OPINION: A negative reaction to your ad is better than none at all - Nick Johnston-Jones believes it’s impossible for anyone to decide what makes an ad good or bad. The biggest bugbear of creatives is total indifference to their work

First reactions are notoriously untrustworthy. Time Out’s first review of the Quentin Tarantino film, Pulp Fiction, was a tepid affair.

First reactions are notoriously untrustworthy. Time Out’s first

review of the Quentin Tarantino film, Pulp Fiction, was a tepid


Fast forward a couple of years and it’s number one on its list of the

100 greatest movies of all time.

The reviewer gave us his opinion, informed by his experience of films

and film reviewing. It just so happened that, in this instance, the

film’s massive popularity ran counter to his judgement.

I watched a room full of agency people copping their first look at

Blackcurrant Tango’s ’St George’epic. A few liked it, a few didn’t.

Nobody seemed quite sure.

A week later - and a tidal wave of industry approbation - everyone knew

it off by heart and was reciting it like Monty Python’s dead parrot


Yet so many ads live or die by their first exposure in reviews,

presentations and day-after recall. Still more are watered down to

appease their detractors.

However analytically we try to evaluate creative work, the commonest

measure by far is gut reaction. Do we like it? Will the punters? Will

the marketing director and the chairman’s wife?

Folklore has it that Heineken bombed in research before becoming the

most successful beer campaign of all time.

Everyone loved the Joan Collins and Leonard Rossiter Cinzano campaign

but it was canned because (more folklore) people bought Martini.

So how can we be sure that anything’s any good? You either have or

develop a nose for good ideas and good advertising, then get paid to

exercise it, personally and collectively. But the truth is, you can’t be

sure because, whatever anyone reckons, it might be tosh. And even then,

perversely, it might be good in ways you never imagined. Consider the


Second interview time for undergrads. One after another, candidates

stand up and present ads to the selection panel. Predictably, up pop

Nike, Durex Select, Volkswagen and other distinguished members of the

’nice work, fella’ school of advertising.

Predictably, we get very bored very quickly being told how great they

are. It was the candidates’ willingness to pitch from the bunch at the

arse-end of the spectrum that really grabbed interest and, in

particular, one who elected to sell a truly shocking piece of detritus

for a well-known brand of chewing gum.

The ad in question defied every rule of good advertising. There were

about four propositions (extra minty, extra fresh, extra this, extra

that, good for your teeth). It tried - excruciatingly - to get on the

side of youth by starring a cheesy hunk and his sidekick mixing special

effects at a rock concert. Most important, it was just completely


But herein lay its genius, argued our candidate. It was so bad it was


It emerged, stinking, from a toilet of dreadfulness, like Ewan McGregor

in Trainspotting triumphantly brandishing his suppository.

You couldn’t help but notice it. Its awfulness commanded your attention.

Through badness it achieved distinction, which is half the battle.

Ferrero Rocher’s ’ambassador’s reception’ was cited as further evidence

of an ad whose sheer risibility has catapulted it to cult status.

Apparently, ambassador’s reception parties are all the rage in student

circles. Makes you think.

Recent research into a campaign close to my heart showed that roughly

half the sample loved the ads, but the other half hated them. This is an

excellent outcome. Indifference is the worst reaction and there’s enough

vanilla-flavoured advertising out there anyway.

But will the brand manager see it this way? I fear not.

There again, everything I’ve written here might be garbage. But who’s to


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