew Spurgeon
Art director: Andrew Spurgeon
Director: Henry Littlechild
Production company: Outsider
5. LYNX INSTINCT
Clients: Carlos Gil, global brand director; Warren Minde, global brand
Brief: Recruit new users to spend time with the brand and ignite further
excitement and passion among current Lynx users
Agency: Bartle Bogle Hegarty
Writer: Dan Glover-James
Art director: Adam Thompson
Director: Mike Mort
Production company: Passion Pictures
Exposure: TV, outdoor, digital, print
Project: Life's for sharing - dance
Client: Lysa Hardy, head of brand communicataions, T-Mobile
Brief: Life's for sharing
Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi
Writer: Steve Howell
Art director: Rick Dodds
Director: Michael Gracey
Production company: Partizan
Exposure: National TV, outdoor, online