Picasso had 'em. So did Robert Capa and Jimi Hendrix. Even Tommy Cooper. Opposing thumbs. They have enabled the human race to grasp tools, and develop fine motor skills. Monkeys don't have them, you see. That's why you'll never see our simian cousins hunched over a BlackBerry. So let's see if evolution was worth all that effort.
Monkeys of the musical variety are in evidence for the new Marks & Spencer (3) spot. It's another of those confident, upbeat mood films using the theme from the 60s show The Monkees. Opposing thumbs have served the agency well here, with clear evidence of highly evolved craft skills. It's a beautifully photographed and well-cut film. I just can't say I love it. I'm not convinced there's a wildly distinctive brand equity at play here. Not on the scale of Gap, or iPod. Dangerous stuff, fashion. Never to be confused with a serious idea. But M&S is reporting monster profits, so it's certainly not getting in the way. I guess it'll work as long as you can outspend everyone else.
Now, you might wish we were closer to fish than apes with the speed at which climate change is advancing. The new Department for Transport (4) TV ad shows how we can cut CO2 emissions by reducing the burden on our car engines. Making sure our tyres are correctly inflated is one way. This is a cute film, featuring perky car engines, which cleverly focuses our attention on the source of the problem. A few decent jokes wouldn't have gone amiss. But I like the fact that it's not castigating me for driving my fine specimen of German engineering. So, yeah, it works for me. After all, being seen pumping up your tyres has to be a better look than driving a Prius.
There's an odd GlaxoSmithKline (5) viral doing the rounds, featuring two highly dextrous Homo sapiens. They go through their full gamut of kung-fu moves in an attempt to swat an irritating mosquito. The lesson here is: find out how to avoid the perils of mozzies before you travel. It may be strategically challenged, but you get the point. But aren't you as tired as I am of martial arts-inspired commercials? My ten-year-old thought it was hysterical, so what do I know? Then again, he's not booking package holidays to Ibiza, just yet.
According to Robinsons (1), we're descended from plants - not apes. "Grow" shows seeds being nourished with Robinsons' squash, before going on to sprout young cherubs. The premise, "Raise them on Robinsons", is a neat one. And it's brimming with craft skills. Funny thing animation, though. It quickly makes you forget about all sorts of bizarre contradictions: plants fed on fruit and barley? Hmm. Fortunately, the sheer beauty of the spot charms you into submission. My kids really loved this. Thing is, I'm not sure it's going to worry jurors with facial hair.
Orange (2) clearly understands basic animal instincts. A chocolate mailer wasn't going to get passed over in our house. The bitesize pieces of Belgium confection certainly gained consideration of their "bitesize" offers. You have to admit, a brand that can deftly switch between TV and chocolate bar has to be admired. Mind you, I don't know how well this bodes for the rest of us. You can imagine the meeting now. You're presenting the "big idea", and the client says: "Yessss ... but will it work on a Garibaldi biscuit?"
A less interesting piece of DM came in from Honda (6), of all people. It's a rather dull attempt to sell the humble Civic on the back of Honda's racing heritage. OK in principle, but the Civic still looks like a shed. As the unimpressive mailer unfolded, I anticipated a stroke of genius. Never came. It's a real shame because we all love this brand. Let's put it down to a gear slip in an otherwise flawless performance.
So, not a bad week. Thumbs have served us well, I think. Banana anyone?
DM CREATIVE - Steve Aldridge, creative partner and chairman, Partners Andrews Aldridge
I'm sure most of us who read this magazine speak the language of advertising. It's quite a sophisticated language; not only do we need to learn all the words, we also need to know how to decode the communications within it. But should advertising make us, let alone the tired old consumer, work hard to understand the communications we make?
The Marks & Spencer (3) "monkeys" ad is a heart-warming puts-a-smile-on-your-face ad rammed with product, which I'm sure is already flying off the shelves. It doesn't need a translator; it puts the product centre stage and has great production values and real attention to detail. Plenty of knowing nods to the original TV series opening, which will get the thumbs up from fortysomething parents all around the country. It's a shame it feels so much like last year's kids ad. But if you have a winning formula, should you change it?
A winning formula is the backbone of direct mail - if it works, do it again. I have some sympathy for that approach because mail is a killer medium if you get it right. At the same time, you must be original and give the consumer a genuine brand experience. Both DM packs in the envelope this week attempt to do this.
First up, an Orange (2) chocolate bar, that is to say, a real bar of chocolate from Orange. The line on the wrapper says: "Orange bitesize, rich in useful hints, 100 per cent helpful." Inside, it asks us to memorise the web address on the chocolate and eat it. Then I read all the copy. It talks about being able to get bitesize bits of information at the Orange website. I still have no idea what kind of information is available to me or why I need it, but I'm sure the recipient loved the chocolate, even if they didn't quite decode why they got it.
The Honda (6) mail pack is a press ad folded in half. I guess if you can't think of a mail pack that uses the medium in a better way, then fold the press ad. The picture on the front is a racing car joined to a Civic. To open the pack you rip the red line that cuts open the car to reveal a passion for racing that's in Honda's blood. In the press ad the art direction looks stark and original, in the pack it looks busy and muddled. The idea is lost in loads of information. The language is all there, it just takes too long to tell the story.
By contrast, the Robinsons (1) ad tells the story of growth from seed to fruit, linking the goodness of that natural growth to our children's wellbeing and health. I did wonder if it was a government health ad when I first saw it. But it's engaging and really well done. Animation is the new thing and long may it last. Advertising is a richer place with illustrators taking centre stage for a while.
It's the model-makers who step up to the plate in this climate- change spot for the Department for Transport (4). The imagery is compelling and when you speak the language, the messages are clear. It's a clever ad all right, but my concern is it underplays the real issues.
The GlaxoSmithKline (5) malaria hotspots website viral is doing more for the director than the website. And even then, I'm not sure that it's strong enough to gather the momentum that a really good viral needs. The creative opportunities for advertising this site are huge. I suspect they weren't explored because of a desire to use a gratuitously wacky film with no relevance to the brief: "Get people to visit our website." No matter how hard I work to decode it, all it communicates to me is a missed opportunity.
Client: Jonathan Gatward, brand director, Britvic Robinsons
Brief: Strengthen mums' emotional connection with the brand by
positioning it as a helping brand
Agency: Bartle Bogle Hegarty
Writer: Wesley Hawes
Art director: Gary McCreadie
Director: Smith & Foulkes
Production company: Nexus
Exposure: National TV
Project: Orange bitesize
Client: Rene Kaliniewicz, enterprise campaign manager, Orange
Brief: Highlight Orange's bitesize offers
Agency: Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel
Writer: David Brown
Art director: Jo Jenkins
3. MARKS & SPENCER
Project: Spring children's wear
Client: Stephen Sharp, excutive director, marketing, e-commerce, store
design and development, Marks & Spencer
Brief: Promote the spring/summer children's range
Agency: Rainey Kelly Campell Roalfe/Y&R
Writer: Graham Cook
Art director: Stuart Elkin
Production company: Knucklehead
Exposure: National TV
4. DEPARTMENT FOR TRANSPORT
Project: Act on CO2
Client: Helen Clark, deputy head of publicity, Department for Transport
Brief: Encourage the public to think about their CO2 emissions when
driving and offer simple tips on how to reduce emissions
Agency: Leo Burnett
Writers/art directors: Nick Pringle, Clark Edwards
Directors: Dom & Nic
Production company: Outsider
Exposure: National TV, online, radio
Project: Malaria awareness
Client: Simon Manners, marketing director, GlaxoSmithKline
Brief: Raise awareness about malaria among young travellers
Agency: Lee & Dan Special Projects
Writer/art director: Lee & Dan Special Projects
Director: Lee & Dan Special Projects
Production company: Lee & Dan Special Projects
Project: Launch of Honda Civic Type R
Client: Ian Armstrong, manager - customer communication, Honda
Brief: Promote the new Honda Civic Type R and encourage test drives
through local dealers
Agency: Hicklin Slade & Partners
Writer: Julie Batsford-White
Art director: Andy Barwood
Exposure: 15,000 car enthusiasts