01 March 2012
The first agency I ever worked at went bankrupt about two months after we left. The guy that owned it lost all his money gambling on lawn-mower racing. The second agency didn't fare much better. After losing the Leeds Building Society account, which it had made famous for years with its infamous "Say the Leeds and you're smiling" campaign, it too disappeared.
At the third agency (which also disappeared), Robert Campbell and I took two weeks' holiday and did a placement at WCRS, from which we got a job. Purely because the then creative director got us muddled up with a rather cute all-girl team and hired us by mistake. It must have been Robert's long eyelashes.
Once at WCRS, we worked day and night trying to make the best of this hiring mistake. We grabbed every brief we could get our hands on, which were mainly BMW dealer ads. It was here we had an invaluable lesson drummed into us, as Ron and Robin made us rewrite a dealer ad for the umpteenth time. It wasn't just about what you said, it was all about the tone of voice you used to say it. Now, before you put this little story down to the reminiscences of an old fart, I think in today's fragmented media world, when brand ideas can be ever-less concrete, tone of voice has become one of the most important weapons we have when it comes to building brands across different platforms.
Despite losing a pitch to the new Lucozade "yes" campaign, I have to say I'm rather a fan of it. I thought the launch work with Tinie Tempah had a great tone to it. It took everything I knew and loved about Lucozade and just made it cool, powerful and relevant to today. I'm not sure the new Olympic ads have quite the edge and attitude of the launch work, but they're still pretty good.
The new spot for Coca-Cola takes a similar theme to that of Lucozade. Olympic athletes perform to music, this time by Mark Ronson and Katy B. Coke invited a load of teenagers to the gig and showed it on Channel 4, which is quite cool. Sadly, when you cut it down to a 60-second ad ... not quite so cool.
All fashion brands exist on nothing more than a tone of voice. 101 has given French Connection a rather playful esoteric one and the new spring/summer 2012 campaign continues along a similar vein. I'm not sure I really get it, but I rather like it, which I think is the point.
I fear that, whether I like the new PlayStation Vita ad or not, I will soon be the proud owner of one, thanks to my 13-year-old son, Jack. This new ad for Sony is a remake of its famous and much-awarded "double life". But whereas the original had a genius, dark and foreboding tone to it, the remake, sadly, is rather squeaky clean and pan-European.
I'm really not sure I have anything very useful to say about the new Giffgaff ad. I would really recommend you take a look, though. It's a two-minute Eminem rap done by Keith and Orville. Say no more!
Finally, we come back to where this all started, BMW. Now, I hate the "joy" campaign. It destroyed all that magnificent tectonic German tone of voice that had been drummed into me. I'm a 6 Series driver. I don't want it to feel joyful, I don't want to hear Mr Blue Sky, I want to hear Ride Of The Valkyries and feel efficiently German. And while all this happy BMW talk has been going on, Audi has smugly slipped into its clothes. So you can imagine my "joy" as the opening title of the new BMW online film read "The ultimate driving machine". These films are back to the proper BMW tone of voice. They exude all that precision engineering. They may not be the very best BMW films ever made, but they made an old BMW driver very happy.
I'll start with the French Connection ads because I just don't get them. Lift music is annoying at the best of times, and while the caption and guy speaking into an iron is vaguely intriguing for about half a second, I'm then bored. The main problem is it makes the clothes look as bland as the ads. I fear perhaps the ads are just a bit too cool for me, but they did not set my world on fire or, at the very least, make me want to shop in FC on a non-Team GB uniform day.
I desperately wanted to dislike the Giffgaff ad as it initially just reminded me of another one of those spoof rap videos on YouTube. But as Keith and Orville, or "KOrville", rap away, they are actually very funny, very random and very British, as is the caption "Unlock your phone and unlock a chicken". It's exactly the kind of ad our foreign competitors are completely baffled by while residing in the UK to train (especially the Americans, with their incapacity to comprehend irony). Which makes me like it even more. Brilliant!
Now for an ad that I did actually hate - strong word, I know, but while the ad itself is very impressive and I'm sure is well-shot, produced etc, I hate the message. PlayStation Vita claims "the world is in play" and shows players transported from their surroundings into other realities with the world as their playground. Now, this works for me in the shot of the guy on the football pitch - sport essentially is playing (though, personally, I think people should go and play football, not sit down and pretend to play). However, I'm not so sure a solider would agree that running around in a war zone with a gun is playing, and when the man in the ad enjoying a picnic on the beach suddenly finds himself with a gun shooting at people, I think it's dangerous to also package this as "play".
Finally, we come to the "Olympic ads". At least there's one word in that phrase that I do know something about! I am a massive fan of motivational video montages of sporting heroes, accompanied by the right soundtrack - they never fail to stir up the butterflies in my stomach. The Lucozade ads, with their imagery of Mo Farah, Phillips Idowu and Louis Smith in competition and their powerful message of "Faster. Stronger. For longer", certainly adhere to the successful butterfly stimulating formula.
Less can be said of the BMW short documentary entitled Man And Machine. I wanted to love this piece. As a sailor, I am a technical geek by nature, intrigued and captivated by any technology that can eke out extra speed from our equipment, hence the title caught my attention. The ad is largely made up of footage of the Paralympian David Weir's training and the mechanics of his racing chair. This is fascinating and beautifully shot - my favourite ad by far visually. However, the commentary is dull and, for me, too impersonal.
The Coca-Cola Olympic ad, by contrast, does not have a dull moment. As to be expected from Coke, the piece is bursting full of energy as athletes showcase their sports in the Olympic arena to a backdrop of music and people celebrating. For me, this ad really represents the other side of the Olympic Games. After all the training and hard work and often heartache, the Games is a celebration of people coming together from all around the world, competing and spectating in a non-violent, non-aggressive way. The message is perfect: "No matter where you are, anywhere in the world, move to the beat of the London 2012 Games." It might be cheesy, but it certainly makes me want to be part of it, so see you there!