Between the ideas.
Well into December, this end of the year feels eerily still and uneventful. Like being between somethings. Not sure whats. But significants.
December traditionally goes raving tonto as deadlines crawl out of every crack in the floorboards in a scurrying panic before the year crashes into the buffers of Christmas. Which is why I had the new Momo studio floor tiled.
Now, I still seem to be problem solving and trying to pull brilliance out of the brain in multiple ways every day, of course. Don’t get me wrong. And Lord knows, every day seems to want to present a new mini crisis to have to smother with an old tea towel. But I do feel a bit limboid.
Limboid, yes. All the running around seems to be happening at some slightly opaque arms length. I’m not in Limbo – far from it’s soporific rest, sadly. But a bit spaced out.
A bit empty of witty punchline-outs.
Something I meant to post up weeks back is a debate that was going on last month in advertising circles, and I think of it again now after chewing through a little list of new creative work for Typo’s clients. Whenever you’re first at the layout pad, this issue should present itself rather pertinently.
What is the idea?
Now, though any proper ad man worth his salt will say: ‘You gotta have an idea’, I tend to think of it subtly differently. Slightly less scarily. And consequently more boringly.
What is the message?
Wake up. It may not sound as whizzy and artistic, but it’s the more pertinent question for a paying client. Even if they don’t realise it. Which they won’t or they might not need you. The idea is really just the vehicle for delivering the message. So you’d better have a good idea, for sure. But you’d also better have the right message. Though everyone might take a while to notice you have the wrong message if your idea is really good.
I can’t help feeling that redundancy meetings might go a lot smoother if management delivered them as part of a particularly theatrical standup routine, for example.
But anyway. The key thing there is THE idea. THE message. Singular.
The debate in question that some of us were tittle-tattling around concerned two high profile TV ads running more or less concurrently at the moment. Big budget campaigns by big name agencies for big name brands.
Müller and John Lewis.
You’ve seen the ads, right? Well, I think they serve to illustrate some principles of how to and how not to make a TV ad. As if you had so little going for you that you cared.
Well, if you’re in the business of blagging your way through making up stuff for a living and hoping to get paid for it, you might consider caring just a little. Because the job of advertising is, in a general sense, to reach people.
Both words need italicising – a blathering amount of cash being spent on TV time and production and creative thinking is all for the sole purpose of connecting with real individuals. Because a connection means stimulating some sort of response. Hopefully some embryonic version of the Ooh, I Identify With That response that eventually hopefully magically leads to the I Need To Buy Me A Bit Of That response.
The Müller ad is, in my humble and profoundly unqualified opinion a fine example of stimulating the What The Ruddy Hell Was That About response.
But not in a good way.
What is it saying, do you think? ..No, I didn’t have the foggiest either. It was almost like a promisingly cryptic conundrum – guess the link between the car from Knight Rider, Dastardly and Muttley from The Wacky Races, The Mr Men, an anonymous ice cream van that Transformerises into an essentially terrifying and inexplicable giant walking grinning eating football monster, a suspiciously clean urban cityscape and… yogurt.
Now. I know. Hold your protesting. You and I both know. Saying this is like walking into Tate Modern and proclaiming your staggering, bum-faced cultural ignorance with the words: ‘CALL THAT ART? MY RUDDY DAUGHTER COULD DRAW BETTER THAN THAT. AND SHE’S NOT OLD ENOUGH TO HOLD A SPORK. ART MY ARSE.’
Advertisers are going for Emotional Response. Famously. Apparently. But I ask sincerely, what emotional response are you supposed to give to this random soup of thrown-together things? Surely the obvious one is: What The Ruddy Hell’s Just Happened? And possibly: Have I Just Suffered A Stroke?
I tried forming basic words after the first time I saw it, just to be sure.
And the sonic environment of the whole thing. The score. For it is a score, not a piece of music. A tightly to-picture bit of writing that takes particular clever skill on the part of a composer – sudden drama, quirky humour, suspense, action, happy resolve… all within 30 seconds. At what point am I supposed to care about these random things to ‘feel’ the sudden drama of a full orchestra? And at what time did ANY of these random items individually exist in the musical space of a bloody Hans Zimmer Pirates Of The Caribbean overture?
What, in short, were they thinking when they asked the composer to do this? Or the 3D animator when they commissioned the terrifying grinning eating football? Or the classic car company when they asked to borrow KITT and the voice-over actor who presumably lives in it? Or the Roger Hargreaves foundation when they asked to borrow the Mr Men? Or Hannah Barberra when they asked to borrow an athsmatic dog that can fly a biplane and NOT Scooby Do? Huh? What?
I mean, what?
I gleaned a little when I read ad agency TBWA’s briefing notes. “People don’t realise how much good stuff goes into making a Müller yogurt” they said. Good brief. Good idea to chase. People will have no freaking better idea after watching this.
Eating an actual Müller yogurt feels much nicer. Simpler.
I personally think it’s an example of a whole team’s-worth of fantastic talent being used to do great bits of work for something without a single idea. It’s entertaining. But it’s something that’s weirdly hard to love. It’s lots of random things tossed into a yogurt pot in expensive desperation. The kind of thing that a clichéd representation of a telly ad agency’s clichéd creative-blind account handlers will rave about.
“Look!” these unrealistic cartoons will crow: “We pulled out all the stops. CG, KITT, BIIIIG music. Everything. That’ll be a few squillion by the way. Nice one.”
I have not bought any Müller yogurts as such since. Don’t know about you. I’m sure lots of people think they love it. I doubt they really do. Or have bought any yogurt.
The John Lewis ad. By way of contrast.
Now, the point here is not to suggest you should be crying at an advert for a big shop that sells things for Christmas. I’d save your emotional energies. But it’s interesting that a lot of people apparently couldn’t.
Never mind that the corrosive fear and endless working hours of recession Britain has worn down most TV-viewing families’ nerve to breaking point. This TV ad still connected with a lot of people.
I didn’t cry. But the room of kids and parents I was in the first time we saw it did break out into applause and cheers. Slice it how you will, that’s an emotional response. And a good bit of creative to prompt it.
Why? Because it is one single great idea. A very simple ad to shoot, but done nicely. Consistently. Blind-siding you into not caring about just another Christmas ad, but also wondering out of the corner of your bored eye what was going to happen – before a very cute swerve.
All, crucially I would suggest, setting up the last thing on screen; something I’d put money on them having written first, before any scribble of an idea for an actual advert. The message. An excellent tagline, delivering the brand’s values and the point of the whole campaign beautifully at the very end: ‘Gifts you love to give’.
John Lewis is for givers.
And isn’t that kid adorable?
Clever. Single-minded. Not caught between the ideas; using what’s between the ears to hit an audience right between the eyes.
Food for thought. Unlike a Müller yogurt, apparently.