Mark Wnek on Advertising
When are adfolk going to learn that they must never go on TV?
Monday 21 February 2005
UK adland clenched its collective buttocks last Tuesday in anticipation of the inevitable cringe-fest promised by the BBC2 documentary entitled
Inside Saatchi & Saatchi. This column has already had its shirt riding halfway up its back at one utterance of Lee Daley, the new CEO of Saatchi UK, namely his comment, on resigning from his previous agency HHCL/Red Cell: "I've yet to work at an agency as good as the one in my head." The prospect of 40 minutes of this kind of delicious lunacy was almost too much to bear. And that's not all. Daley's creative director, the fragrant Kate Stanners, formerly of St Luke's (the right-on "people's collective" agency that featured in a documentary of such chewing-on-your-own-underpants awfulness that the advertising industry has yet to live it down a decade later), promised additional looniness: some Gregorian chanting before client presentations, perhaps?
UK adland clenched its collective buttocks last Tuesday in anticipation of the inevitable cringe-fest promised by the BBC2 documentary entitled Inside Saatchi & Saatchi. This column has already had its shirt riding halfway up its back at one utterance of Lee Daley, the new CEO of Saatchi UK, namely his comment, on resigning from his previous agency HHCL/Red Cell: "I've yet to work at an agency as good as the one in my head." The prospect of 40 minutes of this kind of delicious lunacy was almost too much to bear. And that's not all. Daley's creative director, the fragrant Kate Stanners, formerly of St Luke's (the right-on "people's collective" agency that featured in a documentary of such chewing-on-your-own-underpants awfulness that the advertising industry has yet to live it down a decade later), promised additional looniness: some Gregorian chanting before client presentations, perhaps?
Because they just don't learn, do they, adfolk, that they must never, ever, under any circumstances whatsoever, go on TV. Ever. Ever. Ever. I wouldn't even answer the phone to the people doing The 1970s Office programme on Sky. When they went after my old lieutenant, Paul Shearer, I warned him not to do it, to no avail. They proceeded to make a cool bloke look like a cross between Jimmy Krankie and Benny from Crossroads.
Anyway, back to Inside Saatchi & Saatchi. What a major disappointment. First of all, it was about Saatchi pre-Lee Daley. Rather than rampant ego and new-world lunacy, we got a group of rather sensible people. OK, sensible by ad-agency standards. The programme concerned a team from Saatchi tackling the launch of a new Brazilian spirit to rival Bacardi. Andrew Wilkie, the account man, briefly promised some sport with the bouncy ardour of his delivery to camera but, disappointingly, you actually grew to quite like him. Like all account men, he often refused to take "yes" for an answer in client meetings, but I wouldn't have minded having him presenting my work.
The creative team of Dave Henderson and Richard Denney were particularly disappointing. Where was the outrageous wardrobe? The drug taking? The drunkenness? The shouting at clients? Instead, what we got was probably the most professional and effective creative team in advertising. When they had their first idea turned down by the client, they revealed that they always have things turned down, and that you just get on and do another idea. Couldn't you just hear those Clerkenwell lofts and Notting Hill villas reverberate to the sound of stamping Pradas as ad-agency creative prima donnas (80 per cent of the industry) vented their spleen at such heresy?
Meanwhile, Henderson and Denney's next idea - posters with a central character based on the statue of Christ in Rio - was a little cracker, by international ad-campaign standards. They shot it with little to-do and presented it, and the Brazilian clients loved it, their eyes even moistening a little during the final presentation.
There was one moment when your heart leapt, as Henderson and Denney presented their work to the creative chief Tony Granger, who swaggeringly proceeded to tell them what was good about it - er, they know what's good about it, that's why they're presenting it.
In Granger, we had a character in whose adland-style amour propre we could at last enjoyably wallow. Sadly, the cameras never covered him again. But this was really the Henderson and Denney show. There will be those, believe me, who will consider them traitors for the way they made advertising look easy.
I haven't yet seen Levi's new campaign featuring bejeaned Californian kids acting in A Midsummer Night's Dream, but it sounds quite cool, in a Baz Luhrmann-following kind of way.
Here's the thing, though. There are so many competing brands of jeans now, and kids are so hawkish towards this marketplace, that each different label is in one minute and out the next, with the slightest wrong, counter-street-culture move consigning the current favourite to history. Today's coolest jeans are, I believe, Sass & Bide - at least, they were at time of writing.
The biggest problem for Levi's, and the ad agency BBH, is that, these days, simply featuring in a television commercial makes a brand terminally uncool as far as the young jeans-buying hawks are concerned.
Shabby Abbey design
By claiming to offer more and more services over the past decade or so, agencies have now made clients unsure of their expertise at anything. Meanwhile, design outfits such as Wolf Olins have stuck to their knitting: brand design. The only move they've made has been almost imperceptible yet giant at the same time: they've moved from designing brand identity to becoming part of creating the thinking and strategy behind it. This dedication has rightly earned them a seat at the top table of business, while the ad agencies' mixture of inconsistency and greed has relegated them to the cheap seats.
Wolf Olins' "abbey" logo, their re-design of the Abbey National identity, is not their finest hour though; white kiddies-playgroup-style lower case type on a multi-coloured background? Er, hello? We're talking about ordinary people's hard-earned here, not a Primrose Hill sweetie shop. To ask any ad agency to write effective advertising on a platform of such dissonance was, in my opinion, doomed to failure. While former Abbey CEO Luqman Arnold, who in the few times I've talked with him seemed a dignified, unflappable and quietly able man, pulled Abbey out of the mire and got a very good price for the shareholders when he sold it, it's hardly surprising that the new owners, Banco Santander, have taken one look at the brand and decided they need to start again.
Hence this week's announcement of a review of the £30m account.
WNEK'S BEST IN SHOW: VW GOLF
Everyone I know is quite simply captivated by the "Gene Kelly" commercial for Golf. It reprises the famous "Singin' in the Rain" routine, only this time - with the help of special effects of the very highest order - Gene throws in some modern moves as the music turns hip-hop. Another addition to the original movie is the brand new VW Golf parked by the curb which Mr K includes in his routine, the gag being that the new Golf is still the original but updated. This is confident, assumptive, brand-leader advertising which makes you re-evaluate a classic - a tough brief. Hats off to ad agency DDB London and the world-class special effects people at The Moving Picture Company.
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