Alan Smithee, Football medicals and the way in which they relate to advertising.

When a film director makes a film that doesn’t turn out to his satisfaction he can swap his name on the credits for that of Alan Smithee. This of course means that no one knows who was responsible for the piece of dogshit and the director can go on to his next project with his reputation intact (look how many big names have done it).

I think in practice that wouldn’t really work these days. Pre-buzz means that we all know who made a film, and if it’s too small for a bit of hype then we probably haven’t heard of the director anyway.

But what if the same process could be applied to ads? I know of at least one very large production company and a quartet of award-winning creatives who have discussed doing such a thing, and from their point of view, you can see the benefits: in the old days (ten years back) there was no Davidreviews to highlight the makers of even the shittiest commercials. In other words, you could hide a turkey. Nowadays, however, creatives have no such privilege and all are shackled to their gobbling birds for eternity (and not in a good way).

This is why the Alan Smithee/pseudonym idea is such a good one: sweep that shit under the carpet and pretend it never happened.


But last week I read an interesting sports blog that suggested there should be such things as ‘passports’ for all footballers. It didn’t mean the kind of thing certain South Americans are prone to losing at inopportune moments, but instead referred to the idea that every single injury a player has should be detailed by an independent source, kind of like a car’s log book. That way, when a team buys a player costing, say, £30m, they would then know if they were buying a congenital injury risk (or even a genital injury risk). I know they all have medicals, but if you were trying to get a dream job with a £3m signing-on fee and a huge wage, would you detail the exact pain level of every single twinge or would you simply repeat ‘never felt better, Doc,’ at every opportunity?

So what I’m saying is that when we start to hide our involvement with shit work all we are doing is lying about how good we really are. One award-winner can plaster over a couple of years of dire/mediocre crap, giving a false impression of the goods available.

But then (and here’s how we come full circle to the world of advertising), I suppose that’s what most of us do for a living. The very idea that we would be completely legal, decent, honest and truthful when selling ourselves is laughable.

If we have an opportunity to spin a communication in the most positive way available, we will take it.

Otherwise, how could we possibly call ourselves admen?