Perhaps telling the truth is not such a crazy idea, after all
A view from Andrew Melsom

Perhaps telling the truth is not such a crazy idea, after all

Aviva is going to stop being quite so funny in its advertising and the insurance company will now be more emotional in the way it talks to consumers. This is after consid­erable research that confirms a negative perception in the sector. A new campaign platform around "little things matter" with Paul Whitehouse in more meaningful and heartfelt vignettes will promote a better image for the company. It certainly has a responsible mix of gooeyness and humour. But does it reflect the actualité?

Over Christmas, I looked again at Crazy People, the 1990 film with Dudley Moore, in which he is sent to a mental institution by his agency employer when he decides that all consumers will respond better to the truth. Maybe you remember: "The French can be annoying, so come to Greece. We’re nicer." Cars got quite an airing: "Volvo: big and boxy but gets you there." And "Porsche: too small to get laid in, but you will get laid shortly afterwards." Dudley finishes up recruiting his fellow inmates to create a completely insane agency and the subsequent pitch to the Japanese Sony client is a cinematic gem.

Nearly 25 years after Crazy People, the best viral content hits the rich seam that acknowledges consumers "get" that there are people whose job it is to work in agencies and make products a success. A customer can now access the "truth" of a brand’s service delivery five minutes after it has been sold for the first time. When a client allows an agency to be slightly playful with a brand, there seem to be no grim consequences of confronting or even showing reality. The Caroline Williams Bodyform video created by Carat – "We lied to you, Richard… it’s a metaphor" – has been hit on 3.6 million times. The new Fiat "orgasm-faker, peace-maker… swapped my sexy handbag for a snot-stained sack" viral from Krow and Rubber Republic is multiplying manifestly at the time of writing. Are we being too earnest? Would it be possible for a bank, for example, to come out and say the most difficult truth and confront what everyone feels about it? "We know you hate us so we’re closing down your branch and we’ll make it difficult for you to leave. Yay!"

In 1990, people despised their telephone companies and the Crazy People in Dudley’s film responded with "We’re tired of your crap" addressing all their complainants. Perhaps there’s even wider scope for truths in media selection when an FMCG brand sits uncomfortably in some wayward online space: "We don’t know why we’re here, but our agency said we would be admired for being really hip and for showing innovation." It may not work for an insurance company or for someone in our office who said: "If a guy says he’s a bit of a ladies’ man, and said he sleeps with loads of women but never calls them afterwards, I probably wouldn’t go out with him."

Andrew Melsom is a senior partner at Agency Insight