Fine outstanding work
In the interests of understanding how to produce outstanding advertising, last week I found myself examining my own penis.
There are several good reasons to do this, but my particular interest that day was in the coronal ridges.
According to a new book, the human penis has pronounced coronal ridges – the flared edge of the glans. By comparison, apes’ penises are, and I quote here, “more or less all shaft”. The point is that as a human penis moves in and out of a vagina it creates a vacuum-like effect – which helps remove the sperm of a competitor male.
There, you didn’t know that, did you ?
Makes you wonder if you really need a new Dyson to clean the living room.
It also reinforces the notion of the relentless competitiveness at the heart of life which we have inherited from our cave-dwelling forebears.
And, as has been pointed out countless times, if marketing is about anything at all, it’s about competition.
(In fact Niall Ferguson, in another book, calls competition “one of the 6 killer apps of Western power”.)
As one of the Saatchi brothers put it (probably the more competitive of the siblings) “it’s not enough to win, somebody else has to lose”.
This always used to rankle with me in my pseudo-hippy-like approach to life – but that competitiveness is actually one of the few allies we’ve got when it comes to selling powerful creative work.
Marketers who are understandably nervous because they are unappreciated in their organisations and have an average job-tenure of 22 months, often end up buying the safest ideas presented to them.
Which is why they end up making invisible work and moving on after 22 months, but there you go.
One way round this is to appeal to their competitive nature.
I used to ask clients who were baulking at a particularly salient idea – “how would you feel if you woke up tomorrow and your biggest competitor was running that work ?”
Sometimes it worked, sometimes they just had a nervous breakdown.
But if you always bear in mind your competitive set, you’re far more likely to produce interesting work. Look at Avis’s campaign “We’re number 2, we try harder” – or the AA’s “4th Emergency Service”, which was born out of a desire to create something which their biggest competitor, the RAC, couldn’t copy.
To illustrate how competitive marketing is, a friend of mine tells the story of going to a Pampers Sales Conference one day.
Pampers being nappies, he was hoping for a low-key and generally supportive day – surrounded by teddy bears, perhaps, cups of milky tea, and mobiles that played “the wheels on the bus go round and round”…
Instead of which, he was confronted by a banner which had, in letters 10 feet high, the words “We Will Kill Huggies”.
Our clients live in a world which makes Apocalypse Now look like a trip to an urban spa for a chamomile tea.
And in this world, what is needed is not necessarily a cock – but balls.
The balls to want to be different.
The world of marketing sometimes seems to run along the lines of a playground, where you join a gang so as not to stand out.
All shampoo ads look the same … all car ads look the same … all bank ads look the same … all anything ads look the same.
If we carry on like this, homogeneity will win and creativity, the desire to be different, will be something of interest only to archaeologists.
In the future it’s highly likely that most marketing will consist of short films running on tube trains or wherever there’s still a captive audience, in which interchangeably young good-looking people will essentially dance around the product. Whether the product is a mobile phone, a tin of dog food, or a roll of toilet paper.
And the campaign will climax in projecting the logo as big as you can – onto a skyscraper, onto the moon, onto Boris Johnson’s buttocks, wherever.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, will be the end of a short-term historical blip called advertising creativity.
Incidentally, the book is called “Why is the penis shaped like that ?” by Jesse Bering.
And, to quote an old HHCL piece of advertising, it does exactly what it says on the tin.
It’s worth dipping into if you’ve got an e-reader.
But in a week in which Campaign pointed out that client-agency relationships had reached rock bottom, and in which lack of creative innovation was cited as the main area of frustration, it’s worth looking at how salient our creative work really is.
Salient, incidentally, is defined as “projecting or jutting beyond a line or surface”.
So. How are the coronal ridges on your latest piece of work ?