Mark Wnek on Advertising

There are no winners when the industry betrays its birthright

"Share of pub bantering time" is one of the most vitally important indicators for measuring an advertiser's performance. "Did you see that advert for X last night?" means that an advertiser has, by constructing his or her sales message with extraordinary craft and guile, negotiated their way past a barrier in the speaker's brain known as the "24/7 anti-sales message radar" (24/7 ASMR) and genuinely entered their real life.

"Share of pub bantering time" is one of the most vitally important indicators for measuring an advertiser's performance. "Did you see that advert for X last night?" means that an advertiser has, by constructing his or her sales message with extraordinary craft and guile, negotiated their way past a barrier in the speaker's brain known as the "24/7 anti-sales message radar" (24/7 ASMR) and genuinely entered their real life.

In "the old days", adverts used to get under the radar regularly. The latest Heineken or Hamlet commercial, "Rabbit rabbit" or "Geertcha" from Courage, Arkwright from John Smith, the Benson & Hedges Gold work, "Smash" Martians, "Nice One Cyril", "Everyone's a Fruit and Nut Case", Fiat "Handbuilt by Robots", were the kind of Stealth bomber-like commercial messages no radar could pick up as they flew straight past the brain to the hearts of the Great British public. Such works of art are more or less history.

Yes, that's right, "works of art". Like it or not, great adverts are little works of art, almost entirely like any other work of art with one difference: a work of art is an end in itself, an advert is a means to an end, that end being sales.

Despite the sales angle, commercial and pure artists are far more closely related than generally may be known or accepted. The very best in each category are almost by definition scarce and unusual: what is any kind of art but seeing and depicting things unusually?

Both regularly find themselves staring at empty "canvasses" which need filling. Little surprise that many artists turn to drink or other stimulants, legal or otherwise, and are often unruly, hard to control, and unpredictable.

It's a mistake born of a certain pure artistic snobbishness to suggest that the "commercial" artist may not be every bit as "tortured" and drink or drug-crazed as his or her "pure" counterpart.

The day to day pressure on the creative people in an ad agency is extreme: unlike pure artists, their blank canvases need to be filled daily (a famous ad industry saying is "an ad a day keeps the P45 away") and are judged over the coming hours and days, rather than post-mortem.

Suits who can handle unruly artists and get them to come up with brilliant, brand-transforming stuff more or less on time, are, like their counterparts in any areas of creative production - film, theatre, whatever - gold dust, and just as rare.

They're people like recently retired Frank (now Sir Frank) Lowe, whose Lowe Group became a $2bn concern well within a decade, all on the back of nothing but the most uncompromisingly creative advertising in the world.

Such suits are far and few between because championing creativity is gruelling, skilful work. It requires genuine passion, guts and investment to champion something your experience tells you would be brilliant for a brand even when focus groups have given it the thumbs down.

Hence the shallow, anodyne fare created by a new breed of clean cut cheap young yes-men and -women, limping to our TV screens focus-grouped to near-death and unsurprisingly failing to stop millions of us jumping up to make tea during commercial breaks. Increasingly, dull uncompelling brand and product messages blunder into the nation's 24/7 ASMR. Increasingly, people interpret this drab fare as the fading celebrity of brands and products, increasingly declining to shell out for them.

Not surprisingly, the advertising industry, we are told ad nauseam in the pages of the trade press, has "lost its seat at the top table of business". Sad old suits tell "horror stories" of trade dinners where the client CEO has the ad agency boss on one side and the management consultant on the other and spends the whole evening in conversation with the latter. The knee-jerk, hair-brained, signally uncreative advertising industry solution is, "If we can be more like management consultants, clients will want to have conversations with us."

With an irony too perfect for words, clients, while nodding along with all this businesslike behaviour, can now deal with their ad agency as they can with any other easily quantifiable commodity supplier and are almost universally slashing their fees.

There are many more examples of this once great ad industry's craven betrayal of its birthright - the unquantifiable magic of creative genius - in favour of the bottom-line-led, client-mimicking desire to be a "proper" industry. As the advertising industry completes its shift from client service to client servile, everyone's a loser: agencies, clients and brands.

The man who should not be out in the cold

Among the biggest mysteries in Adland is the continued absence from the industry of Gerry Moira, the ousted chairman of Publicis in London. Moira was the main person responsible for Publicis' rise from 13th to 3rd largest agency in the UK. When the firm failed to tempt US heavyweight Lee Garfinkel, formerly of Lowe, with the post of worldwide creative director, the giant French group instead surprisingly appointed Dave Droga, creative director of Saatchi and Saatchi London. Droga is famous for his work on boutique accounts like Club 18-30 and NSPCC, but was less effective with big clients like Lloyds TSB and Sony, both of which left Saatchi. After joining Publicis, he quickly installed one of his former deputies, art director Nick Studzinski, in the company's hugely demanding UK creative director's chair. This move has so far yielded, among others, the Cadbury's "Happiness" and Asda "Julie Walters" campaigns, two of the worst messes to pollute our TV screens so far this millennium.

Meanwhile Moira, who in his early fifties is still more hip and in-touch than any creative in Adland, wiser and more client-friendly than any suit, and one of the sweetest phrase-turners in the English language, remains outside the industry. Quite honestly, I can't think of a single major UK agency that wouldn't benefit from employing Moira as a chairman, president or chief creative officer. More importantly, I can't think of a single client who wouldn't benefit from Gerry's reassuring presence in an era of chinless, wet-behind-the-ears agency management.

WNEK'S WORST IN SHOW: HARRODS

Any branding work that Harrods does - and it does hardly any - has a very simple job to do, and that is to maintain the store's high-end dominance. Especially with the brilliant new Selfridges hot on its heels. So what on earth are those cheap and nasty advertisements for the Harrods sale doing on our TV screens? Horribly filmed on video, horribly voiced (by a member of staff?), and laced with horrible type, they are more like ads for a local restaurant at a regional cinema. Some marketing person is trying to be clever and save some money, and in the meantime, the brand is bleeding.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
football
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Life and Style
tech
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Account Manager / Sales Account Manager / Recruitment Account Manager

£25k Basic (DOE) – (£30k year 1 OTE) : Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright A...

Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

£20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

Trend Writer / Copywriter

£25 - 30k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Trend Writer / Copywriter: Retail, Design and...

Business Development Manager / Media Sales Exec

£28 - 32k + Uncapped Commission: Guru Careers: A Business Development Manager ...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering