Tag Archives: Current TV

Death in the centre break

I found myself thinking fondly of death this week.

Partly because I’ve gone down with that most deadly of illnesses, the Man-cold. So I’ve been wandering around in a blanket, muttering the famous Mark Twain quote – “All the great men are dead. And I’m not feeling too good myself”.

That’s all right at home, but it gets you funny looks in a new business presentation.

I’ve also been thinking about death because I’ve been interviewing senior clients most of the week for a programme I’m making for Current TV – including one of the most high-profile marketers in this country, Amanda Mackenzie of Aviva.

And the latest Aviva ad is a taboo-busting exercise in getting death into advertising.

Amanda must be the best client an agency could ever dream of having – and as has been said many times, clients get the work they deserve. The Aviva campaign “You’re the Big Picture” is going gang-busters – and I’m really intrigued by their last TV ad, in which Paul Whitehouse pops his clogs.

Now, I’m not a massive fan of the start of the ad, which is too cosy for my liking, but the ending is genuinely powerful.

In the spot Whitehouse plays a guy who’s dead, but who can still “provide for” his family through insurance. It’s a clever idea, but what I love is that it’s a brave idea.

You can’t get much more taboo-busting than bringing death into your ad.

And it’s worked a treat for Aviva, who are reaping lots of positive feedback on the social sites. Amanda had that glow I’ve seen on clients when their work is genuinely being talked about, and genuinely in a positive way – as opposed to just sitting in a debrief and hearing that “there’s evidence that awareness has gone up”.

Rare, brave work does that.

And I’d like to doff my hat (an appropriately funereal gesture) to AMV, for coming up with such mould-breaking stuff.

As you’d expect, HHCL used to try to crowbar death into advertising on a few occasions. We did a campaign for Bio-friendly garden products that had an old comedian called Charlie Drake playing a greenfly in the last few seconds of its life.

“Ah well, I’ve had a good innings” he said, although I don’t think greenflies usually spend too long at the crease.

There’s a joke there somewhere about creases and flies, but at the time the best joke came because the taxi company accidentally sent a parcel van to pick him up. He’d come out of retirement (grumpily) to do the ad and his famous bad temper wasn’t improved by being delivered to the studio in the back of a parcel van.

We also ran some work for Healthcrafts vitamins that had a spooky old lady suddenly appearing out of nowhere and advising people to look after themselves.

The implication was that if you didn’t take your supplements you’d soon be hanging round in limbo, scaring the bejasus out of people, and it certainly stood out.

We also did the infamous Pepe jeans ad where a bunch of kids got stoned on Tooting Common (or Tutankhamun, as we re-christened it) before cutting to the end-line “Pepe jeans. Because one day you’ll die.”

But death hasn’t played a huge part in advertising. You don’t see Kellogg’s ads interrupted with the news round the breakfast table that Grandad’s had a very bad fall. L’Oreal ads don’t have much in common with the Tibetan Book of the Dead, other than the fact that I’ve never really engaged with either of them.

Although a good pal of mine called Jason Gormley told me that his favourite opening line from an ad came from a famous Smirnoff film:

“It was only when I died that life got interesting”.

Looove that.

And I’ll never forget a CDP press ad for some insurance company, written by Tony Brignull, with the headline “Answer these 10 questions and work out the date of your own death”.

So the Aviva ad is very brave.

And moving.

And also timely. The baby boomers have set the agenda at every stage of their lives – making it all about sex and drugs when they were in their twenties, making it all about money when they were in their thirties, and now they’re facing the issues of retirement and death.

Amanda told me that part of the inspiration for the idea came from her boss saying to her “we’ll know we’re doing breakthrough work when we can mention death in our advertising”.

And brilliant marketer that she is, Amanda took that and ran with it.

To be honest, it was all slightly annoying for me. Part of the premise for the TV programme is that advertising is changing unrecognisably, and there was Amanda, clearly having a wonderful time with AMV, tackling all sorts of important issues, and then popping out a provocative, shivers-up-the-neck-in-a-good-way TV ad.

“Advertising in rude good health” shock headline ?

Read more on Death in the centre break…

Here’s an idea

 

 

At the minute, as well as helping out various agencies on secret squirrel pitches, I’ve started filming for a TV show on Current TV about “The Future of Advertising”.

Now before you say, “well that’ll be a short show then” (along the lines of “the wit of Alan Sugar” or “the genuine respect Simon Cowell feels for Louis Walsh”), let’s take a step back.

The death of advertising has been much reported over the last 20 years. And anybody who writes about the industry must occasionally feel like Cassandra in Troy, wandering around with ashes in their hair, beating their breast and saying “woe is me, we’re all doomed, ow my breast hurts, anybody got any anti-ash shampoo,” etc etc.

But there’s a bit more of a chipper feeling among people in relatively elevated positions in the status quo right now. According to an industry analyst from Barclays who I spoke to last week, advertising weathered the latest Recession with more aplomb than in any previous recession – and there’s a bit of a feeling about that “we’ve got away with it again”.

A lot of major clients have maintained their marketing expenditure through the tough last two years.

Not much exciting new stuff has happened, of course, but the belt-tightening, head-lowering, nose-to-the-grindstone, backs-to-the-wall, shoulder-to-the-wheel approach seems to have worked.

But is there another threat looming ?

From a somewhat unexpected quarter.

One of the people I’ve been interviewing for the show is Siobhan Freegard, the utterly charming and delightful founder of Netmums.

I’d thought before she came in – well, we might get a couple of good quotes about social media.

How wrong I was.

(Not for the first, or last, time.)

What I hadn’t expected was to hear several stories of real clients doing real things in a completely different way – and in a way that actually means they don’t need agencies at all.

Martin Glenn of Birds Eye recently said that the role of any marketer was simply “to understand their consumer”. He then added that the challenge was to “move with the consumer”, as they changed their behaviours and habits.

That was at the very heart of what Siobhan was telling me.

She told me how the Sainsbury’s marketing director had recently come and spent some time on the Netmums forums. He’d fielded a few awkward questions – but nothing that his store managers wouldn’t have had to deal with on a daily basis.

He’d talked about encouraging people to shop online at Sainsbury’s – and he’d ended up making a hugely favourable impression on the almost-a-million Mums who make up the community.

Siobhan had invited the Robinson’s marketing director to join the forums, to discuss Fruit Shoot.

Because there was a feeling going round online that “Fruit Shoot Mums” had an unhealthy meal in one hand and a fruit shoot in the other, and that the drink was just a modern version of the old much-demonised Sunny Delight.

The Robinsons chap did a fantastic job apparently, explaining the product range and the truth about the ingredients – in a way that completely reversed the negative feelings.

Siobhan was then approached by someone who wanted to launch an ethical new washing powder.

He did some research with the mums online to help develop the product, and then encouraged people to sample it and report back to the rest of the community.

A fabulous set of responses was enough to get the product onto the shelves of Tesco and Sainsbury’s, where it’s doing fantastically well.

It’s all about what Siobhan calls “getting out of the boardroom, and getting down and dirty with the mums”.

Which, given the tense and sterile atmosphere in most boardrooms, is a pretty irresistible invitation, I’d have thought.

It also takes us a long way from the 1950s bogey-man image of advertisers as “the hidden persuaders” … which can’t be a bad thing.

So … changing deeply-held negative perceptions … altering buying behaviours … launching new products – that’s what an ad agency does, isn’t it ?

In this instance, no. It’s what a woman does who started a website for mums 10 years ago because she felt lonely as a new mum – and who now has an unparalleled relationship with a huge number of massively influential consumers.

Mums make most of the purchasing decisions in any family. The mums on Netmums are, by definition, going to be among the most connected and social of this group.

I reckon I’ve seen a glimpse of the future of advertising – and it’s not what I would have expected.

Read more on Here’s an idea…

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