23 August 2012
I wasn't the first. Charlie Brooker came out during the first week. Since then, reformed Olympic cynics have been queuing up to renounce their scepticism and gleefully admit to being reduced to inchoate blubber by the magnificent spectacle that was London 2012. Like most of you, I've been seduced, ravished even, by the life-affirming human drama played out in our capital city. In an industry dogged by self-doubt, I suggest we all download a picture of the boxer Nicola Adams as our screensaver. Look at that face! I mean, just look at it and try to feel shit about a bad meeting.
This review, then, is an unashamed wallow in post-Olympian euphoria and anyone turning to this column for my usual offering of informed lavatorial insight leavened with ill-considered profanity will be disappointed.
Nike can't resist a sneaky ambush attempt with its scenic tour of alternative "London" games. The message is the familiar call to personal achievement now expressed as "find your greatness". The vignettes also have a familiar ring but, if you shoot enough of them, one or two are going to hit home. I can't help thinking that, on film at least, Nike and Adidas have fought each other to something of a standstill. Beyond "be your best" and celebrity endorsement, there doesn't seem to be much left in either locker.
During the Games, a Melbourne newspaper got itself into trouble by attributing medals to either Nice Korea or Naughty Korea. The Nice Koreans keep a surprisingly low profile in Hyundai's attempt to rival Honda and Skoda in making brand commercials. A montage of frenetic design activity leads us, eventually, to the big reveal - not of a car, but the robot that makes the car! As Yohan Blake will testify, when you take on the big boys, you need a bigger finish than that.
The grace and dignity of most Olympians in victory and defeat have caused many pundits to draw unfavourable comparisons with the spoilt, self-aggrandisement of our Premiership football stars. Perhaps that explains the low-key nature of the BBC's trail for the season's imminent return. This collection of vignettes follows the well-tried "obsessed fan" model and opens with a promising copy of an old and much-awarded US Fox Sports commercial. Sadly, none of the ensuing vignettes rings a true note, especially the risible conclusion showing a girl dipping under the dinner party table to follow the results on her iPad.
Child-beating is not yet an Olympic event but, if it were, I fear that this country might just find itself among the medals. Hence the need for searing expositions of the problem like this compelling but nuanced piece from ChildLine. Keenly observed with first-rate performances, especially Dad, this film's reluctance to rush to judgment makes it all the more powerful. Despite some slightly self-conscious editing, this is really fine film-making. Once, just once, though, I wish one of these charities would stop beating us up with the problem and take on the challenge of dramatising a positive outcome.
Somebody who has read too much Jack Kerouac has been allowed to write the voiceover of the latest Levi's spot. They get to channel their inner Beat poet and the client gets to show off a container-load of product. "Spoken word" narratives can really stand out against the marketing-monkey-gibber of most commercials. Guinness "surfer", the 1999 Kiplingesque PlayStation ad and McDonald's recent John Betjeman tributes all come to mind. I suspect we tend to allow them a higher purpose beyond mere huckstering. Perhaps this is where this particular piece, with its constant interweaving of product features, falls short.
Orange's symbiotic relationship with new movie releases reaches out to The Sweeney, with Ray Winstone and Plan B raiding a dodgy boozer full of "phoney geezers". Nice use of Electric Light Orchestra - surely everyone's guilty pleasure. This might not be the first time the Orange spoof is better than the movie.
Flush with Series A funding and surrounded by supermodels, the geeks are laughing. It's time to discover their secret.
The mantra of the lean start-up is to "iterate fast and release often". Get a minimum viable product out there and work with first users to refine or pivot. Crucially, all emphasis is placed on functional innovation and tangible user benefits.
This approach contrasts markedly with our industry's penchant for emotional selling and brand wank. (Can you see Jay Bregman in an all-day workshop discussing whether the Hailo brand is a court jester archetype?)
It seems tech entrepreneurs are living the dictum "sweat the hard stuff and lose the fluff". So how would they review these six TV ads?
Remember the Assurance programme that Hyundai introduced when the US economy collapsed? This spot isn't so helpful.
Itinforms me that Hyundai makes the robots that make its cars. But doesn't really say why. "To make things just right", apparently. And because Hyundai will do "whatever it takes". Such vacuous statements suggest to me that vertical cost-efficiencies are being masqueraded as "perfectionist spirit".
Levi's, a great innovator, is hitting form with releases like the 511/Nike collaboration. But this latest "go forth" ad isn't doing it for me. For much the same reason cited extensively on its YouTube comments trail: "I'm confused. Last season Levi's told me to be a free-spirited anarchist ... Now they're telling me I need to be a yuppie?"
I'm with the techies. Levi's, you have new product points. So just share them in brilliant ways. Let people infer your world view from what you make and how you make it. Otherwise, the design stories that would appeal to "people who dress with purpose" just get lost in clumsy existential poetry. And your attempts to inspire get mis-interpreted as telling kids what to do.
Now this BBC spot dramatises a real benefit: one can now enjoy end-to-end football coverage across all media platforms. Ace. But I find the set design and characterisation in the film utterly distracting. First, there's the girl at the dinner party who ducks under the table to watch her iPad. (What next? Take her office to the beach?) And then there's the harp in the corner of the room ...
Maybe the "fluff" is more important than the tech heads credit.
It would explain why I'm not into this Orange Gold Spot. It just didn't make me laugh. In fairness, I didn't see it at the cinema, where the hijacking of The Sweeney trailer can work with its environment and context. And it's a dead clever deal. But Dresden and the Film Board were just funny. Even when people saw the joke coming. Soft stuff again.
I like this Nike spot. Everyone does. And that's the point. It's a manifesto that sees greatness in the athlete in all of us. Not just in those looking to take the stage during the Olympics. It's totally in stride with the warm, inclusive mood of the Games. The belly flop is our legacy dream in one vignette. It works entirely because of its mastery of the less tangible fluffy stuff.
So you see where this is going ... we shouldn't make advertising on tech start-up principles. We need to sweat the hard stuff, yes. But the fluff is an important facet of communication. Striking the right balance is the answer.
And ChildLine does this brilliantly. The scriptwriter's empathy, the way it is constructed around repeated trigger incidents. The soft stuff is flawless. The hard navigation needs tweaking, though. If I Google "my dad hits me", then click on the ChildLine link, I get a "page not found" message. A quick solve for the search optimisation boys and it's perfect. A reminder of why we continue to work in this industry and eschew the lure of the Silicon Roundabout.