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.

“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.

India Transcends the Jingle

4 11 2011

When I was actually in India I didn’t post much about Indian advertising. Maybe I should have done more. A significant contributory factor was our conscious decision not to have a television so that we actually experienced India rather than watching endless re-runs of Friends. This meant that, aside from the ads I was working on, I wasn’t actually exposed to a huge amount of (TV) advertising. In contrast,when we were on our six month travelling stint, most hotels had a TV. Even some of the real cheapies (INR300 a night) provided one. Our narrow channel profile coupled with the Chinese water torture approach of Indian media planning (again, again, again, again – same ad break? don’t worry, drip it again) means I’d rather gouge my eyes out than see most of ads I was (over) exposed to in that period ever again, let alone write about them. But some, including the two discussed here, were more than worthy of recollection.

These two ads stand out because of the way they use jingles. Given that when I talk about jingles in the UK you probably think of terrible local commercial radio ads from your youth (in my case, T.C. Harrison and Stechford tiles, I’m sure you can think of your own examples) or at best the sort of Go Compare! and stuff that makes it to the national TV stage, it seems almost disparaging to describe the music in these two ads as mere jingles. They’re certainly “short tunes used in advertising and for other commercial uses” and whilst they may not go so far as to include “one or more hooks and lyrics that explicitly promote the product being advertised” – there’s some pretty heavy hooks with implicit promotions going on which is probably as close as it gets for service brands.  Whilst irritating memorability has long been the raison d’etre of jingles like those in the UK ads above, these ads go way beyond that, seeking to use a jingle to for genuine brand impact – repositioning and strengthening the brand as opposed to just making people remember it.

The first is from Airtel:

Now, Airtel are India’s biggest mobile network providers. They were amongst the first movers and had long been associated with having the best network coverage and all those boring but essential type of things. They felt fairly austere to me. They seem to have been aware of this and with increased competition in the market started to push the relationship button. They did so in what I felt was a fairly gentle, wishy washy and ill defined touchy-feely family kind of way (e.g this and this) – all very nice but not especially coherent nor consistent. India’s demographic is such that there is quite a rush to target the “youth” market. It’s a sensible policy seeing as there’s so many of them and for a brand like Airtel they’re far and away the heaviest users. So in comes the beast of an ad above. All of your friends are important. They might be cheeky, gossipy fucks some of the time, but they’re still your friends and that matters. It does ‘relationships’ in an instantly more engaging and resonant way than the earlier efforts and shakes the Airtel brand back to life. It does so almost exclusively through a catchy jingle which manages to sidestep irritation which even manages to incorporate and refresh Airtel’s sonic brand mnemonic.

The second example is an altogether more epic affair from Hero Motorcorp:

Hero-Honda was India’s largest motorcycle brand. Hero took the decision to end the joint venture and fly solo and needed to relaunch.  To help them do so they convinced legendary singer-songwriter AR Rahman to take time off from helping to besmirch the reputation of one of my heroes (no, not Joss Stone, Jagger, you cheeky scamps) and pen them a tune. He did not disappoint with this number that gradually builds and suggests more before eventually resolving itself with a lovely drop around the 1:38 mark (or course, we get there much sooner in the more oft seen cut-downs). The lyrics talk about there being “a hero within us” – stirring up India’s easily inflamed patriotic fervour. Alongside the images of everyday Indians rising heroically to various personal challenges it makes for pretty powerful stuff. It’s also nice because it eschews the typical macho stuntsmanship of this category in India. Even when Hero motorcycles are featured they’re not pulling mad stunts, they’re enabling the bravery and heroism of the rider (cf. the bloke edging across the dodgy bridge) rather than themselves being the hero.  Again, the jingle here is an absolutely integral part of the story-telling – with the brand a direct and memorable reference point throughout it.

There may be more seasoned ad-watchers than I out there who can think of British work that has jingles that transcend the traditional understanding of the form in the way these two examples do (please shout if you are one) – personally I’m stumped for anything that comes close. I strongly suspect the reason for this is that the India’s film syntax beyond advertising relies so heavily on music and dance as storytelling devices. Songs in Bollywood movies are often employed to suggest (regularly without much subtlety, but still) what cannot be said explicitly due to cultural sensibilities. People are used to hearing and decoding from narrative songs in a way our audiences aren’t. There are also fewer people around who could execute songwriting for ads of this type credibly and of those that could fewer still would agree to do so.