Wednesday, 30 November 2011

What is the greatest topical ad of all time?

A sexy blonde in a Santa outfit with two perfectly placed advent calendar doors over her breasts.
Hmmm. Christmas topical ads.

For some reason I remembered this the other day. It got me thinking, apart from desperately wanting to open those doors, what goes into making a cracking topical ad?

Lynx 'Advent Calendar' by BBH

Timing? Wit? The detail the team have gone to?
Naked flesh?

It's possibly all these. But the most important thing is a great campaign to bounce your idea off. 

Lynx, Nike, Marmite, Kit Kat to mention just a few, all have fantastic campaigns that can quickly and seamlessly accommodate a topical ad.

Whereas brands that haven't committed to building a distinct campaign will always struggle.

So what is the greatest topical ad of them all?

If the conversations I've had in the past week are anything to go by, that's a big question. It started out as a bit of banter and ended up with people sending reams of links, stills and wandering in with old copies of D&AD and even topical ads that hadn't been made but lie dormant in the bottom draw.

Well I'm going to go against protocol here and jump straight in with the winner.

Nike 'Arsena' by W+K

It's genius. A perfect fit between Nike and the Arsenal team of 2003 / 2004. It ran the day after they'd remained undefeated for a whole season. It is beautiful in concept and execution. For such an historic achievement it's brilliantly humble. I remember seeing it as a strip ad in the Evening Standard.  Only once. But it was seared into my brain. Like Sir John Heg says, you don't need to run an ad to death spending millions on media. If you run an ad just once and it's good enough it'll work (I'm sure he said it much more elegantly than that).

As a Man Utd fan it pains me to praise such an ad. And yes, I am aware in the history of topical ads, no one has devoted more time and effort than the footy obsessed creative. And being our national sport, why not?

There were other contenders, see below. And others that couldn't be traced - most notably a very old press ad for Sainsbury's on budget day. Norman Lamont coming out of No. 10 with a Sainsbury's carrier bag with its then endline 'Good food costs less at Sainsbury's'.  The headline read 'No surprises so far.'

Amid the banter and debate, there was consensus that there is a difference between a topical ad and a tactical ad.

A pure topical ad is of the moment. An event occurs. A creative writes the ad in the shower / on the bog / on the way to work. And then he/she starts desperately trying to get it approved by CD, client and placed in the media for the next morning. A nice recent example is this bicycle ad for the riots, from those lovely chaps at BETC London.

Micycle 'Looters' by BETC London

The ad appeared in the press the next day with seeming ease, but I bet there were a whole lot of people paddling madly under the water to get it done.

By their nature topical ads are reactive. Something unusual has to happen, such as Britney Spears' bizarre 55-hour marriage (Did she fart in bed? Did he refuse to take his socks off?), so that Lynx could jump on it and create a brilliant press ad the following day that rightly found itself in D&AD.

Lynx 'Britney' by BBH

Tactical ads feel a little more planned in their nature. A good example is the 'St Wayne' poster by W+K for Nike before the South Africa World Cup. A shoot was planned, bit of retouching done and lots of lovely media booked. It was the best thing the Roo managed that summer. 

Nike 'St Wayne' by W+K

And the online version where Rooney is holding Ronaldo's head was even better and was probably more of a topical ad... of the tactical ad. Or was it a viral ad of the tactical ad?

So the contenders, in a very loose order....

'Chris Christmas' from Mother

Polo 'Stamp' by JWT

Ministry of Defence in Colombia 'Operation Christmas' by LoweSSP3 Bogota

Nike 'Y2K Jogger' by W+K

T-Mobile 'Royal Wedding' viral by Saatchi & Saatchi

Conservative Party 'Labour isn't working' by Saatchi & Saatchi

Speechbreaker by Lean Mean Fighting Machine

Schweppes 'Sven' by Mother

Saatchi in-house ad when the Berlin Wall came down

Hamlet 'Botham' by CDP
Beefy Botham was caught smoking hash. The next day Hamlet ran this. 
Can you imagine trying to convince a client to do that today...

Land Rover Discovery 'Conditions' by RKCR / Y&R

Hamlet 'C4 Ident' by CDP

18-30 'Bush' by Saatchi & Saatchi

Marmite 'Jose' by DDB

FHM 'Beckham' by BBH

And finally back to the beginning. Is this the greatest Christmas stunt of all time? Father Christmas being turned red and white by Coke in the fifties.

Thanks everyone who chipped in, esp Henry at the NMA.
Please feel free to agree / disagree or offer up your own topical ads...

Sunday, 20 November 2011

How do you choose a director for your TV commercial?

The other day I was trying to sell a director to a client. It wasn’t going well. I kept thinking, 'why aren’t they buying him? He’s bloody brilliant. One of the best in town.'

The trouble was so much of it was in my head; 16 years of making ads, locked away deep in my skull. But it wasn’t as easy as I imagined to explain to my client why he was the man for the job.

So I went back to the office and asked myself what goes into choosing the right director.

The reel? The treatment? Is he a good bloke? Will the production company supply hookers and a yacht at Cannes?

After getting a script through the Creative Director, Research, BACC, the Client and over a million and one other hurdles, it’d be a shame to give your baby to a wrong ‘un.

The reel
Sounds obvious, but have they directed enough of the right type of work? Say you’ve got a comedy script, how do they deal with casting, performance and timing? If you strip away the beautiful cinematography and pumping soundtrack, is there anything left? If you’re just after a ‘look’ that’s fine.  But it's important to know the difference. A guy whose background is in effects won’t be so good for a dialogue heavy spot. 

Who comes up with the shortlist of potential directors - creative or producer? There seems to be no rule. I remember at BBH working with Philippa Crane.  She came in with a stack of directors I'd never heard of. All brilliant; rap promo directors from the US, quirky short film directors from Sweden, students fresh from Central Saint Martin's. She was amazing. It's no surprise she was the one who discovered Flat Eric on Quentin Dupieux’s reel.

BBH have a fantastic heritage in breaking new directors, whether through the efforts of individual producers or more company inspired initiatives such as Mint Source, an in-house monthly showreel of up and coming directing talent, compiled by Head of TV Frances Royal and the enigmatic Toby Clifton.

Other places to spot new talent are short film festivals, shots, promos on MTV and of course the Daddy of them all, the Saatchi & Saatchi Cannes New Directors Showcase.

The question is do you take a gamble on possibly your only script of the year with a new unproven director? Or stick with the tried and tested established director? Maybe the treatment will help decide. 
The treatment
Does the treatment show the director understands the idea? Again, this sounds obvious but sometimes you can just tell that the way they bypass your main gag they just haven’t ‘got it’. Has the treatment taken your idea on? Or is it merely your script rewritten in poncey language with a funky front page? The brilliant 'Truth in Advertising' Director's Pitch sketch comes to mind here.

How hungry are they?  Legend has it when Tarsem treated for the Levis ‘Swimmer’ spot for Larry & Rooney at BBH, he came in with a wad of paper 3 inches thick. Literally filled to bursting with ideas and visuals and reference. More a short novel than your regular couple of pages of treatment. He’d only previously done a couple of promos but he got the job. And the rest is history (how it never won a fucking pencil we’ll never know).

The director in the flesh
The reel is great. The treatment is genius. What could go wrong? You meet. Oh fuck bollocks shit. He turns out to be an awkward French twat who speaks no English, defers every question to his producer and wears sunglasses indoors.

When it’s 3am on the last day of the shoot, pissing down, everyone’s pissed off, but you’re not convinced you’ve got the best take, will he do another? You’re going to have to work with this guy for weeks. Team players are always welcome. 

And what about Hollywood directors. Who wouldn’t want a name from Tinseltown directing their TV spot.  But do they really give a fuck? Or are they filling in between movies? Do they have the discipline to tell a story in 30 secs, not 3 hours? Frances Ford Coppola treated on an Illy Cafe script. It's a long story I've been told by the creatives, as was his treatment. 3 minutes was the shortest he said he could do it. Worse still, he bypassed the creative team completely thereafter and sent his treatment directly to the client. Nice.

Working with a Hollywood director could be a great brag to your mates. But you have to ask if Christopher Nolan genuinely wants to make your yogurt spot the most famous work of the year? 

There have been successes. Michael Mann's Lucky Star for Mercedes was amazing. Wes Anderson for Amex snaffled a pencil and David Lynch's spot for PS2 was suitably weird. But for every one of those there’s a Spike Lee shitfest that’s sunk without trace.

Directors who were ex-creatives is another interesting scenario / potential for a punch up. It’s a really good way to get another creative mind on the job. Often rewriting your script to great effect. Messrs Palmer, Squibb and others are very good at this and have the awards to show for it. 

However it can also bring up a whole new bunch of issues, with too many Creative Directors stirring the creative pot. Trying to jump in between Bruce Crouch and Chris Palmer is not something I'd like to do again in a hurry. 

And finally how about those hookers, yachts and other dubious reasons to work with someone? I worked next to a team who continually based their choice of director on the locations said director was putting forward. The further away the location, the more air miles they'd get, the more likely the director was to get the gig. And the shitter the work got. Nice tan boys, shame about the ad. 

After weighing up the pros, the cons, the reel, the treatment, the reputation, the hunger, the answer lies with you. And your gut. Possibly still the most reliable thing to base your choice on. 

Good luck.

Monday, 31 October 2011

The trickiest of all briefs: the creative team’s website

“Should we include that Eurobest bronze?”
“Does our ‘about’ section sound a bit wanky?”
“Are we Jack & Danny. Or Jack and Danny?”

These and a million and one other questions can pass through a team’s mind when faced with that trickiest of all briefs: their own website. It really is a bit of a mindfuck. You start out thinking, ‘I’ll just put together a little website for me ‘n’ me mate. Can’t take that long’. Two months later, you’re still sweating over an ampersand.

There was a time when a team would merely lug around a large shiny silver portfolio. The Cripple Creek Company was the brand for this – aptly named as art directors and copywriters alike would sustain debilitating back injuries from the sheer weight and size of the bloody thing. The warped thought process being, ‘we’ve got a great big heavy portfolio, we’re a great big heavyweight team’. Of course these days it’s totally different.

No sore back or getting caught carrying your book through the post room. You don’t even need to get up from your desk now. There are ideas in all your work, so any team worth their creative salt should put an idea in their website. 

Right? Maybe.

It’s very easy to go off-piste and wreck a lovely body of work. Theming all your work around the animal kingdom might have been a good idea in principle, but when the prospective ECD opens it on a busy Monday morning, your precious site may be closed before the landing page has loaded.

Other slightly disturbing ‘concept sites’ include showing where the creative team fit into the Darwinian evolution of time. And, believe it or not, making the site a boxing ring, which forces the poor ECD to appreciate (once again) that you really are a ‘heavyweight’ team.

Maybe the idea is there’s no idea. A look a some of adland’s brighter stars reveals virtually none of them have gone for one. They’ve just gone for a ‘look’. But even that may be too much. An overly fancy design can appear dated very quickly and can get irritating to navigate. What seems to work best is clean, simple design.
Photographers’ sites are a good source of inspiration, merely showing the pictures they’ve taken in a nicely presented format.Nadav Kander’s is a brilliant example of this. You’re going to be employed for the work you’ve made, not the digital wrapper you’ve put it in. Or as Traktor put it on their pared-down site: “We make films, not websites.”
Tanya Livesey, from headhunters The Talent Business, sees a fair number of websites every day. ‘The key to a creative team’s website is navigation and usability. Plus careful curation. It needs to be a showcase of the best of what you’ve done, not a repository for everything you’ve ever done.”

So what about that Eurobest bronze? Which awards do you put in? All of them? Some? Just the ‘good’ ones? 
Some teams diligently list every single thing they’ve won, which can look mighty impressive, if a little anal. Others merely go for the highlights, such as D&AD and Cannes. It all depends what you’ve got in your locker.

And how do you showcase all this award winning work? By media or by client?

The media route seems pretty popular, with‘TV’ and ‘print’ followed by the tricky question of what to title all the other stuff. Ambient-digital-social doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, nor sit on your header very well. Some teams go for ‘360’ or 'Big Thinking’. For a while it used to be ‘nontraditional’. But that perversely made you sound traditional. ‘Integrated’ seems to be what the awards shows call it now. 

Alternatively, teams choose to bypass media and present the work solely on the basis of the client it was written for. One click and there’s the work. This does seem incredibly easy and simple to follow. It can feel a little cold and clinical. But maybe that’s good. The work inside the wrapper will do the warming up.

Think back to those days with that hefty silver case. You’d lug it all the way over there and the PA would tell you the ECD is too busy now and you should just leave it in the office. The rule was, you must be able to leave your book with the ECD still understanding all the ideas without you even in the room. And that’s still the case today.

As one ECD told me recently, “It’s all very nice having a blog and some groovy graphics and a link to a gallery where you ‘liked’ something, but really, just show me the fucking work.”

This piece first appeared in the November 2011 copy of shots magazine