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Why I love Specsavers

16 Oct

They don’t say much, ads from Specsavers. But what they do say, is ‘Specsavers’. Over and over again. And not the same ad boring us senseless, there seems to be a new one every few months. There’s something brilliantly old fashioned about this campaign.

1. It’s on TV. Imagine that. We’ve all been told that TV is dead. In the new world order, Specsavers should be pulling off a YouTube stunt and tweeting the crap out of it, or creating content for it’s own online TV channel. Or something.

2. It has a slogan. Remember those? In the 60s and 70s, they were often sung. In the 80s and 90s, they got shorter and punchier – just do it, think different. And then they pretty much died out. See, the thing with slogans is that you need to hear them. The more you hear them, the more they bury into your reptilian cortex (I made that up) and you remember them. A slogan on a banner ad isn’t going to bury into any cortex. Ever.

3. They don’t fill the ad with unnecessary nonsense. These are brand ads. They are entertaining. They have one clear purpose, to tell people with sight problems that they need to go to Specsavers. All the details can go in a press ad. Or DM. Or (heck!) an email. So many clients now want everything in the ad, assuming that their public are waiting to be informed of every last detail/offer/APR. We are not. We watch telly to be entertained. So entertain us.

4. The ads are funny, well written, well directed and well put together. They don’t seem cheap. There is a brilliant economy – words are kept to a minimum. My two current favourites are the kid closing the garage door repeatedly on the family car and the zumba teacher getting the oldies dancing. Both of these could have been spoiled by too much dialogue.

5. The ads keep going. No marketing manager got bored of them after they’d run three. There’s no incessant drive to mess with the program. This (and Crunchy Nut Cornflakes) is one of the last flag bearers of the great ad campaigns we all grew up with.

And, incredibly (but also brilliantly) they are all done in house, which is far from old fashioned. But maybe it suggests that agencies are the ones driving change and not clients. Specsavers knows what works. Their ads are crowd pleasers. Their message is simple. Old fashioned or not, we can all learn from them.


4 Feb

At some point in the eighties, a decision was made somewhere in Adland that no beer ad ever was allowed to convey any information WHATSOEVER about the beer. Information about beer became an advertising faux pas, and its avoidance as compulsory as the blue liquid that gets poured onto panty pads or the ‘hair shake’ on a shampoo ad. And so we  have grown up with lifestyle ads. Ads about camaraderie (Carling).  About comedy (Fosters). About style (Stella Artois). It must come as no shock then that we have reached the final destination on this advertising journey – a beer ad with no beer.

At over five minutes long, the Budweiser ad during this year’s Superbowl is pretty unforgivable. I am talking of course about the longer of the two (beerless) Bud offerings, entitled ‘A Hero’s Welcome”.

To save you watching it, an American soldier returning from a tour of duty in the Middle East is given a homecoming parade, sponsored by Budweiser. Lots of Vietnam vets get teary that they never had a homecoming themselves and the hapless soldier gets dragged through his hometown on top of a bus, no doubt wondering why his arrival back in America has been corporately raped by a brewing multinational.

The absence of beer is not the only weakness. How does his girlfriend explain to him that there is a camera crew in the back of her car? Why at around 4 minutes 40 is he drinking what looks like Starbucks? Surely that was an opportunity to give the guy a beer. I’m left with too many questions. Who at Bud has given up with sales messages and has decided that they don’t work for a beer company, they work for an entertainments channel? Have a look at their shorter Superbowl ad:

Again, spot the beer. You don’t need to, it’s not there. The ad is about a horse and a dog, about being buddies and listening to Passenger. It’s cute as heck but does it sell beer? I guess Bud is too big to care. It only takes one beer brand to buck the trend and tell people why it is amazing, or Czech, or brewed a particular way, or dark, or who knows, just anything. Some kind of reason to believe – anyone?

It’s not just Bud who have dropped the ball. Guinness used to tell us “good things come to those who wait.” Now they show us a bunch of hard up blokes in a remote place getting dressed up for for a night on the beer. While I identify with this, coming from a small village in Cornwall, I’m not sure why they deserve an ad:

Still at least they’re drinking beer. Hats off to them.

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.


Sky Broadband

22 May

I love everything about this. I love the casting. I love the music. I love the direction. I love the dialogue. I love that it’s a great ad for a massive brand. I love that it is a TV ad and that it is on a lot. I love that girl’s expression. It makes me happy to be in advertising.

Phones 4u – on a roll

22 Aug

Phones4u are currently my favorite advertiser on the box. I don’t usually laugh at ads but recently I laughed at this:

It’s a combination of brilliant writing, great casting, a fab VO and quirky responses from the people wanting an upgrade. The client must be fantastic to work with and the whole campaign exudes joy. I hope sales go up and up.

Beautiful lottery ad

20 Jun

An ad has never made me cry before. Cry with frustration maybe, but not cry with any proper and appropriate emotion. But this one just did.

It’s beautiful and sad and the message isn’t swallowed up by the window dressing. A woman never got the opportunity to run competitively and now, thanks to lottery funding, her daughter (who has the running gene too) can compete for Team GB.

I love so much about this ad. I love the sadness of the mum having to give up on her own dream and the joy of seeing it realised through her daughter. I love her hope that her passion for running would live on in her daughter. I love the way it’s written, I love the way it’s shot, I love the way she says ‘I will run with her’ at the end. Best of all I love how intrinsic the lottery is to the message. No lottery, no funding for Jenny Meadows.

It’s a proper tear jerker for a brand that sells tickets for a quid to people who want to be millionaires. From feeling indifferent to the National Lottery, I now feel proud about it. I feel proud about Jenny Meadows, her mum and Team GB. And any ad that can do that is pretty special.

Scary Phones4u ad

30 May

I’ve always liked the Phones4u ads. They seem like they come from a different world where a casting agent simply calls up a local freak show and a director starts the camera rolling.

This one, however, comes out of nowhere:

It’s the first ad that has ever made me jump or feel vaguely scared. It’s fantastic. If a commercial doesn’t make you laugh, or cry, or get angry, or make you think, or jump, what’s it’s purpose? There’s so much filler in between TV shows and sometimes it feels like every agency in town is happy with the status quo.

Well, how about this for a thought:  safe work sells. Brave work might sell more. Surely in these reduced times, there’s an agency and a client who is brave enough to do something different?

Happily for us, there is. The agency is Adam and Eve and the client is Phones4u.

She’s back for more

7 May

This woman is unstoppable! Fresh form her passion for the drug busting exploits of the British Armed Forces, this woman is now rushing to tell us how she felt when she learned she had cancer.

Only she isn’t, is she? She is a voiceover. Probably one of the few people of Caribbean origin on the books of talent agencies that provide voices for advertising. The trouble is, if as an organisation you are intent on representing multicultural Britain, you might be limited to the same old hacks that do all the black/Pakistani/Chinese voices. Which is why ‘Caribbean Lady’ has shown up again pretending to be a member of the public who wants to tell us something in an advert.

Surely, if you are a cancer charity who wants to tell people how you support them, why wouldn’t you use real people? And if you are putting on an event that showcases our armed forces, why not use real people who are coming along to evangelise about it? Because if you don’t, you come across as shallow, fake and disingenuous. And as a charity, surely that’s the last thing you want to be.



Thankyou Old Spice

2 May

There is still beauty out there. Watch this:

It’s well written, well cast, well acted and well directed: four checkboxes that rarely all meet in the same ad. Some might say the product is tagged on to the end, but the Old Spice campaign is now so hugely famous they could almost leave the product out altogether and still have us thinking about Old Spice.

I’m jealous as hell of this ad and I hope you all are too. Unless you wrote it, in which case: nice work!

Don’t hate me

30 Apr

I’ll be honest, I’m not standing on an especially sturdy soapbox, as I didn’t much rate the Guardian  Three Little Pigs ad as an original idea. Maybe that’s because I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, Hoodwinked!, as I’m guessing the creative team must have done too. Anyway, while the soapbox is still holding me up, here’s my take on another ad that will no doubt be bothering awards juries this time next year:

It’s beautifully made, and we all like seeing our athletes winning Olympic medals. Who can forget the sense of national joy when (Dame) Kelly Holmes brought home the bacon? But something grates with me in this ad. Pushy mums. Pushy mums who are desperate for their kid to be the next Beyoncé, David Beckham or…Kelly Holmes. Pushy mums who train every ounce of fun out of their kids, who take it upon themselves to live their unfulfilled dreams through their kids. Pushy dads are just as bad but as this ad is for a company that makes cleaning products largely bought by women, it’s women who take the spotlight.

It’s a tough brief, pairing mums who clean and care for kids with sporting excellence. And it’s a lot better than most Olympic advertising that’s around at the moment. For my tastes though, it’s a tad too close to the bone and I’m left wishing that I could see the swimmer getting the medal without knowing how many thousands of lengths she had to do every week as a tiny tot while her mum loomed over her. A bit like wanting to enjoy roast lamb without having to think of the beast skipping through a meadow, or wearing fashion brands without wanting to know about the sweatshops that produced them.

In other words, I feel weirdly less patriotic having seen this, and a bit guilty that I’m a willing accessory in the business of drilling children into becoming elite athletes. Maybe Procter and Gamble have no such qualms, or maybe they just haven’t seen how this ad might be misinterpreted.