24 November 2011
This is a tale of two retailers in the bleak Christmas approach of 2011. Times are hard. Largesse is sparse. How will the stores whose very existence depends on shaking down feckless spendthrifts whip up enough seasonal excitement to blind us to current realities and throw ourselves into a final, gleeful spree?
Dixons thinks the answer lies with the front line: its staff. It believes that if it can convince us that the people we encounter in its shops will be not the incoherent delinquents we may be anticipating, but a crack force of trained killers with minds like steel traps, we might be encouraged to spread a little love and credit in their direction. It's a challenging theory, lacking in obvious Yuletide warmth, but, as we agree, these are difficult days. However, when it reveals the mastermind behind its training programme, the full menace of it all is laid bare. I mean, guys: Darth Vader? I know he's not real, but he's a not-real mega-bastard who tortures people, kills at will and lops lumps off his own children. Is this really the man who should be drafted in to give the troops a pre-Christmas gee-up? Who's in Santa's Grotto? Stalin? Surely, even in the teeth of a recession, there is another way to go? Fortunately for our story, there is.
Across the high street, John Lewis doesn't just take an alternative view, it pulls off a miracle. It takes the brutal and binding prerequisite of its existence - that people must desire things and acquire things - and it flips it over. It's not about getting new stuff, but giving new stuff. Of course, we've all grown up hearing that it is better to give than receive, we know that charity begins at home and so on. But to make this the noble reason for purchase instead of the usual base urge of self-gratification is nothing short of masterful. You sell your stuff and people like you for encouraging generosity, not greed.
But you still have to deliver the message. And, boy, does it deliver. By now, a few million words will have whizzed around the digisphere discussing the pros and cons of the commercial. And I can tell you with a certain detached professionalism that the people who don't like it, in particular the moaning Morrissey fans (is there any other kind?) who resist any tinkering with The Smiths' oeuvre, are idiots.
Did I cry? Of course I did. Look at his little face. This is a thing of wonder. A TV commercial, for goodness sake, that captures the real spirit of the modern Christmas ideal and the feeling we all want to foster in our children: the desire to make someone else happy.
It's walk-on parts for the rest, this week. A simple but effective digital poster for ITV selling its show The Jury, which blinks at you in an unsettling way; some fun with Cadbury Fingers dressed up as Dynasty characters; Kevin Spacey going through the motions for American Airlines; and a horrific prospect for anyone who finds hissing headphone-wearers on public transport annoying: the new handset from HTC is apparently so loud that people around you won't be muttering oaths, they'll be vibrating till they vomit. They didn't actually show the vomit, but that's clearly where the quivering is heading.
But who cares? It's coming up to Christmas and, once again, a fictional little boy, this time without a crutch, has shown us the way to betterment and joy. God bless us, every one.
I'm writing this review a couple of days before the final stages of the Virgin Media above-the-line and strategy pitches. Three of the agencies whose work I'm reviewing here are among the final four (what a coincidence), so it's a relief to see them all producing good work. The fourth, DDB, is currently producing something for us, which I know will be fantastic. So, here goes ...
Good old John Lewis. There's not a lot to dislike about this ad. It has a nice heartstring-tugging twist at the end and is shot beautifully. I love the little Christmas details, such as the sister in the Gruffalo suit and Steve McQueen's baseball scene from The Great Escape (which I assume will be on Channel 5 again this Christmas, like it is every other year). I think the use of The Smiths' Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want is inspired. I suspect devoted Smiths fans will be crashing Twitter in indignation, and with the likelihood of Slow Moving Millie's version topping the charts as a result, this ad will give them another thing to be miserable about. Works great as a 90-second spot; it will be interesting to see how the narrative fares as a "20", should the media plan go that way. (I've just noticed that, as I was writing this, C5 was actually showing The Great Escape. Perhaps, this Christmas, it's pushing the boat out with Escape To Victory.)
I really enjoyed the Cadbury Fingers "world party" ad this time last year, so had high hopes for this one. Once again, you can see that this has been painstakingly put together, and brings real vibrancy and a great sense of fun. What I'm not sure about is why they've picked a TV reference from the 80s, with so many great current ones to choose from. I know there are plans for a Dynasty movie sometime next year and a Dallas one in 2014, but unless they've uncovered a valuable segment of big-haired, shoulder-pad-wearing housewives, I must be missing something.
In a category that's dominated by the iPhone, HTC has cleverly turned its focus on music quality and partnered up with the super-cool Beats Audio (incidentally, I have some Beats by Dr Dre headphones - I'm sure HTC will be delighted with a balding, middle-aged man as a walking billboard). I think the ad cuts through nicely, and I like the humour and clever use of sound design to deliver the message. I wonder if there is an outtake somewhere of an exploding rabbit, where she held on for one second too long. When I watched the ad on the Campaign website, I wasn't keen on the design of the slate at the end showing the phone, as it didn't feel like the same high quality as the rest of the film, but I noticed the ad during The X Factor and it had a different slate, which looked much slicker.
Dixons. So, the research has probably shown that some people won't consider purchasing at PC World because the salespeople don't know what they're talking about. And the answer, therefore, is to use the scene from Return Of The Jedi, where Darth Vader turns up to tell all the workers that they need to stop slacking. I quite like the use of existing equity in advertising (not in a Muller yoghurt way, obviously) and there is no bigger equity than Star Wars. I find myself torn on this one, as I actually enjoyed watching it, and think it's pretty well put together. I also got the "we're not as ill-informed as you think we are" message. So the ad lands the message just fine. I guess my problem is that my personal experiences don't match up with the claim. Maybe I should give them another try - I need a new printer (if they're still clueless, I may have to attempt Vader's Force choke).
These digital posters for ITV reminded me of the 90s hip-hopper Erick Sermon's Double Or Nothing album cover. While I find them a bit creepy, they are strangely hypnotic and do seem to hold my attention for longer than most digital posters do. It’s a simple creative idea that’s executed extremely well and judged against the job it was designed to do, it obviously worked, getting 6.2m viewers to the show. It's a shame BBH couldn’t come up with a digital poster that could actually hypnotise all those viewers to come back for the second episode!
American Airlines. This is a nice enough piece of advertising. I think that it uses Kevin Spacey well and is beginning to own him now as a marketing property. I don't have much to say about this ad, as it doesn't really stir anything in me. I guess my underlying sense is similar to that of the Dixons ad, which is that this bears no resemblance to my actual experiences of travelling with them.