Media: Good Ad Bad Ad - J Walter Thompson RAF, M&C Saatchi Foster's Ice

In which a leading advertising expert picks some of the best and worst around. This week, Patrick Collister, creative director at the agency Ogilvy and Mather, on television commercials high and low
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The Independent Online


I saw this in the centre break of Equinox on Channel 4 on 22 September, which was a documentary all about American fighter pilots coping with G-forces of over 7G. So youngsters with a yen for altitude would have been watching and would have seen more exciting footage in the ad break than in the documentary - a great bit of media buying to boot.

The ad opens with scenes of people panicking, trying to escape some impending terror in a distant, ravaged region - we see a woman with her shopping breaking into a run, and a parent trying to comfort a small child. This is intercut with footage of RAF pilots manning planes at an airfield and getting ready for take-off. Back in the war zone, a ground battle gets under way, and we see people attempting to flee the gunfire and explosions. Then, intercut with these scenes, we see the planes take off and wing their way through the skies towards the troubled area.

The commercial is very rapidly cut, and uses a pacy dance soundtrack, giving the impression that there's about to be a dogfight. But there's a twist at the end. Rather than dealing out death to the enemy, the modern RAF is about helping people stay alive: the action we witness is revealed to be a parachute drop of vital food and medical supplies to a community in Bosnia. A voice cries out "There is hope", and the endline reads "Their country needs you."

It's well-written, well-shot, and, I should imagine, successful. It won't win awards, but it shows the quality of thinking and the not inconsiderable craft skills big agencies bring to bear even on small accounts like this one.


Foster's Ice

Here, we are shown a young African in ancient T-shirt and shorts, walking through an arid landscape. He talks to the camera in his native tongue, and a voice-over translates. "Sometimes the droughts here are very bad," he says. "The search for water is never-ending." Then we get to see his wizened dad digging out of a dried-up river-bed a toad the size of a dinner plate. "My father looks for toads," our man tells us, "so he can squeeze them and drink up the liquid."

With that, the ad cuts to our African propping up the Savannah Bar with a bottle of Foster's Ice. Tastier than toad juice any day.

Call me humourless, and many will, but I find this ad ugly and patronising. Taking the piss out of anything faintly PC is usually fine by me, and the previous Foster's Ice commercial did it brilliantly. "Concerned about global warming?" Foster's asked. "Then, (a) make a donation, (b) write to your MP, or (c) say bollocks to it and enjoy the sunshine while it lasts with a glass of cool Foster's Ice."

This new ad tries to spoof those earnest documentaries about the Third World, but fails to pull it off. Poverty and drought do not seem to me to be the sort of subjects advertising has permission to take the mick out of. Maybe it's because I was born and raised in East Africa, and so know that in large chunks of the world, drought isn't just a matter of holding your hose off the hollyhocks.

Tony Barry, the writer of the last commercial, is one of the most talented copywriters around at the moment, and I think M&C Saatchi would have done better to give him the brief for this second ad in the campaign.