Claire Beale on Advertising

The battle of the bulge offers a booty of cash for ad agencies to fight over
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The Independent Online

A long, long political week ago, James Purnell sat down for lunch with a select band of adland top dogs in the civilised surroundings of the IPA.

Way back last Tuesday, Purnell was Culture Secretary, so his presence at the IPA table was not just an honour for adland, but a small victory. And Purnell had good news, igniting a wave of triumphalism through adland's management corridors.

The feared extension of restrictions on so-called junk food advertising would not materialise, Purnell hinted, when the Government unveiled its Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives strategy the following day. Cue collective and audible adland relief.

Over the course of the next 24 hours it became clear that the watershed victory was as much Purnell's as adland's.

The Department of Health has been agitating for further restrictions on advertising so-called junk food, including possibly banning such ads before the 9pm watershed (after which the nation's kids are supposedly in bed... ha).

But Purnell, who had set himself up as a champion of creative industries, fought to win a stay of execution for adland: the current rules will not be extended. Yet, pity that, after a long week in politics, he's buggering off out of Culture. There goes another adland supporter. Bye bye.

Anyway, there was more good news for the advertising and marketing communities. Advertising has for so long been on the defensive when it comes to our national body shape: accused of encouraging bulimia/anorexia by parading wafer thin models; accused of making us fat by selling us junk food. But now advertising is about to become part of the solution to the nation's weight problem.

Finally, the Government has woken up to the power of advertising to promote healthier lifestyles and last week unveiled a £75 million arsenal to campaign against obesity.

It should have been an obvious strategy from the off. From Aids to drug abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, smoking, death on the roads: advertising has proved its value in tackling some of the most sensitive, serious and provocative issues of our time. No question it can do the same in the fightback against the flab. So, as you'll have read last week, Health Secretary Alan Johnson now has a meaty £75 million advertising booty to set against the problem of obesity and advertisers, ad agencies and the media will be called on for their expertise and contributions.

All good news. Though let's not get too carried away. Adland's been in the full glare of the spotlight on this issue for so long that the attention paid to its efforts to fight the flab will also be unduly magnified. That's a lot of pressure for the agencies that end up working on the business, particularly when the fortunes of the entire industry could be affected by their efforts.

The truth is that encouraging us – from kids to seniors -- to ditch the burgers and exercise more is a long term project that needs to touch all demographics across a wide range of media. Unlocking pivotal consumer insights and honing the most influential strategy will be a painstaking process. Let's hope both the Government and the ad industry give the agencies tasked with taking on the campaign the necessary time to get it right. It's taken decades for obesity to nudge epidemic proportions; it will take more than a few hasty ads to turn the tide. There's been plenty written – not least by me, here – about the democratisation of creativity. Barely a week goes by without a new piece of kit coming to the market which allows anybody to create interesting multi-media content or mash up other people's work to create a totally new piece of music/film/art/ad.

Interesting to see the trend at play at Davos last week. In recent years, Davos has become the place where every A-list business exec goes to be seen with other A-List business execs. So naturally at last week's media circus the big adland cheeses were jostling for the spotlight. Oh, I'm sure information was exchanged, learning imparted and absorbed, revenue-generating contacts made, but at times the media opportunities seemed rather more important than the business ones. And this being 2008, the most interesting media opportunity was the chance to become the media and create the content.

So up in the exclusive Swiss village, the content creators weren't humble journalists but big-business hitters, armed with "mobile journalism" toolkits installed on their Nokia handsets. WPP's boss Sir Martin Sorrell was up for playing reporter, and was duly kitted out with the full mobile journo works in the service of Reuters.

It was a fantastic bit of marketing. Reuters got unique inside access to the invitation-only event, and no doubt a tidy commercial deal with Nokia. Nokia, meanwhile, got itself a neat PR stunt for its N82 handset, now something of an object of desire for even hard-bitten hacks. And Sorrell, in true style, became the most talked-about ad man at the conference.

On the subject of creative democratisation, look out for the upcoming film Be Kind Rewind. It captures the trend on so many levels. The film stars Jack Black as Jerry. Hapless Jerry manages to erase all of the videos in the store where his mate Mike works. Essentially the film is then about the pair recreating a bunch of famous movies – Driving Miss Daisy and Ghostbusters – which the store's only loyal customer (Mia Farrow) wants to hire out.

Jerry and Mike call this kind of mash-up sweding (they pretend their home-made movies come from Sweden and that's why they take a long time to order). Expect sweding to take off as a tag for this type of content bastardisation, where you take something you like, mix it with something else you like to create something different and fresh. Anyway, from an advertising point of view, there are several really interesting things about this movie.

For starters it's directed by Michel Gondry, who directs commercials through production company Partizan. He did the record-breaking Levi's Drugstore ad a few years ago and pop videos for everyone from the Rolling Stones to Kylie.

Then there's a cool website (bekindmovie.com) to back the launch of the film.

It's been designed by Tequila in Australia and includes a guide to sweding, encouraging us to have a go, sweding ourselves into film promo posters and mashing websites.

Check out the clips of punters' own movies on a YouTube channel and see how sites like Google have been recreated with a load of everyday objects: funny how the advance of technology is throwing creative development open to the masses and so, ironically, heralding a new trend for homey, low-fi almost Blue Peter-esque content. Best of all, though, in the US sweding is going out on the streets. Gondry is creating a sweding studio in New York and at the upcoming Sundance Festival where punters can create their own content. Happy sweding!

Beale's best in show: Nokia (Wieden & Kennedy)

Music on your mobile phone's a bit of a yawn now. If it wasn't for the fact that the iPod is such a design icon and we've all got at least one, listening to music on your phone would be an absolute no-brainer.

Last week's Apple share-price slump on the back of slackening iPod sales may mean that the mobile's ascendancy in music delivery is sealed. Not that Apple need worry much if iPhone sales stay on track.

Anyway, Nokia's ads for its music handsets, the 5310 xpressMusic and the 5610 xpressMusic, do a fine job of making the phones seem almost as cool and covetable as its iPod rival.

The adverts are by Wieden & Kennedy, and they're fabulous. In the series, all the phones have wonderfully customised sets of headphones representing different types of music, from the funky to the frankly frightening, and all boasting bags of street cred.

They are beautifully art-directed, bold and clean – and they pack a real punch when displayed on a big poster. Compared to almost everything else the mobile-phone market serves up adwise, this campaign is streets ahead. If the phones really did come with these headphones, there'd be a stampede.

Claire Beale is editor of 'Campaign'

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