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


Why Car Ads Are Killing The Car Category …

I wrote about an old car ad recently, but I recently saw another one that reinforced how far that category of advertising has fallen over the years.

Look at it.

Ridiculous.

Noticeable.

Full of charm and character.

Pretty much sums up the 2CV.

When was the last time you saw a car ad like that?

Hell, when was the last time you saw any car ad that made you give a shit, fullstop?

Sure there’s Wieden’s – and one of my absolute faves – Born of Fire for Chrysler and BBH’s wonderful Audi Clowns … but they are the absolute exception in a World dominated with ‘aspirational lifestyle’ imagery, topped with a bland, meaningless version of Just Do It as an endline.

It’s so sad because cars offer so much more than status and lifestyle.

And yet, that seems to be all car manufacturers want to spout – which is weird for a whole host of reasons.

One is that the future of the category is under severe threat by a generation who not only favour other options, but are increasingly not even bothering to learn to drive.

Second is the World is waking up to the environmental damage cars do and yet the infrastructure for the alternative – electric vehicles – is still insanely poor.

Finally is the fact that companies are actively pushing to lower salaries and full-time staff while increasing zero hour contracts, so who the hell do they think will be able to afford the cars they make anyway?

All in all, the category is crying out for someone who will disrupt the industry.

From ownership to running costs to marketing and everything in-between.

There’s a couple of companies exploring the possibilities … Volvo in particular are being pragmatic in these spaces … but even that might not be enough when the car manufacturers talk to the same [old] people, in the same places, with the same premise.

The last time I saw a long term brand idea for a car manufacturer that genuinely injected freshness and authenticity into the category through their work was Crispin’s ‘Mini’ … and that was back in 2002!!!

So while I hate looking backward and think most of the industries problems are because they are obsessed with ‘progressing’ through the rear view mirror, where car ads are concerned, they might do themselves a favour if they chose reverse gear.



And You Thought Corona Virus Was The Worst Thing Happening Right Now …

So recently, I got an email from a guy called Fergus at On Strategy.

He’s a planner, but more importantly, he’s a planner who wants to help all planners get better, more confident and more capable in their jobs.

Not in terms of giving them models or processes or other stuff that often takes the creativity out of strategy, but giving access to the stories, conversations and people who are often only accessible to those with a very expensive subscription to various industry platforms … which is ironic given most of these platforms claim to exist to raise the bar for the industry as a whole.

The reason this is so important is there’s a distinct lack of investment by agencies in training and industry events/membership – not to mention most of them don’t have a philosophy on how to look at the world of planning and creativity – so we end up with way too many planners thinking the only way they can learn the stories and craft of the discipline is by following the ego-filled rantings of various people on twitter.

While I’m definitely one of them, you’ll soon have another reason why this is a terrible way to ‘grow’ for most planners. Existing or wannabe.

So while Fergus is doing a very good thing – exemplified by the huge range of truly great planners he’s had on his show – he made a fatal error by [you guessed it] asking me to rant about the state of strategy and what I think we’re doing wrong and right.

While I’m sure Fergus won’t make that mistake again, I’m grateful he did and you can pick fault with all I said by listening here … though if I were you, I’d check out the much better and smarter stories from either my old mate Britton at W+K Portland, the brilliant Lucy Jameson of Uncommon – whose shadow is smarter than most planners brains combined (Fact!) – or ex-R/GA London’s Simon Wassef who explains how this office helped design, build and create the brand, story and system for Beats By Dre.

Much better uses of your time.

But then you already knew that.



Interactive Print Ads …

Hello. Back again.

Sorry. Ha.

So I was looking through a bunch of old D&AD annuals and one thing that struck me was how brilliant print and outdoor ads once were.

Clear.

Powerful.

Crafted specifically for that medium.

But today, in these over-rational, client-directive days, they’ve become nothing more than brochures for product features.

OK, there’s still some that are fighting for the medium – there’s the McDonald’s work that recently came out of Leo Burnett London [which many people are hating on without realising their arguments often reinforce why they are so good] and Uncommon are using print and billboards in a way that reclaims their glory days – but generally, they’re a shadow of their previous self.

Which is why I like these Tesla ads that have recently come out …

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Clean.

Simple.

Uses the medium to convey a product truth … albeit in a mischievous way.

OK, so if I was being a dick, I could say that any electric car company could do this and their logo is still the most horrific, dated design I’ve seen in a long time … but it makes you smile, embraces the slightly cheeky tone of the brand, reminds people of some benefits they may not realises and doesn’t use the same ‘aspirational lifestyle imagery’ most car brands like to use.

Which makes me think print isn’t dead, it’s our imagination on how to use it that might be.



They Don’t Write Copy Like This Anymore …

… and they should, even if it’s about a terrible football team in an outer suburb.

Have a look at this …

How good is that?

No corporate, bland, fake-aspirational rubbish here … nope, just the sort of language a West Ham supporting, Dagenham-residing away-ground visiting fan would spout to their mates day in and day out.

Hell, it even talks about another brand [Persil], cheating the system, pub crawls, beer, alternative transport, violence and derogatory names for the are they come from. [Dagenham dustbin]

All this in a car ad. It’s amazing.

Given we live in an age where data is supposed to be able to tell us everything we need to know about a specific audience so we can create highly targeted communication just for them, this ad is more targeted than anything I’ve seen recently. And there’s two reasons for that …

The first is they acknowledge the role of the car is to transport people to-and-from locations. They don’t claim – as is the current fashion – that owning that car should be considered the pinnacle of their existence and achievements, it is simply a great way to go on journey’s to destinations where something they love takes place.

Refreshing.

The second is because instead of speaking in current favoured style of ‘corporate faceless brand to generic, middle-of-the-road, mass market audience who all aspire to live the same generic, bland aspirational lifestyle as one another’ … this speaks in the voice of ‘travelling footie fan to travelling footie fan’.

Our industry likes to talk a lot about authenticity, but it seems we have forgotten what that actually means.

This ad works because it speaks in the voice of where the car was [then] made and who [then] made the car.

Dagenham.

A proud, working class town where West Ham football club was the central pillar that fed the dreams, community and escape for the area … which is why even the endline, ‘spirit of the terraces’ is brilliant.

Of course it’s too ‘bloke’ focused and linking driving and drinking is never a smart thing to do – let alone the ‘service station fracas’ but when I – a Nottingham Forest supporting, West Ham hating bloke – see that ad, I feel something … imagine something … and that’s far more than I can say for most car advertising I’m exposed to these days.

And while the Ford Cortina was always designed to be a working class wagon, this ad makes it aspirational.

Not in terms of promising you a faceless, sophisticated life of beige bland … but because it owns who it is and is proud of it.

As I wrote a while back, when you own who you are, not only does it mean no one can own you, but you find you attract rather than have to continually chase.

Given the standard of current Ford ad, maybe they could do with going back to Dagenham.



Research Is Great …

I heard a great story recently about the iconic movie, Die Hard.

Apparently in early test groups, viewers were confused why the lead character was pitched as a hero when he “keeps hiding and calling for help”.

I must admit, I laughed out loud when I heard this … mainly because it was a viewpoint that I don’t think I would have ever come up with, even if I was working on it 24/7 for a year.

It also probably says more about where the minds of American men were back when the movie came out than anything else.

And while learning this has ensured I will never watch the movie in the same way again, it does highlight the best and worst of focus groups.

I must admit I’m not a fan of this approach.

To be fair, it’s less the methodology and more about how clients are using what they find/hear.

Treating it as undeniable fact … something that needs to be followed to the letter.

But the reality is focus groups are – at best – a guide, rather than a blueprint.

Factors like group dynamics, vacuum thinking and the focus on answers, not understanding all combine to ensure there are a number of major flaws with this approach, and yet some blindly believe this is pathway to success.

Fools.

To be fair, I feel this way about pretty much all research methodologies.

Not because I’m a prick, but because context and dynamics continually shape our viewpoints and behaviours, which is why I don’t like relying on one form of research but a combination of different kinds … as long as one is spent out in culture, talking … listening … learning from the way the core of subcultures live.

Not just in terms of the specific thing we are working on, but life in general.

The language.

The associations.

The labels they use.

The pressures, laughter, fears and concerns …

Clothes … music … games … hashtags … iconography …

Their thoughts about situations not just their reactions or behaviours …

What they’ve started doing rather than what they’ve always done … the ‘edge effect’ that Martin and I talked about in our Cannes talk on Chaos last year.

But that approach is still seen as the exception rather than the rule.

Interacting with real life is still viewed as a novelty rather than a reality.

Which is why, if you have to use research, I like the way Dreamworks does it.

They don’t care about what people think about their stories or characters … they don’t give a shit about the highs or lows or things they’d change, they ask just one simple question …

Were you entertained?

That’s it.

It’s the only thing that matters to them.

Simple. Focused. Clear.

Because while they want people to enjoy what they do, they don’t want people to decide what they do …

Sure, they listen to what is said.

Sure, they sometimes decide to make changes based on what is said.

But they never do what they don’t agree with because you can’t steer a ship to port when you have a thousand captains all telling you where to go.

There’s a lot of people who could learn from this.

And I don’t just mean clients …



Back The Experts, Not Your Ego …

I’ve written about this – kinda – a long time ago.

As in FOURTEEN YEARS AGO.

It’s the situation where unless there is group consensus, nothing goes ahead.

Yes, I’m talking about that thing called democracy.

Now I’m all for democracy … even when it goes bonkers and votes in our current Prime Minister.

But when it comes to the issue of creativity, I am less inclined to support it.

You see creativity is pretty subjective … it is also pretty scary … so even though our industry is filled with highly trained, highly experienced, highly regarded experts in the field, the decision to make something often ends up being driven by a client asking themselves, “do I like it?”.

Actually, it’s probably not that and more, “will my bosses like it?”

Oh of course no one will admit that … they’ll talk about how their experience or their conversations with clients/colleagues/customers is influencing their decision, but more often than not the reality is they feel far more comfortable doing something that ‘fits in’ rather than ‘stands out’.

Fitting in is safe.

Fitting in doesn’t get the scrutiny.

Fitting in doesn’t upset anyone around you.

So we end up in a situation where many clients ignore the experts – the people who know how to capture the imagination of the public in a way that serves their clients best interests – and focus on what the people around them think.

Or said another way, their strategy to approval is to ensure they can mitigate blame rather than drive glory which is why they allow the decisions to be made by committee rather than by their personal commitment.

It’s similar to those marketers who let research make the decision for them rather than inform their decision.

It’s the abdication of responsibility.

Now of course not everyone does this.

There are some amazing clients out there … those who are clear in what they want to achieve and trusting in the experts who want to help them get there.

But it’s getting less and less which is why we are ending up in more and more situations where ideas are born from pragmatism, diluted through fear and then executed by committee.

And if you need more proof, here’ is a quote from Dave Trott …



Something We Should All Remember …

I saw this quote by David Thoreau recently …

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

I have to say I love it because in some ways, it’s the best definition of creativity – and, to a certain extent, strategy – I’ve seen in ages.

Of course our job is to help clients achieve their goals.

Help them succeed in ways that are better than they imagined.

But too much of what we are doing is solving problems laterally rather than literally.

Or worse, simply executing what the client wants.

For me, the best creativity makes people think, feel, question … and to do that, you need people who see the World differently so that they can see what everyone else is just looking at.

Revealing possibility rather than reproducing what everyone already knows.

And doesn’t care about.