01 November 2012
A patient says to his psychiatrist: "Last night, I made a Freudian slip. I was having dinner with my mother-in-law and wanted to say: 'Could you please pass the butter.' But, instead, I said: 'You silly cow, you have completely ruined my life.'"
Sometimes, it's best to avoid the truth.
Honesty can make people feel anxious, because there's no wriggle room. Promises require commitment.
Advertising would be a lot more effective if we always said what we meant to say. Unfortunately, most of it tippy-toes around the truth, resorting instead to elaborate techniques and convoluted stories to get the message across.
But it's unrealistic to expect six campaigns to deliver truth and originality every week. And it's easy to criticise when you don't understand the hoops people need to go through to get things made.
I guess that's what this column is all about, so please forgive the odd Freudian slip.
Honda's new campaign asks: "Isn't life more interesting when we do more new?" We see a man choosing to drive his car into a supernaturally created void in a house, followed by the unmistakable Honda voice of Garrison Keillor, who says: "When you see the chance to do something new, take a deep, long breath and jump."
A strategy about a mindset is always going to make writing a story about a product difficult. So it's understandable that Honda turned to the occult to provide a role for the car. Nicely filmed with a stirring soundtrack, but a bit convoluted.
Paradoxically, HP Sauce's campaign shows how you can target a mindset effectively. There's no faking here. Each insight is well-observed and lovingly crafted. A great example of how entertaining, memorable and original the truth can be.
The energy provider E.ON utilises a kettle in a variety of situations to show that, however people consume energy, E.ON will have a choice of packages for them. A skilfully and seamlessly edited production, backed by The Lumineers' crowd-pleasing song Ho Hey. It's nice and warm, in a wee running down your leg sort of way.
Another prettily made, warm and fuzzy ad, this time for a winter promotion from Heinz (6). An Amelie-type character kind-of-ironically recounts her love of winter and then announces that the less pleasant aspects of the season are all forgotten when she takes a sip of Heinz Tomato Soup. The idea is simple enough, but the execution makes you work hard to understand whether it's the winter deluge or the soup she really loves.
A Home Office campaign publicising new elections for local police posts turns to very provocative CCTV footage of violence, robbery and assault to make its point. Which is that, when it comes to voting, "criminals will hope you did nothing".
But, in a way, the shocking footage distracts from the main point, which I think is meant to be that people passively stand by and watch as criminals wreak havoc.
A good idea that probably could have been much more powerful if the point was made clearly in the footage.
Everyone knows online shopping is savaging traditional bookshops, which I assume is why Waterstones has produced this campaign.
A wittily written series of print ads argue for shopping in a store, rather than online, but here's the thing: you sense the writers are not entirely convinced themselves. Or maybe they're just letting their true feelings slip.
Suggesting that books are easier to find in a bookshop, or that it's more pleasurable or that there is a lot of choice, doesn't seem like a convincing argument to change the inevitable catastrophe bookshops are heading towards.
This week's work shows that advertising works best when it's both original and true. Honest.
Having six enjoyable ads to review certainly helped me tackle this task with enthusiasm and gives me a great place to start in sharing my strongest advertising philosophy - it's not enough to make ads that are just enjoyable.
I've lost count of the times advertising agencies have said things to me such as "there's nothing wrong with entertaining your customers, it'll make them feel better about your brand" or "if you engage your customers in an enjoyable ad, you're halfway there". Of course, I wholeheartedly agree, but the "halfway there" is the key point. For an ad to make the positive brand boost that we all expect from great advertising, it's adding the other 50 per cent that's critical.
This set of ads beautifully illustrate the difference between lovely, enjoyable ads and lovely, enjoyable ads that are based on recognisable truths - truths about customers and their lives, truths about the brand and, critically, truths that matter.
That's where the E.ON commercial falls down for me. Although beautifully shot and directed, and enjoyable and intriguing to watch, for me, it dramatises the wrong thing. The voiceover tells a compelling story about two truths that really matter to customers - making an expensive everyday essential affordable and helping simplify the complex web of offers and packages. But, instead of bringing these truths to life, the visuals concentrate on a patchwork of different uses for boiling water. It just misses the key point.
The Honda ad sat in similar territory. I'm always excited to see what Honda will serve up next and the drama of the opening sequence - the dark, the lights changing, the poised driver - had me anticipating something breathtaking ... but then it lost me. The thought of exploring a tunnel that has appeared on the side of a house just lacked the reality of what this car could do for me. If it can help me explore, let me know how, show me where, whet my appetite for what life could be like. I love the thought of "do more new", but I just need a little help with what "new" might really look like.
When I watched the HP Sauce ad, I smiled and then I laughed. The narrator was mildly irritating, but I recognised human truth after human truth about being a bloke. More importantly, after being engaged and entertained, the killer blow was landed - a compelling truth about the brand. You can't have a bacon sandwich without HP Sauce. I don't know how important it is to link HP to manliness, but I do know that I went straight to the kitchen and checked the stock situation!
As truths go, you can't get any more real than the Home Office ad. I was arrested by the images, saddened by the reality of them and compelled to watch to the end to understand how I was going to be asked to help (an ask I knew was coming). But, for me, the voiceover wasn't quite right. The version with a voiceover all the way through told you everything you needed to know, but the narrative got in the way of the visuals and I lost interest. The alternative approach was all picture and the closing voiceover didn't tell me enough to understand the call to action. I wanted something between the two.
On to Waterstones and its "Even the most ardent reader will never reach the end of a good bookshop". I love it. A print ad that easily competes with TV. A truth that, to book-lovers, is as emotional as it is factual. I love that Waterstones takes the high ground for the beleaguered category. Its confidence in doing so says all you need to know about it being a leader. And, is it just me, or does the phrase "end of a good bookshop" make the ad all the more poignant as internet retailing and the Kindle era threaten to do just that?
And, finally, Heinz wraps it all up and demonstrates everything I'm trying to say. Great storytelling, beautifully shot, resonant life truths (I thought I was the only one who found "puddles that lie in wait under wobbly slabs") and a real truth about the product. When you take your first sip of a warming soup on a cold day, everything else drifts away. It's my definition of a great ad.