I'm writing this less than 24 hours after sitting on the British Television Advertising Awards jury. Amazing what two days' judging can do to the mind. Much of the work was exquisitely mediocre and I couldn't help wondering how many hours of meetings and thousands of pounds on research went into producing predominately lacklustre work. I suggested we send back some of the entries to the creative teams responsible and refund their entry fee, along with a note suggesting they do something better with their money.
Just imagine getting that note ...
The positive side of watching 1,000-plus commercials (especially at the beginning of the year) is one vows to try harder.
So, let's start with one of the best spots I saw there, and am delighted to see again here. Honda (2) "choir" starts with the line: "This is what a Honda feels like." A large choir recreates the sounds of the car with an a cappella performance comprising grunts, whooshes and grrrs reflecting the car on its journey. When I first saw this on TV, I had a churning in my stomach. I think it's brilliant. A very original idea and devilishly clever. Once again, those boys over at Wieden & Kennedy have crafted every nanosecond and pixel on your screen. Eking out the last drop of brilliance every mile of the way.
The odd thing is, when it came up against "impossible dream" in the Automobile section, I had a problem. You see, on paper, I reckon that "choir" is a far better idea. However, after many repeated viewings, I found myself preferring to watch our grizzly friend riding his bikes/cars/boats etc.
I can only put this down to the power of Andy Williams. I found this "music over idea" win rather perturbing. My head still rages with debate. But my heart would love to have done either. Both teams deserve more arrows than Agincourt.
Follow that ... unfortunately, Colman's (4) can't. It opens on a round, shiny presenter throwing some plates of posh food away while telling us that A MIGHTY MEAL IS A MEATY MEAL. He then suffers that old music-hall joke and falls through a trap door. Cut to him riding out of the factory on a logo (bull) to a cheering cast of "posty" thousands. OK, so I'm being as tough as a steak on Sunday and I love the guys at Karmarama, but this outing suffers from trying far too hard to be funny. The tone of voice feels wrong to me and I can't see it doing much for the brand. Bullshit!
Meanwhile, Jean Reno is sitting high up in a tree. The star of the new UPS (1) campaign. Jean, why oh why did you agree to it? This spot couldn't have been cheap and it tells us precisely nothing. We watch helplessly as two boys struggle up towards him. So Jean lowers a rope ladder out of thin air. They reach the top and sit next to him, admiring the view. Oh yes, then comes another music-hall joke as Jean puts the binoculars to his eyes and is left with two painted black shiners. The boys giggle. Fade up the UPS logo and endline: "Deliver more." If only!
I wanted to like the next ads for Lenor (3). A difficult market and there has been a brave attempt here. The problem lies in the fact I have seen this line of thinking too much before. Sorry.
Virgin Trains (5) has launched a direct mail campaign. These consist of various icons of Great Britain cut out of red cardboard with some info on the back. They're fine. Not a patch on the visually arresting Virgin Trains commercial starring Cary Grant.
Finally, a digital campaign for the Royal Marines (6). A great brief and one we'd all literally kill to work on. There are some nice ideas here in the form of tests and they are neatly designed. I'm just not sure if it's up to winning a medal.
CHAIRMAN - Neil Dawson, chairman, TBWA\London
If you usually skim-read this column like I do, here are the headlines: Royal Marines is great; UPS, Colman's and Virgin Trains are fair to middling; Honda is below expectation and Lenor is forgettable. Read on if you want to find out why.
The great British institution that is Colman's (4) wants to celebrate meat and the role its products play in making meat taste great. There is a good idea here in "meatylicious" and a lively character called Jeremiah Colman VII delivers the Colman's meaty manifesto with aplomb.
But as a range ad, it doesn't really work. The second half of the ad is as over-stuffed as a Norfolk sausage. Perhaps three "hero" product ads would have done a better job.
Honda (2) has set the bar very high with its recent campaigns. "The power of dreams" has inspired an outstanding body of convention-breaking work, yet this latest execution strikes me as self-indulgent. The use of a choir to convey the Honda feeling is initially attention-grabbing, but eventually becomes irritating. There is an uncharacteristic lack of warmth about this and you are left feeling empty. Even thought leaders are entitled to a blip every now and then.
The brief for Virgin Trains (5) direct mail is the old chestnut of do "destination and price in an ownable campaign style". These do the job pretty well; they are simple, direct and eye-catching. There is strong Virgin branding and they look like they will stimulate trips, which is the whole point, after all. Looking across the work, the more original icons such as Liverpool's intriguing Half-Lamb Half-Banana (I thought it was Man and Biscuit ...) are much more compelling than the predictable Nelson's Column for London.
The irresistible fragrance of the new Lenor (3) variant In the Pink is a simple idea based on a well-observed human truth. But these print ads fail to bring the desired joy and sensory pleasure of the Lenor experience to life. Visually, there's not much to engage. The faux raunchy headlines and the rest of the ads read too much like the brief. You can't help feeling this work could have been really "fresh and fruity" rather than leaving it to the body copy.
The challenge for UPS (1) is that its reputation lies in efficiently delivering packages in its famous brown vans with the iconic branding. Nothing wrong with that, but these days it wants to be known for much more. This ad features the wonderful Jean Reno telling us how UPS can "deliver all kinds of solutions", whatever that means. It is quite charming and engaging; there is a jazzy soundtrack and some light-hearted moments of interplay between our hero and some little boys climbing a tree. Unfortunately, the message about UPS gets lost in some underwhelming quasi-philosophical observations such as "problems are there to be solved ..." and "never stop climbing". Surely if your idea is "deliver more", then your work needs to do exactly that.
Forget all those other campaigns about learning new skills or being with your mates, if you're recruiting for the Royal Marines (6) there's only one question to ask: "Have you got what it takes?" This excellent online campaign slams down the gauntlet. "99.99 per cent need not apply" is a simple, provocative thought. The executions play on the range of physical and mental challenges of being a Marine. The power of this campaign is in its skilful avoidance of subtlety and trickery. Each message feels like a full-frontal assault on your self-belief. It is the right medium for the target and uses relevant references, from computer games to online shopping. The imagery may be digital, but the feeling is all too real.
How Woody Allen spoke for all of us who will never make the elite 0.01 per cent when he said: "It's not that I'm afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it happens."
1. UPS Project: Ambition Client: Kevin Keith, international advertising manager, UPS Brief: Elevate the role UPS plays in modern business Agency: McCann Erickson Writer: Simon Learman Art director: Brian Fraser Director: Jake Scott Production company: RSA Exposure: International TV 2. HONDA Project: Choir Client: Matt Coombe, marketing manager, Honda Brief: Launch the new Honda Civic Agency: Wieden & Kennedy Creative team: Ben Walker, Matt Gooden, Michael Russoff Director: Antoine Bardou-Jacquet Production company: Partizan Exposure: National TV 3. LENOR Project: In the Pink Client: Rob Samet, brand manager, Procter & Gamble Brief: Make Lenor In the Pink appeal to women who love feeling feminine and appreciate the girly things in life Agency: Grey London Writers: Raf Donato, Graham Painter Art directors: Raf Donato, Graham Painter Photographer: Graham Tooby Exposure: Print 4. COLMAN'S Project: Colman's brand range Client: Neil Gledhill, marketing manager, Colman's Brief: Make Colman's relevant to a new, broader, younger audience Agency: Karmarama Writer: Rachel Shaughnessy Art director: David Buonaguidi Director: n/s Production company: n/s Exposure: National TV 5. VIRGIN TRAINS Project: Great Britain for great prices Client: Vickie Passingham, direct marketing manager, Virgin Trains Brief: Illustrate that Virgin Trains' great product is great value too Agency: Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel Writer: Chris Childerhouse Art director: Anthony Cliff Exposure: Direct mail to customers who have previously bought off-peak/value-type fares 6. ROYAL MARINES Project: Royal Marines Clients: Jamie Galloway, director of digital media, COI; Julian Perkins, directorate of naval recruitment, Royal Navy Brief: Promote the Marines' elite status to drive the right kind of recruitment leads Agency: glue London Creatives: Jaime McLennan, Adam King, Simon Lloyd, Christine Turner, James Leigh, Darren Giles, Sally Skinner, Dave Martin Designers: Matt Verity, Leon Ostle Exposure: Online