Joint chief creative officer,
Odd is back. Tortoises on skateboards, a man with an Extra Strong Mint for a head and, disturbingly, a fully grown man sucking on the impressively erect nipple of a super-hero. I kid you not.
From an industry point of view, it’s good to see. Advertising is in a confident, buoyant place when clients are prepared to prioritise entertainment over didactic box-ticking. The biggest crime we can commit is blandness, so anything that makes our work more interesting and watchable is good. So long as we can justify it with even the smallest amount of reason.
So let’s start with the very strange Thunderhead. Love it or hate it, you can’t help but remember it. Even if it leaves images in your mind you just don’t want, like the aforementioned suckling. It starts well enough – the unsettling way that the opening scene is shot, the woman’s slightly unkempt hair and the half-finished dialogue are not your average commercial fare, which is nice to see. But then a muscle-bound wrestler-type bloke turns up and starts breast-feeding a salesman and everyone does a hammy celebratory dance. Now, you have to have a really good reason to do that in a commercial and I’m just not sure it’s there. What is Thunderhead? What is happening? I really don’t know and I’m left feeling a little traumatised. To be fair, it’s not a commercial you can just fast-forward through and no doubt people will want to know what Thunderhead is but, when they find out, I’m not sure they will feel the bizarreness was justified.
Next up is Trebor. It seems you’re either an Extra Strong Mint person or a Softmint person and we are encouraged to choose our mint. We have seen this kind of strategy before but, rather than rationally talking about the merits of Strong verses chewy, we see a son plucking up the courage to tell his father he prefers Softmints – only for it to be revealed that his father actually has an Extra Strong Mint for a head. It’s difficult to dislike a brand for such a wonderfully juvenile idea. Trebor is having fun with its audience and I’m sure will find many fans for it.
In the past, Cadbury has delighted us with the beautifully odd gorilla playing on a drum kit. Sometimes ideas are so brilliantly leftfield that logic and reason just have to give way to sheer unadulterated entertainment. This is a bit of a tough yardstick to judge any commercial by but, unfortunately for Cadbury Dairy Milk Oat Crunch, comparisons are difficult to avoid. The deadpan performances carry it through, but I am left a little in no-man’s land between rational messages such as the 11am eating occasion to relieve the boredom of my everyday life and the fun bit – two women playing the spoons.
Virgin Money doesn’t worry too much about the rational. Just two simple titles: "There’s money. Then there’s Virgin Money." Then I’m left to enjoy a skateboarding tortoise. It’s not an award-winner, but the brand comes through with strong character, as ever. And I’m left feeling that Virgin Money is just a bit younger and more dynamic than other financial institutions, and you can’t ask for much more from a TV spot.
And, finally, The Sunday Times Rich List. This is how ad campaigns used to be. Great, simple dramatisations of an idea we have got to know and love. This execution continues that fine tradition. It may not be as clever as some of the others in the campaign, but it’s graphic, fun and reminded me to buy the paper at the weekend. Job done.
Co-executive creative director,
Sunday morning and I’ve got one eye on the telly. It’s the Virgin Money London Marathon and I’m looking out for Terry, our head of traffic – hoping he doesn’t beat my time. Haruki Murakami explains in his book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running that the disciplines required for distance running are the same as those required for writing. I wonder if the same is true for writing ads. Let’s see…
First to burst through the finish tape is a pacy little Trebor ad. Just 30 seconds long and almost every shot either shows or name-checks mints. It’s weird, funny, unexpected and relevant. It’s wall-to-wall product and great for it. Even the way the packshot arrives is fun. The team who made this clearly put the miles in over winter. They’ve written a tidy script that’s nicely shot and well-edited. In running terms, it’s an "elite" – not quite a Kenyan. It won’t smash any world records, but it’s a clear winner this week.
Next over the line, huffing and puffing a bit too much, is Cadbury Dairy Milk Oat Crunch. This one is also humorous and a bit odd, and it’s even the same client: Mondelez International. But the Cadbury spot just can’t keep pace with Trebor. Cadbury’s "fun in your break" campaign is starting to look a bit tired now too. This one features two slightly demented dinner ladies playing spoons. It’s too reminiscent of Cadbury Dairy Milk’s "eyebrows", for me. Where the Trebor ad cleverly weaves the product throughout the story, this spot doesn’t and ends up a bit generic as a result.
Talking of ignoring the product, here comes Virgin Money, the marathon sponsor, with its ad. I get it. Financial services can be a bit dull. Boring, even. But isn’t that where we earn our keep? Aren’t we supposed to find a way to make it… not boring? Sure, a skateboarding tortoise isn’t boring. But neither is it insightful, clever or particularly funny. Angus [Macadam, the co-executive creative director at Mcgarrybowen] and I have skateboards on a blacklist of things not allowed in scripts. This ad reminds me why. In marathon terms, it’s an ill-prepared amateur in a giant rubber tortoise suit. It seemed fun to begin with but, at about mile 12, heat exhaustion sets in and it starts to feel a bit foolish.
The Sunday Times Rich List is a surprise straggler. Last year, it put in a very respectable performance. Unfortunately, yo-yos lack the wit, charm and comedy of the fat cats campaign. Especially missing is the craft this time around. Plonking caricatures of celebrity heads on to yo-yos feels a little, well… plonky. Let’s hope that, next year, this campaign bounces back to smash its PB.
In last place is Thunderhead. Two whole minutes and still I don’t have the first clue what Thunderhead actually is. This ad is proper mental. But not good mental like the Trebor ad; it’s bad mental – confusing and annoying mental. Hey, look, I’m just as happy as the next guy to watch some car salesman suckling from the tattooed teat of a warrior god. I just need to know why I’m watching it. It’s every bit as awkward as Paula Radcliffe’s roadside poo in the 2005 London Marathon. But the comparison stops there. Paula went on to win. Thunderhead stumbles jelly-legged and bewildered over the line, not sure what it’s doing or who it is any more.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, Terry didn’t beat my time.
Next year, eh, Tel?