18 November 2011
The good news: you've got an amazing daughter. She's 18, bright and beautiful, and every time you look at her, your heart wallops with pride.
The bad news? One Sunday morning, she glides into the kitchen.
"Dad," she says. "After uni, I want to go into advertising."
You pause. What the hell do you say? Have you thought of lap-dancing? Marriage?
"Honey, by the time you leave university, there may not be an advertising. Unless you want to pump out soulless work for banks and supermarkets at one of the five superagencies? DDBFallonSaatchi. LeoBurnettBBHPublicis. McCannDraftLoweDeutsch. O&M/JWT/Y&R. AMV Ramzan Golant."
"Trust me, it is. Look, forget uni. Head to the States, learn code and get to understand how digital technology works in people's lives. Hopefully, you'll have a laugh and create things that matter."
She smiles indulgently.
"And then, come back and set up a company that laughs in the face of messaging and uses technology to create things of lasting value for businesses and, most importantly, people."
"Look," you say. "Maybe it will help if we sit down and do this week's Private View together."
First up, you download the Drinkaware Good Times app from Ogilvy & Mather.
"An app," she says, "that's useful, that matters. And it's for a good cause - teenage drinking awareness."
"Aha!" you say. "It is an app, yes. But is it useful? Look, it has no reviews on the app store. No ratings, either. They've built something there isn't a need for and then, crime upon crime, they've buried the point of it deep in the interface. Not only that, the advertising, the paid media, doesn't even point people to the owned platform, if you can call it that. An interesting metaphysical question, that ...
Is something a platform if no-one is on it?"
"Shut up, Dad."
Chastened, you move on to a film from the BBC. After watching it once, you look at each other.
"What the hell was that, Dad? The singing? The styling? What did it have to do with getting people online?"
"I have no idea."
"Hang on a minute, wasn't there a URL at the end of it?"
You play it again and find a URL on the end-frame for a lovely site full of wonderful content that empowers people to help others get online. And you both shake your head - her at the beauty of it, you at the flaws in the comms strategy and waste of the client's money.
The Barnardo's film goes all right, though.
"It's good, Dad, isn't it?"
"It is, sweetheart," you murmur, hating yourself as you stifle thoughts about the recurrent theme of time travel, backwards or forwards, in Ringan Ledwidge's work for Bartle Bogle Hegarty.
There's nothing to say about the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games print.
And then you get to the Clover Lighter ad.
You: "It's the bastard offspring of McDonald's, Innocent, Halifax, Malibu, Lurpak and Waitrose ...
AND IT TRAMPLES ON THE GRAVE OF ONE OF THE BEST NIKE COMMERCIALS OF ALL TIME."
"Dad!" she whispers. "One more, Dad, we're nearly done ..."
"OK, sweetheart. What is it?"
"Google, Dad. Look, some newspaper ads encouraging people to be careful with their online security. They're useful, aren't they?"
"They are, love, they are. But are they any good?"
And then she looks at you: the cold heart, the shell of a soul and the loathed self. And she books on to the first plane to San Francisco.
I have just given the "no pain, no gain" talk to a team, so I thought this would make a good theme for my first Private View. I believe no great work is ever achieved without pushing through some pain barriers. Or there would be more of it about. For instance, digging really deep for human truths and finding the point of empathy with the audience; going for a brave - never been done before and therefore scary - idea; prosecuting the execution with commitment and panache. Difficult to judge from the outside, but that's this gig.
Drinkaware. Assuming this is aimed at binge-drinkers, I suspect the insights were gleaned from this audience when they were sober and sensible. I think for most bingers, the blurry night out and the vomiting actually have a lot of appeal because of the bragging rights. Had someone bothered to watch them at the moment of truth (when they were getting trollied one night) and worked out what was really triggering the behaviour, a more powerful idea might have been found. No evidence of other pain thresholds being breached here, so, sadly, this hasn't got close to great.
BBC. A campaign encouraging us to help someone stupid to learn the interweb thingy. I have just taught my 89-year-old mother-in-law to use an iPad, which she wanted for her birthday. I am so proud of her for learning and I find this ad incredibly patronising. Maybe the audience does think their significant olders are dim old twits, and this is the human truth reflected here, but it doesn't resonate with me. Singing the strategy has been done before, but at least they do it with commitment. One pain barrier overcome in the execution; two if the target audience do actually consider their old mums to be morons.
Clover Lighter. This warm-hearted and sweet-natured spot is born of a strong insight that, when you get to a certain age, life is full of prohibitions. They have shown admirable affection for the audience and this comes through, which is courageous when it comes to this subject matter, as it's easier to sneer. They have been brave with the idea of an oldie pop festival. I wish they had found a way to get more daring with the "structured reality", though. Quite a lot of pain, and quite a lot of gain.
With Barnardo's, the team has pushed through all the pain barriers. Pushed to find the product insight and benefit: that Barnardo's help can transform angry teenagers into relatively well-adjusted adults. It has executed the storytelling with commitment, with great acting and tremendous restraint in the choice of CGI-free direction. Simply great. I hope it raises lots of dosh.
Google. Difficult subject, internet security, but no barriers were broken to create this campaign and, for a long copy ad, they clearly didn't even trouble to find a good copywriter.
London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. This work doesn't seem to have a deep insight, a great idea, or any beauty or drama in the execution. Something or somebody must have got in the way of good work.
Which leads me on to my hitherto-unmentioned pain barrier - the one that can be erected by clients. Great work is only ever done with great clients. And it is a lesson to us all to pull down barriers that we ourselves erect so our agencies have fewer to break through getting to great. Easier said than done sometimes, but we all have to keep pushing through.