I was in London a couple of weeks ago. It rained most of the time. For the 20 years I lived and worked there, I always thought Britain had the best climate and the worst weather.
Interestingly, this placed a high value on the entertainment component of ads, particularly on TV. I think Britain was a pace-setter in this respect, and you'd have to give the weather that drives people indoors some credit for that.
Around the world now, there's been a climate change. Increasingly, people are in control of what they watch, and when and where they watch it. The mass market, the captive audience, have all escaped, and the pressure is on us to stay in touch. In this environment, the need to entertain by being relevant and by making emotional connections is absolutely vital.
With this week's collection of work, I was hoping for sunny periods with outbreaks of occasional brilliance, but what I got mainly was drizzle with a few isolated bright spells.
I saw the "Stories can come from Thailand, Greenland and Swaziland. But never cloud-cuckoo-land" poster for The Economist (1) in a cab. I thought it was a one-off misstep in what is one of my favourite long-time campaigns. Seems I was wrong. There's more. Is there a new strategy here to do something different? If so, it's at a cost. Gone are the sublimely witty lines and, to a large extent, the ownership of red.The team that did this must be good. They work at an agency I really admire. Something went wrong, somewhere.
The next one is tricky. Who knows, I might want The Times (2) to write something nice about me one day, so I think I'll stop there. But thank you for the good news: I'm not colour-blind.
The clouds part for the Volkswagen Golf (3) spot. It's a neat trick to make the mundane magical. The sound man certainly shone, and the editor deserves a mention too - not a single soggy frame in sight. I'm a firm believer in the notion of always working with the best people if you want the best results for your ideas.
I'm writing this review in Miami. A place sometimes described as "Latin America, where everything works". Unfortunately, the internet was only working half speed when I wanted to download the ad for Nokia (4). Nonetheless, I'm told the interface and download speeds are something that's been commented on before with this site, which is basically 80s games (like Brick-out and Snake) live. I thought it was a very cool, tight little site that starts to deliver on what people are talking about with interactive and films colliding. It breaks down, though, when you get to the product - they should have extended the look and feel into the demos, which are all on other pages.
More water, bucketing down this time into the forced open mouth of a torture victim. This is the outcry from Amnesty International (5) against the CIA's interrogation technique of "waterboarding". It's incredible really to have a subject as powerful as this and not create a real sense of outrage.
I'm sure I'm not the first creative director to realise what a frustrating and artificial exercise these reviews are. The contrast in our working lives is having the opportunity to coach and guide improvements - including, occasionally, the ultimate improvement of starting again when the outlook for an idea is distinctly cloudy. The ad for O2 (6) is a ray of sunshine, highly entertaining and relevant. Thank heavens.
CLIENT - Phil Rumbol, marketing director, Cadbury
On Saturday night I sat down with my kids to watch The Simpsons - The Movie on DVD. Before the main feature, there was an ad for the Futurama DVD, which ended with a frog with hypnotic eyes hissing "Buy it; buy it; buy it" - much to the amusement of my seven-year-old son. "It makes you buy stuff you don't want," he said. "That's what it'll be like in the future. It'd be like someone trying to sell you something like edible coal. They'd make you buy it even if it was rubbish."
The future of advertising? Subliminal frogs selling rubbish products, apparently.
Anyway, imagine my surprise when I put on the first ad - for O2 (6) - to find my screen filled with animated frogs. After playing it a second time to check there weren't any subliminal messages from Sean Bean in the guise of a frog, I settled down to the task in hand. Unfortunately, I got a little bored and drifted off halfway through. The whole thing just seemed a bit lame and lacked originality for me - the idea of people passing something on (haven't we seen that in a Stella, sorry, "Artois" ad?), of people "connecting", executed against a backdrop of a chilled acoustic track and "magical animation" made me feel like I'd seen it a dozen times before. Maybe they should have employed the Futurama frog after all.
Second up was an ad for the Volkswagen Golf (3). I've always admired their advertising for its consistently engaging and intelligent tone of voice. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with this one. It was reasonably well executed, but does the world really need another car ad that uses a sound mosaic as its central idea? You would have thought that a combination of Honda's "choir", Sony Walkman's "musical pieces", followed by the groans that greeted the Ford orchestra ad would have made them think better of it.
As a genre, charity ads can usually be relied on to tug at the heart strings/conscience, and make for engaging viewing.
This cinema ad for Amnesty International (5) started quite slowly, but, helped along by some great 5:1 sound design, slowly drew me in. Starting out like a vodka ad (think beautiful water cinematography and "edgy" music), it built to a crescendo with the image of a tortured man "drowning" through water being poured into his mouth. It's the sort of film that would be hard to ignore - my only criticism is that I found the ending a bit rushed and so wasn't sure what the significance of "unsubscribe me" was.
On to a pair of print campaigns, both from organisations that should know a thing or two about the power of a picture and the written word. The Economist (1) has a rich print advertising history to live up to. This new campaign brings a strong, contemporary visual style and a more socially aware angle to their trademark intelligent copy. Some executions work better than others (my favourite is the "fresh is always best"), but, overall, this feels like a well-executed, well-branded, more eco-friendly next chapter in the campaign.
The Times (2) campaign is a simple idea, and makes its point without too much fuss. Use of the "eye test" visual style, encouraging readers to see what they can "make out", feels like it demands just the right level of engagement from the reader for a print ad - not too little, but not too much.
And, finally, the Nokia (4) digital campaign, get-out-and-play.com. The film (the ad?) that introduced the site was frankly a bit dull, and was followed by a game that was really a glorified game of ping-pong. For a technology brand that's all about mobile gaming, you would have thought they could have invested a bit more time and money to make it interesting.
Maybe my son was right after all ...
1. THE ECONOMIST
Project: UK brand work, spring 2008
Client: Caroline Breakwell, brand communications manager, UK, The
Agency: Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO
Writers: Mark Fairbanks, Tim Riley
Art director: Paul Cohen
Illustrators: Anthony Burril, Paul Davis
2. THE TIMES
Project: Colour launch
Client: Richard Larcombe, head of brand marketing, Times Media
Brief: Announce the relaunch of The Times as a full-colour paper
Agency: CHI & Partners
Writers/art directors: Ed Edwards, Dave Masterman
Designer: Dan Beckett
Illustrator: Adam Pointer
Exposure: National press
3. VOLKSWAGEN GOLF
Project: Better everyday
Client: Morna Steel, communications manager, Volkswagen
Brief: Celebrate the Mk V Golf in its run-out year
Agency: DDB London
Writer: Noah Regan
Art director: Graeme Hall
Director: Scott Lyon
Production company: Outsider
Exposure: TV, cinema
Project: Get out and play
Brief: Promote Nokia's N-Gage application
Writer/art director: Ake Brattberg
Designers: Simon Martellus, Sebastian Johansson
Exposure: Viral, online
5. AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
Project: Unsubscribe 2008
Client: Sara MacNeice, campaign manager, Amnesty International
Brief: Encourage people to unsubscribe from the CIA technique of
Writer/art director: Marc Hawker
Directors: Marc Hawker, Ishbel Whitaker
Production company: Dark Fibre
Exposure: Cinema, online
Project: We're better, connected
Client: Richard Murfitt, head of advertising, O2 UK
Brief: Launch the new brand line, "We're better, connected", in an
uplifting and inspiring way
Writer/art director: Team VCCP
Directors: Matthew Cullen, Grady Hall
Production company: Rokkit London
Exposure: National TV, outdoor