As I sat watching the razor-sharp Johnny Vaughan and his
irrepressible foil, Denise van Outen, the other morning, I got to
puzzling over the ad breaks. Or, perhaps I should say, the ad breaks
One, in particular, stood out. It opened with some kitsch 50s-style
footage whereby a man in a cardigan with a guitar stands serenading his
six wives on the sofa in front of him. Next up was a heavily art
directed spot featuring a man eyeing up a fly and a frog - or was it the
other way round? The music was, erm, kitsch.
The spots were for Levi’s and the Guardian respectively - although, in
truth, if the endframes had told told me they were for Labatt beer, I’d
have been no less mystified.
It set me thinking about the advertising we like. This time, when I
write ’we’ I mean the bright young things populating the advertising and
media communtities and who set themselves up as arbiters of taste.
The wheel has come full circle from the overblown 80s and its obsession
with the glossy epic. Today, one tyranny has been replaced with
Currently, it’s the school of quirkiness that rules.
Examples abound both at the Sure ’Jonathan Ross’, Fanta and Tony’s
Freezer Cocktails end of kitsch, and at the near-ubiquitous cheapo,
knockabout style, seen most obviously for Batchelors (both Super Noodles
and Pasta ’n’ Sauce), Magic AM, Trebor Extra Strong (in fact, a great
deal of Mother’s output), Butterkist, First Direct and the rest of the
recent Levi’s campaign.
Not all quirky work undersells, of course. Ikea, for example, is kitsch
but it couldn’t possibly be for any other brand; Volkswagen’s work is
consistently (including the latest magnificent Polo ad) the ultimate in
understatement, but almost all of it could only be for VW.
The excellent DMB&B Maltesers series featuring friends and lovers
fooling around with Maltesers is the most memorable campaign in years
for the Mars brand, and has got across lightness with a delicious
Understatement need not mean underselling. But too often the latter is
confused with the former. Grey’s Fairy Liquid ad is understated and
proves we don’t need Nanette Newman to get the point.
Much of the award-winning US work at Cannes this year also relied on
knockabout fun: for example, the Grand Prix-winning Nike campaign
managed the knack of selling and entertaining.
Where’s this all going? Well, I worry that when the great clients high
up in their New York eyries look down on their global business empires,
our obsession with the quirky and our general unease about selling,
makes it easier for them to dismiss the UK marketplace as an oddity, a
In other words, not a place where the major international campaigns will
be created - so further diminishing London’s power. So, relish our
quirky local campaigns, I’m really not saying that they’re bad, it’s
more that I’m not sure how much longer many of them will exist.
There is a certain relentlessness to the march of regional, if not
global, campaigns. Given that, the UK needs to be creating them.
I may be completely wrong, what do you think?