The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Why Hiding In The Shadows Can Sometimes Put You More In The Spotlight …
February 16, 2012, 6:20 am
Filed under: Comment

I’ve written a lot about the loss of long copy ads – and how the industry has mixed up people’s reluctance to read words that don’t interest them with volume of words.

Long copy ads are fast becoming part of a by-gone era, but I recently came across an ad that just might change all that …

[See it clearer, here – but please read it]


Have you checked it out?

Have you?

Honestly, you have to see it before you read any further.

All done?

OK, so let’s continue.

Seriously, how amazing is that.

I absolutely and utterly love it.

I adore the pace … the eloquent phrasing … the way it constantly tries to coax a reaction by gently probing, tempting, flattering, challenging and misdirecting your trains of thought … the requirement to stay completely focused … the need to read between the lines … the incredibly slow reveal and – at the very end – the slight touch of menace they’ve intertwined with an air of concern as they warn you, in the most gentlemanly way possible, to keep this all strictly confidential.

This is copywriting at its best.

Storytelling at its most supreme.

And best of all, you are the star.

Of course given it’s an ad to attract potential ‘spies’ means it was always going to be interesting and intriguing, but that’s why the writing is so wonderful, because they’ve resisted the urge to scream it out from the rooftops, and instead, chosen to let the ad speak in a way that I imagine a real British spy would act and sound:

Calm. Eloquent. Controlled. Educated. Informed. Intelligent. Ambiguous … and ever-so-slightly intimidating.

I also love how the ad has been made to look.

No logo. No headline. Just – on first glance – an innocuous page, standing slightly behind all the other pages screaming for your attention.

It blends itself in the background, wanting you to come to it, not the other way around.

Treating the reader with the intelligence they can work it out.

Filtering out candidates by every line that they read.

Based on the ‘rules’ that much of today’s advertising seems to adhere to, this is almost the perfect anti-ad … and yet it’s one of the best ads I’ve seen in a long time.

I don’t mean best long-copy ads, I mean ads full-stop.

Apart from it being by M&C Saatchi London, I don’t know who specifically wrote this ad for the British Government … I don’t know if we’re ever going to be allowed to know who specifically wrote this ad for the British Government … but I want them to know it’s an exercise in communication magnificence and it restores my faith in what this industry can achieve when it wants to, and when a client allows it to.

71 Comments so far
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Absolutely stunning. I agree fully, the best copy in many a moon. Where did you read it.? M&C Saatchi were also responsible for one of my favorite print campaigns of recent years, for Dixons. Thank you for sharing this.

Comment by Ciaran McCabe

when you can churn out quality for shitty high street electronic bollocks and the british fucking secret service you know youre on a bit of a fucking roll.

Comment by andy@cynic

I don’t know if I would say it’s the ad of the year, but it is very good, almost entirely down to the magnificence of the writing. May I suggest it’s quality rubbed off on you a touch, because your reasoning for your adoration is very eloquently expressed.

Comment by Lee Hill

The tension of a great spy novel all on one page. Brilliant.

Comment by Bazza

A great write up as well Rob and the second half of your last paragraph nails it.

Comment by Bazza

It is great writing, it almost made me forget the real job involves hanging around hotel receptions until boredom makes you want to kill yourself.

Comment by DH

The penultimate sentence is the best ad this year. And movie.

Comment by DH

Isn’t it awesome? The way it takes you from compassion to slight menace in ONE SENTENCE is a delight to read.

Comment by Rob

I think the print is less appealing than the actual banner ad. There, I said it. Here’s why:

It’s probably the first time in my life I get to say I like a banner ad and online campaign. It really is well done and I first spotted it on The Economist’s website. When you roll over you get the same text – it makes even more sense when you read ‘dynamic but patient’ and ‘with a job in academia or the public sector’ although by their own admission a high percentage of their readers are decision-makers in their company. Higher than other magazines, anyway. Probably less the website.

The great thing about this ad online rather than in print is that it takes you to yet another page where a test awaits: you get an assignment brief, asked to make judgements based on what you’ve read and get a score at the end of it all. It was Niko who posted it first and the thing is pretty easy, you easily get their 8/8 but they want British nationals, not mail order brides.

To me it’s exciting to think that even though that print ad is beautiful in itself, when you see the whole journey in action you start to fantasise and hope that at least a small percentage have been lured to apply after following all these steps. I would have at least.

Comment by Andrea

a word of fucking advice andrea.

and this is better fucking advice than any planner will give you.

and i mean it to be fucking helpful.

you look a twat when you make a personal fucking preference sound like a fucking fact. you lose all your fucking cred when you immediately follow it up with “heres why”. you sound like a youngster when you prefer the online version simply because it takes you to a fucking page where you can do a fucking test.

dont you get it? this isnt about tests its about dreaming. campbells right when he says part of its fucking genius is its ability to start filtering candidates from the very fucking off. taking you straight to a page to test yourself cheapens it and underfuckingmines it.

youre smart. your ms digital. but youre also missing the point of why its fucking great. what you say might be technically true but its also fucking wrong. dont be the type of person that thinks a rollercoaster that makes people sick is bad because thats what would make people queue to try it out.

Comment by andy@cynic

That is amazing advice Andy. And the last paragraph (a theme in today’s post) is killer.

Comment by Pete

i know.

Comment by andy@cynic

For the record the digital campaign sounds like it was handled And executed very well but for the reasons Rob and Andy have stated, I think the long copy ad is more intriguing and would make people want to find out more rather than blow a few minutes playing a data gathering game. Just my thoughts.

Comment by Pete

maybe any fucker who played the game failed because it showed they didnt fucking know when they were leaving digital fucking fingerprints or whatever the fuck its called.

Comment by andy@cynic

and im not calling you a twat andrea. you might be a planner but youre not a twat. yet. if you follow my advice to the fucking letter.

Comment by andy@cynic

Then maybe I just suck at writing on the internet in general. I don’t know who people on here are or what they do (am happy not knowing and don’t want to assume). I only know Rob, so I write my comments like I’d reply to him if I ever met him face to face or chatted to him over gtalk- it’s only the internet. I don’t like people who can’t explain why they like or dislike things because that hardly encourages conversation or any kind of critical thinking/reflection.

My personal preference is never a fact set in stone or guide to online but I can’t caveat that into every single reply.

I haven’t even said I hate it. I could find faults with things (not the copy), and I wouldn’t want to think of what reception that would have.

Maybe you don’t like the whole online campaign because of its website test which cheapens and undermines the point of it. The test is there and it’s optional – does that harm the dreaming if you don’t bother with it? The long magazine copy still tells you to go to a website. They could have just omitted that altogether or gone for the now common “search online for MI6” ending or something else.

What I’m trying to say is that some people may not reach that website because they saw the copy in a magazine and rushed to their computers. It doesn’t make those who found via a banner any less suitable or inferior. I just liked the way they all worked together and saw the long copy as the tip of the iceberg. If anything, I’m happy that long copy works online.

I appreciate the advice, other people have also given me really useful stuff to think about, Rob included. I’m game for people being tough but fair, but yours wasn’t entirely. Not being defensive (well maybe a little bit), but by the time I end up commenting on things here it’s either midnight or very early morning and there are already 50-60 comments so it will sometimes end up sounding shitty/arrogant/annoying/etc because I’m too tired to argue for a longer point and it’s only meant as a teaser or conversation starter, not gospel. Gaps are filled the totally wrong way. Without knowing people, even more so.

Comment by Andrea

i thought you were smart till you said you got fucking advice from campbell.

and youre sounding defeatist and defensive. you dont fucking suck im just calling you out on some shit and you can walk away and think im talking bollocks or take a bit of it on fucking board and see what the fuck happens.

up to you, i have a fucking place in vancouver thats a much bigger fucking headache in my life.

Comment by andy@cynic

and just to spell it out, youre alfuckingright andrea and theres basically no fucking planner i say that to so get some fucking sleep and more importantly get a fucking life away from this shithole.

Comment by andy@cynic

I have to say, when I read there was an online element, I was a teensy bit disappointed. I loved the idea that the media strategy was to basically ‘lurk in the shadows’ … but still, at least it appears they tried to be sensitive to the overall approach of the print – though I agree with Andy that being taken straight to an online ‘quiz’ feels cheap … unless Andy is right, and it was a data gathering exercise, designed to ensure any subsequent application was chucked out because they had failed to understand the ability to find information, without leaving any clues.

God, it’s got conspiracy theory written all over it.


Comment by Rob

You’re right it’s defeatist, I just want to go to bed but it’s Rob’s blog and he’s been nice to me in the past. His advice was to not swear!

Comment by Andrea

Get some sleep Andrea, all this rubbish will still be here in the morning. And do you know how much of a compliment Andy is giving you? It’s basically love. Another reason to leave immediately. Hahahaha!

Comment by Rob

fuck. off.

thats the second bit of fucking good advice ive dispensed today. im a fucking saint.

Comment by andy@cynic

The digital component sounds interesting, but it does sound like it was executed based on a planners view of how people use the net. That might be true, but it seems to lack the same level of intrigue the print has achieved. That said, it would be near on impossible to do something that evoked a similar response, if only for the urge to make some b grade, straight to video, spy movie/game.

Comment by George

stop being the fucking united nations peacekeeping force.

Comment by andy@cynic

‘there’s no fucking planner I say that to’ you must have thought I was alright at one point Andy, you even offered me a job, as you keep on reminding me when I’m down (telesales planning for example)

Comment by northern

well fuck me, campbell writes a positive post and its about a fucking ad and its about a fucking good ad and he waffles on and it doesnt bother the fuck out of me nearly as fucking much as he usually does.

that is the fucking story here ladies and fucking perverts.

Comment by andy@cynic

Fantastic. Nothing more I can really say. It’s just great for every single reason detailed in the post.

Comment by Pete

Yes, yes, yes. All true. But. And it’s a big but. How many non-industry people would even start to read it? I wish it were lots but cultural change is the biggest filter of all.

Comment by John

isnt that the whole fucking point for doing it this way?

Comment by andy@cynic

and even if its all for shit, the writing is fucking tip bastard top.

Comment by andy@cynic

and at least theres a real reason behind the approach rather than agency ego or scam award entry.

Comment by andy@cynic

That’s my concern. Writing that good deserves to be read, but I fear it won’t be in that format. And no I don’t think that’s the point unless MI6 is targeting those people who read every single word of a magazine/newspaper.

Comment by John

i thought they would want to attract people who can spot something a bit different to whats fucking typical and curious enough to explore it a little bit. and no campbell, that does not sound anything like a fucking planner.

Comment by andy@cynic

I might be totally wrong but I need to be convinced that people still read that way.

Comment by John

I appreciate I’m more inclined to spot / read ads than the next person, but I literally stumbled over this and literally after reading the first line – it had suckered me in to read more.

I appreciate that might sound like I’m trying to position myself as having potential ‘spy qualities’ … but given bald, queen-tshirt dressing, birkenstock wearing oafs with tattoos would probably draw the sort of attention the secret service would rather not have, I’m not.

As for your comment about reading John …

I know what you’re saying, but by the same token, couldn’t it be argued that the success of hardcore book franchises like Harry Potter highlight if the story is good enough, people still read?

Comment by Rob

you make it sound that if you didnt dress like a twat you stood a chance to get in mi6. fucking hilarious. and fucked up.

Comment by andy@cynic

Fantastically written piece. And your post isn’t bad either Robert.

Comment by George

I agree with Andy, the ad is not for everyone. The whole purpose is to reach those people who are unconventional, who do notice and want to follow to find out more. Which might explain why John doubts their existence.

Comment by Ciaran McCabe

And why I read it.


Thanks Ciaran/Andy … that’s a bigger self-esteem boost than 10,000 prozac pills could give me.

Comment by Rob

you dont count campbell. you never fucking count.

Comment by andy@cynic

I don’t doubt their existence Ciaran. I’m just questioning their reading habits in the twenty first century. I know mine have changed dramatically and I’m not entirely comfortable with that.

My doubts are not an extrapolation from my own personal behaviour, but from my observation of others. That said, I think I might be characterised as a noticer and someone who is interested to dig deeper (if only to subvert some of Rob’s previous assertions) and Im not sure I wouldnt have just skipped over the page because it’s not visually arresting.

Bottom line, every one of us who has anything to do with creating or commissioning advertising/marketing must constantly remind ourselves that we have a completely different attitude to and interest in it than the audience.

Comment by John

True John, that’s part of what planners are supposed to give to the creative process, but too many of them are focused on being as different to the masses as is physically possible.

I still don’t believe long copy ads are a recipe for effectiveness disaster. I appreciate they represent a ‘riskier’ move, but when you end up with stuff like this – and, albeit post rationalised – the reasoning behind doing it like this, my personal view is it’s genius and not nearly just because of the quality of writing.

Comment by Rob

Well. I’m sure you’ll be able to get them to reveal thier effectiveness figures to you. Though the true effectiveness will lie in the quality of espionage rather than the number of applicants/readers.

Comment by John

Given some of the fuckups MI6 are said to have made over the past couple of years, maybe they would if I just send them an email.

And I like your ‘real effectiveness’ comment … if the UK gets attacked in the next 5 years, then I guess it’s safe to say the campaign was a disaster.

Comment by Rob

Could double for an Apple ad..

Comment by niko

Of course not Rob, if the UK gets attacked in the next 5 years it just means the other guys ads were better.

Comment by Ciaran McCabe

I was trying to make John Dodds feel better.

Comment by Rob

i think youre going to have to do a lot fucking more than just make some shitty blog comment. leaving him the fuck alone might be a better start.

Comment by andy@cynic

Rather fantastic. 🙂

Comment by Aditya

fucking amazing!

Comment by jime

and If I were living there I would definitely send my resume.

Comment by jime

That’s fucking awesome.

Comment by Jules

Before I comment… what magazine was it in? Was it Forbes?*

*Rob couldn’t get a couple of Viz, apparently.

Comment by Marcus

The Week … so nothing too pretentious even though I’d like to pretend it was deeply intellectual.

Comment by Rob

hmmm. OK. I’ve never read that.


It should be obvious that I am over the moon with this. It really is very, very good. I have, however, seen this approach used a couple of times in the last couple of years (“Oh, you’re still with us…” etc.) but they weren’t as good as this.

What it does very well is suggest a world ala John le Carré, without using any of the cliches. It’s most certainly not Frederick Forsyth.

The form of the narrative is reminiscent of a le Carré character (the reader) being “turned”. When the reader is finally “turned” we arrive at those last two sentences and it all becomes slightly fucking terrifying.

It really is quite brilliant.

Comment by Marcus

You’re right, this approach has been done before but hasn’t most things? For me, this shows the power of an agency when they truly understand the brand, the audience and the ability to play with subtleties.

If this ad was a woman, I’d want to date her.

Is that the saddest thing I’ve ever written? Quite possibly.

Comment by Rob

Job advertisement as short story. Excellent writing.

Comment by Carol

I didn’t care for the ad.

Comment by Paul Colman

But isn’t that because you are already an MI6 agent and to say you liked it would bring unnecessary attention to you?

Comment by Rob

I really didn’t care for the ad.
My blog’s better written.
Well it’s not, but you know what I mean.
Oh, you don’t.

Comment by Paul Colman

When you write about Jemima, homeless folk and big heroes it’s up there.

When you write about your socks, maybe not as much.

Comment by Rob

I quite liked the socks stuff as it happens

Comment by northern

what a fucking surprise mr fucking birkenstock doesnt like posts about socks. footwear racist bastard.

Comment by andy@cynic

I think the writing is good, but I do wonder whether the right people will be drawn to it enough to start reading a random ad. I’d hope they have some info that says they would…

I suppose as Grundig once said, ‘Smart people don’t watch TV, this is what they don’t watch it on’.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

It’s hard enough to get data from everyday clients, I’m guessing it will be near-impossible to get it from a spy agency … and if you can, they’ll probably sign you up.

Comment by Rob

But surely you’d know the type of people you were after, and could see how they might react?

Comment by Rob Mortimer

As an aside, I miss good long copy. The stuff that CDP and BMP used to write that really connected. Perhaps the move to advertising in the form of long content might bring some of that back one day…

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Yes, miss those long copy ads, but don’t forget Dave Abbott and Tim Delaney, very much belong in that observation.

Comment by Ciaran McCabe

Love it. Makes me want to sign up.

Comment by Adamskeer

[…] A wonderful post on one of the best print ads you’re likely to read all year. A wonderful mix of genuine insight, strategy and creative, […]

Pingback by Top 16 Sunday reads – #10 | age of change

[…] Over the years I’ve written about the power of long copy. […]

Pingback by I Miss Medium-Long Copy … | The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

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