One for all and all for one, Muskehounds are always ready. One for all and all for one, helping the weekend.
Stormtrooper version of Cops:
One-In-A-Million sporting stuff:
Stormtrooper version of Cops:
One-In-A-Million sporting stuff:
Advertising is an odd industry. Unlike, say, law or engineering, we’ve declined to build any kind of a canon of rules or guidelines that are universally accepted.
This is probably because advertising is closer to an art than a science. For every precedent-setting case that contributes to the law, or proven hypothesis that contributes to science, there’s nothing along the same lines that exists for painting, literature or music.
However, there are principles in those disciplines that lead to better work. Not only that, anyone who wants to progress within them will almost certainly have studied the greats of the past. Imagine trying to compose some classical music without an intimate knowledge of Mozart, or pop music without listening to the Beatles; imagine trying to write a book without reading at least something from Dickens, Faulkner or Delillo. Maybe your taste doesn’t extend to the greats in your field; perhaps instead of Lennon and McCartney you’ll have a look at Duran Duran, and you might skip Dostoevsky for Nick Hornby, but unless you’re a massive idiot you’ll take a good hard look at those who have trodden the path before you.
It’s called Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants, and if it was good enough for Isaac Newton, it should be good enough for anyone. In fact I have my own, 100%, solid gold, ocean-going advertising version of it: the great copywriter Nigel Roberts once wrote this line:
It encapsulates that ethos in a way that is so brilliant it should be tattooed to the inside of everyone’s eyelids. People have already done a wonderful version of what you’re doing. Use it as a springboard. Start with the above ad and drink in its peerless writing and art direction, then, if you have yet to do so, find the work of Godfrey, Brignull, Abbott, Brown, Krone, Levenson, Lowther, Marcantonio, Saatchi, Sinclair, Dicketts, Sullivan, Wieden, Wear, Trott, Hoffman (Bob and Susan), Reichenthal, Vitrone, Clow, French, Davidson, Dye, Papworth, Flintham, Souter, Foster, Barry, French, Briginshaw, Duffy, McCabe, Kennedy, Lubars, Gorse, Worthington, Brazier, Fallon (Pat and Victoria), Hudson, McElligott, Rice, Koenig, Doyle, Carty, Campbell, Morris, Webster, Cozens, Waldie, Denton, Palmer, Budgen, Cox, Holmes, Collins (Ron and Damon), Henry (Steve and Susie), Hegarty, Nokes, Jaume, Chaldecott, Cabral, Silburn, Stanners, Belford, Roberts, Beattie and many many others. If you’re not standing on their shoulders you are shooting yourself in the foot. It’s free. It’s fairly easy. It’s actually enjoyable. Go and do it now!
Right, I’ll assume you’ve done that and are now back on this blog.
Beyond the shoulder standing, it often feels as if we all start from scratch every single time we do anything. There’s no set of principles by which we all steer. No essential text that sits in the office of all copywriters, art directors, planners, account people and clients. No definitive rules that each of us can point to in order to settle a difference of opinion once and for all.
And that’s kind of odd, because a few such rules do exist. But despite their incontrovertability (not sure that’s a word, but it should be) many people in the business have either never heard them, or are happy to ignore them, to the detriment or peril of their work. So here, to facilitate all your future presentations and for the ultimate betterment of the work, here are the rules (kind of):
If your advertising goes unnoticed everything else is immaterial (Bill Bernbach). Of course this should be obvious. It is obvious. You have to make ads people notice, because if you don’t, it doesn’t matter what they say. Now, there’s a secondary rule which is almost as solid, but always more open to debate:
Ads should not look like ads. People ignore ads. As soon as they know something is an ad they are usually disinclined to look at it, to take it in, to give a toss about it. But to be fair, this isn’t 100% the case. We’ve all looked at ads that look like ads. We might have even read them or cared about their messages. And the extent to which an ad doesn’t look like an ad is somewhat subjective. Ads have looked like pretty much everything over the years, so sticking to that rule requires what Krone referred to as a ‘new page’: utter originality. Very difficult. You may not have the time, budget or ability to do that, but it should be your aim. Good luck!
Smaller logos, or non-existent ones are best. See the rule above. BUT! Sorry, but there are lots of ads that turn the logo thing on its head to great effect by making it massive. So that’s another half rule. Just make sure the result doesn’t look like an ad.
Treat your audience with intelligence. Again, this works most of the time, but we’ve also seen less brainy work that has appealed to the drooling caveman within us all. Is this intelligent?
Not really. Is it brilliant? Yes. The problem with this is that ‘treat someone with intelligence’ is a subjective matter. Do you go full Wittgenstein, or ease off to the level of Bertrand Russell? Or Russell Brand? Or a Jack Russell?
The purpose of advertising is to sell. Bill Bernbach also said that (really, just read his stuff). We often forget it. Despite the fact that creatives’ raises comes from impressing juries of their peers, the point of making an ad is to sell something, be that a product, a service or an idea. Showing off and wanking about do you and the industry a disservice. This leads on to another Bernbach quote/rule: Getting your product known isn’t the answer. Getting it WANTED is the answer.
You are also a consumer. The tendency of people in advertising to behave as if we are not also human consumers is constantly amazing. If you loathe pre-roll, Instagram interruptions, stupid jingles, dumb headlines, endless repetition etc., why do you create them, recommend them or pay for them?
Finally, (also from BB): Rules are what the artist breaks; the memorable never emerged from a formula. Coming back full circle, we produce art, not science. That is a great excuse to eschew living by rules, but it is not, I repeat not, I repeat again: not an excuse to avoid the shoulders of giants.
Climb aboard those suckers, learn some rules, break them and create new ones for the rest of us.
In his book Lying, Sam Harris says, “By lying, we deny others a view of the world as it is. Our dishonesty not only influences the choices they make, it often determines the choices they can make—and in ways we cannot always predict. Every lie is a direct assault upon the autonomy of those we lie to.”
The most fundamental problem with advertising is the very essence of its existence: the communication of something other than the truth. When we are paid to present information on behalf of a person or entity we are almost always duty bound to present that information in its best light. So we end up accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative, creating those shampoo or fast food images that fall disappointingly short of reality. Or we use meaningless words such as ‘special’, ‘super’ and ‘natural’. Are Frosties really Grrreat? Is Happiness actually a cigar called Hamlet? Did Sony TVs truly offer colour like no other?
Then there’s the age-old advertising conceit of taking a product attribute and exaggerating it, something that has underpinned many classic executions for Lynx/Axe (smell better=smell so good you’ll be irresistible to models), The Economist (be better informed=be so well informed you’ll be a very successful genius) and Stella Artois (good and slightly expensive=so good it’s worth risking your life for).
So far, so what? After all, why on earth would you pay to present yourself at your shoddiest? And why can’t we have a bit of fun taking things so far that it becomes obvious hyperbole? Well, I’m not normally one to get my wisdom from Game of Thrones, but as John Snow once said, ‘When enough people make false promises words stop meaning anything. Then there are no more answers, only better and better lies, and lies won’t help us in this fight.’ Indeed…
For decades, if not centuries, advertising has been one long demonstration of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. We’ve spent so long building an entire industry on a lack of truth that no one even expects veracity anymore. People will say that the lies are fine because people know they’re lies, so they’ll never take them seriously enough to be fooled by them. They understand what exaggeration is, therefore they take it into account automatically. So that’s fine, right? Sure, but only if you want to make everything you say literally unbelievable. Imagine you have a friend who always lies or exaggerates. How do you listen to what he says? You might take things seriously the first few times, even the first few hundred if you’re credulous or charitable, but eventually you’ll stop believing anything that comes out of his mouth. You might still listen because his stories are so entertainingly told, but you give these stories no credibility because 100 times bitten, 101 times shy.
And yet we want to believe what we’re told. The idea that corporations deliberately expend time and effort to pull the wool over our eyes is a little odd, not to say depressing. And watching messages you’re not supposed to take seriously is ultimately a waste of time. A quote often attributed to George Orwell suggests that in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act, and any ad campaign that actually did so would be unusual (see the recent FCK apology ad for KFC). The problem is that we are now conditioned to believe that all ads are simply versions of lies, so the truth will no longer be accepted without skepticism.
Where does this leave us? Is advertising incapable of having an effect on our highly-tuned bullshit detectors? Of course not. Ad campaigns still work simply by letting us know things exist or reminding us of things we might have forgotten: “Oh yeah, oven chips. I haven’t had them in a while.” Or “Maybe I should also consider an Audi when I compare that BMW and that Mercedes.” Do we actually ‘feel’ Money Supermarket? Of course not, but we might recall the name when we’re next online.
But if the ads contribute to the sale of goods and services, is any of this problematic? After all, they’re just doing their job. Well, the problem is they’re also contribute to a general expectation of lying in other forms of public information. If advertising is the most sophisticated form of mass communication, anyone seeking to replicate its effectiveness would be mad not to lie. Can you think of any other areas of life where you are constantly exposed to lies? Would those areas be improved by the use of truth instead?
Misinformation is a tool often employed to keep people confused and subordinate, because if you don’t know what’s true, you also don’t know what’s false (for an in-depth study of this effect watch the excellent Adam Curtis documentary, Hypernormalisation). Is that really the effect we want to have on people (including ourselves, and our loved ones)? What would happen if we started telling the truth for a change? Although a small amount of truth would be indistinguishable from a sea of lies, a large amount of it might change the way we relate to advertising and, by extension, other forms of communication.
When Bill Bernbach insisted on addressing people with intelligence he caused a revolution whose effects improved the world. Perhaps now is the time for another revolution: the insistence on truth. It has the ability to turn the tide of discontent, it will zig through the zagging of subterfuge and it might just set you free, along with the rest of us.
As Nadine Gordimer said ‘The truth isn’t always beauty, but the hunger for it is.’
Royal Wedding Bad Lip Reading (thanks, G):
Lightsaber colours explained:
The playwright directs – David Mamet:
Proper opossum massage:
Sesame Street Regulate:
Beckham Deadpool trailer:
Fantastic Rube Goldberg stuff (thanks, J):
Fake your online life, professionally (thanks O&J).
World’s largest Mr. T collection Kickstarter (thanks, J).
Modernised sound/visuals of NY in 1911:
Bad Lip Read Zuck (thanks, J):