Zombie ads. They're everywhere, man. Bug-eyed and brain-dead. Shuffling across the schedules with their arms outstretched, imploring our indulgence for 30 seconds of spiel from Beyond the Grave of Creativity. You can run through the whole gamut of channels on your remote but you can't hide. The outposts of intelligence, humanity and hope are fewer and further between as the advertisers that espouse those values scramble aboard the escape pod to new media worlds.
Forget the fictions of Romero & Co, the Laws of Contagion clearly state that if zombies ever existed in reality, they would rapidly outnumber us puny humans. So what do we do with the infestation of commercial television? Pick up the baseball bat and keep swinging? Or burn it down and start again?
Hand me that goddam bat.
First over the horizon is a soft, squidgy spot for Haagen-Dazs (2). There was a time when commercials for this super-premium ice-cream were so hot, they could only be filmed with thermal imaging cameras. A change of ownership has brought a change of heart and now the brand is about romance. Two gooey love-birds swap ice-cream for dialogue while perched in the flies above The Royal Ballet. In addition to the obvious health and safety issues, this seems an inappropriate usage occasion for what is essentially a freezer-based comestible. So, WHACK!
The next sucker lumbering into view is a big fat McDonald's (3) commercial. Recent work, such as the 6am opening spot, has shown a significant return of form from the fast-feeder. I proceed with caution. Inspired by the Liverpool Poets, this is a charming 60- second tribute to the varied folk who pop into Maccie D's while "just passing by". Much harder to do well than you'd think, I lower my trusty bat in respect.
Sneaking up behind me is an appeal on behalf of the BBC's (5) Children in Need. This has taken the mutant form of the entire cast of EastEnders. They're doing the old "soap opera meets real opera" routine. This gag is so old, it is usually found sitting in its own wee and staring distractedly out of the window. But it's for the kids. Dammit, it's for the Pudz. The chocolate-chip-smeared bat hangs limp and impotent by my side.
But still they come. Lurching out of the shadows is that spawn of corporate expediency, Sony Ericsson (4). This slobbering conglomerate wants to rip precious hours out of my life by inviting me to "create my own space hopper and invade the Yahoo! homepages in 17 countries". To be fair to the digital agency, I think the space hoppers were a given, but we can't take any chances. WHACK. WHACK. WHACK. DIE, YOU BASTARD.
Next, Frank (6) and the gory spectacle of a still-beating heart telling me that cocaine bumps up my BPM. No shit, Sherlock. Turning the tide against the resurgent Devil's Dandruff is no easy task and at least this treatment justifies the tag: "There's a darker side to coke." The trouble with the humorous companion piece featuring the nostrils and Pablo the dog is that it is actually funny. "The lighter side of coke", perhaps? I'll WHACK 'EM anyway and nick their Charlie.
Lastly, the grim prospect of the End of the World staggers into splatting range. The Louisville Slugger rests lightly against my right shoulder ready to separate this concept from its execution in one savage swing. But wait, it's a bedtime story about the future of our planet from Act on CO2 (1) and it's not turning out too well. This is nicely judged, the little girl is terrific - I just wish they'd dropped the end voiceover and left the big question hanging there for us all to ponder.
My work here is done. While we've been distracted by these mostly good pieces of work, the Army of the Undead has been on the march. Keep swinging. CHIEF EXECUTIVE - Tom Knox, joint chief executive, Delaney Lund Knox Warren
As well as being the year of the financial hair shirt, this has also been the year when behavioural economics has come into adland's mainstream.
Challenging whether creative work is based on a valid and relevant consumer insight, and whether it will actually lead to specific behavioural, not just attitudinal, change is a big ask, but it has to be the right one.
So, where better to start than Act on CO2 (1)?
It's very well crafted and rooted in the truth that parents feel it's their responsibility to leave an inhabitable planet behind for their children. However, the vast majority of the population is fully aware that climate change is a problem and that "something needs to be done"; the pertinent question is: "What can I do now?" The clue's in the brand name.
Coincidentally, as I was viewing the commercial online, I was nudged by a banner ad for Act on CO2, which told me not to waste water and, in one click, I learn that a fifth of my household's carbon footprint comes from heating water. A good deal more helpful and a lot more likely to lead to action on CO2.
Next, two new Frank (6) ads. Telling me that too much Bolivian marching powder will make me look like Daniella Westbrook is definitely based on a motivating insight and, if done well, has a good chance of changing behaviour (trust me, I checked it out with our esteemed director of strategy, the eponymous Charlie Snow).
Showing the potential ravages of drug abuse in a shocking way is risky as it's all too easy to gross-out the viewer who then tunes out. However, the humour in the nostril ad, in particular, seems to me to get under the radar and still packs a powerful punch.
The BBC (5) Children in Need EastEnders on-air promotion teeters on a feeble word play ("this is a soap opera") and the call to action feels mighty perfunctory. It's all comfortable, good fun with a strong whiff of complacency- would a charity run this if it had to pay for the airtime?
Turning to more commercial matters, we have a saccharine offering from Haagen-Dazs (2).
Ice-cream is an impulse thing and, as such, a perfect candidate for a nudge: get it out of the freezer and on to the sofa. The problem with this commercial is you could substitute practically anything into this scenario - chocolates, perfume, bunch of flowers ... this will tend to make it poorly branded.
By the end, you're left feeling that Haagen-Dazs is so special, you'll need a marriage proposal to justify whipping out a tub. Behavioural change probability? Low, I fear.
Sony Ericsson (4)'s buttock-clenchingly jaunty Euro website says "you can spark something fun anytime, anywhere ... ever heard of a picverstation? Nor have we. We just made it up."
Dare's elaborate and nicely designed campaign aims to create "the first ever online flash-mob" (sounds like an irritating page takeover) with a bunch of user-generated virtual space hoppers.
The iPhone is the formidable competitor here and after a long time interacting with hopperinvasion.com, I'd been told little that would make me switch to a "Satio" (the ability to tag photos doesn't seem like the killer app to me).
Finally, the pick of the behavioural change bunch: two more great commercials for McDonald's (3) in a long line from Leo Burnett. They are beautifully written and perfectly executed.
If you're in the business of changing behaviour, you have to ask what the barriers to achieving your desired behaviour are. These ads charmingly disarm anyone who thinks McDonald's isn't for them.
"There's a McDonald's for everyone" is modern, egalitarian and turns going to McDonald's into what our good friends Thaler and Sunstein would call a "social norm", giving lots of people lots of reasons to go back again and again.
Hats off to all concerned.
1. ACT ON CO2
Project: Bedtime story
Client: Fiona Samson, head of strategic marketing, Act on CO2
Brief: Raise awareness of man's role in global warming
Agency: Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO
Writers/art directors: Andy Booth, Jim Seath
Director: Steve Cope
Production company: Rattling Stick
Project: Melt together
Client: Abigail Marr, senior brand manager, Haagen-Dazs
Brief: Return Haagen-Dazs to its former status as the intimate adult
Writer: Graham Cappi
Art director: James Gillham
Director: Philippe Andre
Production company: Independent
Client: Jill McDonald, chief marketing officer UK and Northern Europe,
Brief: Celebrate McDonald's iconic food items and remind the British
public of why they love to visit McDonald's
Agency: Leo Burnett
Writers/art directors: Tony Malcolm, Guy Moore
Director: Neil Gorringe
Production company: Moxie Pictures
Exposure: National TV, outdoor, press
4. SONY ERICSSON
Project: Spark something
Clients: Louise Forbes, senior marketing manager UK and Ireland;
Matthias Fichtl, director of global marketing comms; Andrea Heinrich,
manager of global marketing comms, Sony Ericsson
Brief: Create excitement around the brand
Writer: Steve Whiteley
Art director: Olly Robinson
Production company: Dare
Exposure: Online, digital panels
Project: Children in Need
Clients: Louisa Fyans, head of marketing; Karen Potterton, marketing
manager, MC&A BBC Sport and Events; Emma Bradley, director of marketing,
Children in Need
Brief: Promote Children in Need 2009
Agency: Red Bee Media
Writers/art directors: Alison King, Rachel Webb
Director: Stephen Pipe
Production company: Red Bee Media
Exposure: BBC channels and online
Project: Heart, nostrils
Client: Department of Health
Brief: Challenge perceptions that cocaine is a harmless party drug among
young people by showing there's a darker side to coke
Art director: Mother
Director: Big Red Button
Production company: Hotspur & Argyle
Exposure: TV, cinema