Last week I promised an in-depth analysis of the annual advertising extravaganza that is the American Super Bowl broadcast. Well, this week you are not going to get that analysis, because it's just not worth it.
If you really want to know what the ads were like, go to www.adcritic.com or read any column by any advertising journalist over the past five, 10, 15 years on the Super Bowl because what they describing therein is pretty much the same as what 90 million Americans viewed in and around the Pittsburgh Steelers' victory over Seattle and the Rolling Stones' half-time show.
There was one stand-out memorable extravaganza for Burger King, which may herald a change in marketing strategy for the burger wars wannabes, but for most of the rest... Yes there were celebrities, but there is little to get excited about in Jimmy Fallon street-dancing for Pepsi or Jessica Simpson serving up Pizza Hut bites. There were the usual quiet, harmless smiles like the Ameriquest spots, and more cringeworthy spots than I can list here.
What to expect of a broadcast dominated by the 10 or so Budweiser ads including the dreary dreams of a Clydesdale horse and stoners worshipping a magic fridge that spins into their apartment stoked with Bud Light?
The trouble is that the ads have to avoid the frenzied climate of censorship that networks like ABC impose upon advertisers, particularly in the wake of the Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction". Plus, they have to be inoffensive enough to score well in an annual instant poll of viewers conducted by the USA Today newspaper, which then generates huge subsequent publicity - for a day or two.
The trouble with the poll is it's based on the thoughts of just over 100 viewers who are based all over the USA. In the days of interactive advertising where response rates can be measured so much better, and at a time when media is so fragmented, lauding the inevitable lowest common denominator, least offensive-type advertising that will always prevail at the Super Bowl in such circumstances makes Madison Avenue look even more stuck in the Jurassic Period.
STEPHEN GATFIELD has long been known as one of the safest pairs of hands in the global ad industry. This is not to damn him with faint praise. From Leo Burnett in the UK to a stint in Asia and then Chicago with the Interpublic Group, Gatfield has long been at the top of the game, but has a somewhat enigmatic reputation largely because he is one of the few leading admen - Publicis' Rick Bendel is another - who chooses not to play the fame game. Now he has been drafted in to act as consigliere (and de facto chairman?) to Lowe Worldwide's Tony Wright as he tries to resolve the thorny question of what Lowe will be in the future. It's a fascinating conundrum. Despite Lowe's many recent travails, it is to be remembered that there is still a lot of talent within the Lowe global network - not least the UK's own much-missed Manhattan transfer Mark Wnek. Decent clients too. Lowe seems to have missed its moment in terms of competing toe-to-toe, market-by-market globally with the likes of Ogilvy and BBDO, but the success of BBH and Wieden & Kennedy proves there remains more than one way to conquer the advertising universe.
POOR MICHAEL Finn. He's been the nearly man of British advertising for well over a decade now. His agency, Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters, was not nearly as good as its contemporaries HHCL, Simons Palmer, Rainey Kelly (and later Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe) and Mother. Finn was not nearly the charismatic public figure that Paul Simons, Rupert Howell or even Jim Kelly were. Duckworth Finn was always nearly being sold to some giant US network or other, whereas most of the above (bar Mother) actually were. Even upstart younger agencies like VCCP, Delaney Lund and MCBD managed to launch, flourish and sell (for silly money) in the blink of an eye. All this time Finn put on a brave face, but it had to hurt. I know it did, through picking up the phone to him after the annual Campaign "school reports". Then, last year, it finally looked like there was going to be a deal as Lowe London came a-calling. The documents were ready, Campaign magazine was alerted, and then disaster! Lowe loses its giant Tesco account and the deal is off. And now Finn is following Paul Grubb and Gary Duckworth out the door, leaving just the likeable "Big" Dave Waters of the original gang of four. Everyone would wish Finn well. He is to be much admired for plugging away all these years. Get yourself a suntan, Michael.
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Hatfield'S Best In Show: French Connection
One of the toughest challenges in advertising is to move on from a successful campaign. Whether you liked it or not, it would be hard to argue that FCUK was not just such a runaway success. It was a campaign so strong that it redefined a brand, and in the end even came to overshadow it.
To be honest, it is easier to move on now, given that FCUK came to be what French Connection was, and that consumers have begun shunning it.
For many reasons, Trevor Beattie's first work on his flagship client at his new agency will have been very eagerly awaited by a far wider community than its principal sponsor, the likeable French Connection founder Stephen Marks.
So what's the new work like? Well, in typical Beattie fashion it is not designed to trouble the scorers at advertising awards shows, but is meant to be unashamedly populist. Two strikingly attractive women have a bitch fight in a store room where one is representing fashion, the other style.
As they throw each other around (they are real-life stuntwomen; bloody good ones too) inevitably some of their clothes fall off. One pins the other against a wire face, where a raunchy lesbian kiss ensues, before the brunette head-butts the blonde. Or, is it the other way round?
Actually that doesn't matter - nor does who wins the fight. The scenario walks just the right side of the line of the strategy becoming the execution. You can see it all now in Soho brainstorming sessions: "So, what is French Connection about? Are we style or are we fashion?"
And you can just hear the mercurial Brummie Beattie declare impishly: "I know. Why don't we fight it out on-screen - with babes representing each side?"
In truth, it is about as violent a TV commercial as I have ever seen - albeit that the violence is fantastical, Crouching Tiger-type cartoon violence. The lesbian kiss is one of the first I can recall in a mainstream ad, and is performed with engaging passion. It's titillating and frolicsome, energetically directed by David Bowie's son, Duncan "formerly Zowie" Jones, clearly a talent to watch.
In typical Beattie fashion, the ad is already garnering PR a-plenty, but a big question will be how does it translate into the clothes in-store (the true genius of the FCUK idea)? Although the strategy is demonstrated with a little heavy-handedness, everyone will be talking about this ad.
However, if you really want to see hot girl-on-girl action in an ad complete with moaning, trenchcoats and sliding fingers check out the new long version of the Mike Figgis-directed Agent Provocateur commercial. It is set, I am told, in the changing room of the store and I guarantee that you will not be seeing it on a TV screen near you soon!