Claire Beale On Advertising: Sony needs to set the ball rolling again

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The Independent Online

Go on then, what's the best ad of the last decade? Which commercial has taken you by the scruff, held you rapt, entertained you, moved you (and, yes, the best ads should be able to do all of that)?

There's no right answer. We probably won't agree, but here's what I think. The best ad of the last 10 years was created by Fallon for Sony. It's called "Balls". Of course you remember it: thousands of brightly coloured balls bouncing down the streets of San Francisco to Jose Gonzalez's "Heartbeats".

It's a beautiful piece of film, perfect in its blend of movement and languor, a real joy to watch again and again – as fresh today (though its essence has been much copied) as it was when it launched in 2005. It made Sony (in media circles at least) synonymous again with creativity and innovation, and it infected the advertising industry. Acoustic, folksy soundtracks were suddenly everywhere, ads became full of colourful objects floating through the air, and agencies learnt that an ad could become an event, engaging the public (online) even before the commercial itself was ready to air. It was a commercial that inspired the industry to be better, bolder, more lyrical.

It also propelled Fallon to recognition as one of the best agencies not only in London, but in the world. It made a hero of the marketing chief who commissioned it – David Patton, now the chief executive of Grey Advertising, and conferred a God-like aura (within the creative community) on its originator, Juan Cabral. Last week Campaign magazine recognised "Balls" as the best commercial of the first decade of the 21st Century.

Last week, too, Sony dumped Fallon. It wasn't a complete surprise. There'd been a pitch; Fallon was down to the last two. But in the end there was something shocking in the termination of one of the most creatively fruitful advertising relationships of recent years. Let's be honest. Fallon's more recent work on Sony struggled to hit the highest creative notes; perhaps the agency had taken its eye off the Sony, erm, ball. Patton has gone (to be replaced by the ambitious ex-agency man Ben Moore), Cabral is on a long leash in Argentina (though still working for Fallon) and, crucially, Sony is in trouble.

The brand that was once a Kitemark of quality and innovation has been squeezed from the bottom by brands that offer quality cheaper (LG, Samsung) and at the top by Apple, which has come to define all that's cool, clear and innovative in consumer electronics. Foreign exchange rates, a dilution of the Sony message across a confused bundle of divisions and cheap Korean rivals combined to bring Sony to the brink.

It's time for change. Sony spends a staggering $4.9bn on advertising (in contrast, Apple spends about $500m). The marketing pot is spread across a broad spectrum of products (TVs, PlayStation games, Sony Pictures, Sony Music and on and on) and any sense of a coherent Sony brand message is long gone.

The company needs to create a deeply thought-through integrated brand world that will make us all fall in love with the Sony brand again. Moore says the old advertising model is broken; Sony needs to find a new advertising approach to fix its own problems. Brilliant thinkers who can unlock consumer insights that will lead the disparate Sony divisions through the process are perhaps more important right now than the question of who might make some award-winning ads.

So now it falls to Sony's new agency, Anomaly, to revive and reposition the brand. And beautiful campaigns like "Balls" are unlikely to figure near the top of their priorities.

Best In Show: Barnardo's (Bartle Bogle Hegarty)

Barnardo's is making a habit of interrupting our Christmas reveries with hard-hitting reminders of the brutal realities faced by abused children. Last Christmas the charity gave us the award-winning "break the cycle" campaign showing how children can slip into lives of crime and drug abuse. This year Bartle Bogle Hegarty's offering is equally powerful, highlighting the charity's work in transforming the lives of sexually exploited children. A series of scenes show a young girl descending into a life of abuse. But with Barnardo's help we see the same scenes reversed as the girl is helped to turn her life around. Powerful and provocative, it demands attention and action.