03 June 2011
Picture this. You're running late. You've mislaid your car keys. You rummage in your wife's handbag. Maybe it's a line you've crossed before, out of playful curiosity perhaps, but this time it will change everything forever. Instead of the missing car keys, your hand emerges from the silk-lined darkness clutching a squat cylindrical object.
You've never seen a butt-plug before, at least not up close, but you instinctively know what it is just as you instantly know you don't really know your wife at all. Shock turns to anger turns to thoughts of betrayal and revenge. Yet, in the time it takes to say "I never knew she had it in her", the hurt turns into curiosity, then intrigue and, soon, a rekindled interest, a new kind of respect.
This, gentlemen, is what our clients call "forcing reappraisal". You've seen the words often enough at the top of your creative brief and probably consigned them to the dream-on list along with "thought leadership" and "owning value". "Forcing reappraisal" is a big ask. It takes something special to make us rethink the familiar and quotidian.
Let's take a rummage into today's bag of ads and see if we can come up with something more disconcerting than an old lipstick and a packet of Marlboro Lights, shall we?
Nothing much new in Stella's designer handbag but then the task here is one of reinforcing existing brand values rather than shaking things up. This spot features some clever Hefneresque batchelor-pad technology in your usual woman-in-peril/woman-in-sofa scenario. I miss the familiar Cote d'Azur locations but am amply compensated in this regard by the National Lottery film featuring another Euro-playboy figure. Despite his luxury lifestyle, this one envies our opportunity to liven up our Tuesdays with a flutter on EuroMillions. I like both these pieces of work. They take me back to a time when commercials were long, budgets were big and you needed a passport to get to the catering truck.
Speaking of which, Rik Mayall has had to have his costume let out for this updating of his Lord Flashheart character on behalf of Bombardier. It's a confident writer who pits his comedy skills against Richard Curtis and Ben Elton in their prime, and I have to say, on this evidence, that confidence is misplaced. I don't usually comment on craft skills, but these battle-weary gags are not helped by some really lethargic editing. If you can't be original, be quick. That's my motto.
Volkswagen has created a trial of strength for its new Amarok rufty-tufty trucks by lashing them to an old steel chimney. It is a beautifully conducted trial but the outcome is a foregone conclusion: no tension, no surprise, no cigar. I think I could have demolished this erection myself with a quick tug in my Mini.
I so want to be nice about the new TalkTalk commercial as I'm looking forward to spending most of Cannes sitting on Johnny Hornby's boat. The spot features some delightful animation of toys and ornaments that are inspired to contact each other. I think it is telling us that communication is a good thing. This is a rather generic message from what I thought to be a challenger brand. But it's lovely, in a John Lewisy sort of way.
Even more obscure are the motives behind the National Trust's (3) MyFarm execution. I think it's a swipe at FarmVille but who really cares? There's a bigger story to tell here but it's obscured by some repetitive sight-gags brought to a merciful end by the arrogant assumption that someone will click through to "find out more". When will our business understand that no-one gives a toss about anything, especially ads, until they find the butt-plug in the bag? Think butt-plug. It may be the only effective marketing tool we have left.
I've always loved a good 30-second ad. The economy of writing, the absolute distillation of storytelling. The craftsmanship involved in leaving you wanting more has always been a bit magical to me.
That doesn't seem to be so popular any more. The mass of online work with no determined length has seeped into every other form. Now, "whatever length feels best" seems to be the industry mantra and is more common. Unfortunately, this generally just means longer, regardless of whether the idea can actually stretch beyond a few seconds. It makes me want to force every single person in advertising to read Walter Murch's brilliant book about editing and storytelling, In The Blink Of An Eye.
It's almost like agencies are doing their own director's cuts as a standard. What are directors supposed to do if this is the case?
This vignette film for the National Trust suffers from being at least twice as long as it should be. It would have left me thinking that it was sweet and wondering what it was for. Instead, I got bored and still had no idea what it was for. Having read about what MyFarm actually is, I feel a bit more sympathetic. It must have been a difficult brief.
The Bombardier ad made me feel nostalgic both for 30-second ads and also for Blackadder. Rik Mayall looks tired and is badly missing the manic energy that was his trademark. The edit hasn't helped him here either. It feels slow and flabby. It's a bit depressing watching someone once so full of fire looking so staid.
Ooh. This hard-hitting public-interest film for the National Lottery rocked me out of my slumber. It's a clever piece of work that shows the dangers of instant, unplanned wealth by demonstrating what an unbelievable knob you could become. By subverting the National Lottery dream into a nightmarish future embodied by one of the most horrible characters I've ever seen, the film will surely stop many from wasting money on the lottery. The subtle irony of reusing tired 80s advertising cliches really drove home the harrowing message.
This film for Volkswagen is very Top Gear, which is no bad thing. It's lined up its target audience and given them something that they'll like. But the "making of" actually worked even better for me. It's more dramatic, it gave me the facts that made the feat really impressive and was shot with the same care as the stunt itself. It manages to be all about the product in a really entertaining way. Thinking about it, I wish they'd made the "making of" the main film and cut a 30-second trail from the main film.
I love Adam Berg - he is a brilliant director and I'm jealous of his talents. This ad for TalkTalk (4) is beautifully crafted. There is real film-making skill involved here. The shot choice and edit really drew me in. The camera pulls me right into the story and the subtle movements kept me transfixed. The music really needed to match the visual success of this campaign and, to be honest, I'm not sure about the song. It's so iconically linked to "that" film that it seems like an odd choice. It certainly made me think of sexy pottery.
The Stella Artois ad is stunningly styled, cast and shot. Every frame counts and it's done with real panache. It reminded me of the fantastic OSS 117 series of French spy-parody films. The hero has that slightly ugly charm just like Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath played by Jean Dujardin. I rewatched it a few times and there are loads of lovely details and enough depth to have a genuine reason to be longer than 30 seconds. I wish more work felt the length it should be, like this does, rather than unnecessarily long.
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