Executive creative director,
It’s a pretty uneven selection of ads I am reviewing this week.
They are all very different from each other from both a thematic and a stylistic point of view. I tried really hard to find a connection, even if tenuous, between them. Nothing came up. I couldn’t think of anything that thematically would bring everything together. Until I took my emotional reaction to them into consideration, and I realised the one thing all these campaigns have in common: I find them all quite disturbing. Disturbing in very different ways: creatively and tonally.
I find it quite disturbing to imply that anyone would put a big endangered live animal – such as a giraffe or a sumo wrestler – into a tiny storage room. What is going on here? What’s the subtext of this Big Yellow Self Storage Company campaign? Is it a commentary on animal cruelty? Is it exposing human trafficking? Are those tiny metal (and very affordable, I hear) boxes ever used for illicit activities? Should the police investigate? This campaign made me feel really uncomfortable both as a people and animal lover.
I especially love dogs so, at first, I didn’t find the Mars film disturbing at all. Actually, I was quite intrigued and entertained. It’s really funny, well-crafted and insightful: it depicts one of those typical one-updogmanship situations that so frequently happen at the park. It’s all going well, building to an absurdly delightful finale… but then what happens? The pan-flute-playing dog is not rewarded for his massive effort – instead, its owner gets the treat in the form of a chocolate bar. What the hell, I say. On second thoughts, though, giving chocolate to dogs could kill them so, actually, go Mars. You’ve got me.
The Prince’s Trust campaign is probably my favourite here: very well-written and very well-shot. There’s nothing funny about it. What’s disturbing is, obviously, the subject matter – underprivileged kids and unemployment – and the pretty convincing realistic tone of it all. In my opinion, it’s always remarkable when you tackle a social issue like that by producing a really good piece. I like this campaign because whoever made it chose beauty and intelligence over shock value.
Speaking of which, the Harrison’s Fund "I wish my son was a dog" campaign is very, very disturbing. I’m not sure what to think of it: it’s right and wrong at the same time; it’s good and bad at the same time. It’s judgmental and passive-aggressive but also honest, in a way, and very effective. I’m never convinced by this kind of tactics. They work and they make people talk, but sensationalism is always so ephemeral. For the record, I would personally have clicked on the dog banner and then felt deceived, not inspired.
Finally, the one film that, for me, is the most disturbing of all: the Halls ad. I’m really not sure about it. Not sure also because it reminds me of a lot of Vigorsol films. In any case, I’ll break it down for you. A slightly "ethnic" moustached biker eats a mint at a traffic light and then exhales similarly moustached polar bears in the general direction of a child sitting in the back of a family car. Fortunately, the car’s window is up, so the "ethnicised" polar bears fail to reach the kid… and possibly infect him? What is going on here? Are we led to believe that having a moustache –and weird foreign accent – is a transmittable disease? Disturbing, Halls. Disturbing.
It’s my 40th year in advertising this year. Bleedin’ hell, that went a bit sharpish. That impending milestone has started me thinking about the kind of ads that got me fluffed up about getting into this business in the first place. I can still remember my favourite ads from 40 years ago; actually, I can still remember some of them from well over 50 years ago. As a small kid, I could list the many virtues of the Esso Blue dealer versus the Farrow’s peas crow or even Primo the premium tea bear. Later on, when my taste matured a bit, I revelled in the sophisticated delights of the Milk Tray man and the Super National "getaway people". "You hum it, son. I’ll play it", "Nice one, Cyril", "I’m only here for the beer", "Lipsmackinthirstquenchinacetastin motivatingoodbuzzincooltalkinhighwalkinfastlivin evergivincoolfizzin Pepsi".
I could fill this column up with happy memories from ancient ad breaks. What’s that got to do with my current Private View? Well, on first viewing, I actually liked all the ads I saw and then I got to thinking: would I remember them next week, let alone in half-a-century? To test myself a bit, I looked at the ads once and then wrote this piece three days later.
Halls. A quirky-looking bloke on a motorbike pulls up at the traffic lights and pops a sweet into his mouth. He breathes out computer-generated polar bears that bounce off the car next to him. I remember a really funny voiceover but I can’t recall what it said. It will probably stay with me until I see an ad that features juggling CG bears wearing top hats next week.
I remember posters from years ago too. "Drinka pinta milka day", "Unzipp a banana", "Beanz meanz Heinz" and "What we want is Watneys" are just a few of the lines that spring to mind.
The Big Yellow Self Storage Company is a good old-fashioned poster campaign. Nice images illustrating a simple message, although I do remember thinking they might have benefited from substituting the headline with the small sign-off line in the bottom right-hand corner.
Mars. On the surface, a dog playing pan pipes seems to be yet another ad inspired by the countless animal clips on YouTube. It’s pretty funny, though, so I’ll probably remember it for a while.
Prince’s Trust. I’ve been thinking about this spot for a few days now and which of these unfortunate youngsters I’d consider for a job. There’s a smart lad neatly doing up his tie while his mum is wasted in the background. He’d definitely get a second interview. There’s also a bright boy who shows his quick thinking by escaping from a pursuing gang by leaping on to a moving car and then up over a garage roof. I’m not so sure about the terrifying lass who professes to be a hard-worker, though. "Yes, I believe you. Now please leave the building."
Harrison’s Fund. "I wish my son was a dog" looks like a dog charity ad but, as I recall, it’s actually for a young boy with a rare medical condition. It’s a good thought well-executed, but it’s not the kind of ad that I would have responded to. I’m generally more drawn to those donkeys with the overgrown hooves. Thinking about it, it’s funny that I can only remember a handful of charity ads from yesteryear, despite the fact that it’s usually easier to dramatise a worthy cause as opposed to a tin of baked beans.
So, overall, a pretty good bunch of ads. Are they memorable enough? I dunno – ask me again in 50 years’ time.