Archive | November, 2013

Finding the Future

26 Nov

I am depressed. Not medically, just when I think about the emerging generation who, one day, hope to be doing our jobs. I remember the summer and autumn of 1990. I had a zeal for advertising that bordered on fanaticism. I would read Campaign Magazine cover to cover in Willesden Green Library because I couldn’t afford to buy it. I would spend half of my dole on Magic Markers. I would walk to Brent Cross to buy food for me and my Grandma (I lived in her spare room) and would stop at every billboard on the way and drink in the words and the images and marvel at how they played together, magically, to create advertising. I stood in silence in an office at BBH as Russell Ramsay and John O Keefe leafed through my portfolio and took every word they said as gospel. When Ramsay re-drew a layout for me, it felt like it had been touched by God. Without banging on any more, I had a passion – a calling. I fixated on my goal – a copywriting job in a London ad agency – and I let nothing get in my way.

So why am I depressed? Last week I gave a talk to media studies students at a major university on the outskirts of London. The talk was not to sixth formers for whom media studies was one of their modules, these were kids who have decided on media as a career choice and who have convinced a university entrance panel that they have the chops to realise their dreams.

It was the second time I had spoken at the event and my hunch that today’s universities are every bit the same as any other business was confirmed. Basically, if you (or your parents, or the Local Education Authority, or the bank) have the money, you can come on the course. The result of this is that the job market, which remains as small as it ever was, is now flooded with ‘graduates’ who really have no hope of employment. Meanwhile, the public bemoan the plight of these unemployed graduates as if employment is the birthright of everyone with a degree. What has happened is this: the universities’ greed has devalued both the concept of university and the degrees these institutions issue. Surely somebody has done the maths – twenty years ago, there were far fewer universities, far fewer graduates and much less graduate unemployment. Those who didn’t make the entry grade got jobs, or undertook vocational training, or re-sat their A-levels.

So, cut to 2013 and I’m sat in a room filed with media students. Let us for a moment consider the media. It is a vast swathe of industries that includes magazines, TV, PR, advertising, web, film. When we think of people in those industries, are they quiet? Shy? Bored? Indifferent? Dull? Did they drift into it because there was nothing else to do? Did they identify their own lack of drive and realise that they were perfectly suited for a job in the media? I marvel at what these students (many of whom texted and checked Facebook during my talk) must have said at their university interview to convince the board that they were the moguls of the future and I am depressed that a university should be so content to take the money and run.

Of the eighty students I spoke to, two asked for my business card. One emailed me. Last year was similar. One student only showed up because he loved Mad Men so much. ‘I want to be Jon Hamm’ he said. ‘He’s an actor’ I told him. ‘A good one.’

At HHCL, someone applied for the job as tea girl by drawing a picture of a flower. She got the job instantly and at the end of her gap year was instructed by Adam Lury, the L of HHCL to return as soon as she had a degree, regardless of what it was in or what grade she got. Maybe he knew even back then that the right people are hard to find and that any number of cash dollars and years of study can’t make the wrong student right for a job in advertising.

On a more cheerful note, my agency is looking for an intern. Terrible hours, almost no pay. The suitable candidate needs to be bright, fun, sparky, quick, enthusiastic and show initiative. I’m not even sure if that person exists. The simple fact that our phone has not rung with a student on the end of it in the four months since I have been here suggests I am right. And that’s why I am depressed.

Ahh! Christmas!

15 Nov

It feels like every brand worth its salt released its Christmas ad this week. I felt warm and glowy watching the homage to Watership Down from John Lewis. I felt sad for Ant and Dec that the only friend they had to share their Christmas feast with was a dancing gingerbread man. I welled up at the epic three and a half minute Sainsbury’s trailer. I reminisced about the London looters while watching the Cadbury’s ad. But… and this is quite a big but. Did any of these ads make me think of the brands behind them? Was I given any information? Was I (call me old fashioned) given a reason to buy? A unique point of difference? A compelling argument?

Lets start with John Lewis, as these ads have become a Christmas event. After a child counting down the days when he could give his gift and a snowman making an epic journey to buy something for a woman he has only just met, we have a bear finally getting to see Christmas Day. I think it’s a lovely little film – a mini Gruffalo that could be shown to children Christmas after Christmas. We aren’t told what clock the bear is given, how much it costs, or where or what John Lewis is. This is an ad for people who already know and love the brand. Given that these people already make a beeline to John Lewis every Christmas, maybe it’s time to give the rest of us a reason to visit and not, say, buy our presents from amazon or eBay. Here’s a starter – why not create an ad that shows the shop and the amazing range of things it sells?

Now to Sainsbury’s, who seem to have spent most of the year putting together footage from Christmas 2012. The end result is a 50 minute film, the trailer to which can be viewed online. It’s a lovely idea and in the three-and-a-half minute trailer, we do get glimpses of items that may or may not have been bought at Sainsbury’s. But this tearjerker sits right alongside John Lewis as a mood generator – something to make us feel warm inside. As an ad for a supermarket? I’m less sure. The cut down versions I watched during Made in Chelsea – people putting their trees up and a soldier dad surprising his family – had no product in them at all. The whole thing was simply ‘brought to us by Sainsbury’.

Sainsbury’s have a history with  this kind of advertising. Recent online commercials for their bank featured mums and dads waiting while their kids did swimming or gymnastics. The parents were then subjected to some guerrilla pampering. At the end of these two minute slots, the words ‘Sainsbury’s Bank’ appeared. They were utterly baffling but suggest that for Sainsbury’s ‘feelgood’ is better than hard competitive facts and compelling reasons to buy. Maybe the public will love their Christmas offering so much that they will turn their backs on Tesco and drive the extra mile to Sainsbury’s (in my experience, we all go to the store that’s nearest). But I can’t help feeling that Jamie or Delia and a bit of food porn might be more compelling. Or, here’s an idea – rather than do ads that make us feel good, why not actually put good back into a community and film that? If I felt that my Christmas food money was going to keep oldies warm through the winter, or find homes for rescue dogs, I might drive that extra mile.

Cadbury’s Christmas ad gave me a cold frisson of fear. I saw no joy or excitement, simply some young tearaways given free range to destroy something. For the right brand – a political party, for example, this would be incredibly powerful. There is no context to the ad. We don’t know where it is. We don’t know who the kids are. We haven’t been told what they know. All we see is purple, and destruction. A few years ago, Cadburys were lauded for an ad where a Gorilla played percussion to a Phil Collins track. It won every award on the circuit. As a chocaholic, I watched with interest but felt detached from the whole indulgent chocolate munching experience. This current contender and it’s lack of product, information or benefit (other than ‘kids love it’) leaves me just as cold. 15 years ago, an ad I wrote for Blackcurrant Tango won plenty of awards. In it, a man spends a minute and a half talking about the product and why he feels passionate about it. Is that so old fashioned? Has advertising become an entertainment channel rather than a sales tool? I’m ranting and it’s time to move to Morrison’s.

There’s no point in me adding to what has already been said about this. Campaign voted it ‘Turkey of the Week.’ I do think Morrison’s could have tried harder – at their best, Ant and Dec can be hilarious and it’s a shame they have been squandered. But wait! I see a Christmas meal. I see product! I see festivity. I see Christmas in the context of how the brand can help you feed your mob. And for that simple reason, I am probably the only person in Adland (aside from the Morrison’s team)  who thinks that, of all the Christmas ads being discussed by advertising’s great and good, that this is the hardest working one of the batch.

I’m left wondering why so many brands take their eye off the ball at Christmas. Selling ‘feelgood’ will make you stand out if no one else is doing it. If everyone does it, the public are left wondering why to choose your product over someone else’s. It leaves the field wide open to someone who is prepared to give the public information and compelling reasons to consider them. One day, a Christmas advertiser will stop following the herd and make something truly spectacular.