Media: Good Ad Bad Ad - HP sauce Young and Rubicam Alfa romeo Lansdown Conquest Turin

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The Independent Online
In which a leading advertising expert picks some of the best and worst around. This week Alfredo Marcantonio, vice-chairman of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, picks HP Sauce and Alfa Romeo cars. Interview by

Scott Hughes

This ad starts with a Russian fighter pilot talking to camera - confessing what he's been up to during the Cold War. He's a tough bloke, but he speaks with a certain humility in his voice, as if he's had some sort of shock. As the ad rolls on, you realise that this shocking experience is the taste of HP Brown Sauce - which nothing in his life has prepared him for. The end-line is: "Have you got the bottle for it?"

Really good ads break all the conventions - for instance, car ads that don't have a car in them. And here we have a product that you usually see in a kitchen, with a family, shown in a completely different environment. There is a shot at the end of the sauce poured over a plate of chips, which is beautifully photographed and which I think you still need, but otherwise the product is taken right out of context.

Ads like this work better, because they ambush people. We're all cynical about advertising, and want to tune out of it, but when you see something that's a bit unusual, it holds your attention so the selling message gets across. And I don't expect it cost that much - proof that you don't have to throw money at things for them to work.

And the format means that it could be the beginning of a long campaign: there's already another execution featuring a tough female fire-fighter, and I guess we'll see more people being blown away by the spicy, rich taste of HP Sauce. Advertising, like water, makes the most impression when it keeps dripping away in the same place. So what we like to do is create a format that we can keep to, so the money you spend works on top of the money you've already spent.

Alfa romeo

Lansdown Conquest Turin

This ad consists of beautifully photographed footage of an Alfa Romeo 156 being driven around Venice. Of course, there are no roads in Venice, but the canals have all been frozen by some piece of computer wizardry. At one point there's a see-through shot of the engine, which the manufacturers are presumably particularly proud of, but nothing else much happens.

Great ads dramatise a truth about the product - just as the HP Sauce ad dramatises its spicy, unusual nature. But this ad dramatises nothing. Why has Venice been frozen? Is it to demonstrate four-wheel-drive technology? No. Is it because they've developed some anti-slip traction device? No. Is it because the interior is climate-controlled, so it doesn't matter what it's like outside? No again. There's no reason, apart from somebody thinking that it's an eye-catching idea.

It's irrelevant to the product, and terrible for that reason. The Alfa Romeo has a fantastic heritage, but this ad discards all that in favour of a bit of whiz-kid technology, that quite frankly somebody selling a Korean or Czech car might use because they've got nothing else to talk about.

And it wouldn't be quite so bad if we hadn't seen this idea before. A few years ago an English director made a film for Mulino Bianco - a company that makes breads, cakes and pasta - which turned the canals of Venice into wheat fields, with a family walking through them. So not only is this a bad idea, it's a bad second-hand idea.