Mark Wnek on Advertising

Don't expect courage from politicians at election time
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The Independent Online

All effective advertising executions stand on two legs: single-mindedness and salience. Give people more than one message on a poster or in a commercial and they'll miss them all. My old boss Sir Frank Lowe used to demonstrate this in talks by throwing a tennis ball to a member of the audience which they easily caught, and then throwing several at the same time and all balls were dropped.

All effective advertising executions stand on two legs: single-mindedness and salience. Give people more than one message on a poster or in a commercial and they'll miss them all. My old boss Sir Frank Lowe used to demonstrate this in talks by throwing a tennis ball to a member of the audience which they easily caught, and then throwing several at the same time and all balls were dropped.

While you're saying one thing, the way in which you're saying it - the cleverness, the wit, the naughtiness, the visual élan - speaks volumes alongside. Most importantly it gets you noticed. Salience becomes more critical every day for advertisers: quite simply, there's so much more stuff and noise out there to distract people from noticing your little message. It can take courage for a client to understand that the "Ooh, that's a bit strong!" feeling accompanied by butterflies in the stomach they get when presented with a controversial piece of work is a good thing: it's what promises cut-through in an increasingly crowded marketplace. As Gordon Brown recently said, "Courage is the understanding that there are more important things than fear."

Which is ironic when you realise what cowardly ad clients politicians often are. Thatcher apart - she simply didn't care what anybody but her thought about anything - when was the last time you heard a politician be single-minded about anything? Imagine trying to sell one of those hedgers and double-talkers a poster idea, for instance: "MICHAEL HOWARD SUCKS". I can hear it now: sucks what? Is that a sexual reference? Do we need to worry about the gays? What about the sucking eggs connotations - any problems with alienating farmers? What about that big picture of Michael Howard? What if people don't read the headline and just see Michael Howard - could this be an ad for Michael Howard? What about the Americans? Isn't "sucks" an American term? Are there sensitivity issues there? And doesn't SUCKS sound exactly like - you'll be lucky if you're left with "VOTE LABOUR".

Courage, however, isn't the first thing one detects behind the recent two items on the Labour website featuring Howard and Letwin as pigs and Howard as a dodgy hypnotist. There is a "publish and be damned" quality about those pieces of work which might pose as courage in some rarefied creative circles, but all posterity will recall is the Labour Party's insane brush with anti-Semitism.

What Labour seem to have forgotten is that hanging between effective advertising's two legs of single-mindedness and salience there is sometimes an appendage that we need to be aware of called stupidity. Allowing this appendage to rear its ugly head in the advertising spells trouble.

I am 100 per cent certain that there is not a single anti-Semitic bone in the Labour body politic, but, putting taste aside for a moment, from a marketing strategy point of view this is a brand leader committing the most cardinal of sins: kicking a more or less defeated competitor when they're down. One can only suspect that somewhere in the Labour Party big dicks are prevailing over cool heads.

Among the most hateful and destructive characters in an ad agency is the rogue account baron. This is the senior account handler in charge of a large account. He or she will have manoeuvred themselves into a position of such all-round indispensability on a piece of business that the clients will know and love them far more than anybody else in the agency.

At this point, the rogue begins to make his or her play, seeking more power and more money in the general ad agency hierarchy - often, well, actually usually, wanting the top job itself. The threat of leaving with the big account is at the very least implicit. In my experience, the account baron will not have been offered the top job because the particular tunnel-visioned qualities required to service a single account, however big, are by no means those required to run an agency.

As the client to whom the piece of business belonged, I would like to think that my account director was loyal to my business. The idea that they were using me to further their career - and then, upon getting the top job no longer be able to service my business single-mindedly - would make me see them in a new light, and not a favourable one. I had no truck with account barons. And while some left, their business always remained.

Why win an award that's worthless?

It's entering time for advertising awards, but the only awards system worth entering doesn't exist. All current schemes cost vast amounts to enter: hundreds of pounds per go. And for what? So that a group of pony-tailed, super-annuated art student lookalikes with about as much knowledge of the art of salesmanship as John Tylee has of sartorial elegance can sit around, ignore your ads and give each other awards.

The snottiest, most luvvied-up and out of touch of these awards, D&AD, which has this year with delightful aptness appointed a president called Dick, will claim that it does charitable stuff: it invests millions in helping educate more pony-tailed art student lookalikes with about as much knowledge of the art of salesmanship (you know? Selling?) as Mark Cadman has of loyalty.

Campaign magazine fuels this idiocy with such subtle, yet effective, stuff as sticking "award-wining" in front of advertising creatives' names. Anyone would think Campaign had a vested interest in ad awards, and anyone would be right: Campaign has its own press, poster and now media awards, the proceeds of which do not, I presume, go to charity. If they do, I'll be happy to lead with that in next week's column.

No, the only fair award system worth entering would be one where you gave everybody in every recognised agency free votes in categories posted online, with no voting for your own agency or work. The Advertising and Design Oscars. End of.

WNEK'S WORST IN SHOW SAAB

The car industry has serious issues to deal with to do with emissions, traffic jams etc, which I know its members do not take lightly. Cue rueful faces all round over the latest offering from Saab. In the commercial we follow a trail of smoke which ends up coming from a Saab. Only it's not smoke; it's jet vapours or something, because Saabs, as their advertising tells us in the misguided belief that we care, have got something in common with jets - other than going 600 miles an hour... in the air...and wings. All this uninspired visual analogy does is remind those of us not hanging off the voice-over's every word about nasty car emissions.

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