03 May 2012
Apparently, we all have a leaning towards one of the three prevailing mental illnesses: manic depression, schizophrenia or obsessive compulsive disorder. Think of the people you know well, and it's pretty easy to map them against this theory.
Without question, my bias is for OCD. In my sad world, sofas are not for sitting on, cars are not for driving and few things offend me more than an ill-considered line break in a poorly constructed Father's Day card.
I blame my former creative directors for this, the best of whom had an uncanny ability to see the "wrong", instilling in me the need to always look for the hole and never be seduced by the doughnut.
I tell you this not for the benefit of the majority, but rather for the unfortunate few whose doughnuts have landed in my Private View this week.
First under the linen tester is Levi Roots (or is it Keith Graham?) singing the equally split-personality lyric of "it's so nice, I had to name it twice" for his Reggae Reggae Sauce. I could only watch it once. It's too depressing to see animation used as a place to seek creative refuge when there is nowhere to hide from the fact that you don't have an idea.
Another idea that requires a search party is brought to us by Citroen and its DS5. A group of Arsenal footballers are given a ballet lesson by some would-be Sylvie Guillems in a presentation called "The Refined, Redefined". Trying to work out who is refined and who is being redefined is enough to get you sectioned. Whichever way around it is, this is a confused analogy that is, at times, embarrassing to watch.
Continuing the football theme, Mars brings us the match official who, upon eating a bar, suffers delusions of grandeur, believing that he is good enough to step in for the stretchered-off England goalkeeper. I don't think that's far-fetched. It's a likeably old-fashioned ad that has its tongue firmly planted in its chocolatey cheek - the only let-down being a commentator who sounds like he is reading a script.
Telling us that we're not seeing things is the latest Department of Health commercial. It aims to encourage young mums not to smoke around their children, stating that 80 per cent of harmful cigarette smoke is invisible. Sadly, I think 100 per cent of this ad might be. Is sticking this message on TV really going to change the behaviour of its intended target?
The same accusation can't be levelled at Volkswagen and its online film encouraging women not to apply make-up while driving. Using Nikkie Tutorials is a master stroke. Not only does it leverage the net in a refreshingly disciplined and targeted manner, but Nikkie's levity of tone sets up a powerful sucker punch followed by an abrupt swing in mood. This wouldn't be nearly as effective on TV, and therein lies its genius. My one concern is that it will not receive the plaudits it deserves because of its executional similarity to Mexico's gold Lion-winning spot for Amis insurance from 2011.
Which leaves me to mildly obsess over my favourite. I loved the first Weetabix "fuel for big days" ad and this is a worthy follow-up. Believe me, it's really difficult to write good ads that start around a breakfast table, but Bartle Bogle Hegarty has managed it twice. In this incarnation, dad is left to entertain little Lucas for the day while mum heads out to work. A bowl of trickle-charge energy is pushed towards dad by the wee lad, accompanied by the line: "You're going to need it." It's a wonderful insight, nicely executed. If I have one question, it is whether the communication of the Golden Syrup variant will cut through the strength of the brand message.
Anyway, enough of that, I need to align the nap on my velvet sofa. Now, where is my carding brush?
When we buy sofas or wallpaper, or something like that, I wisely let my wife do the choosing. As a copywriter, I am used to leaving aesthetic matters to someone else. And I grew up in 70s Wales, where knowing the name for any non-primary colour would get you bullied for being gay.
But, more importantly, my wife just cares more than me about furniture. So, for our joint well-being, it is more important that she is happy with the choice than that I am.
The human brain performs a similar internal act of delegation. Most of the ongoing pleasure (or anxiety) you gain from your car, your shoes or your laptop is generated in the System 1 brain - the instinctive part. So, given that it is System 1's opinion that will overwhelmingly decide the long-term pleasure you derive from your purchase, it makes sense to allow System 1 the major say in your choice. Choosing emotionally the only rational thing to do.
What makes advertising so exhausting as a job is that we need to talk to the brain's System 1 while business thinking is obsessed with the logic of System 2. As a result, really important System 1 signals such as distinctiveness, likeability, humour, luscious production values and, let's not forget, overall media spend are constantly suppressed in favour of rational arguments.
But two of this week's ads, Volkswagen and the Department of Health, do what advertising does best. Each takes a bald statistic, which read on the printed page might have very little emotional power, and translates it into images the System 1 brain can absorb. The Department of Health ad also works through pester power - my daughters quote the 80 per cent figure to me if ever I light up. (What has the world come to when a man cannot light a Cohiba in his own nursery without being lectured on health statistics?)
Mars and Citroen both use famous footballers for borrowed interest. But System 1 doesn't really care whether interest is borrowed or not. Celebrity just sells. At least Mars has returned to "work, rest, play" (albeit in a new, spot-the-hand-of-the-planner variant), since abandoning a property like that is brand sacrilege.
My issue with the Reggae Reggae Sauce ad is not that it's bad. It's just that the story of Levi Roots (see www.reggae-reggae.co.uk/go/background) is so much better. The recipe came from his grandmother in Jamaica; this makes the product seem like a slightly inauthentic marketing creation. The brain - for good and ill - makes sense of the world through stories. From ragga to riches is too good a one to waste.
Last of all, Weetabix. It is, shall we say, um, crafty to add sugar to one of Britain's few low-sugar cereals and to call it Golden Syrup. Judging by this, it's Ritalin they should be adding instead. But it doesn't quite do it for me. Too many details about it (the forced naming of the product, the casting) make it feel more adland than England.
It's just a feeling. But, then, what isn't?