Claire Beale on Advertising

YouTube gives consumers the power to make or break a brand

There are people out there who think that truth in advertising is as much of an oxymoron as an honest politician. Really. Ad execs don't come bottom in the honourable profession stakes for nothing; used-car salesmen and estate agents are generally considered more believable.

Beauty brand Dove has built an entire market out of exploiting this view. Its "Real Women" campaign has tried to unpick the (lazy) conventions of the beauty ad industry and put the truth back into advertising. It's been a very successful strategy and has won marketing and advertising awards the world over.

You've almost certainly seen some of the ads (they're so different that they really stand out: fat women in their undies and proud of it). But there was a US viral released last year which sums up the approach. It shows how a rather ordinary-looking woman undergoes a total (computer-enhanced) transformation in the name of advertising. For anyone who has ever felt even vaguely inadequate when faced with perfect people in glossy ads, the Dove film Evolution on YouTube is required viewing.

Anyway, now Dove is going further and throwing its brand name into the thick of the user-generated advertising debate. It's a hot topic amongst marketers generally. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote in this column about how the internet was helping democratise advertising: ads are no longer the preserve of the advertising agency and punters are having a go themselves, making films about brands and posting them on sites like YouTube.

Incidentally, someone's made a brilliant spoof of Dove's Evolution, called Anti-Dove Parody, showing a beautiful man guzzling beer and burgers until he becomes a hideous slob. That's user-generated advertising for you.

Some advertisers feel deeply uncomfortable about all of this. Coca-Cola went excruciatingly corporate when its customers started posting films showing bottles of Diet Coke exploding under the influence of a packet of Mentos mints: "Coca-Cola is for drinking, not playing with" summed up Coke's response.

No such po-faced behaviour from Dove, though. Dove "wants you to create its next great television ad" for its cream-oil range; and proclaims ,"it's easier to create your own ad than you think," (which raises some interesting questions about how much Dove pays its ad agency Ogilvy for its work). Dove will then screen the best user-generated entry in an ad-break during the Oscars.

This is a really smart strategy: not only does it give Dove credentials amongst the YouTube generation, but it also creates a high-profile, PR-laden and extremely cost-effective ad campaign. And the entries will no doubt throw up some interesting consumer insights, too.

This is modern marketing in the digital age and allows Dove to play the user-generated game with all the kudos that brings without ceding control. Where it all leaves the ad agency creative department, though, is another thing altogether.

TALKING ABOUT truth in advertising, if you're cynical enough to believe this is a deeply cynical industry, check out a couple of films on YouTube.

One old, one new, this is adland at its most cynical, superficial and hilarious. The first, Truth in Advertising, is a few years old now, and particularly North American. It's about the making of an ad, from briefing to the director's cut, and everyone in it talks, well... the truth.

So the marketing director says: "I like making decisions on multi-million dollar campaigns by basing it on what my pea-brained, disinterested wife thinks about it"; the creative team admits, "we're two untalented hacks riding on the success of a campaign we lucked into four years ago".

This film takes dialogue that has run through the heads of a million ad execs around the world, and speaks it. It's made by the Canadian commercials production company Avion Films, so you have to think they know what they're talking about.

Now there's a new film out by a British team on a similar theme. This one's called Truth in Ad Sales and the viral has spent the last week going through adland like a batch of dodgy oysters.

It's a shameless, paler rip-off of the original, set this time in adland's media world, and it employs the same tell-the-truth device (media buyer to pa: "I'm going to tell you I DJ at the weekends, when really I queue up outside Chinawhite begging to be let in, before I get a night bus home to my mum's for a quick wank and a Horlicks."). Again, the film has been made by a team of people who work in the industry, and it's in this week's top 10 comedy films on YouTube.

This time the client is a nappy-rash cream, Kiddi Care, and the hapless media agency comes up with a strategy that sees Kiddi Care sponsor an extreme sports show. The strapline is genius: "Feel the rush, cure the rash."

Both these films enshrine universal truths about people in the business. And they're not a bad introduction to adland's worst practices and what your colleagues really think of you.

REGULAR READERS will remember last week's story of the Asda review: a creative pitch called by the supermarket giant's new marketing director Rick Bendel, who joined the company from its ad agency Publicis last autumn.

Bendel was the man responsible - to a greater or lesser extent, depending on who you believe - for Asda's advertising at Publicis. His decision to review seemed like a kick at his own advertising strategy.

Anyway, last week Bendel sealed the drama by snatching the entire £44 million account from his old agency, which had held the business for 17 years. The winner is Fallon, Campaign's Agency of the Year, and apparently Fallon has come up with a stunning new strategy for Asda (expect the death of the arse-slapping "Asda-price" routine).

You can't fault Bendel's choice of agency. Fallon is on a high - this is the agency responsible for the Sony Bravia ads that have swept creative awards and caught people's imagination. But the power-play is fascinating.

As you might expect, Publicis insiders reckon it's Bendel's fault that Asda's ads have ranged from forgettable to excruciating, and he's now under pressure to deliver something stunning. If he had decided to stick with Publicis and turn the strategy around, the question would be why Publicis never managed to deliver great work while he was there. What is also true, though, is that Bendel knows where Publicis's weak points are and what the agency is capable of, or not.

By appointing Fallon, Bendel is making a clean break of it and, as I said, Fallon is a trophy agency right now. But Fallon could do worse than have a quiet word with their Publicis Groupe cousins, Bartle Bogle Hegarty. BBH had the Asda business in the 1980s and it nearly broke the agency: retail clients are notoriously difficult to handle and often culturally opposed to the ethos of a great creative agency.

If Fallon can deliver what Bendel's after and still retain its hot-shop credentials, then this could be a persuasive early bid for the Agency of the Year accolade once again.

Claire Beale is editor of 'Campaign'

BEALE'S BEST IN SHOW: NHS ANTI-SMOKING CAMPAIGN

New year's resolutions are a time-honoured tradition. Giving them up within a fortnight is another. This ad from Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy hopes to persuade people to give up smoking by underlining the strength of nicotine's physical hold over its addicts. Giant fish hooks snare unsuspecting smokers and lure them to the nearest packet of fags.

It's a powerful image, though not as gruesome as some anti-smoking campaigns. It lacks the impact ofads featuring real-life cancer victims or the ones that show how nicotine clogs arteries.

Apparently, the average smoker feeds their habit with about 5,000 cigarettes a year, a phenomenal amount and a fact that, I suspect, most smokers are in denial about. Although this ad might not be as gruesome as its predecessors, for anyone whose new year's resolution is wavering, it's a strong reminder of the physical as well as psychological battle you need to wage against the addiction.

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