With work from William Hill, Gocompare.com, Cadbury Creme Egg, The Sun, Department of Health and Virgin Atlantic
Commissioning editor, DHM
It’s 2013, and price-comparison sites have lost the plot.
Firstly, the meerkat people. They don’t want to be the meerkat people any more. To paraphrase their ad: "It’s not MEERKAT, it’s MARKET. Compare the MARKET. They’re completely different words, THICKO!"
Well, you started it. Don’t get arsey with me, you’re the ones who have spent the past five years and gazillions of pounds telling me it was meerkat in the first place!
Secondly, the annoying opera singer people. They no longer want to be the annoying opera singer people. Gocompare.com is killing fattie. You’d think they could find another role for him in their now famous company but, nope, they want him dead.
I don’t want to appear as though I’m applying ruthless logic to a Road Runner cartoon, but is killing a person campaignable? Shouldn’t he be dead by now? Is he now a zombie?
The latest murderer is, I kid you not, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Stephen Hawking. Yes, Stephen Hawking. He has worked out a way of creating a black hole to kill fattie.
A black hole? Now, you’d think someone that smart would realise that’s over-engineering to a ridiculous degree – talk about using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Maybe he’s just showing off?
I don’t get it: what are these two virtual companies without their very famous public personas?
The persona of William Hill has had a makeover – out go nicotine-stained fingers, bloodshot eyes and world-weary expressions, in come skinny jeans, designer stubble and ironic Shoreditch smirks.
This ad starts with a bloke riding a horse on to an office floor. He shouts: "Can you smell it?" Lots of hip people shout and crack jokes back. "You can now gamble online and by app."
It’s cool, but I have to confess I’m none the wiser about Mr Hill – betting online or by app isn’t new, is it? I can only imagine that giving him a different personality is the goal. In which case, they succeed – he’s now much less blokey than his mates Paddy Power, Victor Chandler or Ray Winstone.
In The Sun ad, a street urchin sings about how rubbish January is. It’s for the "Big Smile Giveaway", whatever that is.
It’s well-written and directed; the urchin is particularly good. The producer on the production side also deserves credit for not only suggesting that the director lend the urchin his jumper (it’s pure serendipity that it fitted), but also for negotiating with the urchin’s parents to wiggle out those two front teeth (they were only milk teeth – they’ll grow back). Combined, they give the ad a real charm.
In the Virgin Atlantic ad, we see various children demonstrate their supernatural powers. Cut to them today as Virgin employees: "Virgin. Fly in the face of ordinary."
It’s very tongue-in-cheek, almost like a Saturday Night Live spoof ad. The style makes it entertaining, but by being so ironic and admitting it’s complete nonsense, it leaves me unsure what exactly the underlying message is.
In the Department of Health ad, we watch a man smoke a cigarette in his back garden. As he smokes, we see a "mutation" grow from the cigarette: "Mutations are how cancer starts. Every 15 cigarettes you smoke will cause a mutation."
Someone has done a great job finding this new, scary piece of information. But using the same creative device as the previous campaign (where fat came out of the cigarette) means it feels familiar, not like new news.
Various nutters talk to their Cadbury Cream Eggs as if they were lovers. I guess it’s playing off their seasonality.
Erm… anyway, did you spot the deliberate spelling mistake? Cream Eggs is actually spelt Creme Eggs, so they should be pronounced "Crem Eggs" – French. When the hell did that happen and why wasn’t I copied in?
Group managing director and chief strategy officer, Leo Burnett
It was suggested to me over Boxing Day lunch that most of what is wrong with society is also wrong with the advertising it produces. I think I spluttered something about "cherished bellwether of all that is culturally vigorous".
What I should have done, of course, it being Christmas and this being Britain, is calm things down with a parlour game. Into one bucket goes anything that is remotely degenerate or societally implicating. If, even for a moment, you think "what the fuck have we become?", the work goes into the Bucket of Civic Breakdown.
Into a second bucket goes anything remotely affirmative of a society that is on track. Players must interpret this generously.
Even the faintest wholesome indicator can qualify work for the Big Bucket of Togetherness.
Gocompare.com thinks that Gio Compario deserves to be sucked into a black hole. I think this is too kind a fate for the twizzle-tached impresario, but that’s because I don’t inhabit the vortex of self-reference into which price-comparison advertising has been sucked. "Salience at any cost" is a pact in which freedom is gained and dignity lost. Price-comparison brands have converged on the Horizon of Inanity, and one of the greatest minds on the planet has chosen to join them there.
Stephen Hawking’s vengeful grin is a moment of succinct perfection. But as I watch a tuxedoed tenor enter a galactic hoover on the streets of East Sheen, I ask myself: whatever happened to the power of the unseen? Did society abandon subtlety, or did advertising? Will the world end in the daytime or in the night-time? Was this commercial the first tremor of the Mayan apocalypse? Perhaps we’re already dead and this is the view from the Inferno.
No, I must still be alive because The Sun is still as disingenuously upbeat as ever. This time, a toothless child wants me to get involved in a beat-the-January-blues singalong. The film is thoughtfully planned, wittily written and convincingly directed but, greater still, it is a perfect tableau of Broken Britain, effortlessly uniting big themes such as the commercialisation of childhood, the dumbing down of absolutely everything and the rank hypocrisy of the media. This unwitting minor and her premature worldliness is the grain of sand in which can be seen an entire universe of metaphysical failure. In it goes.
Adding to the Tower of Turpitude, a campaign that explores the ways in which the young adults of this proud nation can indulge in no-strings sexual relations with Cadbury Creme Eggs. I admire the planner for eking out some uninhabited space in the world of infrequent confectionery indulgence, but the work itself is joyless and dead-eyed, and whatever resonance it promised with the disenfranchised, I can’t believe it will sell much chocolate. Pling.
Good news, though, for those who worry that we are a nation of gamblers. It turns out William Hill is passionate about the sport we bet on and routinely engage in synesthetic banter behind the scenes. It wants us to get closer to the feel of the game too, which is why it has generously arranged for us to access William Hill on the go. There is more than a whiff of the peerless Blackcurrant Tango, but this is good, bold start-up work that helps us forget gambling is probably bad. I consult the rulebook. Between two buckets.
The Bucket of Togetherness is not empty, though. Virgin Atlantic has peacocked its way to Happy with a mock-portentous celebration of all that is high-Pantone-superhuman about Virgin staff. This will work wonders internally, and while some may wonder why the nation’s super-gifted choose to become cabin stewards, the whole exercise is a charismatic net positive.
I will say far less about the Department of Health work because it is by far the best. Substantiation like this is gold dust and the film has all the focus and restraint that society and advertising together have unlearned.
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