One of our clients is the global ad director for one of the world's biggest companies. He is highly knowledgeable about communications, having worked with one of the best agencies around, and he retains a curiosity about his job that ensures he will not be outpaced by his competitors.
I won't name names as the praise would embarrass him - and me, for so brazenly seeking more pieces of business. My point is that, despite all the hoopla about the death of traditional advertising, he advocates a comms strategy with three strands: 70 per cent conventional media; 20 per cent new media and 10 per cent experimental media (ie. keeping up with and trying out new media ideas). I like this structure. It reflects the real world, not the one so often reported in media magazines like this one. So it is against this background that I viewed the work.
By far the most complicated and somehow least impressive belonged in the "20 per cent new media" section. Nokia's (5) submission was a website/interactive playground to launch its N85 phone. It featured a dog for no reason, I guess, other than a dog is funny when it has pointy ears. So I played. And after about what seemed an eternity, I learned that this phone did what all other phones/BlackBerrys do. Pity, because I respect the agency and I want the Nokia work to be great. Maybe the client and the agency are still getting used to each other.
Straddling the "70 per cent conventional" and "20 per cent new media" section was Imagine Doctor (4). This intriguing product is a game, which, according to the voiceover at the end, allows you to "live your dreams", implying that we all dream of medical interventions when real life gets too tough. The spot is played out involving some Carry On-style acting by Fearne Cotton and Holly Willoughby. It left me wondering if they do five-part heart bypasses. As directed, I went to the website but it took so long to upload I gave up. So much for integration.
Then we have two fizzy drinks. The perennial underachiever Dr Pepper (2) and the behemoth Coke Zero (3). Both fairly conventional spots, but on the basis of these two, I'm a Dr Pepper man. The spot is basically the old Naked Gun PA system gag in a teen-movie setting. Funny, until the endframe when the laughing target audience fills the frame to say "we were only joking". An unnecessary loss of nerve.
The Coke Zero storyline is bizarrely out of time - by about 40 years. Parents knock on the door to rescue their daughter from a young man - when was the last time that happened? And because it's a major brand, she still had her knickers on as she left the bed - how preposterous can you get? It's from an agency in Copenhagen, so maybe it's post-, post-modern.
The Army (1) spot is again the very height of convention. Isn't it strange how real life depicted in commercials is never ever real life? (Rather like the NatWest spots, which are like The Office, without the jokes.) In this case, despite handheld camera, fully kitted-up soldier in what looks like Afghanistan, it still feels unconvincingly like a commercial. It doesn't help that they've got two endlines, which makes it even more like an "advert".
I like the spots for BBC Blast (6). They run only on the BBC,so they have a medium all of their own, one that has integrated new media into its offer with a reassuring, unfussy confidence that other advertisers should copy. In these two spots, they direct you to a website if you feel like being creative, which seemed a rather grandiose offer, but never mind. The writing is intelligent and quirky and the performances by various robots, animals and actors are all nicely restrained. There's also a confidence about them that comes from an agency that is regularly hitting home runs and a client that invented creative broadcasting.
So, on the basis of this sample, the "70 per cent conventional" sector of advertising is alive, and, in a couple of cases at least, very well indeed.
RETAIL MAGNATE - Theo Paphitis, retail magnate and Dragons' Den dragon
I am a great fan of the BBC, and I'm not just saying that because the Dragons' Den producers are such a charismatic, friendly and persuasive bunch. While the BBC Blast (6) film was incredibly clever - the young girl was very well chosen and the dog and squirrel had lifelike movements - I found the footage irritating towards the end. I liked the tagline: "Your creativity knows best." Perhaps it is because it has a "hyper-real" feel about it, or could it be that I am well outside the age of the target audience? Or is it because the film was ten seconds longer than the 30 I typically expect? I'm not the easiest person to please.
Thankfully, as if to prove I am not a miserable old git, the Coke Zero (3) ad blew my socks off with its high-octane action. I don't think I can recall seeing such an obviously expensive high-production ad in a long time. Echoing the Mission: Impossible theme, the message became: "Great Coke taste, zero sugar - it's possible." The film brilliantly portrays the brand and what it is all about. I'm a Diet Coke man, but I might just give Coke Zero a try.
Nintendo is one of the world's most successful and innovative brands, appealing to a global audience. Nintendo DS and its games partner in this instance have been very clever to broaden the appeal of their games beyond the hardcore male audience, widening the market. The Imagine Doctor (4) game from Ubisoft is a simply constructed film that directly appeals to teenage girls. Fearne Cotton - who is a highly accomplished broadcaster - demonstrates the game while Holly Willoughby of Dancing On Ice fame goes along with the actions. You'd be hard-pushed to find better candidates for the film. And as I am not the ideal target market for the game, I'd be skating on thin ice if I said anymore.
I sometimes wonder if I am working with a bunch of adrenaline junkies, as the Army (1) film was one we wanted to watch over and over again. It's not easy encouraging people to sign up for the Army, but Publicis - as part of a very smart ongoing integrated campaign - captures what being in the Army is about. "Start thinking soldier" encourages the viewer to assess which of the three options given is the best and you have to go online to get the answer. And before you ask, running away is not an option. The film can be admired for capturing the excitement of being in the Army, which is probably an incorrect thing to say but something admitted by long-serving friends in the Army. I challenge anyone to find their heartbeat not raised by simply going to the website www.armyjobs.mod.uk. You must have your volume on high.
Dr Pepper (2) plays on the brand's opinion-dividing reputation. It follows a retro US teen film theme with the tagline: "Dr Pepper, what's the worst that can happen?" The idea is good and it is humorous, but it could have been far funnier if better executed.
Finally, the Nokia (5) work for its N85 phone online at www.nokiagameoverboredom.com showed potential with the amazing dog with bat-like ears but ended up being too much like hard work. I really love Nokia phones, and this one is fun because it is loaded with 14 trial games and you get to activate one of your choice! After a few minutes browsing this ad, boredom overcame me ... but I do have a short attention ...
Project: Start thinking soldier
Clients: Colin Cook, marketing director, army recruiting group, COI;
Major Charlie Mayo, SO2 national marketing
Brief: Engage with individuals who might not have considered the Army
Agencies: Publicis, Publicis Modem
Writers/art directors: Matt Anderson, Steve Nicholls, Jon Groom, Asan
Director: Michael Geoghagen
Production company: Spank
Exposure: TV, radio, press, online
2. DR PEPPER
Client: Dr Pepper
Brief: Grow brand affinity and encourage trial of the product by
returning to the iconic brand idea - "What's the worst that could
Art director: Mother
Director: The Pelorian Brothers
Production company: Blink Productions
Exposure: UK TV, cinema
Project: Coke Zero
Writers/art directors: Anders Baudry, S Engstrom
Director: Martin Werner
Production companies: 100% Film Production Copenhagen, Bacon
Project: Imagine Doctor
Client: Mark Slaughter, marketing manager, Ubisoft
Art director: Audacity!
Director: Jon and Max
Production company: Dab Hand Media
Exposure: UK and Ireland TV
Project: Nokia N85 game over boredom
Client: Chris Jones, UK marketing manager, Nokia
Brief: Position the N85's gaming functions as a mobile antidote to
Agency: Work Club
Writers/art directors: David Martin, Lucy-Anne Ronayne, Ben Mooge,
Rodrigo Lebrun, Jade Tomlin, Andy Sandoz
Director: Diamond Bullet
Production company: Kog Industries
Client: Emma Thomas, head of marketing, BBC future, media and technology
Brief: Launch Blast, a creative resource that encourages young people to
experiment with their creativity
Writer: Joe De Souza
Art director: Sam Walker
Production company: Red Bee Media