That my desk is awash with pictures of pornographic Santas and bad Christmas puns can only mean one thing ... the annual agency Christmas card competition is in full swing. As usual, the pressure is intense, but this year there are no losers because we're going to publish a little book of all the entries. Good. Bad. And badder. They'll all be in there. Keep an eye out for it. Amid this white-hot competitive tension, Private View presents a pleasant distraction.
First, a long-copy poster announcing the return of the Wispa (1) chocolate bars from the cultural rubbish heap that was the 80s. As a writer, I love long-copy ads, and looking at this multi-columned layout reminded me how not since, well, the 80s have we seen press like this on a regular basis. The ad starts out promisingly enough, harkening back to the days of big shoulder pads, bigger hair, clunky cassette tapes and The Young Ones. Disappointingly, though, the copy never really evolves after that. I was hoping to be carried along by a meticulously crafted bit of "old-school" copywriting, but, instead, found myself reading a collection of highlights from a "Remember the 80s" website. Still pretty good, though.
Next in the bag was a viral from Vauxhall (2) featuring one of the C.M.O.N. characters it has been using to promote its cars lately. In this case, the C.M.O.N. arrives home with a box under his arm containing a penis-enlargement kit. Cut forward and we see the micro-wanged C.M.O.N. happily swinging his weighty extension in front of the mirror. In terms of humour and forwardability, I would score it pretty high. It's the "how will this make anyone go out and buy a car?" part I'm struggling with.
Over in the world of telecoms, Vodafone (5) has created a microsite for the Sony Ericsson W910i, which announces its combined capability to permit instant music downloads anywhere. On the site, inhabitants of a rural Italian town respond with a mixture of excitement and confusion to the erroneous news that their town will be hosting a music festival. It's all executed well enough, but somehow seems a rather long journey for such a simple message.
Speaking of simple messages ... Betfair (4) has a TV spot promoting its unique selling position of betting against other punters rather than an oddsmaker. Creatively speaking, there's not that much to speak about here, other than to say that I like the illustration style.
And now on to the Christmas ads ...
You know it's Christmas when brightly coloured foil wraps begin appearing between the sofa cushions and clogging up the vacuum cleaner. In Quality Street's (3) Christmas ad, thousands of individual Quality Street sweets morph together to form the shapes of traditional Christmas symbols. The ad is simple, enjoyable to watch, and features an inspired choice of music in the form of a solo piano rendition of Good King Wenceslas, which was surely inspired by Nina Simone's Little Girl Blue. There's nothing not to like here. Even the line "Quality Street makes Christmas" is a nice pay-off to the creative. The only negative for me is that we don't get to see more close-ups of the individual sweets. For me, seeing the building blocks more clearly would heighten reality and reduce the sense that you are just watching holiday-themed CGI.
The big showstopper in the pack is from Marks & Spencer (6). Unquestionably, this is a big ad with big stars and big production values. It's very well executed and has the feel of a spot that moves a brand into the big-time in terms of its advertising. I have to admit I do find the Hollywood theme a bit of a random way to tell a Christmas story, but at least it allows the seamless use of supers to tell a story. The spot ends with a title card announcing this has been an M&S production. One wonders if that's simply a nod to the Hollywood theme or, like the good people over at A Glass and a Half Full Productions, the promise of more like this to come.
Right, now, back to the agency Christmas card ...
CREATIVE - Cordell Burke, executive creative director, Tequila\London
Nowadays, the world is so dominated by visuals that writing two lines constitutes long copy. However, here's something you don't see every day: a piece of work that reminds old gits like me how most ads were written in the 80s. It's a well-written long-copy ad for Wispa (1). The writer clearly did copious research, and his enthusiasm for the subject comes across well.
I particularly liked the games the writer plays with the reader, forcing us to remember where certain phrases originated from via clues to a programme or characters from that time. Just like Life on Mars, it reminds us that some old methods and techniques still work.
The C.M.O.N.S. from Vauxhall (2) have built up a decent cult following to the extent that they now have their own online TV channel, which invites you to upload your own videos featuring any of the five characters performing with you and/or your mates.
Of course, being online allows the C.M.O.N.S. to get away with a spot showing Red going in for a bit of "DIY penis enlargement". It's nicely placed and fun, but it doesn't make me rush to my Mac to send it on. There are more entertaining shorts once you get past the initial viral. Obviously, it's doing more for the C.M.O.N.S. than Vauxhall.
There's been an enormous surge in gambling recently, mirrored by the growth in on- and offline advertising to support it. Although the Betfair (4) ad is short on the idea, it's still a vibrant execution and a lively way to highlight the range of Betfair's offering. So while it's difficult to distinguish between the growing number of gambling and gaming brands, this is a brave attempt to stand out by not showing the audience. Instead, the ad concentrates on making its point by using a quirky style of animation. The style of the ad is as busy as its online betting community claims to be.
Next is a microsite selling Sony Ericsson phones for instant music downloads via Vodafone (5). The site showcases quietly humorous online ads that are well shot, nicely cast and have an "Olivio" feel to them. However, there must be more to this than just online ads of characters. Where's the interaction apart from shaking the phone?
I suppose this is far more cost-effective and engaging than making a TV ad, and the team got a foreign shoot out of it. Normally, Vodafone's digital work is more engaging. I guess I'm just used to digital work that's genuinely interactive, rather than just a frame for nicely shot TV commercials.
Judging from the production values in this charming ad for Quality Street (3), Christmas clearly started months ago. Animated Christmas images made out of the sweets' iconic wrapping evolves into colourful snowflakes, a wreath, a fireplace and a Christmas tree demonstrating that "Quality Street makes Christmas". The tone is nicely set by a pared-down piano rendition of Good King Wenceslas. It's good to see a simple idea enhanced by an elegant, understated execution. And hats off to the agency and client for not resorting to the cliche of multi-generational, happy families diving into the tin.
The turnaround in Marks & Spencer's (6) fortunes after a rather disastrous period a few years ago has been nothing short of spectacular, helped, of course, by some popular TV advertising. The latest is this extravaganza featuring the "Christmas belles", inspired by the silver-screen days of Hollywood while paying homage to the movie trailers of the 40s. The execution has an abundance of style, and all the actors and models show off the M&S range to great effect. Following last year's Shirley Bassey epic was always going to be tough, but adding Antonio Banderas to its five leading ladies gives this commercial an extra Christmas twist. The director has done the agency and the client proud. Unfortunately, this ad is also going to cost me a fortune in Christmas presents for my wife ...
Project: Wispa's back
Client: Jodie Bates, brand manager, Cadbury Trebor Bassett
Brief: Announce the return of the Wispa
Writer: Alex Ball
Art director: Andy Johns
Clients: Olivier Danan, brand communications director; Loredana Alicino,
brand communications manager; Vijay Iyer, communication manager, GM
Brief: Reveal the lives of the C.M.O.N.S.
Agency: Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners
Writers: Paula Marcantonio, Jon Elsom
Art director: Keith Terry
Directors: Dom & Nic
3. QUALITY STREET
Project: Quality Street makes Christmas
Clients: Nicola Mackley, head of gifting; Gillian Dempsie, brand
manager, Quality Street, Nestle
Brief: Put the emotional heart back into Quality Street at Christmas
Agency: JWT London
Writers/art directors: Laurent Simon, Aidan McClure
Director: Jonas Odell
Production company: Nexus Productions
Exposure: National TV, cinema
Project: Pixel punters
Client: Oscar Nieboer, director of brand and marketing acquisitions,
Brief: Create Betfair's first TV ads
Writer: Martyn Smith
Art director: Mark Hurst
Director: Nick Losse
Production company: Tandem
Exposure: National and international TV
Project: Sorenta shakedown
Client: Denise Banks-Champion, head of brand strategy, Vodafone
Brief: Launch the Sony Ericsson W910i Walkman phone
Creative team: Vicky Ghose, Andy Amadeo
6. MARKS & SPENCER
Project: Christmas belles
Clients: Steve Sharp, executive director, marketing; Jude Bridge, head
of customer communications; Susan Aburey-Cound, group head of marketing,
Brief: Promote the M&S Winter Collection
Agency: Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R
Writer: Pip Bishop
Art director: Chris Hodgkiss
Director: Dawn Shadforth
Production company: RSA
Exposure: UK TV