CLOSE-UP: PERSPECTIVE; The new Pepsi ad: nice idea, shame it looks so cheap

Thank God Lent is over and we can give up giving up being horrible to people. Time for a bit of the emperor’s new clothes. That Pepsi ad...

Thank God Lent is over and we can give up giving up being horrible to

people. Time for a bit of the emperor’s new clothes. That Pepsi ad...

So, you spend dollars 500 million introducing your new blue can; you run

(or rather your PR company, Matthew Freud, runs) a stunning PR campaign

generating astonishing press coverage; you line up Abbott Mead Vickers

BBDO here in the UK to create a fun and unavoidable teaser poster

campaign; you paint a Concorde blue; and then you import, from an agency

with the pedigree of BBDO, what is reputed to be one of the most

expensive commercials ever made. And it’s a real dog’s dinner.

Have you seen the Pepsi ad? All these alleged 20th-century icons - from

James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause red jacket to Cindy Crawford herself

- get sucked up through the air and into a giant futuristic mixer

thingie and pop out as a blue Pepsi can at the other end. It’s not a bad

idea, but have you seen the effects? Terrible. It looks cheap, and you

just know it wasn’t. It’s so bad that some of the icons are actually

unrecognisable, leaving viewers bemused as to the idea. People I know

blame me - as if Campaign journalists make these ads - and demand to

know why the effects aren’t better; what’s that jacket? Why does a

motorbike fly into the air?

Hang on a minute. Aren’t these the very same people who are always

whingeing that ads are too slick and sophisticated? Now they’re

complaining because the effects aren’t slick enough.

The UK ad industry appears to have spawned a monster. The standard of

art direction and post-production special effects in ads is such that

viewers have come to expect higher production values in commercials than

in the programmes among which they nestle. Woe betide an advertiser

whose ad looks cheap. Actually, I’ll rephrase that: you’re fine if you

set out to make a cheap ad, or even a relatively expensive ad which is

supposed to look cheap in a hand-held, jittery camera, Golden-Wonder-

Pots-like way. However, woe betide an advertiser who spends a lot of

money making an ad designed to look expensive that ends up looking cheap

or messy - Vauxhall Vectra and the last but one British Airways spot.

The dominance of technique over idea is such that sometimes even ads

with a strong idea have it obscured by the cleverness of the film-

making. Think back again to Campaign’s recent Nation’s Favourite Ads

feature. The ads at the top of the table - Safeway, Walkers,

Barclaycard, PG Tips - all have wonderfully simple ideas at their heart.

So do most of the ads in the top 20, whether the industry cares to like

them or not. There is a place for brilliant art direction and post

production, but they all exist to serve the idea. Let’s keep it simple.