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Let us pray…

27 Nov

If I said I didn’t have a hand in this latest offering from the Church of England, I’d be lying:

I heard about the project via, the group I’ve been a member of for twenty years and which provides advertising ideas for the UK’s churches. Churchads weren’t formally commissioned to write the ad but we were asked to have a look at something that would appear in cinemas later in the year, before Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The opportunity was huge – the whole battle of good against the powers of darkness is an area clearly rich with appropriate Biblical comparisons. I duly sent over a bag full of ideas, all of them  with the volume set to eleven and shot in epic widescreen.

However, the Church of England was fixed with retelling the Lord’s Prayer before the movie, and so any ideas that didn’t involve ‘Our Father in Heaven’ were out. I’m still not certain why, without making any nod to Star Wars, nor a force of any kind, or light, or darkness, that this ad’s spiritual home should be in a cinema immediately before a showing of The Force Awakens.

Not only this, the ads that immediately precede an event movie like Star Wars  are cinematic in their own right. The thirty minutes of trailers and advertising that herald in the main feature are a feast of filmic excess and properly show off the film makers’ craft. Any ad that sits amongst this hallowed company needs to wear its best clothes.

My advice, initially, was for them not to advertise. I could foresee embarrassment – a low budget advert sitting amongst multi-million blockbusters could make the church a laughing stock. The prayer wasn’t being unpacked, or re-appropriated, or subverted. No new meaning was being given to it, it was simply being prayed.

Once I realised that they were pushing ahead with it, I could still imagine how it might look if it were shot beautifully; if the settings were somehow resonant of a Star Wars movie, or Lord of the Rings, or Game of Thrones; if each shot was art directed and photographed brilliantly, if it was given space to breathe. In its own way, I believed, it could be epic.

However, the Church of England was set on using a chap they’d worked with before and who shot corporate videos for a living. They had also only booked thirty second slots in cinemas, as that was all they could afford. Imagine if the Popes and kings of the renaissance had decided to use some painters and decorators on the Sistine Chapel, when the greatest artists in the world were queuing up to paint something spectacular. I know any number of directors who would have killed to shoot this ad for the same money, yet none were asked.

And then it happened, as often happens in things of a Christian nature. God stepped in. God took a potentially unremarkable piece of video which might otherwise have led a quiet life on Youtube, and did something spectacular with it. I don’t believe this ad would ever have gone on air. There is no way the Church of England would have had the budget to run a minute-long commercial before Star Wars. My belief is that the ad was banned before the film was completed, and the story of the ‘ban’ leaked by clever press secretaries. There was never a thirty second commercial of the Lord’s Prayer – time it yourself – it’s so fast as to be irreverent. Once it was clear that the ad wouldn’t run, time length ceased to be an issue and the prayer could be as long as it liked.

I first saw the finished advert in church a week ago. The minister played it and announced that it was causing a storm for being banned. My first reaction to it was surprise – it was actually pretty good. It still looked more documentary than film, but it was nicely paced and had impact. The least surprising news was the ban – the Church of England knew that cinemas don’t accept religious advertising so it was always a punt. But it is by spinning this story to the press that has made it fly.

The online chatter has been phenomenal. Everyone, for once, seems to be taking the side of the church. This is currently the most famous cinema ad in history. People in the Guardian are discussing the revolutionary challenge to world order contained in the prayer’s words. People are assessing the Lord’s Prayer properly for the first time since they mumbled it in a school assembly or the wedding of a Christian friend. The Lord does indeed work in mysterious ways!

Can I take credit for any of this? Not at all, I was against it from the start. Will I take credit for it if anyone asks? Of course I will – I’m in advertising!








Guns are Cool

23 Oct

There is one ad campaign that is up at the moment that is showing no signs of coming down soon. It has been running for years, it is nationwide and a couple of new executions go up every week. I have no idea who the agency is, and a number of clients appear to be involved but the brief is as simple as it gets: Guns are cool.

It’s a brave strategy, but one which seems to have met with approval from the Government, the anti gun lobbyists and the Police. Consequently, guns are advertised vigorously, alongside soft drinks, trainers and snackfoods that young people can’t get enough of.

Here’s a great example of a gun advert. It even has celebrity endorsement – that’s Emily Blunt wielding a Glock 19:


And here’s Daniel Craig in a slightly more sophisticated ‘man about town’ advert for the Walther PPK:


And here’s a gun advert aimed fair and square at children – it’s an antique flintlock, but it can probably still propel a lead ball through a man’s skull at fifty paces:


The good news for gun lovers is that the campaign is working. To the year ending December 2014, there were a healthy 4860 gun related incidents in the UK.

It’s admirable of the advertising bodies to turn a blind eye to what is clearly such a lucrative and well-loved business, despite guns on TV commercials being outlawed several years ago.

I’m such a fan of gun advertising that, a couple of years ago, I started a blog called Guns are Cool. So if you’re a fan of guns, and advertising them, and the carnage they bring, then come on in!


17 Sep


I’m not usually a prude. I’m actually pretty open-minded and liberal. But I value and respect organisations like Clearcast and the ASA and the work they do to ensure that no one exposed to advertising is offended by what they see or hear. I imagine that if I described something as mad, mental or crazy, I would get a ticking off somewhere down the line, if not from the regulators then from mental health organisations who see nothing comic in schizophrenia.

Likewise, if any Islamophobia were to creep into adland, I imagine the work would get short shrift with the authorities. Now, more than ever, we are hyper aware of the sensitivities of others. Causing offence to the mentally ill, the fat, the short, LGBT and any number of minority groups is now front of mind for the authorities. Rightly so, we all believe we have rights, and it is our right not to be offended by advertising.

I have history with causing offense. It is inconceivable that a commercial as unashamedly jingoistic and rabidly anti French as Blackcurrant Tango ‘St George’ would get past a client, today, let alone Clearcast. And if that commercial were written today and the authorities asked for it to be toned down, we would have no choice other than to remove lines like “You’re one dissenting voice in a billion, Jonny French, you’re that”.

One group of people, however, remain ‘fair game’ in advertising – those Christians and Jews who do their best to live their lives according to the Ten Commandments. Commandment 3 (ie, quite high up on the list of ‘Thou shalt nots’) is the order not to take the Lord’s name in vain. Put simply, using His name flippantly is detestable to God. There is no grey area here, it is absolutely, properly and completely forbidden for Jews and Christians to do this. Many Jews and Christians are deeply offended when they hear other people do this. They teach their children never to do it. ‘O my God!’ ‘Jesus Christ!’ ‘Christ on a Bike!’ ‘For God’s sake’. Each of these – to stray into Mel Gibson territory – is a whiplash on the already flayed back of the soon-to-be-crucified Jesus.

Yet adland happily signs off ‘OMG’ as if no one minds. We do mind. It hurts. Despite having Jewish roots, I was ‘born again’ as a Christian in 1985. Like most believers, I genuinely believe that God has intervened in some of the bleakest situations that I have faced, and has pulled me through. Personal faith is a deeply sensitive area. I don’t expect others to empathise with this or even condone it, but surely if a 20 stone man has the right not to be ridiculed in advertising, I have the right not to read or hear ‘O…MY…GOD… either. Just because there are more of you than there are of me doesn’t mean I don’t matter.

The purpose of this blog is not to have a moan but simply to let you know (if you didn’t already) that OMG is a breach of a commandment that sits in a list that also orders people not to steal, kill or sleep with other people’s husbands and wives. Even if no offence is meant, offence is taken, and it’s over to the great and (hopefully) good in advertising to decide if defending blasphemy is more important than respecting the deeply held and cherished beliefs of the religious-minded. Over to you guys!

Welcome to the Digital Chip Shop

29 May


At what point do we all just give up? I used to read D&AD annuals. My tutor at Watford even suggested I traced over the winning print and posters displayed in its pages just to feel, vicariously, what it must have been like to create something epic. Back in those halcyon days, D&AD rewarded advertising. It inspired advertising. Careers were made by being included in the hallowed pages of a D&AD annual. And most of the time, the ads that won had been seen by the public, in magazines, on billboards, on TV, on the radio.

Fast forward to D&AD 2015 and, hand on heart, I’m genuinely struggling to find anything that I am jealous of, or anything that inspires me. In fact, I’m struggling to find things that I recognise as advertising. And before I go on, I appreciate that D&AD  has changed. I appreciate that it is now international. I appreciate that it now more fully embraces design. But ultimately, as a creative working in the advertising industry, I still need to be inspired.

I should also state that I am not bitter, D&AD has been generous to me on a number of occasions. My concern is that, in branching out from traditional advertising, D&AD has lost its way. Studies have proven that around 90 per cent of people in developed nations still watch TV. Not just half an hour a day, several hours. They read magazines and newspapers and drive past billboards. They use the internet largely for information, research and communication. Yet a vast number of pencil winning work exists in a digital space where there are no meaningful measurements to tell us who exactly saw the work and how their perceptions of the brand changed as a result.

One winning entry mentions 21,000 people engaged on Facebook at the same time. 21,000? Stick them in a football stadium and you realise how few people were reached, compared to, say, a TV ad in prime time with a reach of several millions. Others seem little more than business innovations. Kids wanting to learn English speak to lonely English-speaking pensioners. A supermarket decides to sell ugly fruit. Great ideas. Good business. But is it advertising? And is it advertising that deserves the ultimate accolade of a pencil? Of the 49 yellow and black pencil winners, 5 are TV ads or idents, 6 can be described as press poster or DM and 2 radio. So what are all the rest? What world do these ideas inhabit, whose lives have been changed as a result? How has the game moved on?

Before I go on, I do have a few favourites. The ‘Like a Girl’ is awesome, despite the terrible branding. I remember #likeagirl far more than I do Always. The Geico stuff is really funny and properly exploits the pre-roll medium. The Aussie road safety stuff is great, but it’s an emotive subject to start with. I love charity posters that can be swiped with a card to donate, Lurpak gives me hope and I like the rainbow Burger King wrapper, though changing the name of the restaurant to Burger Queen might have been even ballsier.

As for everything else, when a footballer adds a few tattooed names to the already busy canvas of his skin for a cause, does the world sit up? When fans of a computer game can create their own avatars, does anyone who is not already a fan care? When a charity broadcasts information on a railway station arrivals board for an hour, does anyone who wasn’t there feel compelled to get involved?

It feels like we’ve entered a world best described as ‘Digital Chip Shop’ where anyone can create any stunt, movement or app that only those closely involved are ever aware of. It’s certainly creative, but the internet is a deep and very black hole. Most of us don’t have time to search its furthest recesses. It is populated by memes which last a day then vanish into the vortex. None of us have enough time to follow through on any of it and so little of it lasts. I’m unsure whether it is we as advertisers who are pushing our clients to allow us to create off-piste ideas for them, or whether the clients, conscious of dwindling budgets believe that ‘doing something on the internet’ is better use of their spend.

Which brings me back to why I feel like giving up. The bit of advertising that I do, the grunt work that shifts vast amounts of cider, and kitchen cleaner, and cars and clothing has, as far as D&AD results show, had its day. Ads that appear on TV,  bus shelters and in magazines are yesterday’s story. Yet, if we believe the statistics, they are still the most effective way of connecting with an audience. And so while the rest of us produce work that speaks to millions, D&AD continues to reward work that speaks to those people who were in the room, and whoever picked up the ‘what we did’ video on Youtube that one of their friends tweeted.

I still believe that advertising can change perceptions and change behaviour, and so I’m going to plough on. But yet again D&AD leaves me broken hearted by awarding pencils to work that I feel is at best a cul de sac, at worst a wrong turn and which, although I can do it, I can never believe in.

And finally, as a test, try and remember five things that won yellow or black pencils last year? No, me either.

I love a good pun

16 Sep

This is awesome:


At first reading, it’s about the effect that the Ming Emperors had on their country. But then there’s a lovely pot and I realised that this is also about the history of ceramics. It’s as close to genius as I have seen in a poster. Mood: jealous and in awe.

Careful now…

12 Sep

I’ve seen quite a few ads that I like over the summer. This one has been around forever but I love it:


I love the image. It is instant and simple. Who is more fragile than balloon man? Balloon man’s posture is perfect. He is trepidacious. He is about to step onto the escalator, gingerly, arms out for balance, head down looking for the exact placement of the foot – it’s balletic. And all this beauty for a run of the mill piece of railway station information. It won’t win any awards from the industry but it’s certainly up there as one of Adspike’s ads of the year.

We all need silly stuff

13 Mar

It’s hard not to argue with a statement like this. I love silly stuff. I pass on and share a lot of silly stuff that lands in my inbox or on my Facebook timeline every week. But an ad that is 100% pure silly stuff? Really? Have a look at this:

I could be wrong, but this seems to be a direct response to this ad:

So, we have a phone company creating a 60 second ad showing a cat trying to be a dog, and a phone company creating a 60 second ad showing a kid and a cat on a bike singing ‘We built this city on rock and roll.’

Dear God.

Did someone somewhere forget the meaning of the word advertising? You have 60 seconds (a luxury in these straitened times) to tell people something good about your product. How they might benefit from it. Why it’s better than its competitors. Just one thing. I remember we pitched for one of the 118 Directory Enquiries companies that sprang up after 192 became a free for all. They had absolutely no edge over their competitors, but they had a pet dog that hung around their call centre. We begged them to let us use the story of the dog to present them as a bunch of really nice people, but our begging fell on deaf ears. At least we tried. 

So, what’s the message that Three, one of our nation’s largest phone providers, want us to remember? That less calls than ever are being dropped? That they have the best 3 and 4G coverage of any provider? That they have buddied up with an entertainment brand to give us cheap concert tickets? No. It’s that we all need silly stuff.

I’ll leave you to decide whether the singing girl/cat combo is silly enough for you to pass on to all your FB friends. But even if you think it is, what is it advertising? What is the O2 cat, an ad that has garnered millions of views, actually advertising? Or is it enough to be liked? Well, here we hit a pretty major problem. O2 wanted to be liked and brought out their cat ad. Three decided that it also wanted to be liked and brought out their cat ad. So it’s now down to which cat ad we like. Without any stats, facts, figures or sales messages, these two competing brands are now competing on winning the hearts of viewers by creating memes which they hope will be shared virally and whose success is measured in hits and likes. This is not called advertising, it is called entertainment. And once we become a bunch of entertainers rather than salespeople, we have to wonder what we all got in this for.



The answer is digital. What’s the question?

27 Jan

It’s exasperating.

I’ve been doing some work with a charity client and have been given a brief to ‘do something digital’ this year. This is because last year’s digital foray is being hailed as ‘a great success’. This success translates to 139000 page views of the charity’s website and 1000 uses of the campaign hashtag on Twitter.

At the same time, we have been asked to re-run a lacklustre poster campaign that was created last year as an 11th hour compromise after all the good ideas had been rejected.

I’m sure this is typical of many briefs being thrown at agencies by clients who see digital as a cost-effective way out of a problem. After all, why pay for media when you can get people looking at your wares for free? The trouble is, 139000 people? Out of a nation of 60million, that seems, well, a little small.

But what about these 1000 tweets? The snake oil pedlars have fiddled the figures here. Talk is of a ‘3.5million reach’. Which means that if you add together the number of people who follow these 1000 people, you get to 3.5million. Which means? Well, even if you believe that this number is accurate, a tweet will have appeared on the screen of 3.5million laptops, tablets and smartphones. One tweet. Quickly followed by another from, say, Alan Carr, and one from Joey Barton. And one from Ricky Gervais, and the Guardian, and the Onion, and…


In other words, if our 3.5million people haven’t momentarily downed tools to check their Twitter accounts, the tweets will have disappeared into the ether (or is that e-ther?)  I’m pretty sure most of our client team don’t tweet and so cannot see the way these stats have been pimped. In agencies, we are bombarded by stats from digital gurus telling us how amazing the digital medium is, yet most of the time, we ignore online advertising messages ourselves and happily take money form our clients and watch it disappear into a black hole.*

The best digital stuff depends on something being made in the real world – a TV ad, for example – that creates an online vapour trail. This piece of work needs to be brilliant enough for people to want to share it.

Another great way of getting a message across is a stunt or an event which is filmed and put on YouTube or Vimeo, but these cost money, and our client doesn’t have huge amounts of that.

The answer is simple. A ballsy, attention grabbing poster campaign. A brilliantly produced TV ad that cuts through the online clutter. A stunt that captures the imagination of the nation. Put another way, the less money you come to the table with, the bolder you need to be. In my experience, if an idea is strong enough and the client famous enough, people will fall over themselves to reduce their day rates.

But one thing’s for sure, simply running last year’s half baked posters and hoping for a digital miracle is a one way ticket to oblivion.

*My agency’s website states in no uncertain terms our dim view of digital. We only work in media which we believe in.

Race you to the museum

13 Sep

It’s a sad truth that most of the ads I love never make it anywhere near the awards ceremonies. Such will no doubt be the fate of this gem:

No doubt as a response to the London 2012 Olympics, the British Museum has curated an exhibition that shows what sporting competition looked like back in the time when the Olympics were a new idea.

I love the line ‘race you to the museum’ – sport is fun and the line is fun. It actually makes a museum exhibition seem fun. I like the cleanness of the design and the use of an original ancient sporting image. It’s light hearted and simple and clear – certainly a contender for the Adspike poster of the year.

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.