21 October 2011
I come to this straight from the airport. I've been judging The Golden Drum in Slovenia. No, I'd never heard of it either. It was sold to me as the Cannes of the East. Without the Gutter Bar. I still went. I threw the usual bag of prejudices into the hold of the flak-battered Airbus, but flew back with it utterly broken down. I saw some amazing work that I would never have had the pleasure discovering normally. So I guess I approach this with a heightened sense of benevolence.
For a fleeting moment. Chimera: a monster composed of genetic material from two or more different animals. Doritos and Pepsi Max have teamed up to create a comic book-style adventure ... erm ... multimedia experience. Must have been horrible. I forced myself to plough through it for five minutes. When real entertainment is just a click away, brands have to try harder.
Sky Bet has a film about "the excitement of uncertainty". I'm not a betting man, but the building excitement pouring from this journey through the slings and arrows of match-day cliches powerfully helps me understand why some would. But: from there, I can go anywhere. Why is Sky Bet better than any other bookies? I'm none the wiser. Indeed, the strapline "Nothing is certain. That's why it's exciting" might apply equally to adland at the moment.
Audi. I'm supposed to love this, aren't I? Long history of iconic work and all that. I saw this on the telly first, like everyone else, sitting on the sofa with my wife. She spoke first (that's art directors for you): "Oh, is this the new Honda ad?" "Not sure," I said. But she had a point: it felt a bit "grrr"ish. Then she said: "The semiotics of this piece all point towards the negative aspects of motoring: stop signs, cones, petrol prices. And the juxtaposition of the hummingbird, rather than delivering us from that evil, only serves to heighten the innate conflict between machine and nature." "Is there any beer in the fridge?" I parried.
To launch The Walking Dead on Fox, it has knocked out a Facebook app. Now, normally, at this point, I begin to whimper inwardly and wonder what charlatan-peddled waste of pixels I'm about to see. But these boys know a thing or two about entertainment. It's what they do. And that is a currency that has real value. Very cleverly, they weave your social graph and your webcam feed into a narrative to create compelling personalised content. OK, maybe we've seen similar before, but this is done with proper craft and thought. It draws you in. And once you've been rewarded for your time, then they let you share it. And you will.
Male Cancer Awareness Campaign. Want to talk to lads about the importance of checking your tackle? Get Rankin to shoot Rhian Sugden. Stick the resulting film on Touchingmyself.org - 1.3 million YouTube hits later, job done. We can argue for hours about whether it's "digital" or just a good film on the 'Tube. But I witnessed the reaction as it went virally around the office, and from the "urrgh", you could geographically track the moment where everyone gets to the "big hairy bollocks pop out of knickers" moment in the film. Nice.
So imagine for a moment you're Coca-Cola. And you want to share the "secrets of happiness" with as many people as possible. And we're in the jaws of a global recession. And you're asked to choose between a buttock-clenchingly big global TV spend or 34,618,983 (yes, I was amazed as well) Facebook fans you can reach for free ...yes, of course you do. And that's just what it did. And a very beautiful and happy epic animated film it is. I love the characterisations, the choreography and the energy. I love lots of things about it. But, at six minutes, it's way too long by a factor of about three. And watching it straight after the zombie slashfest from Fox, it highlighted the fact that it was still just a straight film broadcast on another channel. Arguably like Rhian Sugden. But without the balls.
If you're looking for smart, artful, original, visionary, entertaining or exciting work, you chose the wrong week to read this column. In fact, reviewing these ads drained me of energy. So instead of ranting for the next few hundred words, I enlisted the help of the best-natured person I know to give me a second opinion. Sam Kelly, our business development director (who never has a bad word to say), looked at the work and even he struggled to be kind. So, with all that in mind, here's my review.
The new Audi A6 Avant is a good-looking, innovative car. The ad features a hummingbird to depict ultra-lightweight technology with the bird zipping about an animated landscape full of congestion, traffic cones and red lights. It reminds me so much of the Honda "grrr" ad. Let's hope the ad is not related too much to the hummingbird, whose average speed is 25 miles per hour.
Next up, Sky Bet. Now, if I was a betting man, which I'm not, I'd bet this ad has very little impact. It doesn't differentiate Sky in a crowded market with an audience that's obsessed with price promotions, odds and their next hit. I doubt telling gamblers that betting is an uncertainty will get them excited. Having already committed £78 a month to the Sky empire, I'm not sure I want to risk any more of my money.
Back to the world of digital with The Walking Dead on Fox. This Facebook ad even incorporates blood on the "connect" button (it's the little touches that count). After two minutes of loading, five clicks of a mouse button and granting it permission to virtually every aspect of my life, we eventually get a video. It features some of my photos and a few more details from my Facebook account all integrated into the film. It's all been done before, too many times by too many brands. If anything, it has made me realise Facebook contains way too much of my personal data. It finally asks if I'd like to share it with my friends - to which I reply "no".
If you have not seen Kylie Minogue in Agent Provocateur's ad or Dita Von Teese in the Perrier Mansion, you may well have completely missed the semi-naked-glamour-model-talking-to-camera ad genre. Predictively seductive, this version of the same idea, from the Male Cancer Awareness Campaign, teases as Rhian Sugden gets rather intimate with herself. Then suddenly, "the boys fall out the barracks" and it feels like you've walked into the wrong type of Thai bar. It ends with Rhian holding aloft male genitals, akin to Elmer Fudd holding Bugs Bunny like a hunting trophy. Rhian then instructs you on how to feel them.
Doritos and Pepsi Max. Two brands sharing one spot. Budgets must be shrinking. This execution reminds me of the inexpensive ads that direct marketing agencies did in the 90s while their more glamorous above-the-line counterparts created stunning epics, directed by Hollywood's finest.
Given the multitude of other choices available these days, I would have thought that most people are desensitised and anaesthetised to advertising that's not new, refreshing or inspiring. Expectations are always high, especially from the best and brightest agencies. So variations on a theme are not really my cup of tea.
"The great happyfication" - the latest instalment of the Coca-Cola "happiness factory" - proves the sequel is rarely as good as the original. Unfortunately, it's six minutes long but it feels longer, and there's nothing happy or great about it apart from the production values. There's a little snowman taking a plunge into the grinder at three minutes 23 seconds being smashed to a pulp. Most factories would be shut down for such a health and safety disaster. Maybe the ad is celebrated and enjoyed in Atlanta, but why didn't anyone at Coke's headquarters say "If we can't make our film as great as a Pixar short, let's not bother"?