The Work Review

This week's creative, Simon Learman and planner, Richard Huntington take a different look at the latest adverts.

Simon Learman, joint executive creative director, McCann Erickson

I have to admit, I was a little disappointed to be given four telly ads and some print to review. Hardly smacks of the market innovation we all strive for. Well, let's see if this lot can do some heavy brand lifting.

I like the Ikea brand (Spike Jonze's "lamp" spot is in my top ten). Rather strangely, its new "Kitchen Squad" campaign seems to be trying to emulate the very programme content it needs to stand out from. In a Changing Rooms-style operation, we see a hit squad completely transform an offending kitchen. Trouble is, the format idea they're referencing is tired. I've been tortured by a thousand room-changing programmes before, so I'm not exactly enthused by the prospect of yet another version. On balance, the "Tractor quotient" (a gratuitous Wes Anderson type who adds a degree of geeky irony) does create some mild interest, but it doesn't excuse what is an extremely generic strategy. Sorry.

Talking about familiar, Simple feels like too many ads I've seen before. It's nicely photographed but I was waiting for a faint whiff of a twist: a meagre reward for watching. Twisting the planner's arm for a more original strategy might have helped. But I guess if the product is called "Simple", it should kinda write itself. I get the no-fuss approach. But that's exactly what's been delivered: something about which it's hard to make a fuss. Great product. Not such a great ad, sadly.

Very.co.uk features Fearne Cotton and Holly Willoughby frolicking through some enchanted walled garden as they admire a new spring collection. It's all highly unmemorable, not least because there's no real brand equity here. And, worse still, this drifts towards M&S territory in tone. Risky. I did actually visit the website to see if I was missing something, and I am. A brand. This really needs fixing. The Very.co.uk sign-off doesn't explain very much. Fearne and Holly aren't a bad start but they're not the idea.

Moving swiftly on! The Department for Transport's new spot is fun. I do like the notion of putting a name to a face. After all, motorcyclists are people too, you know. They're called Dave, and Paul, and Tom. Humanising these bastar ... sorry, fellow road-users, is a near-credible strategy. And the film is nicely executed. My only niggle is that it may just be too quiet. Polite, even. After all, this spot requires me to unlearn all those slang body-part references I enjoy using so much. And that's a big ask. Resorting to colourful agricultural language on the Queen's Highway is surely an automatic response for any human being. Or is that just a Leeds thing?!

I really like the Stella Artois 4% film. (Hallelujah!) Not least because it's a very simple strategy beautifully executed. "Triple filtered with a smooth outcome" may not be the most original positioning, I hear you holler. But I just love the removal guy who effortlessly glides through the film like Elton John on speed as he plays a runaway piano. He narrowly avoids disaster, and even manages to upgrade to a white grand before jamming with a band. I particularly like the fact our mildly petulant hero takes the whole adventure in his stride, too. (Hey, liking French people is a behaviour-changing strategy, right?) The authentic feel of French cinema is also taken online at smoothoriginals.com. Check it out.

Marmite is a campaign you have to love. So why wasn't my pulse racing when I saw the latest incarnation? I do like the call to action here. But, if I'm honest, this new slant lacks some of the cut-through of the earlier love it/hate it campaign. Perhaps I've just seen too many spoof perfume/FMCG ads. Then again, what do I know? I like French people.


Richard Huntington, director of strategy, Saatchi & Saatchi

An age ago, and while at the sadly departed HHCL, a planning luminary heard me despairing at the absolute tat that passed as advertising for Mag-ners and asked me if I thought it was so bad, then how come it was working so well? I spouted some total arse about semiotics, which happened to be the flavour of the moment among planningkind, but the lesson stuck with me. In fact, round my way, it is a sort of planning parlour game, trying to figure out why stuff you don't like might be working, and I thought we might play that today.

And what better place to start than with Very.co.uk? This risible attempt at something approaching advertising is so manifestly ghastly that it is physically impossible to watch it more than once without several of your major organs spontaneously attempting to end your life in an act of self-preservation. I pity the poor editor who was stuck in a dark garret in Soho for nights on end trying to will some life into this thing. Apparently, for all its hideousness, it's "pulling like a train", as we used to say in direct marketing. Which simply goes to show that if you lack an idea, "throw in a couple of celebrities" is still a winning formula.

Ikea has done something reasonably curious that I can't decide whether I like or not. A rather bizarre Ikea Kitchen Squad bursts into an actual, real-life, genuine person's house and replaces her shitty old kitchen with one from Ikea, much to her surprise ...

and over three consecutive ad breaks. Put aside the weird combination of evident authenticity and contrived advertising confection, and it probably works quite well. Changing rooms might be one of the most cliched television formats on earth, but it still creates a visceral emotional reaction in the viewer and the same goes here - you end up feeling well chuffed for the hit squad's victim and slightly envious that you don't have a spanking new kitchen too.

The game is more difficult when it comes to the Stella Artois 4% campaign. In advertising terms, it lives in the shadow of the legendary work that we all grew up on, being infinitely more passive both strategically and creatively. And yet if this work is working, it is surely a triumph of style over substance in the most positive way. A brand on the floor in reputation terms has been given an entirely new body language and, as a result, a massive injection of self-respect and charm straight to the heart.

The only way that Simple can possibly be making its poor woman's "campaign for real beauty" work is flipping great wedges of cash and I'd be surprised if it has so much money it can afford wallpaper like this.

Unfortunately, in our little game, there are no prizes at all for why the Marmite work is working. One of the great strategies of the last decade allied to brilliant brand extensions and breathless creative delivery. This work perhaps lacks the restrained elegance of the last campaign but it's properly funny, inspiring both horror and delight in the audience depending on where you stand on the whole Marmite thing.

And, finally, my favourite work from the week. If the Department for Transport's "named rider" ad, in which motorcyclists drive around town with their first names displayed above them in neon, isn't working like a bastard, then I'm giving up this planning lark. It's a lovely creative idea driven straight out of a proper revelation - that motorists who know a biker are much more careful and aware of bikes when driving. Serve this kind of behaviour-changing insight up well and bosh - people do something different, which, in this case, means fewer deaths on the road. And all without the usual body count we expect from the "Think!" campaign.