There are a few phrases commonly used in this business which invariably make me suspicious. One of them is 'This is just a holding ad' which, translated, means: 'We haven't figured out what we want to do yet, but the client insists we get something out. So here it is'.
The last time I heard this phrase used was to describe the current Orange ad. I'm sure you know the one. Men and women - distinguished, like some secret sect, by a little orange square in the palms of their hands - saying various things such as: 'What's the latest score?', 'I know where the gigs are' and, most excruciatingly of all, 'I make my own world and take it with me ... (deeply meaningful pause) ... at all times'.
Although I first saw the ad about a month ago, you will struggle to find any mention of it in Campaign. 'Why haven't we written about it?' I asked the newsdesk. This is an ad that represents Lowe Lintas first work on perhaps the most significant account move of last year. Cue shuffling of feet by a Campaign reporter. 'They said it was a holding ad. They said could we leave this one and wait for the next one which would be their first real work.' How obliging we can be at times.
I, on the other hand, feel less obliging, not least because it seems so topical following the recent flotation of Orange.
After all, this past month has seen a profusion of Orange ads (by Dewe Rogerson, incidentally) designed to tell investors what a wonderful buy Orange shares would be. With a certain irony, the flotation campaign climaxed two weeks ago on the day that Orange's owner, France Telecom, decided it had to cut the price because of a sudden downturn in investor sentiment towards the sector. Oops, but then I guess there's not much any advertising can do when the tide is sweeping against you. 'All the investors are saying they like the brand,' the Financial Times quoted France Telecom's finance director as saying, 'but they want to pay a lower price.'
Talking of brands, however, you can't help wondering the extent to which investors are cognisant of the fact that none of the original architects of the Orange brand - Robin Wight of WCRS, Doug Hamilton of Wolff Olins, Hans Snook and the marketing team at Orange - are still present. Was this, you might ask mischievously, a factor in their reluctance to pay a full price for Orange's shares? Perhaps. Although smaller than Vodafone, the benchmark by which investors are measuring it, Orange was always a stronger brand.
But are those strengths being dissipated? Judging by the quality of the flotation ads they commissioned, I wouldn't have a lot of confidence in the judgment of the current marketing team at Orange. So David Bailey shot the flotation TV commercial, but even legends have been known to take the money and run sometimes.
You could argue too that the Lowe ad also raises questions about the quality of the marketing team's judgment. If I were to ask you what the ad is actually for, you might think that was a silly question. You might think it's an ad for a phone service, but it's not.It is, in fact, for a text messaging service. Register at Orange.com, load in your preferences (ie friends' birthdays, the weather and so on) and Orange will send messages to your phone. At least that's what I think they say they'll do.
Of course, it's early days in the relationship with Lowe, and this ad may genuinely represent a change in Orange's marketing strategy as opposed to a wrong step. Let's hope so, or we may have to lend some credence to stories that Lowe creatives are looking forward to working on a Griff Rhys-Jones brief.
Dead cert for a Pencil? Wouldn't even win an internal award.
Will it work? People will register. They always do.
What would the chairman's wife say? There's no excuse for forgetting our anniversary.