Chairman and director of creativity, Havas Worldwide London
In 2008, Brandon Flowers challenged us with: "Are we human? Or are we dancer?" Now, a scant six years later, Ringan Ledwidge uses the pages of Campaign to ask: "Are we creative? Or are we conduit?" Whereas The Killers’ frontman was posing the imponderable, Mr Ledwidge has put his finger on the key advertising question de nos jours.
Do we create engaging content celebrating the brand and its place in a fully realised life, or are we merely the mealy mouthpieces of the marketing department’s comms-prop agenda?
The most cursory viewing of a night’s commercial TV will, I fear, reveal more of the latter than the former. "Just tell consumers we’re here. Oh, and tell them that we care."
Total has elected to tell us how much it cares rather than show us any evidence of environmental best practice. It has selected the trusty tedium of the staff vox-pop vignette. You’ve seen it all before, so I don’t have to tell you what greenwash tosh this is. I guess we should just shake our heads and move on, but wait a minute. It pisses me off. I’m not a genius, I work in advertising, but does Total really think we’re all such credulous cretins that it can patronise us like this? I can forgive the execution; those people were just conduits. It’s the attitude, the laziness, the sheer contempt behind this work that make it genuinely offensive.
Similarly, I don’t blame the agency behind the Beagle Street spot. The client didn’t exactly give it a whole lot to work with. "Life insurance can be a bit of a nightmare." Really? Is that all you’ve got? Apparently, yes. That’s your insight right there. This is "life insurance. Reborn." WTF! I know this is supposed to be an "awareness" campaign, but what possible incentive has it given me to follow up online? A nostalgic love of the Gremlins? If we let "awareness" become the sum total of our ambition, then we’re all going out of business. Come on, guys, we’re better than this.
Now, I’m not a big fan of any ad that involves dressing up. It’s all a bit too theatrical for me, but I know the Royal London campaign has its admirers. You’ve certainly got to admire its blood and, crucially, guts. Underneath the filthy crinolines and pyrotechnics, this Gilliamesque view of the bad olden days lands some serious and differentiating product points. Beagle Street, take note.
Speaking of beagles (I have no shame), KLM has employed one of these cute little dogs to exemplify its exemplary customer service on the ground. Like all online films, this one goes on for a bit too long, but there’s plenty to enjoy as the mutt goes about his business retrieving lost property and generally being, er… cute. Of course, not everyone is pleased to see these little sniffer dogs at the airport. Thankfully, we are spared the vignette of Mr Beagle thrusting his cute little snout between the buttocks of the hapless traveller who left a gak-packed condom up his arse by mistake.
Are you homeless? Are you having an affair? If the answer is "yes" to either question, you may be in the small catchment that looks forward to a visit to a Crowne Plaza hotel. This print campaign illustrating the little differences that make up the Crowne experience is unlikely to broaden appeal beyond that demographic.
Don’t shoot me. I’m just the messenger.
Chief strategy officer,
I’ve just had a long two days in Sheffield and I’ve got a stinker of a cold, so I’m really hoping for some cheerful ads to watch with a glass of red wine and some Day Nurse.
So, here we go.
Total. Last week, when the Sainsbury’s "fifty pence challenge" went viral, it was further proof that there’s no such thing as internal communications any longer. This ad also looks like a piece of internal communications that mistakenly made its way into the public domain. I’m sure it went down a storm with the employees, but I’m afraid it didn’t do very much for me. Cheerful music, though.
Next up, two ads about death (or, rather, life insurance). Just what you want when you feel like death.
Royal London. An ad all about people dying in a vaguely Blackadder-ish style. Sounds promising, but it really challenged my powers of concentration. (Though that could have been the effect of the Night Nurse.) To be honest, by the end, I’d completely forgotten the claim it made in the middle. But I do remember it made a claim. And I quite liked the line: "We’re so yesterday."
Beagle Street. No beagles in sight. Disappointing. Instead, this featured a strange Gremlin that sneezed (or at least I think that was what it was doing). So I could relate to it straight away. But the insurance category is now so full of "funny" characters, from meerkats to Churchill dogs to admirals, that it has become a bit of cliché. A bit weird, but not quite weird enough for a cult following.
Crowne Plaza. Some nice enough print ads, which sell all the little details the hotel looks after. Having just spent a night in a hotel in Sheffield, I guess I’m the target-market business traveller, if not a travel-booker. Maybe it’s just because I’ve got a cold, but these all felt a little, well, cold – and just a bit antiseptic. All very sensible, but where’s my cheerful welcome, inviting bath, snuggly pillows and well-stocked minibar?
Last up, KLM. My favourite by a long chalk. I have to confess that I’m a sucker for cute dogs, so this piece of online content did have an unfair advantage (wasn’t that a beagle, by the way?). It’s not the best thing it has ever done, but I really admire the way KLM has built a different shape of communications, using social to get closer to customers and to surprise and delight them. Despite the fact that this was a spoof and despite all my musings about whether a sniffer dog might find more interesting stuff in Amsterdam airport than some kid’s teddy, this still felt a lot more authentic than the rest of this week’s work.