Is ’Labour isn’t working’ really the best poster of the
You can only have fun arguing about it - which is part of the point of
books like Campaign’s 100 Best Posters of the Century. The other is to
provide a historical record.
Should this year’s Campaign Poster Awards top prize-winner, Sony
PlayStation’s ’nipples’, be in it? In my opinion, yes. It confirms to
the basic rule of the best posters then and now: keep it simple.
’Nipples’ knows its target consumer, and will alienate only those who
would never buy a PlayStation.
I know not everyone will approve. This was self-evident from the 100
Best Posters jury judging day back in the summer.
Under the excellent Ron Brown’s wise stewardship, the jury found an
extraordinary degree of accord regarding the best work from the first 60
years of the century. Then it got lively.
A cynic might suggest that from the 70s onwards we were judging the
jury’s own work and that of their rivals, so things became more
subjective. I’d suggest there was something less Machiavellian afoot.
The real problems began with the 80s and 90s ads. By definition, there
hasn’t been time for the drip-feed of retrospective approbation.
However, there’s a larger issue.
The UK ad industry is very hung up on the notion of the ’idea’. It was
at the heart of Amanda Walsh’s speech on the Oriana. The implication was
that many music-dominated or visual-only ads lack an idea. But what does
’an idea’ mean? In UK adland, it’s regarded as a truth or claim made
about a brand and expressed in a single hit. That hit is often disguised
in British advertising with a verbal or visual pun. As Axel Chaldecott
suggested in a stimulating letter last week, it’s time to reconsider
what we mean by an idea.
Consider ’fcuk’. It was slammed as ’just a cheap pun’ when it first
Which, of course, it is. ’Where’s the idea, luv?’ was the sub-text. To
me, the idea is in the attitude. In this regard, fcuk is like much
successful fashion advertising. Look at Gap, and - arguably - Benetton.
Perhaps this is why so few agencies crack fashion or youth clients. They
want to ’advertisify’ the work. But it’s obvious that thousands of new
young French Connection consumers are able to relate to an idea in fcuk.
Likewise the legion of PlayStation aficionados.
The joy of the poster medium is that it continually challenges
advertising practitioners to pare down their messages. The best
contemporary poster campaigns may now have gone further: they have
managed to dispense with the formal advertising idea as we knew it. We
should indeed acknowledge the lasting brilliance of ’Labour isn’t
working’, The Economist and Benson & Hedges, but ideas didn’t die with
the 80s. They’re just different. And, that’s something to celebrate, not