29 July 2011
I recently found a useful site on the web, called the "Arty Bollocks Generator". It uses all the words that impress the critics. I clicked on it and generated this: "As shifting forms become frozen through boundaried and diverse practice, we are left with an impression of the inaccuracies of our era. New synergies explore our understanding of relationships, leaving only a sense of nihilism and the inevitability of a new synthesis."
There you are. Nail a bit of string to the wall, stick that explanation next to it and wait for Charles Saatchi to get his chequebook out.
I often wonder how artists can be any good if they can’t actually do the job of creating something that speaks for itself. Usually, these explanations are an exercise in pomposity, using long, intelligent-sounding words that go down well with the critics.
But what about "ordinary" people, like me? And what about advertising? How is it that I don’t understand most of what passes for advertising? Like art, I need to see the explanation.
When I got these ads, I read the press releases that were sent to Campaign to see what I should be thinking.
The first ad showed a man and woman driving through a tunnel, while seven different pieces of classical music played. I thought it was an ad for the BBC Proms. But I see from the press release that this was actually "a bespoke music hypermix". See, the philistine that I am, I would have missed that.
The second ad for Trebor shows a buff man at a surrealist party. His clothes fly off and women swoon. I’m guessing that it’s meant to be ironic. The release says that it will give Trebor Mints a more "confident" brand personality. So, if you’re in the market for ironic mints with a more confident personality, you know what to look for in the sweetshop.
The third ad was for Marmite. Nice animation, and a slight change from the love-it-or-hate-it ads. According to the explanation in the release, it’s "positioning the yeast extract against pretentious food" and "presenting it as the perfect cooking ingredient".
The next ad wasn’t an ad, it was a series of idents for Old Speckled Hen. Again, nice animation – a fox cracking jokes at the bar. I see in the release the strategy is "to drive drinker demand for the beer". I think even I could have worked that out.
The next ad for Nike 1948 isn’t an ad, it’s an app. According to the release, it’s "an interactive magazine" mix of "archived material and new content". Ah, "content". The new word for what we philistines used to call "words and pictures".
(In fact, if the "content" includes a "meme", you could even have what we used to call a campaign.)
Finally, in FutureYou, I saw something I understood. An ad. Lots of young people on the scrapheap. The voice says: "Go online and we’ll help you find a job." Given that the youngsters they’re talking to probably don’t do the Times crossword, it’s a good idea to keep it simple.
I’ve just two quibbles. In my humble opinion, they don’t need the song. In a 60-second version, they would, but it makes the 20-second spot cluttered.
Also, the voiceover and the visual shouldn’t say the same thing. They’re showing kids on a scrapheap, they don’t need to say: "Young people feel like they’re on the scrapheap."
That apart, at least this is advertising for ordinary punters like me. At least I understood it. With ads, even more than art, the job is communication. If it needs an explanation, it’s failed.
Summer is here again. Since moving here, I’ve become convinced that British summer is one of the world’s greatest modern myths – like Santa Claus, little aliens with big heads and private pensions.
Every year, we slowly wake from months of cold, horrid wetness. And come May, we are convinced we are on the brink of a golden time of sun-drenched barbecues, long afternoons outdoors and embarrassingly named cocktails. Then it rains for three months.
Looking at these campaigns, I felt I was looking at this week’s weather forecast; I was unduly excited about it before I saw it, but one look at the clouds was enough to temper that excitement. There’s a lot of promise and good intentions that – for one reason or another – seem to fall short of what they set out to achieve.
Trebor is probably the best example. There’s a sentiment here that has to be admired: they clearly wanted to make something that felt different from the rest of the mint category (is mint actually a "category"?). You can see how they thought that making the ad an over-the-top pastiche would justify the strategy and the line, but it never gets funny enough, so the rest doesn’t work.
The Nike 1948 iPad app also feels that it should be really exciting – an interactive magazine by a great brand in a device with a lot of possibilities for experimenting with the content and interaction. It’s also about the biggest sporting event to take place in London since, well… 1948.
It’s executed well, and the content is edited well. Great design, copy, photography, films and good interactive bits. But for some reason, when it all comes together, the magazine feels a bit flat. Maybe it’s because the content is quite intellectual and cold, and feels very detached from the more visceral aspects of sport. Perhaps it also suffers from the huge expectation that Nike work has in our industry. And, to be fair to it, the fact that they bothered to commission an interactive magazine of this quality should be applauded.
The first two issues aren’t groundbreaking, but if they have the commitment to publish the magazine for a while (apparently, the 1948 space has been going on since 2008, and there is still 12 months until the Olympic Games begin), it could grow into something much more interesting.
In terms of complexity, the FutureYou film is quite the opposite. It’s honest and straightforward – a simple idea executed in a simple way.
The Old Speckled Hen idents seem to have a bit more character and intent than the stuff the brand was doing before (which is a good thing), but they stop a little short of being actually funny.
BBC Proms sounds like quite a tricky brief. How do you translate the sensations of a live classical music performance into a 60-second film? I’m not sure they found the answer here. The ad shows what you should feel like, as opposed to making you feel something.
Which brings us to Marmite. Promoting the idea of Marmite recipes looks like another tough job. For such an idiosyncratic product, this feels like a really uninspired strategy, and the ad has to work quite hard to make it feel worthy of the brand.
But, to a certain extent, it succeeds. The characters are funny (I’m a sucker for gastropods with working-class accents) and there are good gags in the film. There is also the obligatory participation bit where you can submit recipes to Facebook, and I bet some people feel strongly enough about Marmite to bother doing it.
So, this week’s work looks like one of those infuriating little forecast icons: a little sun behind a cloud with some rain falling. Not all good, but not all bad either.