With work from Virgin Holidays, Digital Radio and BBC, Save the Children, Kellogg's Rice Krispies, Comparethemarket.com and Tesco.
Executive creative director,
One year ago, I wrote a rather moist version of this column, moved to tender tears, as I was, by the impatient generosity of the little boy in the John Lewis Christmas ad. Had I been asked to comment on its latest offering starring the snow couple, everything would have remained resolutely dry, unless you can pee yourself out of sheer boredom. So how do we explain such a disparity of reaction to a brand’s output? It could just be that I’m a fickle bastard, but I suspect it’s an example of the fundamental tension of our business: the tricky balance between consistency and freshness.
Most of us seek originality, innovation and disruptiveness in our work. We believe such words define our professional duty. Cliché and mindless repetition are the deadly sins. Yet we are also in the business of building brands with long-term properties and readily recognised personalities. This is a tightrope to walk. Some brands over recent years – notably Orange, Honda and John Lewis – have tackled the problem by developing a consistent stance and tone of voice, but constantly varying the executions that exhibit them.
Basically, you have to start afresh each time you produce new work. Even when – maybe, especially when – you get it spectacularly right, it can be a tough act to follow. Look at Cadbury’s gorilla: magnificent, but childless.
The problem is exacerbated when a new agency takes on a brand with a famous advertising heritage, such as Tesco. Do you junk the glorious past, or bite the bullet and stay with "Every little helps"? If you’re Tesco’s new lot, you tinker in the middle a bit and get nowhere particularly exciting. Replacing the word "little" with visuals of the things Tesco is offering feels a bit token and the Christmas campaign is disappointing. But it’s early days and a fascinating challenge. So I wouldn’t prejudge the future on the basis of some clearly rushed-out commercials. But I would keep "Every little helps" and make people believe that Tesco believes it again.
Comparethemarket.com has managed consistency to an almost surreal degree. What started out as one of the greatest puns in marketing history has developed such a life of its own that there must be people below a certain age who know nothing of the price-comparison website but happily embrace the mighty meerkat empire. Come to think of it, I haven’t checked recently and it’s entirely possible that this has actually happened and that the business has been rebuilt on the booming sales of adorable toys.
The new ad, featuring the band playing the theme to Coronation Street, ratchets up the cute factor just in time for the Christmas rush.
Kellogg’s Rice Krispies has wrangled its enduring snap, crackle and pop into a more understated role. Listening to it is the brief pleasure shared by a mother and her hyperactive son who otherwise runs her ragged during a likeable 30 seconds.
Virgin Holidays is sponsoring ITV Weather and has produced some jolly idents mimicking weather forecasts from hot countries you might prefer to soggy Blighty. They are lovingly recreated, but the only thing Fast Show aficionados will be thinking is: "Scorchio!"
The campaign for Digital Radio and BBC features a sort of Barry White mini-me and is an odd little thing. It’s perfectly friendly, but I struggle to justify its existence and I can’t see it spawning much of a future.
We end where we came in, with emotions evoked by small children. This time, though, it’s deprived children from around the world depicted sleeping rough to a reworked version of Tomorrow, from Annie, the musical. "Until this stops, we won’t rest," Save the Children says. Normally, I’d moan about the pun, but let’s just send them a fiver and I’ll subsume my pedantry into this Q and A.
Q: Who led the Pedants’ Revolt?
A: Which Tyler.
Actor and brand ambassador, PG Tips
Oh, hi! Welcome to my words. I’ve very kindly agreed to review some ads, so… let us begin at once!
Just going to watch Comparethemarket.com now. The link doesn’t work. Campaign, honestly. You ask me to do this, then you can’t even send a proper… oh, it’s working. OK, give me a moment.
Bravo! Very good. Solid acting performance from Aleksandr. We studied at Rada together and, I must say, it’s absolutely lovely to see him doing well. He’s so famous now, he doesn’t even have to keep reminding you that you got the wrong website. He can just make sweet music and we get it. Nice.
OK, Kellogg’s Rice Krispies. Mother of pearl! What was that? What happened to my ad chums Snap, Crackle and Pop? They never told me they’d been axed. This is truly awful news. Pop has 14 children to care for, for Christ’s sake! What is he going to do now? And they’ve replaced him with… a mother and child having quality time by listening to a bowl of cereal? Oh no. Still, it looks beautiful. I’d love to see Pop strutting his stuff in front of those lenses.
Virgin Holidays next. Yes, I got this instantly. Very simple indeed. Reminding people as they watch the weather how hot it is elsewhere. And done in a foreign language – very snazzy. But I’d have liked to have seen more of what lies beneath these weathermen and women. I know you only have ten seconds, but who are they? What drives them? What’s their story? Has one of them killed before? I want to see their pain. Only then can the true dimensions of character come out. And, strangely, I wasn’t just left wanting to go on holiday, I was also left wanting to re-watch Cool Runnings.
Alrighty – Tesco. Hell, yes, I like the music. I like the realism. I love the casting. Watching them, I actually feel like I’m in one of those little living rooms, God forbid! The Lionel one does it for me. Met him once, Lionel. We got hammered together in an LA dive bar. Nice guy. Strange tattoos. There’s a simplicity to this campaign that floats my boat and a technique that, being an EXTREMELY competent director myself, I can appreciate. And when was the last time anyone in Britain used words like "appreciate" and "love" when talking about Tesco? They’re on to something, methinks.
Now for Save the Children. Oh. My. God. Watching that has completely put me off this Crème Ninon soup. I’m throwing it away right now and picking up the phone to donate. Damn these ads that mess with my conscience. Why don’t you, dear reader, donate right now? Go on, right this second. Text SAVE to 70008 and be the person you wish you were. DO IT.
Where are we next? Ah, Digital Radio and BBC. Er, who the hell is this guy? When did he come on the scene? Damn. Fresh competition. This man must be stopped! But not in public. Hmmm. Anyway, I enjoyed his deep tones. I mean, he’s no me, but he ain’t bad. But, if I was watching this correctly, I think he was having it away with a dove in that final scene, so his TV career is pretty much over. Good luck on RedTube, you beast. The rates suck. Or so I’m told.
Right, that’s it. This has been truly wonderful. Thanks so much for having me and I hope to see you soon. I’d just like to end by saying: buy PG Tips. Buy loads of PG Tips.
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