Good Ad Bad Ad
In which a leading advertising expert picks some of the best and worst around. This week, Patrick Collister, executive creative director at the agency Ogilvy & Mather, on television commercials high and low
Monday 24 March 1997
Bartle Bogle Hegarty
There have been so many great Levi's commercials that this looks like an abrogation of judgment, I know, but I love this ad. Besides, it's worth remembering that there have been some dodgy ones in between the stonkers, and this one doesn't seem to have got the kind of industry approbation that the others have had.
You can see the origins of this ad in the film Splash, with Daryl Hannah. These mermaids look properly mercurial and ethereal, with tiny, pinched elfin faces and I love the way they flicker around in the water.
Some Levi's commercials have come close to taking themselves too seriously, but this one is full of impish fun. It has a great soundtrack - rather than just unearthing an old rock classic, they've created a distinctive sound that's relevant to the images - and I like the colourisation technique; it helps to create a real sense of a mystical, shadowy sub-aquatic world.
Levi advertising has been so successful over the past 14 years that we've become blase about it, but I think this ad genuinely represents an evolution of the campaign. They've moved it on slightly from the "American rebel" theme of previous ads. This ad is more tongue-in-cheek, and is cool, rather than American. It's deceptively simple, really, still pursuing the USP of shrink-to-fit. Ever since their early commercial featuring the man getting into the bath with his Levis on, they've owned this dunk-yourself- in-water-with-your-jeans-on territory.
This is one of those ads you'd expect a first-year advertising student to come up with, and be told: "Not bad for the first three months of the course." But in the real world, this would be laughed to scorn: it's such a witless, jejune idea.
Everything about it is old-fashioned and gauche, and yet the car itself is actually quite stylish and modern. In fact, it looks like the Megane is making inroads in the UK market, which means it's succeeding in spite of the advertising.
It's patronising - there's all that inept "Cor, she's good-looking"-type banter - and the dialogue is about as crisp as an old lettuce. I recognised Martin Clunes as the voice of the car and wondered how he could degrade himself so massively; I just hoped he would revert to his Men Behaving Badly personality and run the nerd of an owner over. I mean, if you caught someone crouching down talking to his car, you'd send him off to the funny farm. And his excuse - "Oh, just a speck of dust" - is so unfunny.
It's all deeply embarrassing, and the car comes across as being smug. Most importantly, it doesn't stand up to repeated viewing - you just want to switch to another station.
How did this happen? I think it may have started off as an idea based on Herbie, the Disney car, but it has all the ingredients of death by a thousand amendments - advertising by committee. No one person can be responsible for this.
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