My, my, at Waterloo Napoleon did surrender. Oh yeah, and I have met my destiny in quite a similar way. The history book on the shelf Is always repeating the weekend.
Stefan Sagmeister: Beautiful Numbers:
Stefan Sagmeister: Beautiful Numbers:
I’ve been having a look through this year’s D&AD winners.
I’m not saying the juries got it wrong time and time again, but there are a few verdicts I don’t understand.
The first is the lack of an editing Pencil for this:
I’d also suggest that, despite its meh voiceover, it’s a pretty remarkable ad, with the kind of craft that blew the mind of ad people and the public alike. It appears only to have collected a Shortlisting for Direction (not even in The Book in old money), and a Wooden Pencil (an entry in old money) for the ad itself.
If I’d made this world-famous corker and scored only a single entry, I’d be rather miffed. Was it not entered into Editing? Were the Editing jury high? Drunk? Comprised only of Adidas employees?
Then there’s this campaign:
That was good, wasn’t it? Very good, I’d say. Almost great. Definitely worth an entry, if not a Nomination (Graphite in new money). I don’t know if Uncommon blasted the entries with punts in Graphic Design, Art Direction and Typography, but I would have.
Result: a single shortlisting in Press and Outdoor.
On top of that, this was the only mention for at all for Uncommon, the agency that produced more famous work in the UK than any other last year. I get there might have been some snobbery about Brew Dog, but wasn’t there some cool ITV stuff last year? Or Habito? Like I said, I’m not sure what was entered, but Nils has usually been a committed enterer when it comes to D&AD, so I assume he would have given the above a go or two. Did they all fall by the wayside? If so, that’s bullshit.
Next is this campaign:
That’s good, isn’t it? Fresh strategy, excellent art direction and photography/image manipulation, even a good line.
Two Shortlistings in Press and Outdoor.
I’m assuming Mother entered them into craft categories etc., so they must have been ignored in Art Direction and Photography. I have no idea why.
Finally, this one is a bit more of a stretch, but I’m going to question it anyway:
Yes, it won three Yellows, Three Graphites and Two Woods (Woodens?).
But it should have won a Black.
It was better than at least two of the Black winners.
Anyway, commiserations to the people behind all that work.
I’d have voted for it, and at the end of the day, that endorsement is surely a greater honour that a piddly Pencil.
Apologies for the recent silence of this blog. WordPress lost all my data recently, so that had to be sorted out. We got most of it back, but if you’re wondering where a few of the more recent posts have gone, they have vanished into the digishpere, never to return. A shame, as they took a while to write, and I had a couple more cued up, but First World Problems and all that…
Moving swiftly forward, I have a new podcast episode for you. Paul Burke and I discussed the subject of ageism, during which we went off on various tangents, but eventually returned to the subject in hand.
It still requires further explanation, so I shall endeavour to find a ‘younger’ powerful ECD-type, to see what they think of the issue. Stay tuned for that.
Scorsese on some specific scenes in his films:
Advertising has a few simple principles for success. You know the ones: simplicity, memorability, stand-out, attributable branding, likeability, persuasiveness etc.
A few others feed into them (eg: originality can lead to memorability and stand out; humour can lead to likeability etc.), but they are the core effects we are supposed to aspire to because they ultimately lead to the most prized of them all: effectiveness. So if you want your ad to work, you should want it to be simple, likeable, persuasive etc.
But if that’s the case, why are so many ads deliberately designed to have the opposite elements?
For a start, so many ads are the same. Look at charity ads with plinky guitar music and stock footage of bland people doing blandly good things for blandly unfortunate people. How are you supposed to tell them apart? If you can’t do that, what is the point in making them?
And what about likeability? I don’t necessarily mean that you have to come away from an ad with a smile on your face; you might still ‘like’ (admire) an ad that was somewhat negative or even disturbing. I mean that most advertising is actively annoying: boring, intrusive, unimaginative, ugly, brash and a million other things that float no one’s boat. If they were people you would never invite them round to dinner, or even have a pint with them. They’d be the person who would inspire a sigh, a yawn or a quick jog in the opposite direction. Why would people pay millions to represent their companies in that way?
And what about helping people know who the ad is for? I know it’s often been fashionable to hide that information away, but that was in service of making the ad look like something other than an ad, so people would engage with it before finding out who was behind it, adding to the effectiveness. Now the homogeneity of images and copy means you’re starting at the back of the race, wearing cement trainers and carrying a backpack full of wrought iron.
Humour? Gone. Stand-out? Nope. Memorability? It’s hard to remember grey blancmange.
I understand that timid clients can often find themselves repeating category norms, so they want to make sure their FMCG ad seems like an FMCG ad, but now it feels as if creatives are joining in. Are they trying to make the timid clients feel comfortable? Are they themselves more comfortable with conformity? Has no one explained the fundamental benefits of differentiation to them?
Like I said, I understand that people sometimes aim for the bullseye and miss, but so many ads today are aimed squarely at the unwanted outer rings, and they hit that target every time.
Social media ads that no one in their right mind would ever share.
Posters with nineteen logos and 119 words.
Banner ads that only lead to the purchase of ad blockers.
Pre-roll ads that are simple cut-downs from the TV, forgetting that every single person is hitting the ‘skip’ button like Keith Moon on speed. (Pssst… for 99% of your audience those first five seconds are all you have. Make them count.)
The. Opposite. Of. What. Works.
If we were footballers we’d be trying very hard to kick the ball into our own net, and some people might consider such behaviour insane, or at least a big waste of time and money.
Maybe it’s time to start doing the opposite of the opposite.
This week’s exemplary collection of words is from the great Tony Brignull.
He said that he wanted to create an ad for an insurance company that would insist you read it, and I think he’s done exactly that.
It ran in 1980, so there were fewer distractions (only three TV channels, imagine…), but I would suggest that this ad would still be hard to ignore today.
Unlike much of the guff that runs today, it is not about ‘building a better tomorrow’ or a ‘brighter future for all of us’. It simply says it’s going to tell you roughly when you’ll die.
So that’s the first task completed: you’ve noticed it, and there is now approximately zero chance that you’ll stop reading at the headline. You’re going to do the quiz, think about the answers, read the copy, chat about it with your spouse and probably alter your entire lifestyle. It might even end up saving or extending your life.
Not bad for a single page black and white press ad.
And make sure you read every word of the copy, because it is an object lesson in how to make a persuasive argument flow like melted butter.
It starts with a little reality check (‘a rough idea…no more’) then heads into a paragraph about the situations that don’t apply, including death by fishbone, lamp-post and suicide. It then offers two excellent reasons for this rude interruption to your Sunday morning, followed by a persuasive argument for needing the money that Albany Life could provide. Finally there’s a slightly edgy reference to how quickly they can send the brochures your way (y’know, in case you do really badly on the quiz), and the all-important coupon.
No puns, no flash, no tricks; just the cold logic that you would never apply to your own death, delivered in a tone that is shockingly matter-of-fact.
40 years after it ran, I’m delighted to know that I’ll make it to at least 80, assuming I don’t choke on a fish bone.
Charity advertising might look easier than chocolate bars and soap powder, but of course the very best of any category takes immense skill. Yes, we’re more positively disposed towards the kind of things most charities are trying to achieve, but there’s a lot of them, so rising above the competition is a tough task.
This example is faultless: describing, but not describing; leading you somewhere you don’t want to go; teaching you things in a way that makes you both revolted and somehow grateful. Sure, your day would be easier if you didn’t know that bad things happen to little kids, but they do, so to be given the power to reduce them somewhat is ultimately a good thing.
According to his entry in The Copy Book, the writer Mike Boles says:
The “Rape” ad was all in the preparation. I knew that writing about a man’s childhood experience of rape by his own father had to be authentic. It would be unforgivable if it didn’t come across that way.
Understandably the NSPCC wouldn’t let me have access to a victim of rape. The next best thing was an NSPCC psychologist, someone who knew the emotional journey of the victim.
Once I’d lived with and breathed in theis experience for a few days I was ready to put pen to paper.
I waited until everyone at Saatchi’s had gone home for the night. I wanted it to be dark in the corridors outside my office, and to feel lonely (just like the victim).
And then I wrote it in one go. It took less than an hour, and I made very few changes to that original outpouring.
I saw the ad on crosstracks, heard two women talking about it, one asking the other if she’d read it yet. She hadn’t. I stood behind them and watched as they both quietly read it. It was a real sense of achievement.
London Underground tried to get the ad taken down, as their station platforms were being dangerously clogged up by passengers reading it. That’s the power words can have.
That’s one hell of a headline. From a writing point of view, it’s the perfect friction of style and content. The words are like a hand grenade, but they are written in the style of a direct response ad for printer ink. I always stick to the principle of ‘bendy visual/straight image’ (or vice versa), but this one goes ‘bendy content, straight style’, messing very effectively with your expectations.
I think that sets this whole ad up to help you deal with something you weren’t expecting: that’s not a 3 year old. How does a 3 year old explain anything, let alone something so serious? I think for some of us (especially when this ad ran, when there was far less coverage of this kind of thing), the very idea of that happening to someone so young is also a revelation.
(By the way, we should also credit the art director Jerry Hollens with pairing that headline with that image, and setting it all with the kind of typographical skill that’s beyond my powers of explanation.)
It’s written as a first-person account of child abuse, which, as Mike said, had to be authentic, and he did an amazing job. The words are suffused with a palpable sense of frustrated anger that truly feels as if it is coming from a person who has spent decades trying to process the impossible. ‘He was bloody hurting me,’ says far more than just those five words.
Then he has to tread that fine line of letting us know enough to be disgusted, horrified and sympathetic, but without crossing into anything explicit. The words, ‘but he didn’t stop at kissing’ leave just enough to the imagination, as does ‘My body was his toy for more than 9 years’.
The story continues, with each subsequent paragraph leading you deeper and deeper into this man’s suffering. Your blood runs cold, but Mike’s writing makes you want to read on, hoping to find some kind of resolution to the story, something that tells you what you can do to stop such terrible things happening to anyone else.
And the turn works perfectly. The man found the NSPCC, and some kind of relief from his demons. If you’re suffering as he was you now know where to find help. If you’re fortunate enough that nothing like this happened to you, you now know how to give help.
This won the D&AD Silver Pencil for Copy in 1992. Much as we all wish it were an outdated thing of the past, it is unfortunately still far too relevant, and the writing is just as harrowing today as it was thirty years ago.