Where have all the campaigns gone?

When I were a lad all round here were campaigns: series of ads with common features and a common idea that continued to build a deep, long-lasting message for a brand.

There was Peter Kay’s No-Nonsense John Smiths ads, Good Things Come To Those Who Wait for Guinness, and the majestic years of Economist Red-On-White poster work, to name but three.

Happiness Is A Cigar Called Hamlet and Heineken Refreshes The Parts Other Beers Cannot Reach rubbed shoulders with Stella’s Reassuringly Expensive and Levi’s feature-based run of classics.

Now all of the above have disappeared (some temporarily resurrected then killed again), and as I look around I see very few actual campaigns where you know what structure the next one will follow and then the point it will make.

It seems we have campaigns that either manage but a few executions (Sony Bravia Balls, Paint and Bunnies; Cadbury Gorilla, Eyebrows, Airport) or campaigns that feel like a series of very tenuously connected one-offs (the current Ikea work, John Lewis, Old Spice). Obviously there are some examples of great work within those examples, so perhaps we don’t need campaigns as such, but I’m interested in why such a successful advertising form, one that built on years of affection and interest as each execution went by, has seemingly bitten the dust.

Is it because clients leave their jobs after a short time, only to have their successors look to make their own mark by starting from square one?

Is it because the talent is no longer strong enough to support years of quality?

Is it because clients are now happy that their brand is a simple word (‘progress’, ‘love’, ‘thrive’), from which executions can spin off in myriad directions?

For a good example, look at Lynx/Axe: it started off with a solid idea from which dozens of great ads can and did spring (spray this on yourself and become attractive to beautiful women). Then it went a bit odd:

A great ad, but now the idea is: keep up with a demanding girl.

Then even odder:


idea: you won’t get laid if your competition is an astronaut.

So bang goes the central idea, replaced by some other stuff.

But no one else seems to mind, or even seems to have noticed.

I just can’t help wondering if it’s another ingredient in the current ad malaise.