Stefano Hatfield on Advertising

We can watch Abi's sex tape, but not a woman sucking an ice cube?
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The Independent Online

Its owner, First Drinks Brands, must have thought it was upholding this inglorious tradition with its latest commercial. In short, an attractive woman orders a "Disaronno on the rocks". As she takes her first sip, the voice-over discusses the drink's "warm and sensual taste". When she's drained her glass, she takes an ice cube out of it and places it in her mouth. It is possible to see this as a seductive act. Erm, and that's it. Apart, that is, from a suitably anodyne tagline - "Pass the pleasure around".

The Disaronno commercial is typical Eurotrashily sensual imagery. Who among us has not relished the joy of an alcohol-sodden ice cube at the bottom of a glass? For Disaronno, read Baileys - or Cointreau, Grand Marnier, or many other liqueur brands. It is weak, generic advertising, but it's difficult to see anything offensive about it.

Enter the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which, in its wisdom, has criticised First Drinks Brands for having the temerity to associate alcohol consumption with sexual pleasure. This comes on the back of a complaint from a lone member of the public, who must have just finished their bumper book of Killer Christmas Sudoku and found themselves at a loose end.

First Drinks Brands is now understood to be looking at ways of switching more of its future marketing budget out of television and into digital advertising. Its rival Diageo has coincidentally (?) just appointed Agency Republic to develop a global digital marketing strategy for its Baileys brand.

You may or may not read too much into the simultaneous events. And you may or may not recall a memorable Baileys ad in which a woman playing pool notices that someone has taken a swig of her Baileys, and decides to line up three hunks for a snog-tasting to discover which one did it. Did that ad associate alcohol consumption with sexual pleasure? If so, so what?

This week, ad agency forecasts also predicted that television advertising revenues would be down by a startling 6.2 per cent period on period to £814.7m in the first quarter of 2006. With the price of airtime still sky high, endless stories about disappearing mass audiences and the second coming of the internet, you can hardly blame clients for voting with their chequebooks.

Consequently, you might think that all concerned would fight tooth and nail to argue that advertisers should at least be allowed the freedom to express themselves creatively in the medium. Instead, the continuing restrictions on everything from junk food to children's products to alcohol become ever more suffocating. The lobbying from the offended industries is, to be blunt, pathetic.

What's wrong with a woman manipulating a liqueury ice cube inside her mouth with her tongue? Maybe she had a mouth ulcer she was trying to soothe? Perhaps there was a dodgy tooth she was trying to avoid? OK, maybe she was trying to be seductive. Close your eyes, kids: there is - as my daughters Holly and Lara would put it - some really "embarrassing, squashy stuff" on the horizon.

Has no one at the ASA ever enjoyed a night of wine-fuelled "embarrassing, squashy stuff"? Is it really so awful to reflect that on the screen? I heard about this the night after I saw a graphic Five programme on famous stolen sex-tapes (Pamela, Paris, Abi). The gap between the restrictions on editorial content in contrast with the ads on TV is getting ever wider. Ads must apparently take place in a context somewhere over a mythical rainbow, while the programmes become ever more daring and gritty. It is laughable. When will the ad industry fight back?

CHRIS PINNINGTON has done bloody well for himself. I can recall first meeting him when he was the new-business director of a gentlemanly agency called FCO, which eventually got gobbled up by Euro RSCG, despite, or perhaps because of, having the best in-house cook in adland.

"Gentlemanly" applied equally to Chris. If I am being honest, I took him to be a charming, slightly bumbling, clever, hen-pecked public-schoolboy adman of the old school. I was very wrong. In the illustrious Mark Wnek-Brett Gosper partnership that revitalised what became Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper, Pinnington's dry wit was the behind-the-scenes power in a never-quite-equal triumvirate. He instilled order, discipline and financial controls amid all the flair and boisterous bravado. Now, David Jones, the worldwide chief executive of Euro, has recognised those same talents and elevated Pinnington to worldwide chief operating officer, based in London. He will do the job quietly, but really well.

WITH RELATIVE stealth, Trevor Beattie's new agency Beattie McGuinness Bungay is creeping up on an unsuspecting British advertising industry with a succession of new-business wins, the latest being Carling.

Now, Carling doesn't today have quite the resonance as a brand that it had in the old Carling Black Label days - remember "dambusters" and "the squirrel"? However, it is not to be forgotten that this is the UK's biggest-selling lager brand, and it really should have commensurately famous advertising again. Don't bet against Trevor brewing up something special.

SO "SAFE" Steve Gatfield ends up becoming the chief executive of Lowe Worldwide after all, with Tony Wright moving across to be chairman. It's the surest sign yet that the future of the Lowe network is being decided as we speak, up there on the 40-something floor of Manhattan's Time Life building.

Someone needed to get a grip, and clearly Michael Roth has decided that Gatfield is the man to do so. It's one of IPG's more sensible ideas of recent times. The bar was low.

ANOTHER OF the towering figures of the modern-day advertising industry has died. J Walter Thompson's Stephen King invented agency account planning in the late 1960s at the same time as Stanley Pollitt was having the same idea over at the fledgling Boase Massimi Pollitt (now DDB London). They transformed advertising, first in the UK and later around the world.

Although King's strategic insights were never quite married with outstanding creativity to the same consistently outstanding heights as Pollitt's were with the late John Webster's gems, he had a major influence on some of the big clients of his era - notably Guinness, Kellogg's and RHM.

Like Webster, he was not in the least showy. King also had a flawless bullshit detector, notably directed towards an over-reliance on statistics. Although he retired in 1988, the industry everywhere should still feel his loss.

LAST WEEK, Clerical Medical quietly moved its £6m account out of Euro RSCG London and into Delaney Lund Knox Warren as part of a consolidation of the Halifax Bank of Scotland group's advertising account. It is a relatively unremarkable account move, in truth, and it is unlikely to result in any category-leading advertising.

But what is notable about the move is the steady drip, drip of business that is seeping away from multinational networks into the greedy arms of so-called independents. Someone more proficient in Microsoft Excel than I am can surely total up the sum of this drift over the past two years and come up with the sort of precise but huge figures that Stephen King so derided.

E-mail Stefanohat1@aol.com if you have ever had an alcohol-fuelled "embarrassing, squashy experience"!

HATFIELD'S WORST IN SHOW: SEAT ALTEA

John McEnroe used to be a god: one of the most talented tennis players in the history of the game, and then an outstanding commentator. Now, he has just turned into a caricature of himself. As you watch this beyond-terrible ad from Grey Barcelona unfold with depressing puns about the (parking bay) lines and the obligatory, 100th use of the "you cannot be serious" line in an ad, you have to ask the inevitable question: why, John? And why does the ad suggest the car is difficult to park?

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