Claire Beale on Advertising

Orange pulls at the heart strings, but can we be bothered to switch phones?
Click to follow
The Independent Online

I am my mom. I am my sister. I am my best friend Mike who I've known since school. Basically, I am all the girls I've ever kissed, all the ones I will, my teachers at school, the people I like, the people I don't. I am a mobile phone company. I am the new ad for Orange.

It's nice to know I am not a house. Or an expensive suit. Or a fast car. Because there's a recession on and I can't really afford those things right now. So it's a good time to remember that people and community are more important than possessions. Yes, it's a good time for love Orange. Mind you, I'm not sure I can afford my mobile phone at the moment. How much does it cost? Any free minutes or texts? What's in it for me, Orange?

The new Orange campaign from Fallon is dripping feelgood. Really it's quite lovely. But is there enough of a sell? If you haven't seen the TV commercial yet, it goes like this: we see a montage of real people, and the voiceover tells us that they've all helped shape him into the person he is today: "I am who I am because of everyone."

The real adland cynics out there have already dismissed the ad as a load of emotional corporate twaddle that does nothing for the Orange brand. But I'm not sure real-world people will feel any more cynical about this ad than they do about all the rest. They know advertising is about persuasion, about a commercial transaction where the information/entertainment/stimulation provided by an ad is (hopefully) rewarded with a greater interest in purchasing the product being peddled.

The question is whether there's enough information/entertainment/stimulation in the Orange ad to engage with customers. It's a close-run thing, but I reckon the TV ad is provocative enough for people to take notice. It's wonderfully cast, and the directing style is intriguing enough to stand out from the commercial pack. Call me sentimental (makes a change from cynical) but it has a nice warmth and, in the context of Orange's wonderful advertising heritage, is just about convincing enough.

And the TV ad is just part of the story. Orange is throwing plenty of cash behind the whole multimedia campaign, so the chances are consumers will see multiple messages across media; there are 120 in all. Some of the long-copy print ads are wonderful, particularly the one written by Rose Tremain, winner of the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction: "I am the ragged fur coat my English teacher wore in a cold boarding school classroom..."

There's the requisite website, where users can put their own interpretation on the "I am" theme, a national tour in an Orange Winnebago by a breaking band who will interact with requests for them to play unusual venues, and an old man who will walk the length of the country mapping his progress online. All these add-ons are about amplifying the theme of relationships. Even Orange business cards will carry personal "I am" manifestos on the back. So it's a big campaign, and judging its likely effectiveness on the back of the first TV execution is perhaps unfair, particularly as insiders reckon that the follow-up ad is rather better and more focused.

Interestingly, T-Mobile has just junked advertising whimsy for a rather more basic focus on value, guaranteeing to match or beat the number of minutes offered by its competitors for the same price. And, interestingly, the T-Mobile ad is by Fallon's sister agency, Saatchi & Saatchi.

The mobile phone market is still essentially driven by price rather than quality and service, and as consumers feel the economic squeeze, price will become even more of a determiner between brands. My heart says "I am" Orange, my wallet says T-Mobile, my inertia says (can't be bothered to change from) Vodafone. But price will remain a dominant force in the mobile market as belts tighten. Sometimes love just isn't enough.

BRILLIANT CREATIVITY is what makes the advertising world go round. But you can't take a bunch of highly talented, creative people and expect them to be entirely fulfilled by the prospect of making 30-second ads for soup or a nice poster for a mobile phone.

Adland is littered with painters, sculptors, photographers, writers and plenty of admen and women have gone on to flex their creative muscles outside the confines of the advertising brief to great acclaim. Fay Wheldon started out as a copywriter at JWT, Peter Mayle is a former Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO creative chief, and the film-makers Alan Parker, David Puttnam, Ridley Scott and Jonathan Glazer all got their breaks in adland.

And it's still happening. The creatives at Mother who shaped the Eurostar-funded movie Somers Town, directed by Shane Meadows, have just landed the Best Film award at the Edinburgh Film Festival, sealing the movie's success. The film – beautiful, fresh, quirky – tells the story of a friendship between two lonely teenagers. And it's superb – not a word you'd apply to many ads.

Now adland also has a new scribe to champion this week: Jonathan Durden, whose first novel – the deliciously titled Essex, Drugs and Rock'n'Roll – is just out. It stars adman Mark Cohen, who enjoys "a lifestyle to die for and enough designer trappings to pass any Essex bling audit". Clearly a must-read for Durden's friends and colleagues, who might just find themselves thinly disguised in its pages, the book is also capitalising on Durden's notoriety following his appearance on last summer's Big Brother.

Even better, Durden has managed to call in some adland mates to help him put together a campaign to promote the book, so look out for TV and newspaper ads promoting the tome. Since adland is usually so very bad at promoting itself, it's nice to see Durden put his faith in the power of advertising.

From writing ads to writing drama, one-time AMV creative director Peter Souter is also moving on to a bigger stage. He has just been commissioned to write a romcom for ITV1 which is expected to be a star of next summer's schedule.

Souter has already had great success with a couple of Radio 4 plays (starring Tamsin Greig and Juliet Stevenson), and now ITV1 controller Peter Fincham has given the green light to the six-part TV series he is working on.

The smartest ad agencies encourage this free flow of creative endeavour from their people. The very smartest also find some way of monetising it. Expect more ad agencies to foster and invest in new forms of creative content. And expect a few less frustrated creatives as a result.

Claire Beale is editor of 'Campaign'