Category Archives: TV Advertising

Why the new VW Arteon commercial is TV advertising at its very best

The new VW Arteon tv ad is brilliant.

Why is it brilliant? Because the creative team involved have clearly been given an incredibly boring brief (by the client/planners/suits) that said “Sell this car on how beautiful it is”. But have shown us all that, if you know what you’re doing, even the blandest of briefs can generate great work.

Most creative teams would have written an ad that showed the car in a variety of cool locations with people drooling over it as it whizzes by. It would be driven by smug man with beard, or cool girl with attitude. (There are no other people in the world according to most agency folk these days. Apart , perhaps, from the idiotic but loveable football supporter who appears in every beer/betting or pizza ad.)

The ad would feature trendy music, trendy editing, and probably some ridiculously contrived storyline crammed into 30 seconds. Ideally with a lame ‘joke’ after the logo and endline supers.

But the VW team did it properly.

They took the brief and said “How can we make this incredibly boring proposition come to life? How can we really dramatise the fact that we think it’s a good-looking vehicle? How can we make this duller than dull proposition be exciting and different? How can we make an ad that stands out and is genuinely memorable?”

What they did is show the car. In a regular, dark, car studio. Not even moving. No cool locations.

And then they have a blind man tell us why it’s beautiful.

Pete Eckert is, we’re told, a blind photographer. (Which is interesting in itself, in any context.)

Think about how off the wall that is.

It’s an ad about the visual appeal of a product. With its story told by a blind person.

Totally intriguing, totally different, totally brilliant.

What a shame that the car has such a terrible, terrible name: Arteon? Hardly Golf or Polo or Fox or Up is it?

Sometimes a whisper is louder than a scream

It seems that, in order to be heard above the mindless racket that passes for TV adverting these days, advertisers are becoming more and more hysterical in their approach.

The grotesque “You’re so Money Supermarket” dancers and the once slightly wittier but now just brash and crass “Go Compare” executions are just two examples of what their creators would no-doubt declare as ‘ironic’ advertising. Actually, it’s just boorish shouting.

What is actually ironic, is that often you get more attention on the telly when you whisper instead of scream.

There was a striking black and white ad for Adele’s latest outing just before christmas, for example. In virtual silence, it focused on her eyes, which then opened to striking and memorable effect. It stood out like a sore thumb amongst the stampede of not-funny, screeching nonsense that surrounded it.

And now there’s another example of a TV ad that stops you in your tracks, grabs your attention and keeps it for the duration of its sell. (You know, the stuff ads are supposed to do.)

It’s basically just a still screen showing text messages popping up on a mobile. The only sound is the gentle beep as the latest message arrives. You have to read each one. No voice over to help you.

It’s utterly captivating and, like the Adele ad, is an oasis of communicative calm in the maelstrom of nonsense we’re so used to being assaulted by.

So, well done

The same principle applies in press and online too. Shout loudly “I AM AN AD PLEASE READ ME”, and you’re actually saying “I AM AN AD. YOU SHOULD IGNORE ME IMMEDIATELY”.

Make your ad look like editorial, however, and you’ll get that extra nano-second of attention that allows your message (if it’s clear enough, and offers a benefit) to be more clocked by your target. Suddenly your ad starts to do its job.

There’s a reason that so many online advertisers use those tacky click-bait executions (universally sneered at by hipster, bearded advertising types) rather than ‘creative’ banners. They test one against the other.

And the editorial-style click-bait ones work better. Simple.

The Muppets rescue Christmas!


It’s November and in advertisingland Christmas is already in full swing. Every tv ad-break is filled with cute, smiling kids handing presents shyly and cutely to rosy-cheeked granddads and grandmas. Every home is covered is snow and jolly snowmen & amusing reindeer jostle for position in every high street.

Depressing isn’t it?

Personally I’m not a huge fan of Christmas, full stop; its brazen commerciality, its false bonhomie, its sentimentality and all the rest. Bah humbug etc.

But what really depresses me is the total lack of originality in Christmas advertising. The ads for retail outlets are literally interchangeable. (And I love the way those cheeky ad schedulers seem to make a point of running very similar ads right on top of each other. Well done, you lot!)

There are the ‘oh what a terrible present but I’ll put on a brave face’ ads. There are the small child accidentally meeting Father Christmas ads. There are the giant family around the dinner table scoffing Christmas fare from Aldi/Sainsbury/Asda/Waitrose/Lidl/M&S. There are the black and white with film star perfume ads. Yaaaaaaaaaaawn is not the word.

And of course there is The John Lewis Ad. An event which seems to have taken on an importance equivalent to Christmas Day itself. This year it features a kid looking at the lonely man in the moon. So he gets sent a telescope so he can feel even more lonely as he watches everyone on Earth having a great time with all their family and mates. Thanks a bunch, Earthlings.

Then there is the new ad for Giant Crumpets. Starring the muppets. All of them, from Kermit to Piggy to Fozzie to the chairman of Warburtons.

Who is clearly not a muppet, actually.

Because he or his marketing people have realised that the way to get ATTENTION and MEMORABILITY during the Christmas advertising yawn-fest – and at every other time of the year, too – is to do something DIFFERENT from everyone else.

The muppets ad blasts into your brain like a laser and, doubtless, the giant crumpets will be flying off the shelves the length and breadth of the country.


How to do great charity advertising







As Mr Punch says memorably, on piers and promenades throughout the land, that’s the way to do it.

There’s an Oxfam ad appearing on the telly right now asking for donations to help the Ebola victims in Western Africa.

And it’s a superb, best-in-class lesson in how to do effective charity fund-raising.

So often these days, charity ads are produced to look like perfume ads, with an eye on the awards jury rather than a focus on maximum fund-raising. Moody black and white photography, portentous celebrity voice over and a glib, punny endline. Looks cool on your portfolio site but doesn’t bring home the bacon for the charity concerned.

But this one from Oxfam gets it bang on and I imagine does extremely well. Here are the key ingredients for successful charity fundraising, on telly or in dm or the press:

1. Look cheap. The work must look like it was bashed out in a hurry by the charity team. Not crafted by creative teams with silly big beards in their plush London offices. It must look and feel urgent and real. In other words, it should not look like advertising.

2. Show results. Crises and misery make it easy to write award-winning heart-tugging copy. But don’t  just show the downside. Make sure you show the upside too — the results of the appeal. Generate an emotional response, yes, but paint a picture of hope not despair.

3. Ask for a specific amount. This ad asks for £3. No more no less.  Often it works to give three different tick boxes and an ‘other’ one in case someone wants to give a huge amount or a very small amount that’s all they can afford. Remember: the biggest donors to charity are poor people and old people. Perhaps because they’re the ones who understand being needy?

4. Tell them what this amount will be spent on. As specific as possible. Again, this Oxfam ad does it right, it tells me my £3 will buy a treatment ‘kit’. Perfect. I really feel my £3 will genuinely  make a difference.

5. Make the response mechanism clear and simple. Show them and tell them. ASK for the donation, don’t assume showing a phone number etc is enough. It isn’t. Tell them to do it right now.

Easy when you know how.


Why waste your precious budget telling punters what your product isn’t?


You see it time and time again. Ads where the hugely expensive media cost and production costs are squandered by telling the the potential customer what the product isn’t, rather than what it is.

Insanity. You see it on TV, in the press, in DM and online.

There’s a particularly idiotic example poisoning the airwaves at the mo. It’s for Trainline’s app that lets you organise your railway journeys from your mobile.

Self-evidently, if you’re a regular user of the railway anything that takes the pain out of the process has got to be a good thing.

My local operator won’t let you buy a weekly ticket on a friday for journeys starting the following monday, for example. (I have no idea why. And neither have the poor folk manning the tills. When the tills are manned that is.)

So, in theory, I might be a candidate customer for the app in question. I’d therefore like to know all about it. What it can do. Where I can get it. And so on.

But does the 30 sec tv spot tell me any of this? Noooooo. Of course not. The people involved in making this masterpiece have decided to use the spot to tell me what the app doesn’t do. It doesn’t help me put out a fire on my computer. Or help me when my parachute fails at 20,000 feet. Fascinating.

Clearly, my sides are supposed to be splitting at this.

Except they’re not. I’m really annoyed that they waste 20 seconds of a 30 second spot not telling me the stuff that, as a potential user, I’d actually really like to know.


The John Lewis Christmas telly ad. I thought it was just me…


Very pleased to read AA Gill in the Sunday Times writing about this Christmas’s TV offering. I thought I was alone in finding it cynical, sentimental and manipulative — the accidental, unforced charm of the original three years ago (the boy waiting for christmas so he could GIVE the presents) having been replaced by a big budget pre-hype campaign including selling cuddly toys of the animated characters in the ad…advertising advertising in other words? What?

Here’s what Gill had to say about the ad and, for good measure, about my noble, ahem, profession of copywriter:

“It left me Scroogeishly dry-eyed. It was a sickly, anthropomorphic cartoon about a hare getting a bear an alarm clock. The animation was tedious, the concept idiotic, the purpose cynically saccharine.”

He heaps similar scorn on the ads from M&S and Tesco: “Snot-ragged melodrama that reminds you of how good advertising used to be, how witty and skilful, and how comparatively sophisticated it assumed its audience to be. Ad men were once demi-celebrities: they were exciting, important enough to be sent up. Of all the media businesses that have been turned over by the new age, advertising has suffered the most. Now a copywriter is a clerk, a man who composes the annoying sidebars on websites…”

…and self-important blogs, of course.



Borrowed Interest: why it’s the lazy person’s alternative to an idea

Borrowed interest. This is where you import an idea, a headline, a visual treatment or something else irrelevant to the product or service you’re selling from somewhere else.

It used to be something that only your local builder, minicab or beauty parlour did. Because they didn’t know any better and it, sort of, looked like the advertising they saw from the big boys.

They’d nick the campaign line from famous brands, so you’d get Betty’s Hair Art Refreshes the Styles that Other Salons Cannot Reach. Sid’s Plumbers. No Other Plumbers Look like us, or Plumbs Like Us. And so on. You get the idea.

Or they’d nick a line from a famous song. Or use a naff library shot image to create a lame visual pun. Much easier than understanding what your customer needed and presenting a compelling reason why they should buy from you rather than somebody else.

Nowadays, because of the democratising of the ad industry, where sales promotion folk do ads, where ad folk do dm, where dm folk do PR, we’re starting to lose our craft skills. On the agency side and on the client side.

And this has resulted in Borrowed Interest creeping into the work of agencies (and brands) that seriously ought to know better.

So what’s wrong with it?

The problem is, it’s usually done because the client/planner/suit/copywriter/art director can’t be bothered to delve deeply enough into the product or service they’re selling. It’s hard work to get inside the head of your target audience and understand their specific motivations, needs and desires.

(Another reason why so much work these days looks like it’s aimed at 19 year olds, even if it’s clearly a product for 50 year olds.)

So instead of isolating a really interesting and compelling idea that’s firmly rooted in a consumer benefit, you get an idea that is simply bolted on to the product. The dimmer suits and clients go “Oo, that’s clever!”  because you’ve turned the title of a film or song into a headline for weedkiller.

This means that you lose the opportunity to say something really distinct and ‘ownable’ about the thing you’re supposed to be selling.

Instead of crafting a bespoke advertising solution (much as I hate that word, it’s appropriate here) you’re simply taking an off the peg idea and sellotaping it to something far more interesting.

It’s lazy and it’s ineffective. And it’s everywhere.

It’s really no different from your local car repair shop’s calendar with naked women all over it. In fact, it’s arguably worse than that. Here’s why…

But what about celebrities, aren’t they borrowed interest too?

Social psychologists have studied this phenomenon. And it’s crystal clear that using celebrities harnesses the power of what these boffins call ‘association’. So if you associate your product with a celebrity (or a sexy naked woman) it will share the goodwill that the celebrity engenders in the audience already.

If you’re selling a service where you’ve got nothing physical to show, like a bank, it’s often an interesting solution to create an ownable character (think of the LLoyds TSB people, for example, now dumped. DOH!) or import a celeb as the face of your faceless brand. Santander have got Jessica Ennis and Jenson Button all over their stuff at the mo. This probably does good things for the brand, especially when banks and bankers are so unpopular, as they are currently.

But a problem arises when you don’t buy out the celeb concerned. I was convinced I was looking at a Santander ad the other day, but it was Jessica wearing her Prudential hat. Big mistake, allowing your brand’s pet celeb to work for a direct competitor. DOH, DOH, DOH!

But as long as your celeb is saying something relevant about your product and ‘fits’ with your brand values then it’s often a good way to bring your brand to life.

And we all like a bit of domination

Cleverer brands often use another psychological technique called Authority. Endless experiments have shown that we defer to authority figures. Doctors, headmasters, tall people (really), generals, royalty…

So if you’re selling toothpaste, get a dentist to talk about its benefits. Even better, get a celebrity dentist.

Selling makeup, get a Hollywood makeup artist (or film star) to talk about its benefits. Selling insurance for old people, get a famous old person to endorse it.

I won’t insult your intelligence by listing the big brands that do this all the time. Just turn on the telly.

Of course, you have to choose the right person. Pick someone who’s completely irrelevant to your product or service and, although, you may get a little bit of traction through the association principle, you’re basically slap bang into good old-fashioned borrowed interest territory.



What the hell is Brand Response?

Brand Response. One of the newest manifestations of ignorance, stupidity and fashion that is sweeping through the marketing industry.

In case you haven’t stumbled across it, Brand Response is a new term used by many marketing people and advertising agencies to describe an advertising campaign that is created to do a brand-building/image/awareness job and at the same time generate a bit of direct response. (I’m already getting cross, just writing this description, it makes me so crazy! Deep breaths….)

Now, the smarter readers amongst you (especially the ones who don’t work in marketing or advertising and therefore still have a modicum of common sense left between your ears) might be scratching your head and thinking “But surely all advertising affects the customer’s perception of a brand, whether it’s designed to generate a direct response or just awareness or image building?

Surely a customer’s perception of a brand is affected by every interaction she has with it—whether it’s watching a telly ad, reading some PR, sampling the product, talking to their customer service reps, visiting the website?”

And of course you’d be absolutely correct.

Direct response advertising doesn’t exist in a separate universe to any other sort of advertising. To suggest it does is patent nonsense to anyone who pauses to think for a moment.

You build a brand by getting the punter to sample your products and forming a good opinion about them, about your company, about the way you talk to him, treat the environment and so on and so on. Direct response advertising, like any other form of promotion, is simply one of the many ways whereby your customer can form an opinion about you.

Put simply, every ad is a brand ad. Whether you call it Brand Response or Direct Response is utterly irrelevant.

OK, so we can tick the ‘brand’ half of the equation. But what about the ‘response’ half? This is where Brand Response falls crashing to the ground.

It doesn’t work.

The copy isn’t long enough, it doesn’t focus on the consumer benefits enough. It doesn’t demand a response and rarely uses any incentives, closing dates or any of the other bog-standard, tried-and-tested tools in the direct response armoury.

Brand Response ads are mostly written by agency creatives who don’t know anything about how to write copy that is designed to drive response—a very different skill to awareness/award-winning/portfolio-packing advertising. (Sadly, this now includes most creatives in direct marketing agencies, too.)

These creatives are briefed by planners who don’t know the first thing about what makes direct marketing tick. The work is approved by a Creative Director who is only interested in the next awards ceremony. And the work is sold to the client by an account team raised on the mantra: Short Copy Good. Long Copy Bad. (I wish I were exaggerating here, but I’m not.)

Of course, the client may get a bit of response from the ad—simply because it’s got a phone number on—but nowhere near the response they’ll get if it were put together with the specific intention of driving response.

And of course its ROI (return on investment) will be simply too horrific to contemplate.


A phone number isn’t a call to action

Art directors are the chaps (and chapesses) in advertising agencies who design the ads—in other words, they’re the ones in charge of deciding what stuff looks like—whether it’s telly, press, online or dm.

Art directors like their designs to be clean, elegant, beautiful, balanced. (They went to art college, you see, not selling school.)

This means in a press ad, for example, they’re always asking their copywriter to cut the body copy, remove what they consider extraneous words, shorten the headline and generally remove all the stuff that might, with a fair wind behind it, actually persuade somebody, somewhere, to buy something.

I’ll cover the subject of long copy vs short copy in another blog, but one of the things an art direction driven culture does is emasculate the power of The Call To Action.

The Call to Action (CTA) is the bit on your ad, website, newsletter, flyer which demands that the reader respond in some way. By calling you, by clicking through, by buying.

Anyone trained in a direct response/direct marketing or sales environment, like yours truly, knows that if you want someone to respond in some way, you have to tell them do so.

We know this because we’ve tested again and again and again the difference in response that you get with and without.

So you have to say CALL. Or CLICK. Or RETURN THE COUPON. Please. (You should also give them a reason to do it NOW, if you can. Tell them when the lines are open, too, if you’re asking for a call and explain what will happen when they do. I’ll go into more detail about all this in another blog.)

But many art directors don’t like to say ‘CALL US NOW FREE ON 0800 123 1234 Lines open 8am-7pm Mon-Sat’. They just want the number.

Elegant, clean, beautiful. Utterly wrong.

This insanity is now even spreading to DRTV  (direct response television advertising) where the client is spending a bloody fortune specifically to get calls! And then not getting the response he needed simply because the agency is putting art before sales.

Because, as any nine year old will tell you, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.




Why WHAT you say will always be more important than HOW you say it

When I was a fresh-faced, bushy-tailed graduate trainee at a top London ad agency many years ago, we were always taught that when you’re producing advertising of any sort, what you say is always more important than the way you say it.

In other words, it’s the message that counts not just the way in which you present it. At all costs, the message had to zing out and be clearly communicated to the target audience—whether on tv, outdoor media, in the press or, these days, online.

Increasingly, however, this old mantra seems to have fallen by the wayside (so many other tried and tested techniques that have been discarded in favour of a few Facebook likes and ludicrous ‘branding’ exercises).

And a lot of the work you see out there has clearly spent 90% of its creative time on the ‘how’ and barely none on the ‘what’.

The simple communication of strong reasons to buy is replaced by puns, wordplay, unnecessary jokes, complicated art direction and illegible typography. These are the things that often float the creatives’ boat, and the things that win creativity awards.

They’re not necessarily the things that sell stuff, however. Here’s an example…

A superbly talented designer/typographer at an agency I was freelancing at was asked to design some 48 sheet posters for Yell, the old Yellow Pages company. The concepts were simple copy statements which needed some zip and impactful art direction to make them leap off the hoardings. Nothing wrong with that.

The designer’s solution was to turn the type into street maps (as ever the Yell sell was all about finding your local suppliers fast and easily). Very cute and clever idea with yellow and black Yell brand colours to the fore. Great looking work.

But totally illegible.

Not only that, a lot of people didn’t even ‘get’ what the design was meant to be. Even some of the account team selling it into the client hadn’t realised the design was meant to look like a street map—presumably they thought it was just a pretty, eye-catching pattern?

But everyone agreed the posters looked fantastic; the Executive Creative Director was raving about the brilliance and innovation of the design.

The fact that they were literally impossible to read seemed to whizz over everyone’s head; including the clients’, clearly, as they bought the campaign lock stock and barrel and spent a fortune on the media. Talk about the Emperor’s New Clothes!

Yell, of course, went down the pan soon after.

But the campaign and its designer won Best Typography award at The Creative Circle.