07 February 2013
Charlie Brooker is a twisted, misanthropic, bile-spewing doom monger and I’ve always been rather fond of him. He has struggled to maintain his acidity levels since finding love, fatherhood and jogging, but he still managed to write a clutch of dark techno-fables for the first series of Black Mirror in 2011.
A second series is looming and Channel 4 is about to trail the proverbial arse out of it. It’s on a bit of a roll, after the stunning job it did of promoting and covering the Paralympics, and its confidence shines through the Black Mirror work. It’s a nicely judged journey through the platitudes of modern consumerism into an increasingly fractured and unsettling world in which the younger Mr Brooker would have revelled. It creates a real feeling of discomfort and the ultimate compliment is that you hope the series can live up to it.
In a sumptuous irony, the horror of what we are doing to ourselves in the digital glare, as envisioned by Charlie, is utterly confounded by the gentle, digi-free persuasiveness of the other ads this week. Every one of them could have been produced at pretty much any time in the past 30 years.
This doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad. The Land Rover print ad is a lovely, simple thought: "70% of the world is covered by water. The rest is covered by Defender." It is unlikely to have been written by a man in a tweed jacket gesticulating with his pipe, but it could easily have been.
More disappointingly, Honda has also gone retro and has come up with a car ad. It used to do these before it started making Honda ads, and it’s an unwise reverse. Honda ads were frequently surprising, thought-provoking and memorable. Car ads all end up telling you that a particular vehicle is both eminently practical and a joy to drive. This one is no exception.
Asics has dipped into the past too – but not its own. The advertising heritage of the trainer is owned so completely by Nike (with the odd morsel conceded to Adidas and Puma) that any new ad in this category is likely to look like an old one for Nike. Remember the bad-tempered man and woman trying to outrun and splash each other? Well, Asics has remade it, except that it’s a woman trying to outrun herself (there’s still vindictive splashing, though). It’s well done and I like it, but if you can out-Nike Nike, no-one has yet shown us how.
The Guinness ad harks back to an era of epic craft. It’s basically a love letter to Stella Artois, and a very well-written one. Guinness is so smitten that even the Verdi overture used as soundtrack on the Stella ads has echoes in its own choice of Smetana’s symphonic poem written barely a decade later, which is almost certainly the most pretentious sentence I have yet contributed to Private View.
Of course, most of the above are wise enough to have their digital links and apps, but it is fascinating to see how much love and money are being invested in a lead medium that, only a few years ago, was being all but written off as irrelevant and over-costly. Ah, television. Isn’t it brilliant?
When I was at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, I worked alongside some talented types like Chad Bettor, Leslie Bee, Virginia Wang, Teresa King and (I kid you not) Bess Cocke. I always thought it would be great if they launched a start-up called "Bettor Bee Wang King Cocke" but, sadly, this opportunity passed them by, just as it did Graham Brown, Laura Marks and Rachel Skidmore when I was at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO.
Now, of course, I’m trying to think of names for the new venture I’m starting with Helen and Danny. So let’s see if this week’s brands can inspire me.
First up is Asics. Do you know what Asics stands for? (Don’t answer "Quality sportswear for serious athletes", you smart-arse…) It comes from the Latin "Anima sana in corpore sano", or "healthy mind, healthy body". Not bad advice as I prepare for a life of long hours and crap pizza, but Roman names haven’t been popular in our industry since the days of Hadrian Vickers and Masius. (Nowadays, we even call Latin copy "Greek".) So the name’s not much help to me, but I like the campaign’s idea that you should "better your best". This seems like a nice encapsulation of the brand’s essence (more introspective than some of its showier rivals) and also in keeping with today’s zeitgeist of self-improvement.
Next is Honda’s new campaign. It has used the symmetrical nature of the word "Civic" to capture the two sides of the car: both its emotional appeal and rational performance. Again, it’s not much use to me as a naming device, but it’s a decent solution to that nightmare of the double-headed brief. Probably the best use of a palindrome in an automotive ad since "A Toyota. Race fast, safe car. A Toyota".
Talking of good car ads, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R has done plenty of them for Land Rover. Like most of them, this one has a striking visual (a map of the world, where the continents are made up of vehicles). But there’s also a lovely line: "70% of the world is covered by water. The rest is covered by Defender." It works well if your name’s Land Rover, but I don’t think we’ll be claiming global domination for a while.
Now there’s Guinness. One of the few drinks with a 100 per cent branded bar call, it reminds me that whatever name we choose has got to be memorable (even after a few pints). I really like the idea of "made of more" as it’s rooted in a product truth, like most of this brand’s best lines. It feels very campaignable too, so while I found this execution a tad too Stellaesque, I look forward to seeing "more".
Talking of "more", that’s also the theme of my favourite campaign this week, for Channel 4’s Black Mirror. Except, this time, it’s used to present a chilling vision of consumerist society gone wrong. I think the struggle to make big data less like Big Brother is going to be one of the defining battles of our times, so this idea really resonated with me.
I also love the programme’s title. Black Mirror sounds like Nick Griffin’s worst nightmare and that alone makes it a great name, for pretty much anything. Shame it’s already taken as I’m running out of ideas. Maybe I should call Chad, Leslie, Virginia, Teresa and Bess to see what they’re up to?