Opinion: Perspective - Adland should always find a home for the brave

Ah. My final Campaign column of the year. Next week we're publishing our Campaign Annual (price £6.00 from all good newsagents, but reduced rate for subscribers ... e-mail: subscriptions@haymarket.com to sign up).

So it seems quite timely that this issue is book-ended by two features on advertising present and past. On page 8, we've taken to the streets for an intensely superficial, but utterly representative barometer of what real people actually think of this year's crop of ads.

You won't be surprised to discover that outside adland, people actually find it quite difficult to spontaneously name their favourite - or their most hated - ad campaigns.

Of course, once consumers are faced with a supermarket shelf or a bay of second-hand cars, our industry's hard work will really kick in to do its job (yes, good advertising does work). But it's always salutary to remember that consumers don't obsess about advertising like some of us.

It's also pretty heartening to learn that plenty of normal people do talk about ads in the privacy of their own homes and have high expectations of the stuff they see between the TV programmes. And it's surely no coincidence that most of the people we spoke to interpreted "advertising" as stuff they see on television. Did anyone mention the word "digital" in an advertising context? Of course not.

At the other end of this week's issue you'll find our feature (again rigorously scientific) on the "Ten Bravest Ads Of All Time". In the article, Sir Frank Lowe ponders whether fear has castrated creativity: "Agencies have two aims these days: to hit their profit margins and to give clients whatever they think they want."

Now, the indomitable Sir Frank doesn't always talk the best of sense, but on the subject of current creativity, he's hard to argue with. Few agencies these days seem to be run on principled creative lines (or, indeed, run by creatives ... which may amount to the same thing). Those that still have a creative director/founder in the driving seat are notable for producing consistently good work (Fallon, Mother, Bartle Bogle Hegarty).

For the rest, there's some truth perhaps in the notion that the ad industry has "gone 'all health and safety', with clients clustering to the middle ground of their markets, while agencies feed them creative work that takes no risks, but rarely falls flat on its face either".

A romp through the brave ads in the feature is like taking a trip through adland's creative hall of fame. The benefit of hindsight plays a part, of course, but the advertising featured proved not just to be brave, but to be successful, too.

The good news for optimists is that one ad features not only in our vox pop, but also in our feature: Fallon's "gorilla" for Cadbury's Dairy Milk has clearly struck a chord with the public, but also takes a well-earned place in the brave ads list. No other ad this year has reaffirmed the value of what the ad industry does in quite the same way. "Gorilla" is brave, exciting, a phenomenon that has made people reappraise the Cadbury brand while being true to Cadbury's values.

Interestingly, "gorilla" - like the other brave ads - is advertising as a piece of entertainment: a film that wins permission to sell by amusing us.

Having sat through plenty of agency lunches and dinners this year, it seems that "entertainment" is where the best agencies are heading, broadening their scope well beyond advertising to stretch into content creation (TV shows, books, films, plays).

Creativity in adland is most clearly alive and kicking (see next week's Annual for a full tribute to the best work of the year); it's just that ads are not the only recipients of the outflow of creative talent these days. All of which bodes well for an interesting 2008.

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