One of the stories circulating about a TV presenter and legendary swordsman (name removed at lawyers' request) a few years ago concerned an alleged incident in the lavatories of some sophisticated London nightclub where, his voice coarsened in the rictus of pleasure, he was overheard to offer his lady companion this stark alternative: "Tits or face?" Almost at once, the moral philosophers of the day coined the expression "XXXXX's Choice" to describe an ultimatum between equally underwhelming scenarios.
I recall this unsavoury incident, because I think that, metaphysically speaking, we are all of us kneeling beside that unfortunate woman. Not, obviously, in trap four of the Embassy Club toilets, but on the periphery of the Second Great Media War.
Virgin Media (6) versus Sky is a matter of life or death for those involved in the conflict and, I suspect, "XXXXX's Choice" for the rest of us. Sky may have the content, but Virgin is a veteran of this kind of handbags, indeed it needs enemies (such as BA) to justify its very existence. Also, Virgin "gets" advertising in a way that Sky never has, as this intrusive and arresting use of Uma Thurman shows.
Of course, any scrap like this is good for our business, even if we just get to hold the coats. I offer to fire the first salvo on behalf of, say, Barclays. "Oi! Lloyds, mate, your horse has got a big arse!" That should get it good and riled.
Big arses are very much on the Nivea (3) agenda in this joyful 90-second viral. If you've seen The Blues Brothers, this hot gospel choir routine will be familiar. Here, the singers are raising a hymn of praise to their prominent posteriors in celebration of Nivea's "bigass breakthrough" against cellulite. Now, I've worked in this market long enough to know that this is the cosmetic equivalent of a cure for cancer. So, why the online-only approach? Has the BACC failed to be convinced, I wonder?
No such nonsense from Department for Transport (1). Mum yaps on the phone about the kids to Dad while he's driving home and, bang, he takes a truck in the face. Harsh, but a lesson to women everywhere, shut it or men will die.
Potentially fatal gender differences are also the chosen territory of McCoy's (5). Man boobs ... man bags ... wait a minute ... MAN CRISPS! This giant leap is dramatised in a sketch featuring a man being sucked off the planet following his inadvertent selection of girlie music on the jukebox. The entire pub appears to have been cast by Guy Ritchie. We haven't seen geezers or a boozer like this for a long time. I half expected the endline to be: "Harp. Stay sharp."
Speaking of blasts from the past, Teletext (2) is back extolling the virtues of its silent service in a world of "blah, blah, blah". German popsters Trio lend their Da Da Da tune to the inevitable parody and, I'm guessing this as much as the need to show us a world of audio clutter, dictated the use of vignettes. We've all used them at some time in our careers and felt kinda dirty afterwards, but these canter along quite nicely without you wanting to scream at the screen: "Enough already, I fucking get it!"
Confronted with XXXXX's original choice, I guess it's inevitable that Lynx (4) went for tits in its latest online promotion. These come as a matched pair on the not altogether unappealing form of Kelly Brook. Frontperson Brook and her scantily clad "Lynx Minxes" are offering successful "players" a holiday in Miami. Now, to be fair, Ms Brook is drawing on a well of acting talent about as deep as her cleavage, but Kelly is certainly not helped by some of the corniest dialogue since Confessions of a Window Cleaner. It's all very well getting yer interweb navigational functionality right; what this idea needed was a good old-fashioned copywriter. Harrumph!
MARKETER - Jill McDonald, chief marketing officer, McDonald's
What a luxury reviewing other people's advertising. I love and loathe the moment when, after all that agonising and pontificating over strategy and the brief, you actually get to see the work. So, being able to sit back and comment without any of that pressure is great.
First is a serious one, a Department for Transport (1) film dramatising the damage that can be caused by calling people on a mobile phone while you are in a car. Some good insights here, since we have all probably reached for the mobile and tucked it under our ears while taking a call. However, the ad is primarily targeting people who make the calls rather than those who pick them up (although the message won't be lost on either). I found the ad lacking in some insights that could really resonate with its core target audience, and I also found the use of the split-screen device a bit distracting. However, the message is pretty clear and there is no decoding required.
Next is McCoy's (5). This ad made me laugh out loud as the story unfolded. It features a bloke out with his mates in a pretty "hard" pub, who is jogged just as he is about to make a (no doubt) cool music selection on the jukebox. As he returns to his mates, the strains of Donny Osmond's Puppy Love blares out of the speakers. There are some great responses from assorted tough blokes as our hero is beamed out of pub in acute embarrassment. I love the carefully planted packets of McCoy's, packs all shiny with branding facing to camera - but then I am a client.
Teletext (2) and its "no blah blah" ad is one that I have actually noticed while sitting on the sofa at home. Good use of a soundtrack to reinforce the central message that with all the clutter and claptrap we are faced with every day, Teletext can give you the news, sport and weather straight. If I had been the client, I would have asked for the pay-off to be a bit clearer. Tellingly, I had to rewind a few times to check that I had actually got the message right.
Next up is the Lynx (4) website, and I have only just finished blushing. This is definitely one time when I know that I am definitely not its target audience. So, if you fancy lots of innuendo and suggestive poses from Kelly Brook and her "Lynx Minxes", then get yourself on to YouTube or lynxplayers.com, where you will find out how you can win a chance to meet Kelly and her mates in Miami at the Bom Chicka Wah Wah Rally. No, I never really worked out what that was either, but it probably doesn't matter. I guess it could be a successful way of building up a database of lads and offering them the chance to hear more from Lynx or Unilever Best Foods, Unilever and Cadbury Trebor Bassett (check out the registration form), although I suspect many would rather just watch Kelly and her mates.
On to safer territory with a Nivea (3) viral campaign featuring a gospel choir celebrating "Butts as big as huts". This didn't have the "pass it along appeal" that some of the Dove viral work has (particularly the tricks of the beauty trade viral), but I did go on to the website to find out more about "goodbye cellulite". I thought it focused a bit too much on the gospel choir, rather than helping me find out how I could banish the dreaded orange peel.
Finally, back to TV and a Virgin Media (6) spot starring the Hollywood actress Uma Thurman promoting 500 choices of films that you can watch anytime and control yourself. Seems like a credible choice of celeb for the message, although the "pause" idea may not stand too much repeat viewing. Perhaps it won't need to since I am assuming this will form part of a campaign with lots more reasons why I should choose Virgin Media over the other lot.
1. DEPARTMENT FOR TRANSPORT
Project: Mobiles TV
Client: Fiona Seymour, head of publicity, COI
Brief: Change behaviour by attaching a social stigma to using your
mobile phone in your car
Agency: Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO
Writers/art directors: Aidan McClure, Laurent Simon
Director: Patrick Bergh
Production company: Partizan
Exposure: National TV
Project: No blah blah
Client: Ash Makkar, marketing director, Teletext
Brief: Reassert the role Teletext can play in people's lives
Agency: Clemmow Hornby Inge
Writers/art directors: Alan and Sandy Cinnamond
Director: Chris Dada
Production company: Academy
Exposure: National TV, six-sheet posters, Tube car panels, press and
Project: The Goodbye Cellulite Choir
Client: Gemma Winks, brand manager, Nivea Body
Brief: Encourage women to lighten up and realise cellulite needn't be
such a drama
Writers/art directors: Stine Hole, Marie Ronn
Director: Leslie Ali
Production company: Partizan
Exposure: Viral, ambient
Project: Lynx players
Client: Lauren Gold, brand manager, Lynx Unilever
Brief: Celebrate the relaunch of the Lynx range with added "Bom chicka
Agency: Agency Republic
Writers: Nico Tatarowicz, Abe Baginsky
Art director: Richard Hale
Project: Man crisps
Client: Helen Warren-Piper, snacks marketing director, United Biscuits
Brief: Reaffirm what McCoy's stands for the best crisp for blokes'
Writers/art directors: Stuart Farquhar, Jim Saunders
Director: Jeff Stark
Production company: Another Film Company
Exposure: National TV
6. VIRGIN MEDIA
Client: James Kydd, managing director for marketing, Virgin Media
Brief: Launch Virgin Media
Writer: John Townshend
Art director: Simon Stephenson
Director: Kevin Thomas
Production company: Thomas Thomas
Exposure: National TV