After a while in this business, you realise that we only use about ten different strategies, but creative agencies put interesting twists on them. You also realise that we produce far more garbage than we do anything good.
The main problem seems to be striking the right balance between being entertaining and selling. And since very few people are sitting around waiting to be sold to, I prefer to think of the task as being entertaining or being useful.
But it's a tough balance to strike, clearly.
Scottish Widows (1). The visuals are quite engaging. But then it shoots itself in the foot by trying to be useful.
A voiceover attempts to link athletics to finance by telling us: "We understand that winning a gold medal isn't about just one performance." But this is hardly hold-the-front-page news, unless your target audience is so stupid that it thinks athletes turn up on the day, having never taken part in a sport before, and just hope they have a natural ability in the triple jump. "Go on, Dave, have a go at the equestrian event. How hard can it be?"
Beck's Vier (6) suffers from a similar problem. The ad starts well, with an idea about people refusing to compromise. And the notion of a carnival that says "no to modesty" is quite intriguing. (Al-though, to be honest, I suspect most carnivals do this. Is there a carnival organising committee that has ever sat down and gone: "What we really need is modesty - something quiet and subdued, by way of a carnival?")
But then comes the endline. Beck's apparently says "No to taste compromise". Which is where they lose the plot, in my view. Be-cause it's all gone addy and unbelievable. Is there a German beer that is happily saying "yes" to taste compromise, which I'm supposed to be comparing Beck's with? Imagine a German beer that said: "This taste malarkey is a bit over-rated, isn't it. Let's fill ourselves up with the cheapest, nastiest ingredients this side of an Albanian pig-swill bucket." Again, the ad is quite entertaining, but is let down by trying to be useful.
Tiger beer (2) just confuses me. There's a dramatic picture of an ocean-going behemoth and a line that says: "The Far East's most desirable export since 1932." Does that include bird flu and kamikaze suicide pilots, or not?
But I'm also puzzled by the Hokusai style of illustration. What has a Japanese illustrator got to do with a Singaporean beer? Using Hokusai to advertise Tiger beer seems to be rather like the Welsh tourist board using a picture of Algiers.
Nice-looking illustration, but I can't really figure out the point of it. Maybe I'm just stupid. Like those people who think you can turn up after a lifetime of watching daytime TV and swilling German lager and win a gold medal in the 400m hurdles.
Clarks (5). The proposition isn't particularly new - "Enjoy walking". But the ad is beautifully shot and the music is outstanding. I'd watch this again and again, and feel better about Clarks every time. It's entertaining, and that seems to work more or less by itself in this instance.
Transport for London (3) has got a really nice bit of interactive work about keeping your eyes open for cyclists at dothetest.co.uk. It's very entertaining - it might even drag people away from nakedrussiandentists.com or ratemywibblywobblybits.co.uk or all the other wonderful things that make up the worldwide webola. But I thought it fell short on the useful aspect.
And, finally, there's a bit of DM from Waitrose (4), telling me about Easter eggs. It's possibly quite useful, but drops well short of my minimum entertainment level. Sorry, but I'm a busy man. I've got to put in five minutes' training in the javelin if I'm gonna stand a chance in 2012.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE - Chris Macdonald, chief executive, McCann Erickson
Pre-Easter weekend. The perfect time to be invited to do Private View, with the prospect of a long weekend, lots of chocolate to steal from the children and spring just around the corner.
With this budding sense of optimism, I start with a mailer from Waitrose (4). The envelope does not bode well - a dull and dated illustrative style, reminiscent of one of my mother's poorer watercolours. However, once the nasty envelope has been discarded, I find a lovely little book about eggs - Easter eggs. How can anyone not want to rush out and buy a grapefruit eye egg or a white blackcurrant splat egg? Very simple and exactly what we have come to expect from Waitrose.
I have high hopes for the next spot - a 60-second extravaganza for Clarks (5), a brand with a fantastic advertising heritage. I have to say that there is a brilliant idea in "Enjoy every step", but the execution just doesn't bring this idea to life. It is beautifully shot, but the music is so miserable and downbeat that I find it impossible to enjoy every step. Rather, I wanted to run the other way.
Perhaps a beer ad or two will cheer me up. Starting with Beck's Vier (6) and its "No compromise" TV execution. I am still trying to learn the dance from the last campaign, but now have to contend with lots of spurious analogies to various things that haven't compromised, only be told that Beck's hasn't either in delivering a 4 per cent beer.
I feel like I have seen "No compromise" too many times in too many categories. Beck's, for me, should have a much bigger idea at the centre of all its communications. I know that it is easier said than done in the beer world, but Beck's has done it before.
Surely Tiger beer's (2) new print campaign will cheer me up. Anyone who has drunk the beer in Singapore will know that it is a special experience. I could go on forever about the experience of drinking beer chilled to minus two to four degrees in extreme humidity and served in big, iconic brown bottles. But for me, this campaign misses the mark in communicating what Tiger is all about. It feels like a beautifully illustrated creative brief, rather than a big communications idea. It leaves me a bit lukewarm, which is a shame, because Tiger as a brand has so much energy and mystique.
I think it is probably time for me to get on my bike, and the last two ads definitely encourage this.
First, a Transport for London (3) viral ad to encourage people to look out for cyclists. Much has been written about this campaign and I won't fuel that debate. I liked the viral as it does exactly what it is supposed to do - tests your powers of observation, proves its point beautifully and made me realise that I can't count and didn't spot the moonwalking bear.
Last, we come to Scottish Widows (1). I am sure, when I last looked, that we are hosting the Olympics in four years' time. For my money, Scottish Widows has gone far too early. I think the agency has valiantly tried to make a link between the brand and the event through the idea of preparation - I just wish it could have done it in three years' time. I will definitely be on my bike if we have four relentless years of 2012 Olympics communications.
1. SCOTTISH WIDOWS
Project: Scottish Widows 2012
Client: Mike Hoban, customer and brand marketing director, Scottish
Brief: Celebrate Scottish Widows' sponsorship of the 2012 Olympics and
link the company to the message: "Preparation is everything."
Agency: Leo Burnett
Writer: Gary Brooks
Art director: Ian Kerrigan
Director: Giles Lovell-Wilson
Production company: One Small Step
Exposure: National TV
2. TIGER BEER
Project: Tiger beer UK
Client: Steven Greaves, marketing manager, Tiger beer UK
Brief: Establish Tiger as a premium beer and dramatise the brand's rich
and unexpected heritage
Agency: CHI & Partners
Writer: Wayne Robinson
Art director: Matt Collier
Illustrator: Yuko Shimuzu
Exposure: UK outdoor
3. TRANSPORT FOR LONDON
Project: Do the test
Clients: Chris MacLeod, head of group marcoms; Nigel Hanlon, group
marketing manager, Transport for London
Brief: Raise drivers' awareness of cyclists
Writers: Tom Spicer, Simon Aldridge
Art directors: Kit Drayman, Vince Chasteauneuf
Director: Chris Palmer
Production company: Gorgeous
Exposure: TV (London only), press, online
Project: Waitrose Easter campaign
Clients: Neil Stead, marketing manager, direct marketing; Nicky Gamble,
assistant marketing manager, direct marketing, Waitrose
Brief: Create a campaign to support Easter sales
Agency: Kitcatt Nohr Alexander Shaw
Writer: Liz Franklin
Art director: Rob Ferrara
Designer/photographer: Brad Saunders
Exposure: Direct mail, e-mail
Project: Adults - spring, summer 2008
Client: Rosemary Carr, brand director, Clarks
Brief: Get people to choose shoes with their feet as well as their eyes
Agency: Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO
Writer: Milo Campbell
Art director: Sonny Adorjan
Director: Kevin Thomas
Production company: Thomas Thomas
Exposure: TV, press, in-store, online
Project: Different by choice
Client: InBev UK
Brief: Promote Beck's as a self-determined beer that says "no to
compromise". Convey its distinct character and reinforce its growing
relationship with art and music
Agency: Lowe Worldwide
Writers/art directors: Simon Morris, Raj Kamble
Director: Christian Loubek
Production company: Independent Films
Exposure: TV, outdoor