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.