Good Ad Bad Ad
Monday 16 March 1998
Chris O'Shea, creative partner, Banks Hoggins O'Shea, on the effectiveness of raw emotions and the mistake of not recognising the viewer's intelligence
I've chosen as my good ad the set of Littlewoods sponsorship idents that go out before football matches on TV, and say: "Littlewoods - Supporters of the FA Cup".
The technique on display here has been used before, but it works very well. What they've done is place a hidden camera - or a camera that at least gives the impression of being hidden - in ordinary people's front rooms, showing them watching football on the telly. And you see these people - male and female, young and old - reacting to the match unrehearsed, yelling, screaming and shouting as one does.
Some of the spots only last about five seconds. One I like in particular shows a young lad sitting between his mum and dad watching a match. The phone starts ringing, and he says: "If that's for me, I'm not in." Another has two guys and a girl on the edge of their seats as they wait to see if a penalty has been awarded. They're all little magic moments like that, which would be impossible to script.
Programme sponsorship has been with us for a few years now, but it's only recently that people have realised that it's a potent area of advertising. Ninety per cent of these idents are still rather anodyne and idea-less, but each year there are more notable exceptions to that.
I have to say that I'm not a football fan, and detest the fact that it has become trendy in media circles at the moment, but these ads really stand out for me. And what comes across is that Littlewoods aren't just paying lip-service to the fact that they're sponsoring the programme. Big company as they are, they do understand the basic raw emotion that ordinary people feel when they're watching football. It's hugely infectious, and you feel a sense of kinship with Littlewoods, almost, for recognising this.
I know I'm not the first person to choose a Wrigley's ad as a bad ad, and I won't be the last, either. Theirs is an unusual style of advertising: I wouldn't say Wrigley's insult the intelligence of the viewer, but what I'd say is that they don't realise the rewards that come from acknowledging his or her intelligence.
A young couple are in a department store, and the girl is trying on a dress in a changing booth. Her boyfriend, waiting outside, says his mouth needs freshening up, and she passes him some chewing gum. The denouement is the girl asking: "What do you think of it?" - meaning the dress - and the boyfriend thinks she means the gum, so he replies "Cool" - and she thinks he's talking about the dress. Ha ha.
I imagine this campaign has been designed to run in a number of countries, and because the sense of humour in Britain is not the same as it is in, say, Germany or Italy, it has had to go for the lowest common denominator.
Personally, I can never understand why people do pan-European stuff. The main reason given is always "economies of scale" - you can shoot one commercial that runs everywhere. But I suspect in practice that those economies are eaten up by redubs and recuts for each country, and all the European co-ordination meetings - in other words, executives flying round Europe and staying in good hotels.
Maybe, though, Wrigley's are cleverer than any of us. In my house, when this commercial comes on, my teenage kids cringe audibly and point excitedly to the screen, falling into paroxysms of laughter at the embarrassing badness of it all. They're enjoying it for all the wrong reasons, but nevertheless, they are watching it - so maybe Wrigley's are being very smart. That's an alternative theory. Having said though, I still think it's a bad ad.
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