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How a student ad saved the day…

17 Aug


Over the years, I’ve lost count of how many student portfolios I have seen, but it must be in the high hundreds. Books have moved on from black A1 folders filled with hand-drawn layouts coloured in with magic markers to carbonmade websites filled with campaigns accompanied by slick films as if the plan is to enter them direct to the Cannes Lions. Of these portfolios, the vast majority have been instantly forgettable, although many improved dramatically after a few sessions [step forward Joe de Souza and Matt Fox] and quite a few ended up with the teams finding employment at good agencies.

Of the individual campaigns in these portfolios, only a handful remain front of mind. Remco Graham came in to HHCL with an ad for toothpaste to which he had attached a plastic specimen bag filled with dead bees. When we asked him what the bees were for, he told us he didn’t have any toothpaste. Tom Geens had a genius campaign for a comfy backpack, with a man waiting at an empty airport carousel for a bag that he’d forgotten he was already wearing. Alex Wilson-Smith and Sergei Ivanov had a campaign for Cadbury’s Dairy Milk which was so delirious that it remains one of my favourite ads, speculative or otherwise. However, the list of great student ads that I remember is a short one, but last week, one of them made all those hours of page turning and mouse clicking worthwhile.

As you can see from the picture, yours truly managed to get a motorhome wedged under a metal McDonalds awning. It’s easily done, especially when you normally drive a much lower vehicle and don’t read warning signs. The McDonalds staff were panicking that, should I moved the van forwards or backwards, I would rip their roof off.

It was at this point that I remembered an ad by a team whose names, to my shame, I can no longer recall. It was for the AA (I think) and involved a tall truck similarly wedged under a low bridge. In the ad, the AA man knows to let the air out of the truck’s tyres, thus freeing it. What in 1995 was an interesting piece of spec work became suddenly very useful in 2015. To the admiration of most of the customers and staff at the drive-thru, I let the air out of my tyres and was able to limp away.

So, creative team whose names I have forgotten, I salute you. If you read this and you’re in town, I owe you a beer. And if you’re a creative team in need of a crit, get in touch. It may end up helping both of us.

Lovely ad for Expedia

24 May

They could have shown a beach, a plaza, a ruin – heck, even a hotel suite but no! Expedia chose instead to be brilliant.


All these airports really do exist. I love this campaign and I’m jealous of it.


Audi Cats

1 Nov

This is nice:

I love the simple power metaphor of snow leopard and domestic kitty.

I bet Jaguar are kicking themselves they didn’t think of it first!

Lexus misses the point

10 Oct

The point being that no one is especially interested in ads. Have a look at this:

It’s snazzy, for sure. But who is going to take time out of their day to load an iPad, place it under the page of a magazine and watch a Lexus demo? Why would they do that? If they have to switch on the iPad, why not put the whole ad on the iPad?

Time and again advertisers live in a bubble where they believe that people read magazines for the ads. Reality check: they do not. They skip the ads to read the features, news, horoscopes, problem pages, puzzles – in other words, any page that has something more interesting on it than an advert. Occasionally, an advert will either jump out or blend in so well that it seems to be a piece of editorial. The best one of these that I have seen recently was for the radio station, Coke FM  in South America. You can see it here. I actually spent most of the afternoon listening to the station online as a result of seeing it.

It is print ads like this we should be shouting about, not time and money wasters like Lexus.

Unhate campaign form (sorry, from) Benetton

9 Oct

This is different, isn’t it?

We’re used to expecting the unexpected from Benetton – I guess that’s their advertising property. Their ads never feel like ads because they aren’t selling clothing. Instead, the ads come across as insights into the mind of Benetton, or the brand’s guardians.

And so here, instead of an ad that shows off the Benetton autumn/winter range, we have lots of young folk from around the world who are unemployed. I like the idea of ‘Unemployee of the Year’ and of people being non sound engineers, non actors and non doctors. I like the idea of a competition where Benetton helps fund a program for these potential-laden non achievers. But is it an advertising campaign for Benetton?

I see it as a promotion for a Benetton initiative which sits separate from the brand. But why help young people? I guess the answer is why not? Young people are Benetton’s core audience and without a job or any income, they can’t buy Benetton clothing.

But if this is the argument, any product aimed at the under 30’s (and let’s face it, there are enough of them) could have run this campaign. Is it enough to say ‘our ads are never about our products, and here’s another one’? Perhaps, but in doing this, Benetton sits outside the advertising camp and plays by it’s own rules. And it only takes a Diesel, or a Levis or a Nike to follow suit and Benetton’s usp is blown out of the water.

And one last gripe, the lad in the picture isn’t form the UK, he’s from the UK. Someone at Benetton HQ should be embarrassed !

Businessman hurdling

26 Sep

Sorry but this one is a bit of an advertising in joke.

Advertising stock photography books used to be filled with this kind of imagery – men and women in suits performing athletically as a metaphor for business success. At HHCL we would flick through and laugh at besuited high jumpers, sprinters and ladder climbers. And the most iconic of the stock images we found so hilarious was ‘man in business suit with briefcase, hurdling.’

Finally, someone has had the balls to use him, and to use him with out any nod or wink to the irony of using him is balls indeed. Because surely using a hackneyed image that can be bought online for pennies can’t really be a metaphor for cutting edge achievement? It is fantastically unimaginative, especially for an advert for a university. Where’s the new thinking at the London School of Business and Finance? Are their masters degrees as ‘off the peg’ and ‘me too’ as their advertising?

The most alarming thing about this ad is the missing briefcase. What were they thinking? Or are they just moving the game on? Still, it made me happy in a warm, nostalgic way and for that I thank them.

Come to Hangzhou!

18 Sep

Has anyone else seen these buses around London?

‘Unseen Beauty’ it shouts, followed by the name of the capital and largest city of Zhejiang Province in Eastern China, Hangzhou.

Why? I quite like the fact that there seems to be no reason for this piece of advertising. I’m guessing it must be a tourism initiative, but they want me to go to somewhere I’ve never heard of. No, wait! There is a picture of a pretty girl and that headline ‘unseen beauty’. Is she the unseen beauty? Am I going because she’s there? Is Hangzhou a bit like Bangkok with its infamous brothel, Four Floors of Whores?

And then there’s an endline: ‘Back to London with pleasure’. What do they mean? I will be pleasured in Hangzhou and will return sated to London? Who knows? I know I should click on the url, but I’m a bit apprehensive and go first to Wikipedia. The entry is pretty dense but I learn that nearly nine million people live in Hangzhou which has a nice lake and lies around 110 miles from Shanghai.

Finally I click on so that it all finally makes sense and it’s woeful. Beautifully woeful. Written in Chinese English (Chinglish?) and certainly not configured to working on a Mac, you get pages that look like this:

It’s been a while since I’ve seen an ad this interesting on a bus, and although it seems wrong on so many levels, it caught my attention a lot more than the usual film or fashion ads. In fact, I know now a lot more about Hangzhou than I did and it seems quite a nice day trip from Shanghai should you ever find yourself there.

I CAN guess what you do

11 Sep

This ad makes me happy every time I see it:

The client has resisted any temptation to squeeze in any mood photography, destinations, prices or the attendant t’s+c’s. What we’re left with is a lovely ad with bags of attitude that leaves me with a url that I remember. And that’s no mean feat. Other brands try harder and get less. This one feels joyful and effortless – hopefully just like the holidays they sell.


Godbaby TM

6 Sep

OK, before we start, this is one of mine, and I’m putting it here because there’s already a lot of debate on Facebook. All I want to do here is to explain the thinking and leave you to make up your own minds. The poster was created for the organisation to create a buzz about Jesus this Christmas, and here it is:

It’s a little early to be thinking about Christmas but we need to get our creative out there so that churches have time to order their posters and other promotional material from us.

Christmas is a busy time and there will be a huge amount of sales and advertising clutter so we needed to create something that would interrupt people and make them think.

On a superficial level, we are selling a doll that has certain special functions. In keeping with the trend that every Christmas throws up a ‘must have’ toy or gadget, Godbaby is what everyone can have for Christmas 2012.

But what about those functions? He cries and he wees – both of these are possible and many dolls already have that capablity. But saving the world? How can a toy do that? It’s simple, it can’t, so we clearly aren’t advertising a toy.

If that’s the case, what are we advertising? The clue’s in the headline. Godbaby. Or, to unpack it, God a s a baby. Christians believe that Christmas is when God arrived on earth in human form as a baby called Jesus of Nazareth. ‘No Shit Sherlock?’ you say. Well, apparently this is new news to a lot of people, particularly kids who have not been brought up in a church environment. Britain is growing ever more secular and as a result, Bible stories are told less often to less people.

The single most important role of this poster is to tell people that Christmas is about God and Jesus, not toys, gizmos, gadgets and the other trappings of the consumerist Christmas.

So why package up the divinity of ‘God made man’ into something that wouldn’t look out of place in Toys R Us? We believe that you need to meet people where they are, and where they are at Christmas is in a retail maelstrom. Christmas is a festival of consumerism for non Christians and Christians alike – we are all caught up in it. So why not use the language of consumerism to describe the Christmas story?

The poster is proving controversial for several reasons. First, the mention of Christ’s bodily functions. We believe that Christ was human and his body conformed to the same physical laws as our bodies. If it hadn’t, his crucifixion wouldn’t have been so terrible.

Second, the baby creeps people out. Well, that’s dolls for you, but also, we don’t want people feeling comfortable with the image. Jesus wasn’t cute, meek, mild or any of the sanitised attributes given to him by the Victorians – he was confrontational, plain talking and, at times, furious.

Thirdly, he’s made of plastic, which some find sacrilegious. That’s really just to make the point of making him a commodity. We had to make him out of something. A flesh and blood child is not something you can buy at Chrustmas, even in Harrods. Besides, Jesus has appeared in all manner of formats over the years – few people have a problem with statues of Jesus made from marble or carved from wood.

No poster can convert anyone into a new belief system, but a poster can provoke the thinking that leads to this. Jesus is already on the margins of the modern Christmas retailfest. If our poster means that just some of the conversational buzz at Christmas is about Jesus,  our work is done.

Sshh! Machu Picchu!

31 Aug

Am I missing something here?


This is Machu Piccu, right? One of the most famous places on the planet? According to the statistics, the number of people hiking along the Inca Trail to the citadel rose from 6,000 in 1984 to 82,000 in 2000. Currently 2000 people a day complete the hike. The trail is also being eroded and tea bags and water bottles litter the route. There are even plans for a cable car.

Sooooo…. Peru, Empire of Hidden Treasures? Maybe there are some, just not on this poster.