As the world financial markets go into meltdown, everything that we were once certain of now seems less so. You have to admit we are living in both frightening and exciting times.
I recently visited the Frieze Art Fair, sponsored by Deutsche Bank. Interesting that something as conservative as a bank would hand over money to something as radical and shocking as art. Then again, is art still shocking? Aren't we just used to it all by now? Damien's dead things in formaldehyde? Tracey's bloodied knickers? The Chapman brother's penis faces? Perhaps the real shock of the new is the banks. They're the ones challenging our ideas of what we think we know. Could banks, rather than Banksy, be the new art?
The way our economy works (never my greatest interest) suddenly makes fascinating reading. What, you may wonder, has any of this got to do with advertising? Well, first, clients are going to be slashing budgets and we need to be more effective in our thinking. Second, maybe we can use this topsy-turvy view to take a fresh look at what a brand stands for.
Private View arrives ...
The Sun (6) is an iconic British brand that we think we know well. This spot shows a guy reading it on a bench as the paper magically unfolds ad infinitum to fill the entire park. I like the technique, but it doesn't tell me anything new or surprising. No persuasive message. So with production costs guesstimated at £250k and media at £3 million, it looks very expensive.
Absolute Radio (4) used to be called Virgin. What's different about it? Well, the answer isn't in this 30 seconds of pricey primetime, which tells me zero about the rebranded station, its USP or its ideas. Instead, it's spent half the money on midget actor Jordan Prentice, who plays a dancing security guard. This stinks of a bottom dwarf idea (sorry). Will his catchphrase, "That's good, that's real good", ever catch on? And is it worth the rebranding bill of £15 million?
Next out the bag, a campaign for Pretty Polly (3). I'm not the target market here, so I do a quick bit of qual' research with Ms Tiger Savage. The findings were as follows: shots OK, but the styling doesn't do much for the girls. Her legs seem uncomfortably stuck together when being more apart would have made them look longer/better. Haircuts poor. It doesn't persuade her. Estimated cost for Rankin's photography plus media: £1.5 million.
Logging on to naturalconfectionery.co.uk (2), I wondered what the digital guys were offering up. Unfortunately, a rather disappointing website. The problem lies in its pure, unashamed vanity. FMCG products are almost by definition of low interest. So why do their brand managers persist in the belief that the public will be fascinated by their wares? The sheer arrogance of assuming that we want to read their company history, detailed information about their products and keep in regular contact with them by e-mail is astounding. I know digital is relatively cheap (cost of this site to client: approximately £50k) but the damage to a brand through this kind of thinking is immeasurable.
Next up, a direct mailshot for Bookstart (5), selling children's books. The strategy tries to position books as something that can transport you to new places. Maybe not the most original thought, but at least there's an idea here. Cost around £20k including postage. I'll bet it gets a good response. Bonuses all round.
Finally, we come to a print ad for Q (1). The "all new look issue". It does this with a "tired old look issue" layout. The ad's written in shuffle mode. My response is also in "shuffle". Good - not very. Estimated total for campaign? £200k.
Overall cost this week to clients, including media and production, is roughly estimated at £20 million. Now ask yourself how much of this lot you'll remember tomorrow?
EDITOR - Alexandra Shulman, editor, Vogue
I think that my view of these ads probably says at least as much about me as it does about them, but then that's probably true of the general public's reaction to any marketing. I was more inclined to like the ads that might conceivably be aimed at myself while I was bemused and confused by some of the others.
To start with the good news: I loved the Pretty Polly (3) Secret Slimmer ads - they made me want to rush out to the shops immediately, especially since the previous evening I had been at a party where many of the women were comparing their slimming underwear of one kind or another.
I particularly liked and admired the way Pretty Polly dealt with the notion that matters of appearance are trickery, not only in the media but also in real life. There's a nightmarish goody-goody attitude around that suggests that none of us are capable of decoding imagery, and that we interpret fashion images completely literally.
This flies in the face of the real world where people have become incredibly savvy and can all digitally manipulate their own holiday snaps on a computer anyway. So I was delighted to see an ad campaign that celebrates the notion that "all's fair in love and slimming". We all want a pair of tights that make us drop a dress size.
In total contrast, I was infuriated by the tweeness of the Bookstart (5) campaign. I was at a loss to understand why it was Dad who was having a bookish adventure with his small child while Mum was at home preparing tea, and the short story book they sent was pointless and a waste of trees. Cute drawings and a few words do not alone a story make, while the accompanying letter telling us that reading can turn "little monsters into little angels" was so cliched and predictable that, far from encouraging reading, I thought it had the opposite effect.
The Sun (6) is, like all newspapers, having a tough time on the newsstand and I was intrigued to see how it would pitch a campaign at the moment. By targeting a broad range of viewers, from the young couple through to the old soldier, I thought it effectively got across its "everyman" message and managed to root it in reality, while still putting across a feel-good message with the soundtrack and the shared community feel. Their 30p coverprice message is powerful but not crass.
But I couldn't understand the Q (1) ad at all. I know I used to edit GQ but this lads' ad just went way over my head - what is it doing, who is it for and, anyway, have I really got the energy to decipher all that text?
Advertising online hasn't really engaged me, so my first reaction to The Natural Confectionery Company (2) ad was irritation at having to log-on to see it. Then I found the idea of making your own little film intriguing and enthusiastically filled in all the commands, only to be confounded by what appeared at the end. The couple of jelly beans that emerged as leading characters didn't strike me as having a substantial screen presence, so much so that I thought I must have done something wrong. However, after trying it out three times and still just seeing some jelly beans on a bookshelf, I gave up trying to grasp what the message was.
I was similarly underwhelmed by the Absolute Radio (4) ad. I'm a contemporary music fan, always looking for a new radio station to listen to, but I was no clearer in my understanding of what I would find on Absolute than before watching it. It did, however, make me register the name, which I had previously not heard of, and I suppose that when I'm next fiddling around with my digital dial, I might try it out.
Project: Q relaunch
Client: Nick Knowles, marketing manager, Q
Brief: Get new and lapsed readers to re-evaluate Q following its
Agency: St Luke's
Writer: Tim Collins
Art director: Mike Hughes
2. THE NATURAL CONFECTIONERY COMPANY
Project: Mini movie maker
Client: Frances Dovey, interactive and emerging media manager, Cadbury
Brief: Encourage parents to participate with The Natural Confectionery
Writers: Dee Saigal, Cat Howarth
Design: Ian Patrick, Tom Schrimshaw, Bernard Magri, Rob Meldrum, Chris
3. PRETTY POLLY
Project: Secret Slimmer
Clients: Sue Clague, commercial director; Gail Newport, marketing
manager, Pretty Polly
Brief: Launch Pretty Polly's Secret Slimmer tights range
Agency: Beattie McGuinness Bungay
Writer: Julia Martens
Art director: Jade Trott
Retouching: Dan Jackson, BMBPerfectLove
Exposure: Print, outdoor
4. ABSOLUTE RADIO
Project: Station launch
Client: TIML Limited
Brief: Showcase the "real" music that Absolute plays and establish the
new brand in the public's mind
Writer: Steve Heath
Art director: Nick Darken
Director: Stephen Pearson
Production company: Hungry Man
Exposure: National TV
Project: Fathers' fulfilment DM campaign
Client: Emily Butt, Bookstart campaigns and communications manager,
Brief: Fulfilment pack sent to those who responded to TV campaign
encouraging "hard to reach" fathers to read to their children
Agency: Kitcatt Nohr Alexander Shaw
Writer: Simon Robinson
Art director: Jamie Tierney
Exposure: Direct mail
6. THE SUN
Project: The Sun
Client: Roland Agambar, marketing director, The Sun
Brief: Communicate the fact that, for just 30p, The Sun stimulates
Agency: Euro RSCG
Writer: Ben Clapp
Art director: Russell Schaller
Directors: Martin Sjostrom, Jakob Dahlstrom
Production company: Stink
Exposure: National TV