24 May 2012
My favourite advertising story is about two explorers walking through the jungle.
Suddenly, they hear a tiger roar. Then they hear the tiger crashing through the undergrowth towards them.
One explorer sits down and takes a pair of running shoes out of his backpack. He starts lacing them up.
The other explorer says: "You're crazy if you think you can outrun a tiger."
He says: "I don't have to outrun the tiger. I just have to outrun you."
That story shows how advertising works at its cleverest. We don't just knee-jerk into the obvious solution. We get upstream and change the context.
Of course we can't outrun a tiger, he'll catch us easily. But, actually, the tiger only needs to catch and eat one of us.
So, getting upstream, we change it from a problem we can't solve to a problem we can solve. Creativity is about surprising, exciting solutions to problems. Getting upstream and changing the context does that. That's predatory thinking.
So how did these commercials do on that score?
The BBC torch relay begins with lots of sparks coming together to form an Olympic torch. This changes into a man running around lighting other torches. The voiceover says: "Follow the journey of the Olympic flame, live on the BBC."
It's a nice piece of CG, but it's not new thinking.
The Which? TV ad features a couple in their new fitted kitchen.
They turn on the washing machine and it overflows. The microwave oven explodes and the couple end up rolling around on the floor. The voiceover says: "Avoid costly mistakes. Check our latest expert reviews, from fridges to financial services."
Which is pretty much what we already know about Which?.
Pilgrims Choice has a woman looking at cheeses in a supermarket. In a John Wayne voice, a cowboy calls her "pilgrim" several times. The voiceover says: "Pilgrims Choice. Good choice, Pilgrim."
Nothing very new, but if branding is the problem, it does that.
Birds Eye features an animated polar bear with a lot of farmers, all anxious to get the freshest, sweetest peas.
The bear falls and hurts his ankle. He says to the farmers: "Leave me, go to the peas. Go to the peas."
Nice joke, nice character, nicely shot - but nothing really new.
Absolut Vodka has a microsite where we can learn about teenagers through different time periods. Not quite sure what it has to do with Absolut Vodka, though.
This is all pretty standard planner brand theory. It goes as follows: if the punters like our device (website, bear, cowboy, CG man, kitchen joke), they'll like our brand and run out and buy it.
I don't think it's as simple as that. I think the best advertising gets upstream and changes the context of the problem.
And I think that there's one commercial here that did just that - Cancer Research UK.
It opens on children discussing packaging. One boy likes a pack because it's like a Ferrari. Another boy says the pack reminds him of Tintin cartoons. Another boy says the pack would be fun to play with. A little girl says: "I think this one looks actually quite pretty."
The camera pans down to reveal they are looking at cigarette packs. The subtitles say: "Unbranding cigarette packs won't stop everyone from smoking, but it will give millions of kids one less reason to start."
That commercial really gets upstream and changes the context. Don't keep using scare tactics to try to make people quit. Maybe you can't help those addicted smokers. But you can stop making cigarettes look attractive to people who haven't started yet.
That's definitely a new look at the problem.
That's predatory thinking.
Very often, I look at ads on the TV or in this column and marvel - sometimes at the creativity, the sumptuous direction or the powerful insight; but often at the fact that someone managed to sell it. First to the client and then to her boss. So, as I delve into this week's basket of delights, I'm going to ask myself one simple question: did this sell itself or did it require the persuasive techniques of a fat man as the last dance is called?
First up, Birds Eye. Easy sell, this. The Willem Dafoe polar bear has become a popular icon for Birds Eye as mum's friend in the freezer, so it's a simple step to use him to push the quality message too. Making the farmers the heroes and adding a nice little war movie "dink" ensures this does the job nicely. No late nights rehearsing your patois needed for this little fella.
Next, we have the Olympic torch coverage from the BBC. A harder task here, maybe. With the torch relay all about real people across Britain getting their moment of sporting glory, it couldn't have been that simple persuading the BBC to use a high-tech animated approach without a Joe Ordinary in sight. But maybe the client just spotted the old Bacardi ads running in the agency's reception and said: "Let's do that." In which case, this was a very easy sell.
On to Which?. Hmmm. Which? is used by my dad. He researches different products carefully to ensure he buys just the right thing. It makes him feel good; a smart shopper. This ad highlights those who don't. It makes them look like idiots, buying any old tat. It's simply saying: if you don't buy Which?, you're a penny-pinching mug who gets his just deserts. I think this is a bit too blunt for the educated and discerning audience Which? should be targeting. Selling smart with silly is rarely easy, or right.
Jamie Hewlett draws cool things and is loved by cool people, who drink Absolut Vodka (2). With a fresh and modern interpretation of Britain, this is a lovely campaign that I hope sold itself.
Not so Pilgrims Choice. We open in a supermarket fridge aisle as a female shopper chooses the client's brand ...
the marketing director's eyes widen with joy as the creative director's roll with embarrassment. But, no, because this supermarket-based ad has a tiny cowboy on a horse, chattering on about cheese. A creative twist, an unusual and memorable spokesman, a rare moment of FMCG flair. Really? Why? Pilgrims Choice is a company specialising in English cheeses. And if there's one country that can't make any tasty cheese, it's America. Makes no sense to me. Is it a Pilgrim Fathers gag? I was as nonplussed by it as the lady actor in the supermarket. Anyway, Stetsons off to the cowgirl who sold it, as it couldn't have been a cakewalk.
And, finally, Cancer Research UK. This is advertising that demonstrates the power of packaging - in this case, to attract children to smoke. I'm not belittling the issue at all, but I'm not really convinced that cigarette packaging is that strong a lure to start smoking, nor that kids are that attracted by the boxes behind the counter. It's clever to use a research group like this as the basis of the creative as the kids are going to say how lovely the little boxes look, but in the real world? This "insight" apparently came from client research, so maybe I'm misrepresenting the situation significantly, but I wonder if the client actually had to sell this whole idea to the agency. It's a great cause and every chance to get people to re-examine the curse of cigarettes is worthwhile, but I'm sure there are still more impactful and compelling approaches as yet untapped.
So, as I close on the theme of this little Private View, I think we have on display here many of the dark arts of account management persuasion, featuring a dash of snake oil, a hint of Eskimo snow and, happily, a couple of hot cakes.