Stefano Hatfield on Advertising

Isn't it about time that someone told the asinine ASA to butt out?
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The Independent Online

More recently, I tried Lynx, but couldn't get "the effect", and was therefore just grateful it wasn't Viagra. When Haagen Dazs first came out I consumed a whole tub of Vanilla Swiss Almond, but no lithe, sports bra-wearing beauty draped herself around me as a result.

If I were one of those sad people that writes to the Advertising Standards Authority complaining about ads I am sure that the respective makers of the above-named brands would have their responses ready for me. The gist of which would be that such claims are clearly not to be taken seriously, being comic or at least exaggerated for effect.

Alcohol ads are supposed to be different. I don't mean in a Guinness "surfer" sort of way, because we all know that drinking a pint won't summon dozens of charging white stallions from the waves - although once, drinking Thunderbird, I was sure I saw a mottled grey pony.

Alcohol ads - as laid down by some act of parliament or God or the ASA - may not associate alcohol consumption with any kind of sexual success, or indeed success of any kind. Which makes us virtually the only country in the world to deny this quintessential truth about the human condition.

In Britain, we've got to rely on giggly innuendo in our booze ads, which I guess is a pretty apt metaphor for how we treat sex in real life. There is a wonderful comic tradition particularly in beer advertising (Foster's, Castlemaine XXXX, Heineken and John Smith's). Spirits ads were more sophisticated (Smirnoff). And that's how we ended up with campaigns of pure genius like the early 2000s' Peter Kay John Smith's ads.

(As an aside: How did the agency that made that old Baileys ad, where the girl snogged all the guys around the pool table to find out who had gulped her drink while she was in the loo, get away with it?)

The indisputable thing about Peter Kay - apart from the fact he is hilarious - is that he is fat. As such, advertising wisdom, laid down by clients or focus groups or John Hegarty, dictates that he is on the unattractive side of ugly, and therefore only to be used humorously in ads.

You may recall Nike complained about one ad in which Kay was kicking a ball about boorishly with his mates. He would kick the ball a ridiculously long way with an accompanying "Ave it!". The press ad read "Just 'Ave it". The John Smith's logo was made to look swoosh-like.

Nike's lawyers wrote to Scottish Courage's lawyers (it was 2002) to complain that Kay was an "overweight and apparently unskilled footballer", adding that his appearance was "detrimental to Nike's trademarks which are registered in the main for sports clothing, tarnishing them and making them less attractive..."

They claimed that "damage has or will be caused to Nike". Thankfully Scottish Courage told them to just get a life. It revealed much about what really lies behind Nike's "Just Do It" everyman philosophy.

Why am I banging on about it? Clearly Nike's lawyers believed that association with "ugliness" was detrimental to their brand - ignoring the fact that Kay's John Smith's ads were a huge success, and that his honest crassness held considerable appeal.

Now we have the ASA (the ad industry's law) telling Lambrini it must consciously seek ugly people to advertise its product, because the male model being hooked by three women on a fairground stall is too attractive, and could associate the drink with sexual success. How barmy is that?

What is that rule really about? If it's to stop under-age drinkers from associating alcohol with sexual success, well firstly, they are under-age and should not be drinking; secondly, they shouldn't be watching the alcohol ads because of the watershed, and thirdly, who are we all trying to kid? It's part of a worrying move towards the Disneyfication of ad breaks that advertising should have lobbied against long ago.

If this was the U.S., a fleet of lawsuits, individual and class action, would have already set sail. There's the ASA's comment that the model should be ugly or overweight or balding just to start with. "Balding?" You can't say that! Anyhow, I thought slapheads were long ago deemed sexy.

Who is the ASA to decide who is ugly? How can any sane body insist on hiring models that it believes will be detrimental to the success of the advertiser's own message? It's madness, and the ad industry should long ago have risen up against it.

IN THE same vein, the American ad industry has got itself into trouble with an ad using a woman's considerable cleavage to promote the second annual Advertising Week in New York this September. "Advertising. We all do it" reads the line super-imposed over the unbuttoned black blouse. Cue the storm in a D-cup, with the scary Advertising Women of New York club (trust me, it makes the Women's Advertising Club of London seem tame) up in arms. Trust the soon to be much-missed BBH big cheese Cindy Gallop to restore perspective (but then she is on the Advertising Week committee that approved the ad.): "Advertising is something we all do without thinking. The fact is a woman opening an extra button on her blouse for a date is a very regular occurrence." God, I hope she gets another job soon.

I WAS staring at Graham Fink in Zilli Fish only last week ("hello matey") thinking how reassuring it was to return to London after five years and have some things remain the same. There was "Finky", the one-time golden boy of British advertising; Finky whose long-lost pony-tail helped caricature an industry; Finky, who went to the BTVA awards as Robin Hood with a quiver for his arrows (the prizes); Finky who threw a telly out of a window at CDP. Or did he? Did CDP ever really exist? Two things I do know was that 1) at Saatchi & Saatchi Finky helped create one of my favourite ads, the British Airways "face" extravaganza, and 2) that his post-GGT career as a director etc never rescaled his former heady heights. So I am glad to see that Finky, now 45, is to rejoin his old muckers at M & C Saatchi, around the corner from Zilli's, as creative director, working instantly on the BA re-pitch. I wish him well. He always was talented and enthusiastic, and less of a plonker than you might think.

Stefano Hatfield is senior editor, Metro International