Monday, December 31, 2012

10 Advertising Things That Must Disappear in 2013

To end the year, here is a look at the bad things we need to fix. Next year will start with good things we need to keep doing more of. Happy New Year everyone!

1. Treating People Like Idiots

I can't believe we still have to talk about this in 2012. People are not idiots, we need to stop treating them as if they are. People can understand a point without the use of false setups and bad acting. Let's demonstrate this with an unbelievably bad ad from Colgate.

2. Using Songs in Place of Creativity

If you have a song that sums up your idea, wonderful. If you add a good song as the soundtrack to your idea, brilliant. Using the song as the sole idea in an ad that has no creative or strategic thought in it whatsoever... go away. See also number 10.

3. Using Ideas From the Internet in Place of Creativity

There are two ways to utilise ideas you find online. Firstly, you adapt or involve the original creator to produce something good. As with John West below.

Secondly, you just steal the idea or rip it off. This must end.

4. Unnecessary Copy

I'm thinking particularly of ads which think people are so stupid they have to be forewarned in advance of upcoming blunt metaphors. Colgate again.

"If you think about it, your tooth is a lot like..."

Why the hell do we need the first five words? You could argue that the rest are superfluous too, but the first bit is ridiculous. Remember the maxim that you should remove any words that aren't necessary to get the point across. Please.

5. Bad Faux-Customers and Respondents

Every time I see the Pounds to Pocket ad where the woman says "I'm so glad I went to Pounds to Pocket...", it makes me want to set fire to the TV. It isn't just them though, I've seen others with it too.

See also that horrific Colgate ad in point 1. They couldn't look any less real if they were made using poor CGI.

6. Gio Compario

I had hoped the change of agency would fix things, but instead of doing something with the character they just kept the annoying ad and bolted on an anti-character motif to it. The anti-character thing doesn't work if you subject us to the whole thing in the first place. The latest ad is a step in the right direction, but unless they take another few steps forward, this point stands.

7. Songs

Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop. Not content with terrible songs, annoying cliched characters, and an apparent total lack of strategy... it even has a main character who appears to constantly pull large objects from her underwear.

8. Client Briefs Based on Existing Ads

"That John Lewis ad is good, give me one of those."

No, no, no, no, no.

9. UK Regional Bias

We live in the age of global instant communication. To see non-London agencies as inherently inferior simply because of their location is an out of date concept. If this bothers you, get over it. American agencies are in New York, Boulder, Portland. Australian agencies are in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide. UK agencies are in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh, etc.

10. Replacing Song Lyrics

As demonstrated above by Stop taking well known songs and swapping over the lyrics to something inane or your brand name. It sounds awful, it makes the brand sound awful, and it does not suggest creativity or strategy. Please note this excludes cases where there is genuine strategy or creativity involved in parody or wordplay, rather than just swapping lyrics.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Round Up Part 2

Time for a brief round up of some more Christmas ads!


A nice idea, that seems quite in fitting with the overall ethos of Waitrose. I think it would have helped however, to include or have some kind of detail that says Heston and Delia didn't charge a fee for this ad either. As any doubt over that does dampen the otherwise nice message.


You all know the John Lewis ad, that's why I haven't included it, however Aldi have ensured it sticks around a little more by spoofing it nicely. The idea of spoofing the ad, and the little low budget recreation is sweet, but the voiceovers really don't fit, and lose the spirit. A voiceless ad that used simple animation to show the (presumably already clearly understood by many) 'I like this one' message would have almost certainly been a little better.


I'm not a huge fan of the blue aliens, but it's still a lot better than what most retail stores do. This ad certainly does what it needs to do, makes bluntly clear that Argos have new apps and make it easy to shop on your phone or tablet. It doesn't get in your face though, which is nice. It just rolls up a clear message into an advertising style gag, and doesn't blast a Christmas or sale message at you. Another sign that the average retail ad this Christmas is much improved over recent years.


Just seen the new Boots ads today. Nice extensions of the individual stories in their first ad. The stories I have seen are shot well, and get across their gift strategy in an enjoyable way. Nothing amazing, but much more inclusive and emotive than last year's Here Come The Girls work.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Bravery Counts

Since I started the first draft of this post, Rob Campbell has put up some further comments on the topic of bravery here, I recommend you take a look.

I read some good comments (see above) on bravery, and I started to think just how important the ability to be brave is, across everyone involved in advertising and marketing, as well as all creative things.

In many respects, the ability to be brave throughout the process is one of the biggest differences between good and bad work. You need a planner who can find real insights and create bold briefs, you need creatives who are prepared to suggest the unusual and push for new things, you need creative directors who have the bravery to push big bold ideas, you need an account team who can sell in something scary, you need a client who had the vision to see how a new approach can work and sell it to the organisation, etc etc.

I have no doubt that most planners and creatives in weak agencies have the potential to do amazing work, they either just aren't brave enough, or are working with/for people/clients who don't let brave ideas through.

To paraphrase someone (I forget who): If the work you are doing doesn't in some way scare you, it's probably not that good.

In that spirit I thought I'd present some of my favourite ever examples of bravery:


Imagine now you are sat in a farm in Cornwall watching TV in 1981. For twenty years your local ITV station has been Westward, who looked like the picture to the right. Regal, smart and sturdy.

Then imagine on the first of January 1982, you switch on your TV and see this, the new ident and logo for Television SouthWest.

Apparently the TSW designers were told "Make it different from Westward." They succeeded magnificently.

Although the first ident was confusing, the revision a couple of years later got it spot on. The TSW logo is remarkable in that it created something modern and bold, and yet through it created an incredibly strong bond with the community it served. Taking the step back from the sea motifs that had stood for two decades and using the hills and rivers as partial inspiration for one of the bravest bits of logo design I can ever remember seeing. Most designers or clients would have rejected a logo that was so incredibly different from any other TV station, but by seeing the potential and being brave they created something iconic, backed up by a company that truly lived up to being proud of it's local area. For example: When the company lost it's franchise in 1992, they created an archive which preserved a huge amount of local footage and archive shows.

More info on it.

Nintendo Wii

It's 2006, Sony and Micro have launched their super powerful new consoles, each making a loss in order to grow the market share. The battleground between two powerful pieces of technology is fierce.

Then in comes Nintendo, who launched a profitable, low powered machine using cheap bits of motion sensing technology.

Ninety million sales later, and the Nintendo Wii, breaking every convention of console gaming, was runaway winner.

If you asked most gaming experts before launch if the Wii would be a success, you would have found mixed views at best. Launching a console that lacked high definition output and lagged miles behind on graphical output was seen as a death wish by many.

Nintendo though, knew what they were doing, and were brave enough to see it through.

Green Day

American Idiot is, for me, a masterpiece of bravery.

We have an American pop punk band from the mid-nineties, who have gradually become less important and less popular. So what do they do to get back to success?

That's right. In the middle of post 9/11 patriotic bluster, they released a concept rock-opera album called American Idiot, featuring a nine minute single. They also put American Idiot out as the first single.

It has now sold over 14m copies.

Virgin Atlantic

You needed balls of steel to take on British Airways in the 1980's and 1990's. Virgin had them, and still does.

Without Bravery

A few years ago, I worked on a smallish finance brand. We created a brilliant campaign that I have absolutely no doubt would have fundamentally leaped the company forwards. We worked with a tough client, but he knew what needed doing and had the guts to do it. Then sadly those above his head got scared and the ad never went ahead.

If they had aired it, I fully believe they would have got an incredible response. Sadly, not everyone has bravery, and that's why those who do need to use it.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

How About You Decide? (Gaming Post No.2)

Pic from
The launch of the WiiU has caused a lot of debate around the gaming community. As with the first Wii console, the 'hardcore' gamers have been scathing in criticising Nintendo for producing something that isn't an all powerful technical behemoth, even though they haven't done that for any machine in over a decade.

Nintendo have always been smart at making the very most from their machines, taking something that is technically less powerful, but utilising it in a way that produces great end results, and importantly, is profitable. Sony got every major technical decision on Playstation 3 wrong, Nintendo rarely do.

The key question though, is what exactly IS WiiU? It feels initially like a machine that has had tons of things chucked at it in the hope that some of them will stick, yet on closer inspection it feels far more clever.

A touch screen in the middle of a gamepad, compatibility with the Wii controllers, it feels a bit like trying to cash in on iPad mania, until you look more closely at the details.

The handheld screen shows two bits of possible thinking that are beyond what Microsoft or Sony have previously done. Firstly, sales of handheld consoles are dropping. Ownership of phones and smartphone gaming mean fewer people are buying, and those that do are far less likely to play them outdoors. So suddenly this screen gives you the option to play your game in bed without having to buy a separate handheld machine and a new catalogue of games. You could also use it to watch Netflix in bed.

Secondly, multiplayer gaming in the same room has always been spoiled by the need to use split screen. The new controller screen finally takes that away, allowing two player gaming with one TV and no splitting of the screen. It also means the usual four player limit on games can go up to five.

Cute pictures and game related chat.
Miiverse even adds a tick to let you know if the person
 writing actually owns the game they are talking about!
Even Miiverse and it's ability to draw players into a simple online community around each game they play, without the horrific over competitiveness and conflict you get on Xbox Live or PSN. Several early users have said the Miiverse has become like Facebook, something they check each morning.

When Apple launched the iPad, there was a lot of talk about where it would sit in the world. People have laptops and smartphones, why would they want a hybrid? Apple, instead of trying to define a position for the device, just showed all of the possibilities and let people and developers work out for themselves what they wanted it to be. Nintendo appear to follow the same strategy in recent years, DS, Wii and now WiiU all take cheap and clever technologies and compile them together into a bundle that can be used in many different ways.

For example: The streaming technology means that the console can process a controller action, send it to the console, update the game, compress the image, send it to the controller and display it with less lag than the average high quality LCD screen. This makes it remarkably responsive, even when used several metres from the machine. It also opens up the WiiU to be used with technologies like Onlive.

So while it looks a little bodged together, what Nintendo have actually delivered is something flexible. A machine that gives developers and gamers a huge scope of choice in the way they wish to play their games. This is why, no matter how weird their machines looks initially, I always trust Nintendo to deliver something worth owning, they think better and they plan better than the competition. Now if only their ads matched up to that thinking!

If you are interested in more games stuff, I've also been doing some writing for a new Gaming Site - Voxel Arcade.