Mark Wnek on advertising

When viewers have such itchy fingers, it's time to up the ante
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The Independent Online

"Is anyone really seeing and registering my TV advertising?" is the thought nagging at the marketeer's mind like an Olympic gold medal-winning fishwife's mother-in-law.

"Is anyone really seeing and registering my TV advertising?" is the thought nagging at the marketeer's mind like an Olympic gold medal-winning fishwife's mother-in-law.

An ever more rapidly fragmenting audience, distracted by countless channels is only one of their problems. All commercials need to be passed by regulatory bodies before screening. Since commercial television began, these bodies have been guided by the fundamental regulatory philosophy that, unlike editorial programming, advertising enters the home an uninvited guest and, therefore, must be far better behaved.

How do commercials hamstrung by a regulatory philosophy conceived in the 1960s make an impact among unfettered 21st-century programming? They don't; not really. However edgy and impactful you imagine your new commercial for jeans or booze to be, and however harrowing your anti-drink-drive commercial (and it will never be allowed to be that harrowing - you're an uninvited guest, remember?), they're at best ukuleles in the midst of the operatic blood and thunder of The Sopranos. And however witty your dog food commercial in the break of ITN News, your viewers are too stunned by that car-bomb in Baghdad to notice or care. And even if you and your agency really stretch the "regulations envelope" and create as truly salient and innovative a piece of work as the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre will allow, say hello to Sky Plus, TiVo and Freeview.

I and every one I know are terminally addicted to Sky Plus. Oh, the choice and control. Recording all your favourite stuff to a hard-disk at the touch of a button is the undisputed very near future of home viewing. And boy, does it raise the bar for commercials: Sky Plus users fast-forward through every commercial break and it takes a very special communication to make us stop and go back to take a butcher's. Mid-October already, and only two commercials have achieved this: Stella Artois's 'Airman' and French Connection's 'No logo'. Two, out of tens of thousands.

Under these circumstances, the traditional ad agency pitch of, "The answer's a 30-second TV commercial; what's the question?", isn't the ideal pitch to the anxious marketeer, although it remains the mantra of most big multinational agencies, despite their alleged commitment to through-the-line integration and other such tosh.

The highly successful, newer independent ad agencies have modified and updated their pitch to, "We empathise with your anxiety and share your agenda".

"The old shared agenda ploy," as Inspector Clouseau would have put it, reveals itself as a ploy when the agency, after much agenda sharing, presents - you guessed it - a bunch of 30-second TV commercials. And pretty average ones at that.

For the poor ad agency clients, it's like when you were a child and went to the doctor's. There was the nasty doctor who just shoved foul-tasting medicine down your throat. Then there was the nice doctor who empathised with your anxiety regarding the foul taste and had a nice sugar cube handy for you. Either way, you still got the same old medicine.

What else is there for the marketing person and his or her broadcast advertising budget? How about product placement, content creation and programme making for starters? The trouble is, few ad agency folk naturally think along those lines: apart from myself - easy for me; my balls aren't attached to an ad agency bottom line - there's the two Roberts, Saville at Mother and Campbell at McCann's; Trevor Beattie who recently set up TBWA Content; Charles Inge at CHI; Steve Henry at HHCL; the lads at BBH; after that who knows.

But ad agencies aren't exactly panicking: the average marketing person is still a good five years away from converting nagging thoughts into direct action. After all, commercials are mini-movies, soooo glamorous and Hollywood - scripts, directors, cameras, sets, actors, make-up. Action. Cut.

Beware, however, the above-average marketing person.

Product placement: the coolest way to sell

Advertising awards season is upon us, and the best piece of advertising of the year won't win a thing. You can see it in the new Michael Mann movie, Collateral. In the movie, Tom Cruise plays Vincent, a super-cool hit-man in LA trying to carry out five "contracts" in one night. He decides to travel between jobs by yellow taxi cab.

First stop is an alleyway behind a series of duplex apartment buildings. Vincent enters a building and we're left in the front seat of the cab with Max Durocher, the black cabbie, as he enjoys a sandwich, when - BANG! - a body hits the roof of the cab. As we survey the scene from Max's point of view we see the corpse on the roof and, next to it, the illuminated taxi roof advertising fin from which a beautiful girl's face surveys the carnage, with the legend: BACARDI SILVER.

The technical term for this is product placement. I call it a brilliant idea and sod the nomenclature. This world-class advertising moment from Bacardi presents their Silver rum as the chosen accompaniment to super-cool LA back-alley mayhem, brought to you in association with the dark side of Tom Cruise. And not a commercial break in sight.

Few UK ad agency folk believe this kind of activity is for them, preferring to concentrate on advertisements for magazines and billboards and TV commercials. I suspect that anyone in advertising not including the above kind of brilliant, stealthy thinking in their repertoire is about to find themselves out of advertising.

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