It's widely accepted that there are only three ways to begin a Private View. The oldest, and most popular, is: "I'm writing this at ten o'clock on a Sunday night. As I sit at my desk, black rain pounds against the office window."
Next up is the ever-predictable: "My mother always said: 'If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.' This is going to be tricky, considering the motley crew I have in front of me."
A relatively new option, but one that's not to be sniffed at, is: "Cup the balls. Work the shaft."
Breaking with tradition, I'd like to ignore all three and start with a question. Is it fair that Campaign tells you which agencies have produced the work you're reviewing? After all, it seems to me that an agency's identity and people's perception of it may lead the witness somewhat.
Reviewers may be more likely to look favourably on an allegedly "hot" agency versus one that is supposedly not. Consumers just get to see the work - shouldn't we?
Take the first offering out of the goody bag today. My heart leaps when I spot the jaunty tartan VHS cover, which lets me know this little chap is from those damnably clever folks at Mother. Now, this is an agency I seriously admire (its new Frank work is about as good as it gets). Rubbing my hands with glee, I whack it in the VHS and settle back in a sensible yet comfortable chair.
But what's this? A new Pimm's (6) commercial and, sadly, nowhere near as good as the others. The jokes are flat and our loveable toff's suggestion of Pimm's with hot apple juice is, unlike the rest of the ad, laughable.
Next is an offering from Bartle Bogle Hegarty. Here's a classy agency on a roll and I can hardly wait to see its new Vodafone (4) commercial, "mayfly". Our friends in Kingly Street are so concerned with the fate of this little insect and the environment in general, they have decided to recycle one of their old Xbox ads for this spot. Laudable, though not very awards-friendly.
My heart sinks when I see my next contender is some online work for Barclays (1) from Dare. Dare? Who they? Well, actually, they are a group of bright people who have produced some very fine work for said bank. The silly inventions work really well on the web and are a fresh way of leading you to the real products.
Publicis is up next with its new va-va-voom-powered effort for the Renault (3) Clio (not to be confused with that other classic, "zoom, zoom, zoom", by those cheeky chaps at Mazda. Car advertising, hey?). The commercial tells us that this is a French car that's been created by British designers.
Personally, I couldn't give two hoots.
I miss the effortless class and style of Mr Henry. Along with Ian Wright, he's the only Gooner it's socially acceptable to like.
Moving along, I find myself staring at a DVD from Burkitt DDB. Perhaps not as funky a name as some of our earlier contestants, how will it fare by comparison? Rather well, if I'm being honest. It has done some idents for Energizer (5), which top and tail The Gadget Show. I always think that idents are like radio, done consistently badly by the majority of the industry, but that's not the case here. The boys and girls at Burkitt have had a good, simple idea, which has been well executed, and that's what makes these spots funny. Even the ones without dialogue work.
To finish, we have a print campaign for MasterCard (2). Now, I know this was done by McCann Erickson. Not because of the quality of the work, it's just I'm clued up on such matters. The idea is okay, but I'm afraid the art direction is a touch too Ukrainian mental institute for my liking.
AGENCY CHIEF - Laurence Green, managing partner, Fallon
Evolution explains everything, even the foibles of the advertising village. Despite our antipathy towards clients and researchers who do the same, show us some work and we just can't help ourselves: we'll most likely pick holes in it. Few ads, and even fewer agencies, beat the system. It turns out this is not a peculiar failure of our industry but evidence of a deeper human malaise.
It's as simple as this: the human brain is wired to look for what's wrong because it evolved in a time of adversity (forget procurement: I'm talking ice, flood and famine here). It secured our survival as a species, sure, but at a cost: we are biologically pre-disposed to find fault in the world around us. Evolution being what it is, this isn't changing any time soon: we'll be wrestling with the inner caveman for a good while yet. Can the work that follows suppress the primal urge to find what's wrong with it?
An agreeable insight and highly agreeable art direction nearly did me on MasterCard (2), but those survival techniques honed over millions of years soon kicked in. It's the "priceless" thought that did it: a campaign structure so rigid that I fear the audience is being worn down by its relentless repetition rather than won over by its admirable consistency.
Consistency is not one of the more obvious virtues of Barclays (1). I have misty-eyed memories of commercials premised on industrial espionage, binocular-clad competitors huddled on nearby rooftops in an attempt to answer the question: what will Barclays do next? It's a question that is still being asked in marketing circles but, given its haphazard recent history, it is tinged now with expectation that the brand will get something horribly wrong again. There's plenty for rubberneckers in the latest campaign, from which these digital executions take a very precise cue. Caveboy isn't troubled by Barclays' return to an innovation platform; it's the tone of voice he can't fathom. Watching Barclays attempt funny is like watching Gordon Brown do stand-up. Come back, "big". Come back Samuel L Jackson, all is forgiven.
The ghost of campaigns past also stalks Energizer (5), whose sponsorship bumpers I'm afraid do not reward repeated viewing and would exhaust even the supercharged bunnies among us. I can see how you got there, but ...
In one of the more contrary new product development moves of recent times, Pimm's (6) has introduced a winter variant (good luck to Mr Whippy with any similar initiative). The loveable buffoon and "Pimm's o'clock" motif are back, but this is a campaign that hinges on the gags and here the hinges are creaking. Perhaps any spot titled "sauna" can only disappoint.
Renault (3) is an unfashionable advertiser that has been going expertly about its business for some time now. Inner Stig took issue at first with the dubious virtue of the new Clio X85 being British-designed (he'd take the DS over the Maestro any day and he's only just discovered the wheel), but we were soon won over by the innocent charm of this latest spot. "France versus Britain" is almost wilfully rosy - no cars are torched, for example - but it somehow eludes the defences carefully erected for homo erectus. "Va va voom" earned itself a dictionary entry last year as "the quality of being exciting, vigorous or sexually attractive". Not bad stuff for an advertiser to own, you'll agree.
If you can't own those, try owning "now". It's simple, relevant and inspiring: a potentially mighty thought for Vodafone (4). And there are worse ways to establish it than singing the praises of a mayfly who seizes the day. Bastards.
So there you have it. Media fragmentation and clutter is one thing; it's the millions of years of hard-wired cynicism you are really up against out there. Find your brand's voice, respect your audience's time and you are in with a chance. Good luck.
1. BARCLAYS Project: Brand advertising Client: Sarah Woodhams, online marketing manager, Barclays Brief: Online advertising campaign to promote the launch of the new Barclays brand proposition Agency: Dare Writers: James Cooper, Kate Pozzi Art directors: Ivar Eden, Claire Thompson Designer: Adrian Rowbotham Exposure: Internet 2. MASTERCARD Project: Christmas press 2005 Client: Rita Broe, head of marketing, MasterCard UK Brief: Create a Christmas "priceless" campaign to run across the UK to increase the use of MasterCard when making gift purchases Agency: McCann Erickson Writer: Matt Crabtree Art director: Simon Hepton Photographer: Mark Leary Exposure: Press 3. RENAULT Project: France v Britain Client: Jonathan Wignall, national advertising manager, Renault UK Brief: Launch the new Clio Agency: Publicis Writers: Gavin Kellett, Ed Robinson Art directors: Nik Studzinski, Dave Hillyard Director: Jordan Scott Production company: RSA Films Exposure: National TV, cinema 4. VODAFONE Project: Mayfly Clients: David Wheldon, global director, brand and customer experience; Colin Clarke, head of global advertising, Vodafone Brief: Launch "make the most of" campaign Agency: Bartle Bogle Hegarty Writers: Nick Gill, Ewan Paterson Art directors: Nick Gill, Ewan Paterson Director: Peter Thwaites Production company: Gorgeous Exposure: Global TV, cinema 5. ENERGIZER Project: Inventor Client: Paul Ardron, marketing director, Energizer UK Brief: Energizer Lithium - specially designed for hi-tech gadgets Agency: Burkitt DDB Writer: Jon Leney Art director: Richard Donovan Director: David C Kerr Production company: Moon Exposure: National TV 6. PIMM'S Project: Sauna Client: Candice Burton, Matthew Hunt, senior brand managers, Diageo Brief: Launch Pimm's Winter within the Diageo Pimm's portfolio Agency: Mother Writer: Mother Art director: Mother Director: Stephen Tsuchida Production company: One Small Step Exposure: National TV