Last summer, Tony Brignull wrote a piece in Campaign on what he saw as a
worrying trend towards imagery over the idea in British advertising. The
piece evolved into the ‘Tony versus Tony’ debate, which ended up with
both Tonies (Brignull and Kaye) appearing on News at Ten.
A year on, and according to Richard Phillips’ feature this week (page
24), the situation has got worse. ‘Contemporary style is all. There is a
sort of political correctness in advertising today,’ Phillips writes.
‘In the mad, looking-glass world of British advertising, selling is out
of fashion. And being out of fashion is the greatest crime of all.’ He
goes on to cite as responsible: planners, the insidious, all-pervasive
power of the D&AD juries, and the breakdown in client-agency trust,
which has also allowed the below-the-line businesses to steal the
territory of ‘being able to sell’ from agencies.
It’s a breathless series of claims, and I’m not sure about all of them,
particularly the old planning chestnut. I’m glad he stressed that this
is not another attack on Kaye and Volvo. Surely, the only relevant
question left about those Volvo ads is: do they shift metal? By all
accounts, they do. And as for how ‘creative’ they are, or ‘where’s the
idea?’, you only have to look at the current Volvo S-40 commercial (the
first for a while not to be made by Kaye, Tom Carty and Walter Campbell)
to see just the sort of empty imagery Phillips bemoans. Because absence
makes the heart grow fonder, perhaps now the Kaye Volvo series will
finally be accepted as good advertising.
Where Phillips is strong is on the tyranny of D&AD and the relationship
between winning Pencils and creatives’ salary and career prospects. Does
this skew people’s thoughts away from the real purpose of ads toward
complying with their own market forces? What do you think? What would
you do in their position?
But, many do buck the system. Lots of creatives in less glamorous
agencies get on with the daily task of trying to service big and
notoriously difficult clients with huge brands and lots at stake. They
know they are unlikely to win the top awards working on McDonald’s or
Colgate, but surely their achievement (in these two instances among many
others) in developing genuinely meaningful and emotional campaigns where
mediocrity prevails, is what we should really be praising.
The ‘is advertising art?’ debate should have been laid to rest by now.
As Phillips explains, it’s simple. There is pure creativity, as in fine
art, and there is applied creativity. The latter is creativity used in
pursuit of another goal, such as architecture and advertising. It’s
something that the creators of the excellent Coca-Cola and Walkers
Crisps campaigns seem to understand only too well. And, funnily enough,
they are currently the two biggest brands in the country.