In my favourite episode of Blackadder, Sir Walter Raleigh lectures Edmund on the perils of his proposed jaunt around the Cape of Good Hope (via the Sea of Certain Death). "Round the Cape, the rain beats down so hard, it makes your head bleed!" he warns. "So some sort of hat is probably in order," comes Blackadder's riposte.
Had the good Lord Edmund been exposed to the recent content of British TV advertising, methinks he'd be reaching for a titfer of the sturdiest titanium. There's a hard rain falling in TV adland, I tells ye. And I have no idea why.
Trends, of course, have always come and gone. Who can forget the forgettable spate of "saturated" post-production colour jobs of recent years? Or the equally lamentable folksy/hippie/San Fran sickly gee-tar strings of 2006...? But this is different. And it's inexplicably bonkers. Don't look now, but THERE'S STUFF FALLING OUT OF THE SKY. All sorts of bloody stuff. In every other bloody advert. Stuff falling out of the sky is the new folk music. Maybe it's a result of the incessant rain that's fallen out of our own wide grey yonder each and every grey day since the middle of May. Maybe it's just good old-fashioned copy-cataclysmic laziness. Either way, the reign of squally random stuff-showers shows no sign of abating.
It probably all began with the magnificent Sony "Balls" commercial. (If not the gold standard, then surely the golden shower by which all others must be judged). Soon afterwards came gallons of gloss paint. Not, as you might expect, from Dulux, but again, Sony. Then the heavens opened. Petals fell from Surf. Sycamore leaves from Powergen and glassware courtesy of Lloyds TSB Home Insurance. Smirnoff raised the bar by dumping everything from loose change and Lancaster bombers to battleships on our bonces, while Toyota dropped daggers. (Yes, knives! Ye gods.) Vodafone's broken watch parts rained like Datsun cogs, while T-Mobile, Trident Gum and Canon all went old school, raining men. Hallelujah? I think not.
On and on it poured, with Innocent smoothies emptying a sky full of fruit on us. Zurich bleedin' Insurance even belied their own dodgy endline ("change happenz") by falling into line and lobbing a random rogue satellite on to an innocent parked car. And bringing up the rear, The Sun's Sensational Soccer Supplement came full circle by dropping, well, balls. No change there, either. One swallow may not a summer make, but a dirty baker's dozen of eerily similar TV stuff-showers is tantamount to climate change in my book.
Where will it all end? When might the nation expect a termination of this stuff-tumbling precipitation? Well, it may not over be yet, but I'm happy at least to report variation...
Recent commercials for both Ford and the RAF have set about reversing the trend. Literally. Yes, their skies are still ludicrously chock full of stuff, but at least it appears to be travelling upwards instead of down. It's a start. But until that gorgeous Irish girl who does the weather on Sky News tells you otherwise, I'd still suggest some sort of hat would be in order while watching TV adverts. You have been warned.
Shout it from the rooftops. Wispa is back. And the campaign behind its return has been a joy to behold. The oldest, subtlest and most effective form of advertising known to mankind is word of mouth. The Bring Back Wispa campaign has harnessed this most ancient of techniques, dipped it in liquid nostalgia and married it with every new trick in the (Face)book: public relations, blogging, online petitions, social networking and even a pair of mud-caked herberts draped in a Wispa flag out-dancing Iggy Pop on stage at Glastonbury.
This genuinely is the first brand to be relaunched as a result of web2.0 pressure. The door has been kicked in. Bite it and believe the hype.
Advertising. There, I've said it. Advertising. Said it again. Advertising, advertising, advertising. Now I'm not suggesting that our industry is in some paranoid state of self-denial (oh yes I am), but my mentioning of the A-word in public right now would be seen by some as a professional faux pas on a par with me sashaying down Shaftesbury Avenue, swinging by the Stage Door of a leading West End theatre, pulling down my trousers and pants and shouting "Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth!" till the ushers rushed to shush me up.
And I paraphrase on purpose to illustrate my point. Russell Brand is A Comedian. He does Comedy. Very brilliantly and in a very modern way. On TV. On digital radio. Via podcast. Comedy faces as many challenges as we do, in terms of finding its audience and delivering its message. It's had to evolve. Adapt. Change. But it's still called comedy. The best of it still makes us laugh. The worst gets booed off.
Is there any other industry which so readily and casually denies its own job description as much as ours? It's odd because we don't seem to deny the function. Everything we do is A*********g. Yet our relationship with the very word seems to have broken down. And it's not even the whole word. It's just the first two letters we have a problem with. 'Vertising, meantime, is alive and well and jumping into bed with a brand new prefix every day.
Over the past few months, we happy folk at BMB have dressed pantomime dames for McCain, designed aircraft livery for First Choice, built a virtual, multi-floored showroom for Pretty Polly, helped negotiate the purchasing of a portion of the solar system for npower and engaged in online banter with (alleged) unicorn breeders for Selfridges. The word we use for this crazy new way of carrying our client's messages is advertising.
And in a week when we said farewell to one of our greatest, most unadulterated salesmen, I for one would be much happier shuffling off this mortal coil having been known as an 'umble adman who flogged stuff (by hook, crook, blogosphere or blag) than a fully-rounded pervasive brand ideas communicator who provided integrated 360 degree media neutral solutions for all his client's comms and content needs. Me gone.
Beattie's best in show: the work of rod allen (RIP)
Our industry just lost one of its greats. While Rod Allen may not have been a household name, the brands he gave voice to most certainly were. If you lived through the 1970s and 1980s, you'll know his words by heart. I did: Harp stays sharp to the bottom of the glass; The Wonder of Woolies; This is the age of the train; Milk has got a lotta bottle.
Rod was a jolly, down-to-earth gent in a world of Porsches and poseurs. His output was unashamedly populist. His sidekick, Peter Marsh, unashamedly showbiz. Together they were unbeatable in new business pitches and unfathomable to a startled starchy industry.
Little did I know as I playground-parroted "I'm a secret lemonade drinker... R Whites. R Whites!!" that a decade later, the bloke who wrote that very advert (pictured above) would give me my first job in advertising. He also, as was his wont, set my very first TV commercial to music. "What this script needs, laddie" he whispered to me, "Is... a jingle!" And that's what it got. He was not known as the King of the Jingle for nothing. So if, on one of those strange "I Love the 1980s" style TV programmes you ever see an animated gang of Weetabix thugs singing "If you know what's good for you!" – know that the tiny "OK!" which follows, is Rod Allen's own voice. And give him a smile.
Thanks, Rod. For just about everything. Your gleaming white suit will be perfectly appropriate attire for where you currently reside. And you'll not be short of musical accompaniment.
Trevor Beattie is a founding partner of Beattie McGuinness Bungay (BMB)