When was the last time you saw a genuinely funny ad? Not an ad that
was funny, but 30 seconds of something genuinely funny, as funny, say,
as 30 seconds of Bill Bailey, Peter Kay, Seinfeld, or The Simpsons?
Can’t think of one? Me neither.
did you last see an ad so emotional, or so poignant, or so honest that
it moved you to tears? Okay, I’ll settle for, a smallish lump in your
throat, when was the last time you saw an ad that did that? Never, of
course because they don’t exist either.
What about a commercial
with the drama, tension, visual brilliance, narrative drive, dramatic
structure, or precise characterisation to rival Citizen Kane, The
Insider, Toy Story (take your pick, 1 or 2), A Clockwork Orange, The
Sopranos, The Wire, or The West Wing?
So what about copy then?
Have you ever read a piece of copy that was as insightful, as wise, as
illuminating or as revealing of the human condition as something
written by McEwan, Roth, Heller, Steinbeck, Orwell or Hemingway?
for radio, I think it’s best we past over the shameful content that
clutters up the airwaves in the name of advertising and not even bother
insulting Radio4’s understanding of the medium, by mentioning them in
the same breath. (Damn, I just did.)
“Stop being stupid!” one or
two of you might now be shouting. “What good is making the comparison
between 30 seconds of film and 90mintes? 500 words and a 400-page novel?
Well, consider these.
“Go ahead make my day.”
“You can’t handle the truth.”
“Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn.”
“How am I funny?”
“I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
“You talkin’ to me?”
“I steal your milkshake.”
Each one a single line, delivered once, taking up seconds of the film and yet remembered forever.
Likewise, these scenes appear briefly and yet leave a lasting impression on the viewer.
for those creatives who are screaming, “But that’s not our job! That’s
not what we do!” I say bollocks. That’s exactly what you try and do.
You just fail at it. Time and time again.
You write funny sketches and call them commercials, but they’re not funny. Not properly funny.
raise contributions for worthy charities with heartrendingly painful
stories of abuse, neglect, natural disasters but you tell them badly.
You deal with death, birth, love – every aspect of life and yet you fail to connect and move your audiences.
While those remaining creatives stamping your feet as you bellow, ‘It’s not us, it’s the client’s fault!’
have publishers, Comedy programmes have commissioning editors.
Filmmakers have producers, financiers and studios. Comedians have a
live audience – They all have clients, and yet.
Yes, it’s only
30seconds. Yes, it’s only a single page of copy. Yes, we have to sell
a product. Yes, the client can sometimes be stupid. You’re absolutely
right; they’re all legitimate obstacles. What they’re not is a
legitimate excuse for a lack of talent or plain laziness. So why is this well-paid industry of hard working, passionate and smart people so…. so average?
I was once asked, ‘Am I in love with the idea of me being inside of art, or the art inside of me?’
Not much of an option, right? But I believe most, if not all ad creatives fall into the former.
want to do something creative, they want to create something good, but
they don’t really have the passion to create something great and so
know they will starve. So they turn to the ad industry, the perfect
home for the poor writer and the less courageous artist.
Because there’s a lower bar in town where they can become good, maybe even great ad creatives.
Am I being unnecessarily harsh?
don’t think so. I’ve worked in some of the best creative departments in
town and seldom did I find people who grafted at the craft aspect of
They worked hard don’t get me wrong and they were
passionate about doing ads, but they had very little interest in the
real craft that underpins our work.
It normally extended no
further than pouring over other ads, going to see the latest ‘hip’
film, visiting a gallery opening (only if free wine was promised) or
just sitting with the art buyer/TV producer and asking to see who was
the hottest photographer/director this month.
I can’t once remembering anyone studying their craft.
copy, most copywriters today have never written anything longer than a
txt msg and have no interest in ridding themselves of this ignorance.
Writing copy is viewed by and large as a punishment and a chore. No
pleasure is gained from developing a well-crafted turn of phrase, the
creation of an authentic voice or a well-thought out argument.
But for the novelist that is the job.
TV ad scripts, they are written once, twice, three times at most and
nearly always begrudgingly by two people with no interest in character
or structure or dialogue, beyond a belief that they’ll know when it’s
Now, look at how scripts are approached. Before they’re
even written, characters are given extensive back-stories.
Interestingly the only creative I know how did this was John Webster.
screenplays aren’t just written; they’re rewritten - going through many
drafts with numerous writers. Sometimes they’re then given to script
doctors to polish, writers who will work to a tight brief - make it
funnier, make character X more believable, add more suspense, tighten
the structure etc.
And yes, too many cooks can spoil the broth,
but only if there’s no one present able to control them. The bigger
point is that these are writers who love the craft of writing.
emergence in recent years in the quality of US TV has in part been
created by writers surrounding themselves with better writers, playing
to each other’s strengths and sharing ownership.
When was the
last time, a creative director took work away from the team who created
it and gave it to a better art director to design it?
not? Just because you are gifted with a rich imagination and are able
to make fresh connections that then appear blindingly obvious to others
when presented to them, it is no guarantee you can string a cohesive
argument together, especially when you don’t really see it as an
important part of your job.
Instead adland has created the
notion, you create it, you own it, from start to finish. Maybe this
made sense when writers saw agencies as a day job to finance the early
drafts of their novel. Or when art directors saw advertising as a means
to getting on a film set.
But today’s advertising creatives are
exactly what they want to be - ad creatives. People with such a myopic
view that they truly believe the worst crime in their world is copying
another ad regardless of whether or not it was done 30 years ago on
another Continent, yet think nothing of stealing wholesale from a
photographer, film maker, artist they saw the other weekend.
My second nomination for New Product Launch of 2008 is of course, Barack Hussein Obama,
His campaign to the White House could almost be said to be the blue print for today’s communication campaigns and not just in politics.
First, they studied the product, analysed what was authentic about it and then distilled it down into one clear word.
A word that was both a product truth and something that would inspire the consumer.
He stood for change. That was it, above everything else, the one thing you knew you’d get was change.
They didn’t cloud this with too much detail about policy - that would just defuse the clarity of message. While for those who wanted to know more, it was there to be searched out, but that was your choice.
Instead, they just pushed the truth behind the claim in little nuggets of information.
He was a change from the previous government. He was a change from the usual type of person who became a politician. He looked different. He sounded different. He connected different. And he communicated different.
They embraced new media and online social network. They gave up control for advocacy, trusting his supporters to represent him to their peers in the way they wanted to. Entrusting the brand to them. The result was some extraordinary marketing.
And then there were posters, which were created for the campaign not by the campaign
They facilitated connections through online communities that added a new dimension to what was already out there. Mybarackobama.com, was/is a social network of sorts that allowed people to create blogs around issues, and send in policy recommendations to the man himself.
They assisted in fund-raising activities with ideas and tools. And they encouraged people to fundraise however they wanted to.
They were light of foot. If there was a sudden rise in traffic from certain sites or communities they engaged with them and kept engaging with them with regular updates. By engaging with people wherever they gathered they were able to make maximum impact.
And this is just a fraction of the numerous marketing activities that the campaign spawn.
He was seen as inclusive leader, embracing everyone into his vision for Change, probably best summed up by slogan, Yes We Can.
And now there is a real belief the world over, that there is a President of the United States of America prepared to listen and lead rather than ignore and dictate.
A welcome change for politics, I’m sure you’ll agree.