The Golden Age of Bullshit

11 04 2014

Everybody in our industry should watch this. You don’t have to agree with it all, but most of it is hard to argue with.





Google Search: The Reunion

13 11 2013

This Indian ad from Google is REALLY good. Parts of it are in Hindi but you won’t have any trouble understanding what’s going on provided you’re familiar with India’s partition.

This is a fantastically emotive subject, but I think Google treat it with respect here. And as a brand integration case study it’s fabulous. Google has a good track record for making emotionally resonant ads, Dear Hollie perhaps being the best known example. But for me, they’ve often tried to cram too much in, tried too hard to say WE’RE GOOGLE AND WE DO EVERYTING – gmail, Youtube, Chrome, search etc. This makes the ads feel crowded and you’re not really sure what they’re for or what they’re trying to say about why each tool is important to your life. In focussing on search here there is much greater clarity around the brand’s involvement in the story and, perhaps paradoxically, by talking about one thing rather than everything that idea of Google penetrating all aspects of our lives comes through much more cleanly.

Google search is absolutely integral to the story here. In my day job, we have always said that if you can describe what happens in the ad in a sentence without mentioning the brand then it is probably not well branded. I think you’d struggle to do that here.

Of course, it’s 3 and a half minutes long so there’s plenty of space for the story here and perhaps it seems odd to be congratulating such a long ad on its focus. But it also had a big subject to deal with in a respectful way. It achieves that rare thing of being a powerful film in its own right, but still having the brand at its heart in a way that does nothing to cheapen the subject matter.

I’m also certain shorter versions are possible and that this story can be developed across a longer campaign – perhaps bringing in other elements of Google’s portfolio as they go.

I believe Ogilvy India are the people to whom the credit belongs.





David Bailey on Advertising

11 09 2013

Over on my new blog, Life Lessons from Desert Island Discs, I have just written my second proper entry on the photographer David Bailey. Bailey has also successfully directed a number of ads, including the classic one for Greenpeace shown above. In his Desert Island Discs, he also reflects a little on advertising. So to cross promote two of my blogs and also because what he says is interesting but not really an important lesson on life, I thought I’d share what he says about ads (specifically, how directing them is different from shooting stills) with you all here.

In a way it’s a luxury. Most of my life has been spent trying to tell a story in a 125th of a second so 30 seconds is quite a luxury and 60 seconds feels like War and Peace to me. Being a still photographer is a bit like being a sniper up a tree, all alone, very lonely. Being a director is a bit like being a General – with all the people around you as catalysts trying to bring things together.

So, next time you think you’re having a hard time squeezing it all into 30 seconds, think of that lonely sniper in a tree, trying to squeeze the trigger on the right 125th of a second.





Big Mac – Think with your mouth

6 06 2013

I’m a Burger King man myself, I hate Big Macs, disgusting sauce. I was quite partial to a Chicken Maharajah Mac during my spell in the colonies, but I didn’t have Burger King to fall back on there. I was recently rather critical of one of their recent UK efforts so by way of redressing the balance I’d like to say that I really like these new Big Mac ads from over in that America.

An iconic product given the treatment it deserves – space to speak for itself and be the hero. You don’t need to make claims about something like the Big Mac (if you do about very much at all.) You just need to celebrate it in an interesting way. Also, 15 seconds each. Brilliant. You don’t need 90 seconds to make interesting ads. Don’t let anyone tell you that you do. Not to say, of course, that you can’t also make blinding long ads. Horses for courses (beef/horse substitution pun entirely intended.)

They put me in mind of MTV idents from back in the days when the ‘M’ in MTV actually meant something. A cynic might add that ‘Think with your mouth’ is a sensible way for McDonald’s to go given that thinking with anything else would lead you to avoid Big Macs altogether, but obviously I would never say such a thing.





The Andrex Puppy wants to know how you wipe your arse

7 02 2013

So, there’s this. An ad about how people wipe their arses in which you are asked to submit a vote to a cuddly advertising icon stating how you, the viewer, prefer to wipe your own arse. My initial reaction to this was the same combination of shock and despair that you are probably feeling now if it’s the first time you have seen it - this excellent take down in The Vice about sums most of that up. But, for me, this ad was also revelatory. I hadn’t the slightest conception that anyone would ever do anything other than fold. If an Englishman’s home is his castle, his toilet is the Keep, where none shall surely pass except in the very gravest of circumstances. Our reservedness ensures that we keep life’s great pleasures such as having a lovely poo tightly locked away from any conversation. For the most part, that’s probably for the best but it has meant that I have spent my 31 years and some months entirely in the dark about “scrunching”. Scrunchies are 90s female hair accessories, not bum-wiping material.

I am a scruffy man. I do not iron my clothes, my house is fairly untidy – but I cannot imagine for a moment wiping my arse with a randomly scrunched up ball of toilet paper. The uneven surface, the variable thickness and the lack of a uniform size and shape seem to carry with them all kinds of risks that I prefer not to even countenance, let alone bring into play.

In the uncomfortable afterglow of this revelatory experience I thought I would open The Keep to my colleagues and explore further (I don’t mean I actually invited them into my bog, I just decided to discuss it with them.) The findings were really quite interesting (and of course entirely unscientific.) There does not seem to be a gender bias – at first it seemed girls were (unexpectedly? I don’t know) more likely to scrunch, but the more we asked it seemed to be about 50/50. More of my male colleagues were folders, but not to a degree sufficient to deduce a genuine skew given the sample size involved. Personality and outward physical appearance also seemed to be poor indicators. You might expect the scruffy buggers such as I (there are plenty of us in the Global team, we don’t get let out in public much so we can let ourselves go) to over-index on scrunching but they were as likely to be neat, tidy folders in the privacy of the smallest room in the house as anyone. Those with pristine, matching houses who iron their bed linen could very well be untidy (disgusting and risky in my view) scrunchers. There were some mad bastards who would do either, apparently willy-nilly with no clear criteria as to when they would change tack.

I was greatly relieved to discover that my wonderful girlfriend is also a folder, hopefully guaranteeing that our future children will also fold. But is there any guarantee? There seems to be no gender or personality pattern to all this. Who’s to say whether there’s anything genetic? But I can only hope that the combination of nature and nurture will see my unborn children right.

So, on reflection, maybe Kimberley Clark are on to something here. Maybe they will breakthrough our reticence to talk about wiping turd from our anuses and get us all debating the relative merits of the two leading approaches. Maybe people will vote in their droves. Maybe folders will ally with folders and seek to bring down the despicable practice of scrunching? Maybe all these years of toilet roll being a dull, low-interest category are over. I think there is more to talk about – optimum number of sheets, softness, quilted versus smooth, that tracing paper stuff from primary school. LET’S ALL ENGAGE AT INTERACT ON THE SUBJECT OF BOG ROLL.

Or, you know, maybe not.





“Nah, yer alright”, McDonald’s

6 02 2013

I don’t have a TV in my house, or at least not one connected to any TV service, so it’s usually via twitter or some other means that I come across new ads. That does tend to mean that I only see ads that are either brilliant or terrible as these tend to be the ones people tweet about online. Last night, however, I tuned in to some live TV on TVCatchup, the UK’s live streaming service for all free-to-air channels. Between the endless re-runs of Big Bang Theory I came across this ad for McDonald’s which doesn’t really fall into either of those categories. It certainly isn’t terrible, but it did annoy me (in fairness to McDonald’s, this isn’t hard to achieve.)

Having never seen it before I didn’t know what brand it was for to begin with. I think the narrative is good, the family dynamic portrayed is familiar to many and the rainy northern setting is well observed. The family members are all portrayed well. You get a good feel for the friction. From the perspective of advertising craft  it is all very nicely put together.

Then we come to McDonald’s role in all of this. This is the point at which I get annoyed. The idea of McDonald’s bringing people together is a perfectly reasonable one, not an especially original platform for a brand, but reasonable nonetheless. But what this ad boils down to to me is, if you’re having family problems, buy your kids a Big Mac and everything will be ok. That is, of course, an over simplification but it’s certainly what’s at the nub. You don’t need to actually tackle difficult family tensions, you can just bribe your kids’ (or step-kids’) into your affections by taking them to McDonald’s. Really, McDonald’s? REALLY? That’s the best way you could come up with of demonstrating that McDonald’s is a universal bringer of happiness that we all have in common?

Am I being too harsh? It just feels wrong to me to use this kind of family tension in this way.





Nike, Lance Armstrong and Moral Relativism

18 10 2012

This is a post I wrote for MB’s internal intranet thingy. Whilst I’ve edited it a bit, for that reason it may have a slightly different tone to my usual Research Geek posts and doesn’t have any swearing in it. But I thought, as I’d written it, I might as well share it in case there are any readers out there that still remember this blog exists:

So, Nike have dropped Lance Armstrong. Lance Armstrong has also resigned as head of his Livestrong Foundation.

I don’t think Nike had much choice here. Not only is Armstrong a proven cheat but it seems he was also involved in encouraging (or “bullying” according to the testimony) his team mates into doing the same. It seems he may well have been encouraging his team mates to “Just Do It” in a rather different context from that which Nike intends. Armstrong and US Postal were far from alone in their cheating though. I saw a stat recently which said that the fastest up the Alpe d’Huez (the Tour de France’s most notorious and difficult climb) this year would have been 41st fastest in 2001. [EDIT, I had read this stat but hadn’t checked, it isn’t quite right, but it’s not far off – the fastest in 2011, Pierre Rolland would have been 40th in 2001.] Doping was rife, it seems Armstrong was just much better at it than everyone else. I suppose there’s some achievement there at least.

There are also those questioning whether Nike knew more than they are letting on at the time and, indeed, whether they were even involved in covering up the doping. Whether that’s true or not, they would not want any further attention drawn to those accusations which would be unavoidable as the story continues to unravel. A continued association with him would have made the regular resurfacing of these allegations unavoidable.

What’s interesting here from a brand point of view is the decision that his reputation is beyond repair and a continued association with Nike could only be negative for the brand. Contrast that with their handling of the Tiger Woods fall from grace and the difference is palpable (they also stuck by Kobe Bryant when he was accused of rape.) Indeed, Nike trumpeted the fact they were sticking with Woods with a controversial ad.

Many commentators thought this was a mistake and was in bad taste and that Woods should be dropped. Until recently, they seemed to be taking the same approach with Armstrong. Indeed, in 2001 they had explicitly supported him in their ‘What am I on?’ ad. At that time I can’t imagine Nike knew what was going on. If they did, it was a spectacularly risky route to go down.

I think there are three important differences between Armstrong and Woods that encouraged Nike to stick with him. First of all, Woods admitted he was in the wrong and apologised. Granted he only did so after being caught out, but at least he did so. Armstrong, as far as I’m aware, has yet to explicitly admit his guilt and apologise for misleading people. Up until very recently he was still clinging to the “never had a negative test” line and pushing that over and over again. Secondly, Woods’ indiscretions were, shall we say, extracurricular – he was not accused of cheating at the sport for which he was famed. Sure, his clean cut image took a big whack, but his achievements as a sportsman, his ability to ‘Just Do It’ was unaffected. Arguably, one of Tiger’s weaknesses as a brand property was that he apparently had no weaknesses – his continued success was machine-like. The rehabilitation after the fall of which Nike was making themselves an explicit part could make the partnership stronger, the Tiger was human after all. And that brings me to the third difference, that Woods is still playing and still at the top of the game. Of course, it’s a long while since he’s won a major and he doesn’t dominate the sport as he did before, but he’s still easily its biggest name. Perhaps this, in part, motivated Armstrong’s most recent comeback?

All of this raises an issue of moral relativism for brands – when is an indiscretion sufficient to cut your ties with a celebrity? Is an indiscretion against your sport really a worse thing than one against your wife? Morally, of course not. Do I care about that one way or the other, or am I simply worried about the continuing credibility of a celebrity to endorse my brand? I suspect the latter is true, though few would admit it. There is no moral judgement, simply a brand value judgement. For many brands, their values would determine that the call may be seen from outside as having been made on moral grounds but the cynic in me suspects that, in reality, that’s not the case.

I was dubious about Nike’s strategy with Woods. I didn’t like the way is father was used in the ad above. But in the long term I think they were right to stick with him. I think brands are usually too quick to pull the trigger when their endorsers fall from grace. Celebrities are human. Providing they acknowledge their mistakes and apologise in an appropriate way, they can often come back stronger. But you do need to be brave to stick by them.








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