Executive creative director,
It’s January. January is shit. Largely because we always make ourselves do horrible January stuff. We try to right Christmas wrongs. We grab handfuls of tummy and quietly murmur: "I’m disgusting." We make resolutions. We show restraint. It isn’t easy. On the way to work last Monday morning, some bloke threw himself under a train. That was cheery. Basically, we’re all a bit vulnerable in January.
But, hey, that’s rich pickings for sophisticated behavioural change manipulators like you and me. Many of whom spent a constructive November shooting commercials that exploit such weaknesses. Good work, us.
Smokers. You’re disgusting. This campaign from Public Health England says: "If you could see the damage, you’d stop."
Interesting. Over the years, Paul Jordan and I worked a lot on government campaigns and know the only thing more important than telling the truth is showing the truth. So why haven’t they shown me the real damage? I can’t help feeling that would be more powerful than what I’m being shown here.
Virgin Active is anxious that I don’t just live, but that I live happily ever active. If they could, they would reach through the screen, grab my tummy, hold my gaze and murmur: "You’re disgusting." But, instead, they have made an ad I don’t quite understand. I like it. I just don’t really understand it. It’s one of those spots that’s giving it a bloody good go. None of the usual clichés. With a good sprinkling of Virgin sexy-dust. Good on them.
Gamblers. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves. And, by now, you’re probably getting mildly addicted to Paddy Power’s advertising. This campaign has been going a while but I’m still nowhere near tired of it. Frankly, it looks as much fun to write as it is to watch. It doesn’t tell me what Ball of Shame is, so I don’t particularly feel like downloading the app, but I’m sure proper geezers everywhere are properly geezing it.
Smokers. Did I mention you’re disgusting? But just imagine if someone cared enough about you to buy you an electronic cigarette and, you know, make you undisgusting. In this quite long spot, two mates have an unconvincing friendship and one buys the other an Njoy toy ciggie. Cheers, mate. I’m not sure the strategy is quite right here. I’ll choose when I’m giving up the fags, thank you very much. And I’ll certainly decide if and when I start publicly Njoying an electronic pretend cigarette.
Lastly, we have Hyundai. It’s not last because it’s the best. It isn’t the best. It’s last because it doesn’t fit my January vulnerability theme. To be honest, there are a few things I struggle with here, but the thing that bothers me most is the music. What’s going on with the music? The first spot in this campaign had The Chemical Brothers. This one’s more like The Everly Brothers. We all know how tricky music is – but come on. It’s like being in a lift at BHS. I just can’t imagine this track was the first choice of the director or the agency. Who chose this music? Maybe it was the bloke who jumped under that train.
So, if I was going to pick a winner for this week (come on, there’s always a winner), I reckon it’s Virgin Active, for its sheer pluck. Overall, there’s some compelling stuff here and ample reminder that we’re all disgusting. Happy New Year.
Executive creative director,
The joyful haze of another festive season has already faded against the bright lights of the new working year. Having let your mind roam free high on a heady mix of booze, mince pies and more booze, you think: "Yes! This year, it will all be different, better, inspiring, productive." This unfettered desire pervades your every wish. You hope it’s shared by your friends, your colleagues, your contemporaries.
Then, with alarming predictability, reality hits you like a sledgehammer. And forging new, untrodden ground no longer seems as easy as it did on 2 January. Suddenly, 2014 doesn’t seem all that different to 2013, and all the thoughts and stories we’re surrounded with seem to have an unnervingly familiar feel to them.
And so our five ads somehow feel recognisable, rather like that new-yet-same Christmas sweater you got from your granny – comfortable, understandable, easy to like, but difficult to love.
As a supporter of a once great team that saw their West Yorkshire pies turn a legendary goalscorer, Tony Yeboah, into popular figurative description, Paddy Power’s "Ball of Shame – fat watch" made me smile A quick read around the spot and you can see it has tickled a few fans pink. It’s a bit of Paddy comedy comfort to soothe the mood on these dark rainy days.
Meanwhile, Virgin Active’s "don’t just live, live happily ever active" certainly has the right strategic spirit. Thing is, I couldn’t help thinking the bloke in the ad is the forgotten Cuban Brother, the one who didn’t make it to the beach. Looking beyond the bare chest, my mind jumped to a conversation I had with a taxi driver about the importance of proper biking attire. You’ll be pleased to know the exact details are lost on me but, needless to say, you need a lot of full-length protective leather and carbon fibre to keep your skin on should you be removed from your speeding motorbeast. Once I had that in my head, "live happily ever" took on a completely different meaning. Yes, I know what it’s trying to do. It just doesn’t do it.
The stories behind automotive design are often interesting and inspiring. So I was surprised that this Hyundai ad reminded me of a John Lewis Christmas campaign circa 2009. Wanting to give it a fair crack, I watched it many times, wondering how an oar, an office chair and a trilby might have inspired this car’s design. As the collection of seemingly random items starts to pile up, you’re left feeling this engineering’s a real mess. New thinking? No, I don’t think so.
Thankfully, I’m not a smoker and, when pressed, will make my feelings clear about it: "Don’t fucking smoke." So Njoy’s "return the favour: friends don’t let friends smoke" wound me right up. Its Americana bromance, cliché-ridden narrative left me cold. Then, strangely after repeatedly needling it into my eyes, I started to think I must be a bad friend. So the next time a mate wants to quit, I should gift one of these fancy fidget sticks. Bah!
Public Health England gets straight to the point. Built on a simple premise: if you could see the damage smoking does to you, you’d stop. Well, after seeing this, you bloody well will. Reminiscent of the "fat-secreting cigarettes" spot circa 2008, this beauty of an ad doesn’t mess. It clearly shares the hidden effects of what is happening when you wheeze on that fag – and, yes, you feel repulsed. Enough to make you stop? I think so. Yes, it’s an old trick, but it’s the new year and no-one likes change.