OPINION: Phillips on ... Bandwagons

Edgy. It’s the watchword of the day. You go to a meeting about a script and they say: ’We want it edgy. Know what we mean?’ And you know exactly what they mean.

Edgy. It’s the watchword of the day. You go to a meeting about a

script and they say: ’We want it edgy. Know what we mean?’ And you know

exactly what they mean.

They mean nothing too pretty, just natural light - or looking like it -

with ’real’ people with real ’attitude’. A bit Loaded and if we can have

a smidgen of cutting-edge snogging chucked in so much the better.

And what about some dialogue that’s, you know, like real ’street’?

Know what I mean? Of course you do. And the reason we understand each

other so well is that this is the look of the moment. This is the style

that today’s commercials are wearing. You see them in every commercial


But edgy? Hardly. It might have been Vivienne Westwood once, but it’s a

lot more Top Shop now. Safe. Middle of the road. What everybody is


Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with being middle of the

road. In fact, for a product like Oxo, one famous old brand now sporting

the contemporary style, it’s possibly exactly where you should be.

Neither am I complaining about the look itself. Far from it. For the

right script it can be brilliant. Totally appropriate and utterly


No, what I’m bitching about is that so many people seem to be just

jumping on the bandwagon. Because in advertising, when the whole idea is

to stand out from the crowd, surely it’s absolutely fundamental that

bandwagons are to be conspicuously avoided.

The other day I was in somebody’s office and on his wall he had a famous

quote of Bill Bernbach’s: ’If your advertising goes unnoticed,

everything else is academic.’ Who could argue with that? ’Be different’

must be the first rule of advertising. Yet all too often it is the first

thing to be forgotten.

Which brings me to a couple of campaigns that, at least in regard to

being different, seem to me to be getting it right.

One is the PJ O’Rourke commercial for British Airways. It presses all

the right viewer buttons and stood out a mile from all the other winners

at the recent British Television Advertising Awards. It was - is -

unapologetically an ad, making no concession to the voguish notion that

today’s consumer is too wise to the ways of advertising to be sold to,

or to the fad for realism. And it is all the fresher for it.

And then there is Barclays. Suddenly, from among all the dreary,

unrelenting sameness, out pops a campaign that is astonishingly

different in concept and execution. It is so utterly unexpected to see

an advertiser daring to make a virtue out of being big that it cannot

but claim your attention.

Whether your average bank customer is impressed by ’bigness’ I really

haven’t a clue, but it certainly sets Barclays apart from all the


Inevitably this campaign is going to cause quite a stir and, sadly,

spawn a host of imitations. But I’d like to think that one of its side

effects might be to remind a few people to stop trying to be trendy and

do the opposite.

What Barclays screams out is not just ’big’, but the message that, in

advertising, bucking the trend is what it is all about.

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