Private view: Caitlin Ryan and Jim Thornton


Caitlin Ryan

Executive creative director, Cheil London

In a research paper presented recently, two computer scientists, David Bamman at UC Berkeley and Noah Smith at the University of Washington, describe creating a system capable of recognising instances of sarcasm on Twitter. The system includes wider context such as timing, the author’s previous content and other subsequent cultural events – not just relying on linguistic cues, which was previously the only, and largely inadequate, approach for a computer to detect sarcasm. 

I mention it only because I wonder, as an industry, as we dance around our handbags trying to define and defend content, if the other "C" word – context – is the one we should be obsessing about. 

And I mention that only because, when I am asked to do Private View or judge at awards shows, I can’t help feeling the lack of context makes it a fairly futile exercise for anything but the most traditional of advertising. 

This week’s bag is the usual line-up of traditional ads but hidden in there is a more interesting piece of work, if you understand the context in which it is seen. Land Rover (5) is using Instagram as its media platform and has created eight films that coincide with one of the eight hours of daylight we get in winter.  Private View only sent one and, besides being quite nicely shot, is unremarkable. But, as I took up most of my word count to explain, I suspect that is because I am not seeing the campaign in its entirety or in context.  

Next up, HomeAway (3). Imagine coming home from a well-earned holiday, feeling a bit tired, a bit sad and, after flying at the back of the plane on an economy airline, a bit over the human race – only to find a large and yellowing big-toe nail clipping on top of your bed sheets. That happened to me. That’s what happens when you share your house on Airbnb. It was the first time we had tried it and I discovered this about myself: I don’t like sharing. Which is why I do love this piece of work. It is great spiky insight, beautifully cast, shot and delivered. I also like it because it is a generous idea. It could start a movement – the "people who don’t like sharing their bed" movement. 

Pizza Hut (4). A difficult brief in that it is not unique and one that suggests shouting is needed to get attention – in this case, to a BIG DEAL. I am so over brands shouting at me. Reach me when I need you and you won’t have to shout. You’ll be able to whisper. An injection of humour helps but I am not sure it won’t just be lost in a tsunami of all the other shouty brands. 

Popchips (1). Easy to understand in any context: funny, sweet, clever and a lovely fresh insight into what we think about "diet" food – because nobody likes a Gwyneth. 

Is it just me or does the new line for Coca-Cola (2), "Taste the feeling", make anybody else feel a little bit of sick in their mouth? I am not sure I want to taste a feeling. I am not convinced "feelings" taste good at all. And I loved "Open happiness". How do you beat "Open happiness"? 

I was having coffee with a director recently who lamented the number of mind-numbingly dull "mood film" advertisement scripts they are now receiving. You know – let’s use beautiful people consuming our product, layer on a catchy new-release soundtrack and meaningful key words to capture the brand personality. Ummm. Coke, anyone?


Jim Thornton

Creative director, VCCP

It seems only appropriate that, in the week the 2016 feature film remake of Dad’s Army is premièred, I find myself becoming more and more nostalgic for those blissful days of yore.

It seems I have finally reached that age when the best of times seems to be permanently Saturday evening, illuminated by the flickering reassurance of an open fire, filled with the heady aroma of a Birds Eye boil-in-the-bag cod in butter sauce and soundtracked by the theme tune of Doctor Who.

It’s all bollocks, of course. Modern British life is phenomenal beyond even the wildest dreams of those of us who had the misfortune to live through the 70s. (With the honourable exception of 1971, the greatest year for music ever. Oh, and 1972, when Stoke won the League Cup. Then there’s 1973… You see? These rose-tinted spectacles can be so very alluring…)

Britain in the 21st century may be far from perfect but, while it’s disappointing still not being able to commute in from Sussex via jetpack, as promised by The Sunday Times, just about every other facet of modern life is way better than it was then. And while there are some who will tell you advertising was also better then, it really wasn’t. For every John Webster-, Alan Parker- or Ridley Scott-penned campaign that graced our screens, there was just as much crap polluting public life than as now. 

What is true, though, is that the industry was less professionalised then. There was little or no formal training, which meant people could fall into the job from just about anywhere. And, as a result, there was little or none of this hard data, endless strategising, tomes of messaging hierarchy matrices, 18 months spent on positioning statements… I could go on. And on. And on.

In short, there was a lot less input and a lot more intuition. An instinctive understanding that, in the end, businesses would be transformed by advertising that appealed to the same basic emotions and desires human beings had been driven by since creation: namely, the desire to laugh, cry, learn, have sex, eat, drink and have more sex. There is an increasing tendency to forget this simple truth and bury it under reams of theorising. But at least some of this week’s advertising goodies prove that strong, simple, entertaining work can still slip through the nets of the snake-oil salesmen and their elixirs of faux-scientific poison.

Popchips (1) is a good example, demonstrating a simple understanding of middle-class neurosis vis-à-vis healthy snacking, expressed with honesty, simplicity and self-deprecating wit.

Pizza Hut (4) is another. A sweet idea that nails the deal, knows its audience and which will hopefully be allowed to grow and mature into a strong, long-running campaign.

HomeAway (3) is at least a simple, entertaining idea wittily told. But I can’t help feeling that, for all the focus groups and strategising, they have ended up solving a problem that really isn’t a problem unless, like them, you bizarrely think Airbnb is the only competition.

The latest iteration of Land Rover (5) "#hibernot" is sadly nowhere near as good as the original. It’s a great media idea in search of an equally interesting story. A shame, as I love the thought.

Which just leaves the latest mood-film-masquerading-as-advertising from Coca-Cola (2). Which is this week’s exception to my rule and proves that, as far as Coke is concerned at least, advertising really was better in the 70s.