Mark Wnek on Advertising

First Alternative is a Winner despite 'Marketing' cynicism

Andy Brown has just become famous. Brown is the marketing head of insurer First Alternative, whose motor insurance commercials, famously fronted by Michael Winner, have just come top of
Marketing magazine's Most Irritating Ads of 2004 league.

Andy Brown has just become famous. Brown is the marketing head of insurer First Alternative, whose motor insurance commercials, famously fronted by Michael Winner, have just come top of Marketing magazine's Most Irritating Ads of 2004 league.

The commercials are the ones with Winner waddling about in front of a row of cars parked outside a country house and getting into an argument with a girl over whether or not she's his sister. Brown is my kind of client. He doesn't care what anyone thinks about his advertising other than the 90,000 policyholders who have signed up with First Alternative since the commercial first ran five or six months ago.

I'm not surprised that these ads, like their predecessors for sister company Esure, are successful. Winner is a brilliantly salient spokesperson and the work has a bumbling DIY quality which gives a sense of honest brokerdom: there's nothing slick and soapy here.

In an advertising environment ruled by a creative aesthetic aimed at those living and working within a five-mile radius of London's Soho - an aesthetic slavishly and disgracefully pandered to by the numpties on the trade journals - Brown, and those like him, should be given a special award for serious, grown-up marketing and a bumper pay rise.

When David Fincher, director of Seven and The Game, shot Alien3, he said that he made the movie for his 12 best friends, so he didn't care who else liked it. Not surprisingly, this didn't go down too well with the moguls. Also not surprisingly - but extremely worryingly for clients, you might think - Fincher is a massive hero of Adland creative folk. Indeed, he started as a commercials director at Propaganda.

Fincherites are everywhere and have surprising cohorts in weird places - like the trade and national press. They and their cohorts revel in the purely aesthetic qualities of ads and commercials, oblivious to their raison d'être as sales tools. They sit on advertising awards juries and give out prizes to people for advertising, which often doesn't even sell to as many as 12 people. The winners of these awards get hired by other agencies at massively inflated salaries. Their cohorts write glowing accounts of these ineffective sales tools, never mentioning an ad agency creative unless he or she is prefaced by the phrase "award-winning". Eventually, these "award-winning" creatives become creative directors - bosses in charge of all advertising.

Fincherites don't care a fig for selling to anyone, particularly not to anyone uncool, aka the vast majority of people in the UK. Someone needs to stop these people flushing the art of advertising down their aesthetically beautiful plughole before it's too late. "Calm down, dear," I hear you call in unison. "It's only a commercial."

* I've always maintained that advertising impact is increasingly predicated on an advertiser's ability to bend outmoded advertising regulation. The only reason one advertiser gets away with more than another is because they're better at arguing. In the old days, ad agency CDP hired a special legal counsel to argue with the regulators. Which is why they got away with tobacco commercials showing football players smoking on the pitch.

Recently, drinks manufacturers have been having their knuckles rapped and their products withdrawn for too much sexual content.

Offenders include drinks called Sex on the Beach, Quickie, Stiffy's Shots, Foreplay and Blow Job. M&S had a Valentine's Day drink called Love Potion removed on the grounds that the packaging was misleading but - and here's what I mean about good arguing - a complaint that it alluded to sexual success was dropped. A drink called Love Potion and sexual success? It's like chalk and chalk.

* I couldn't help but giggle at a recent quote in The Sun from the tall, dark and rather gorgeous Francesca Newland, the deputy editor of ad trade rag Campaign. Talking about the rise and rise of Jude Law and Sienna Miller, she said they were the new Posh and Becks - only more edgy.

Miss Newland's brother, Martin Newland, is editor of The Daily Telegraph, so incisive journalistic insight obviously runs in the family.

Well done, but watch your back

More and more people are remarking on the awesome power of my pen. But even I was shocked at the instant effect of my piece last Monday regarding the continued absence from Adland of the excellent Gerry Moira, former chairman of Publicis.

Only two days later, the trades were lauding Gerry's re-entry into the adbiz as chief creative at Euro RSCG London.

My former agency has been in dire straits on the small matter of attracting any clients. World-wide, according to reports, it is in the process of losing key client Intel - an unthinkable calamity.

In the time-honoured manner of a certain kind of ad agency management that you might think had disappeared in the 1980s, guess who is carrying the can for Euro RSCG London's new business meltdown? The chief executive, obviously. What? No? OK, sorry, I give up. Answer: the creative director, Nick Hastings.

I have little regard for Nick Hastings, a guy who I brought in together with the rest of BDDH management team. When Nigel Long, the guy who had taken a chance on an unemployed Hastings and hired him, was himself fired by Ben Langdon, I was amazed that Hastings - and the rest of the BDDH team - didn't walk with their colleague. Still, such are the morals of Adland. That said, Euro RSCG London's problems are no more down to Nick Hastings than the Israeli/Palestinian problem is down to Virginia Wade.

Still, Gerry Moira is a fantastic hiring for Euro and I wish him all the very best. If anyone can make a difference he can. Just watch your back, my old son, watch your back.

WNEK'S WORST IN SHOW: ROBERTO CAVALLI

It's not often that advertising actually makes me angry, but this frankly disgraceful stuff from Roberto Cavalli really does. It's not a matter of its aesthetic qualities which are OK, nor even of the children's clothes advertised which look interesting. It's the hair-brained idea that small children posing as sexy models (don't even start me off about the little girl sucking her thumb) is in absolutely any way at all amusing. There isn't enough room in this newspaper for me to describe the myriad of ways in which stuff like this is offensive and dangerous. The fact that it appears on the first two double page spreads of, wait for it, a parenting magazine - Junior - demands little else but the immediate removal of whoever is in charge of ad sales.

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