CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/IMPOSSIBLE BRIEFS - This client brief will self-destruct in five seconds ... What do you do when you face mission: impossible? Claire Cozens investigates

When Tom Cruise is given his latest assignment in Mission: Impossible 2, his boss warns him that the task is not just going to be difficult: it really is going to be impossible. It is hard to imagine any marketing director being as honest, but mission: impossible can sometimes be an accurate description of the briefs they nonchalantly hand out.

When Tom Cruise is given his latest assignment in Mission:

Impossible 2, his boss warns him that the task is not just going to be

difficult: it really is going to be impossible. It is hard to imagine

any marketing director being as honest, but mission: impossible can

sometimes be an accurate description of the briefs they nonchalantly

hand out.

Last week, the Central Office of Information appointed Delaney Lund Knox

Warren to handle its teenage pregnancy brief. The agency’s mission: to

spearhead the Government’s drive to halve the number of unwanted teenage

pregnancies in the UK.

It’s one of those briefs that agencies go all out to win because of the

potential to create attention-grabbing, award-winning work. But, for the

winning agency, it’s something of a mixed blessing. How can a few ads be

expected to stop teenagers from doing what comes naturally?

Greg Delaney, the chairman of Delaney Lund, concedes that using

advertising to control people’s sexual urges is a tough call. But he

says it is often the difficult ad briefs that yield the most interesting


One brief with the potential to be a bit of a nightmare came from the

Teacher Training Association, which called on Delaney Lund to increase

the numbers of teaching training recruits.

’Almost every day on the radio you were hearing about teachers’ concerns

about poor pay, violent pupils, overcrowded classes - the list goes on,’

Delaney says. ’But when we asked teachers why they stayed on, they said

it was simply knowing that you could make a difference to some kid’s


The agency won awards for the resulting campaign, in which Tony Blair

famously talked about his favourite teacher. But the account has since

moved and the TTA has changed its strategy to emphasise the (dubious)

financial benefits of entering the profession.

When a client suffers from such disastrous PR, it is difficult to see

how advertising can counteract its ill effects. Laurence Green, the

managing partner at Fallon, had a major challenge on his hands when the

agency was appointed to handle Skoda’s advertising. How could

advertising turn around the image of the car that had been the butt of a

thousand jokes?

But, he says, the agency’s job was made easier by the fact that Skoda

had a genuinely good product to promote.

’The client didn’t so much have an articulated brief as a sense of

bewildered injustice,’ he says. ’Their feeling was: ’we’ve got great

cars and no-one believes us’.’

For Green, one of the classic traps to avoid when handed such a brief is

to bury your head in the sand and ignore the problem. As he says, the

agency could have made a great car ad for Skoda with a car going as fast

as the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre would allow down winding

country roads, but that wouldn’t have achieved what Skoda wanted.

Instead, the agency came up with a campaign that gently mocks people’s

preconceptions, while showing off the car to its best advantage.

But acknowledging that the product you are trying to promote has a bad

image can be a dangerous path to take. One classic trap is to blame the

consumer for the problem, rather than admitting that the product isn’t

perfect and asking the public to give it another chance.

Perhaps the most famous case is the New Millennium Experience Company,

which recently changed its advertising strategy in an attempt to

confront the PR problems that have beset the Millennium Dome since it


The campaign features men dressed as sheep, giving a warts-and-all

appraisal of the attraction. Only at the end of the ads does it emerge

that they haven’t been to the Dome, but are repeating what they have

heard in the press.

Unfortunately, the campaign comes across as an attempt to absolve the

Dome’s organisers of any blame, and to portray the sceptical public as

stupid - a strategy that seems unlikely to win the Dome any new


Perhaps not surprisingly, the list of impossible briefs is dominated by

one client, the COI. Using advertising to persuade people to fork out

for a product they never knew they wanted is one thing, using it to

change lifelong habits or alter social trends is quite another.

Peter Buchanan, the group director of the COI, says the biggest

difficulty for agencies is getting into the mindset of the minority

groups they are targeting. ’There is a big difference between an agency

planner and someone on a very low income, and that’s a huge challenge

for agencies,’ he says. ’It’s also very different from the ABC1 audience

that consumer advertising normally targets.’

So what are the most difficult briefs Buchanan has given?

Recently, there were two: the Millennium Bug campaign, of which he says:

’We were planning it a year ahead and we were in uncharted territory. We

had to find a way of providing the information without causing


His other example is the euro preparation campaign, of which Buchanan

says: ’The brief was to provide small businesses with information and

advice about the euro without appearing to endorse it.’

But these were more mission: very difficult than mission:


So what is the truly impossible brief? For Buchanan, it’s persuading

Italian men to drive more slowly. And for Green, it’s the Belgian

Tourist Board.

Even Tom Cruise might find those two a bit tricky.



Client            Agency            Brief

New Millennium    M&C Saatchi       Give people the ’real story’ about

Experience                          the Dome and appeal to them to make

Company -                           up their own minds rather than

Millennium Dome                     simply believing the negative press


COI-kill          Abbott Mead       Emphasise that speed is a factor in

your speed        Vickers BBDO      a third of all accidents, especially

                                    in residential areas. Make speeding

                                    as socially unacceptable as


COI-teenage       Delaney Lund      Help the Government to halve the

pregnancy         Knox Warren       number of teenage pregnancies in

                                    the UK.

COI-anti-         Abbott Mead       Concentrate on the help available

smoking           Vickers BBDO      for those who want to kick the

                                    habit, avoiding the scare tactics of

                                    earlier campaigns.

COI-nurses        D’Arcy            Recruit more nurses and midwives to

recruitment                         the National Health Service, which

                                    is suffering critical staff


Teacher Training  McCann-Erickson   Help sign up 30,000 new teachers a

Association       Manchester        year. The new strategy is to focus

                                    on teaching as a rational career

                                    option and highlight the financial


COI-single        TBWA GGT Simons   Prepare the UK’s small and

currency          Palmer            medium-sized enterprises for the

                                    introduction of the euro, without

                                    promoting the idea of the single


COI-anti-         Abbott Mead       Encourage 11- to 16-year-olds to use

drugs             Vickers BBDO      the National Drugs Helpline, moving

                                    away from mentioning and therefore

                                    promoting specific drugs.

Skoda             Fallon            No formal brief, simply a desire to

                                    ditch its outdated image and see the

                                    quality of the cars recognised.

Iceland           HHCL &            Change people’s perceptions of the

                  Partners          brand and promote the retailer’s

                                    organic produce and boycott of GM


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