Workhorses and Showboats

10 Jan

Last year, I spent two happy weeks at a giant PR firm in Victoria. As with many other media based companies, PR agencies are now muscling in on advertising. It appears that anyone can do it. Or, at least if they can persuade their clients they can do it, they get paid something. And so my time was spent crafting copy for an online game that would be the destination of choice for young men who had watched (and loved) a TV ad for a brand of rum.

The problem inherent in my task was that I had yet to see the TV ad that would drive men in their hundreds of thousands to the game. (I overheard a planner telling a geek at the rum company that they would need more servers to withstand the onslaught) Why? Because the agency in New York had yet to create the ad. All we had was the germ of an idea, which we ran with. Now, the game itself is pretty darned good. The commercial, sadly, was not and rendered those extra servers (if they were ever installed) wholly unnecessary.

Which leads me to my point. There are ads that are solid. Good enough. They work hard and do the job they need to do. They tell people about stuff in a simple way. They are generally on air a lot; so frequently in fact that we often remember their jingles, slogans or catchphrases. But these workhorses rarely get passed on through the viral channels available to marketers. Few viewers make the effort to venture to the websites of the brands they advertise, and fewer still engage with the games, competitions and other activities that await them there. These are the everyday, unexceptional adverts that rely on paid-for media and which keep the wheels of commerce turning.

And then there are the showboats. The Old Spices. The Channel 4 Superhumans. The Volvo Van Dammes. The Melbourne Metros. Ads that punch way above their weight. Ads which, even if someone somewhere did once pay for them to appear on a TV station, have transcended the space appointed to them and soared into the viralsphere to be shared, blogged and adored by those at whom the advertising was not even targeted.

Ads like these deserve websites, Facebook fan pages and Twitter feeds. They deserve to have games written for them. They are splendid and we bow down before them. The workhorses do not. The sooner advertisers realise this and stop wasting their dollars on paying agencies to create work that will never be seen the better. More than that, these advertisers should spare their work from the indignity of ‘burial by internet’. For the web is a mass graveyard for workhorses. No one seeks them, no one finds them, no one sees them. Let the showboats shine on YouTube, Vimeo and every channel that can hold them. This is their space and their place to shine.

So here’s to the showboats. The ads that make us all sit up and wonder how we too can do something incredible. Because we all know we have it in us; we just need the right client, the right team, the right moment. And here’s to the workhorses that pay our rent. The ads that were compromised by a committee, by research, by a client who yearns for vanilla. The ads that might have been great but fell at one of the many fences along the way.

And here’s to knowing the difference between the two.



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