Mark Wnek on Advertising

Viewers vote with the remote over mind-numbing TV ads

One of the many fun projects I've dabbled in during my sabbatical has been helping conceive and fail to sell a television series. Some mates and I got together with one of Britain's biggest independent TV production companies and spent some time buffing and honing our project and hawking it around the major networks. (I can't give you details of the project because, although the networks passed, our production co partners believe it may one day be a goer. Suffice to say it was to do with football). One wag wondered why I had relinquished the heights of a cut-throat business (advertising) for the lower reaches of an even more cut-throat one. And it is true: the "fun and games" of trying to get a TV programme bought and made is massively more complex and political and random than making ads.

One of the many fun projects I've dabbled in during my sabbatical has been helping conceive and fail to sell a television series. Some mates and I got together with one of Britain's biggest independent TV production companies and spent some time buffing and honing our project and hawking it around the major networks. (I can't give you details of the project because, although the networks passed, our production co partners believe it may one day be a goer. Suffice to say it was to do with football). One wag wondered why I had relinquished the heights of a cut-throat business (advertising) for the lower reaches of an even more cut-throat one. And it is true: the "fun and games" of trying to get a TV programme bought and made is massively more complex and political and random than making ads.

For instance, we were reliably informed that Claudia Rosencrantz, the big programming cheesette at ITV, hated football (and maybe also - pick a subject at random - crocheting, who knows?) and so our idea was likely to get short shrift from her. In the event it got no shrift whatsoever - she didn't even take a meeting. While it's possible that the lady actually adores football and holds the Bedales keepy-uppy record and we were completely misinformed and in fact it was simply that our idea was poor, I've worked in advertising for more than 20 years and I've never heard of anyone - creative director or client - with an out-of-bounds subject area.

OK, in our business there are many people who lean too far the other way towards endless spirit-stifling, creative spark-extinguishing research; but I think I'd rather take my chances with the latter than - making a character up totally in my head - some capricious, megalomaniacal programming directrice whose Cheltenham Ladies and Oxford-educated gut tells her that what those charming, ruddy-faced working classes with their dirty handkerchiefs and heavy worsted trousers held up with string are crying out for at Saturday evening prime-time is a rehash of the dreadful It's a Knockout, though vastly less good and starring retired soccer referee Paul Durkin.

Yes, I know, I'm a rotten loser. And to be fair to the TV programming sorority, there's a higher percentage of dreadful commercials than TV programmes these days. With the advent of gadgets such as TiVo and Sky+, which let people record their own groups of programmes and watch them as and when they want, more and more people are simply whizzing past commercial breaks teeming with mind-numbing tosh.

Advertisers and their agencies are in an increasing tizz over this: according to an article in the latest issue of Marketing magazine, three-quarters of all US advertisers are going to cut TV budgets because of it.

Which is a massive shame because many great brands have been built by TV. And there is a guaranteed way to make sure that people don't whiz past commercial breaks: make the commercials unmissably brilliant.

It's impossible to imagine that anybody in their right minds starts out to make a bad commercial, yet the vast majority of commercials end up that way - inescapable conclusion: achieving uniformly brilliant commercials requires a standards directorate with legally binding powers which every TV commercial script must pass through for approval. The standards directorate would need to be of unimpeachable seniority and TV pedigree: John Hegarty (creative head of Levi's agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty), Tom Carty (one of the creators of the Guinness "Surfers" commercial) and John Webster (TV commercial-creating deity with too many credits to mention) for instance. They would be expected to offer their services pro bono, with knighthoods further down the line implied.

I know you think I'm being satirical but I'm not. If the Wnek Directorate - as I think it should be called after its founder - stopped even one moronic commercial concerning oiks wandering about in a whale's gob or racing each other home, like, really excitingly (yawn) for a can of beer (you what?! Triple yawn!) then it would be an institution well worth having.

And finally. Not really my remit this, but I'm shoe-horning it in under the heading of "worst advertisement of many a week for the human race". I wonder what all of you who helped raise money for Comic Relief (and even those of you who didn't) made of an article in London's Evening Standard, where someone called Victor Lewis-Smith actually wrote, "I can't see any need to send money to Africa (those children out there don't seem poor or hungry to me - I've seen pictures, their stomachs are huge, and they're too idle to brush away flies.)" I'm trying to write a witty punchline, but words fail me.

Respect to the great white shark of agencies

If you were casting around for the best single agency in the world, you'd have to bring Ogilvy's flagship New York agency into the reckoning. Ogilvy New York is home to Shelly Lazarus, the worldwide CEO, and controls the advertising accounts for mega-brands such as IBM and American Express with an iron hand. The successful management of such accounts is something that even top UK ad-agency luminaries would get into a sweat just imagining. The IBM account, for instance, employs around - wait for it - 1,000 account handlers. Accounts such as Amex aren't exactly small potatoes either, yet the work, like the extraordinary Robert De Niro commercial directed by Martin Scorsese, manages to be fresh and compelling. I was in the lounge at JFK the other day, and when the commercial came on CNN, I witnessed the phenomenon of 20 or so businessmen stopped in their tracks and silently transfixed by the spot for its duration.

Even Ogilvy NY's embroilment in an unprecedented billing scandal, which may see several employees receive jail terms, seems as if it will not hinder this great white shark of an agency from moving inexorably forward.

Most impressive of all to industry watchers is that Ogilvy is the only ad agency not to have been seconded to one of WPP's holding-company pitches. Maybe Shelly Lazarus is not keen on the idea. And what Shelly Lazarus says, goes.

mark@adguru.co.uk

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