Is there life in the old dog yet ?

Campaign’s new feature “View from the top/View from the bottom” sounds to me like it belongs in a fetish magazine for people who enjoy pain – but then again, that pretty much sums up Campaign.

This week Charles Vallance  (in the dom position) was to be seen extolling the virtues of TV advertising.

Now, for me Charles Vallance is one of the 3 brightest people working full-time in advertising.  (I exclude myself, obviously – because I’m not in it full-time.) The second is whoever thought up the name “Mother”,  and the third is you, dear reader, for being smart enough to occasionally glance at this blog.

Charles was taking a stance against dry data-driven BOGOFs – and in particular, Karl Heiselman of Wolff Olins, who’d declared that by 2020 an intense focus on advertising ROI would create “a hyper-aggressive transactions-focussed battlefield”.

That description sounds to me like most meetings that happen in advertising right now, although sometimes there are biscuits.  However, Charles was rightly pointing out the need for brands to use  “charm, wit, imagination, aesthetics and personality”.  So far, so good.  Ad agencies have these qualities in abundance. But then he said “like it or not, the old-fashioned TV ad is still about the best vehicle you’ll find for doing this”.

He’s almost certainly right about this – for now – but I feel uncomfortable hearing it.

I’ve been inveighing against paid-for media pretty much since that was the only media you COULD get.  Because I distrust the interruptive model, and I believe in what William Gibson said about the future of media  –  which was that “the essence of digital is interactivity”.

I.e. the revolution that’s happened in all media in the last 20 years isn’t just down to understanding code.  (Anybody can do that – and, if pushed, I could probably tell you a company that will teach you in a day). That should all be taken for granted. The revolution lies in the fact that digital media are about 2-way communication, and paid-for media presupposes a one-way lecture – with the advertiser on top, as a Campaign BDSM fetishist might say.

Digital media undercuts all this and takes away the comforting notion of the passive audience, sitting there ready to absorb 30 seconds of pack-shot or an ad in which dentists confront people on Victoria station to talk about plaque on their rear teeth.

However, I totally agree with Charles in the need to engage. And his words made me think.
Then on Thursday last week I found myself  judging Creative Review’s Best of 2012 –  and I was on the panel looking at traditional advertising. (What someone on another jury called “the intravenous drip of paid-for advertising”.)
Unsurprisingly, I saw some outstanding TV ads (Guardian pigs, P&G mums, IKEA toys, the Axe Super Sensories campaign, etc)   – all these campaigns have performed marketing miracles, despite working in the old-fashioned one-way model.

But I suppose I struggle to believe in the passive audience as an ongoing business model. Well OK, maybe for the Super Bowl – which is once a year, in America.  I believe that most people don’t usually like being interrupted to be sold to. Even if 80% of the ads in the TV breaks were great, one dentist on Platform 7 and I’m outta there.

But the ad industry DOES have this incredible talent to do all the things which Charles quite rightly values. Apart from the conventional and brilliant TV ads mentioned above, there were outstanding pieces of less conventional work like the shocking WCRS 3-D cinema ad for Women’s Aid (which brings technology in to support a massively emotional area) and the Paddy Power “Chav Tranquilliser” film, which probably wouldn’t get anywhere near a paid-for schedule because of its boldness, but will get huge traction in earned media, for the simple reason that it’s fucking funny.

Innovative and Shocking:

Women’s Aid

Fucking Funny:

Paddy Power

For me, it’s not really about whether there’s life in the old dog of paid-for media – my view is that this will hang around for a while yet, like an old dog on a sofa, maybe smelling funny but somehow we’re all still fond of it.

(After all, the ROI of advertising is a scary business and paid-for media offer the illusion of “delivery”.)

But it’s more about whether you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Because, if you took that outstanding strategic and creative talent and got it working in the wider seas of general culture – especially but not exclusively in interactive media –  you’d be unstoppable.

As Charles’ agency has been, with Meerkat.

So Charles, I suspect we’re not fighting over this, like dogs and meerkats. I suspect we’re probably in violent agreement.

As all good BDSM fans like to be.


    Hey Steve, you can stop agonising about this. It’s not either/or. In fact, it’s the combination of the exciting, inspiring, moving, amusing – and sadly sometimes the only vaguely interesting – one-way communication of a TV ad (or radio, outdoor, print) that leads people to want to interact, the Meerkats being a perfect example. Fall in love with the TV ad, and then go and search for the website, become a fan, look for extra Meerkat loveliness online, or buy the toy: cause and effect. They managed to make people interested in car insurance through superb creativity. It could work for dentists too if they applied the same level of creativity. Don’t blame the medium.

    At Thinkbox, we can’t wait for there to be “an intense focus on advertising ROI” because then advertisers would spend a lot more on TV, assuming they’re doing proper econometrics, rather doing superficial tracking. Comparethemarket and other online brands spend more than 70% of their money on TV and I assume they are best placed to know what drives people online. Given that TV has NEVER been cheaper every brand should at least give TV a whirl to see what happens. That’s what you’d say about a new interactive opportunity that appeared, isn’t it?

    By the way, TV in the UK – linear and on-demand – is entirely digital as of last October, and no that doesn’t mean via the Internet.

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