Executive creative director,
Engine and WCRS&Co.
Oh bollocks. You walk into your local for a quiet pint or two to dull the pain of your recent break-up, and there she is: your ex, all tits and teeth in the corner with the new bloke. And they've spotted you.
This disagreeable scenario is interchangeable with having to review the new ad for Weetabix, a brand WCRS spent many happy years with, sharing life's ups and downs, before a gradual decline and a failed attempt to reignite the magic presaged the ignominious booting out.
So, there she sits in the Red Lion, Weetabix, with her new ad and what can you say? He seems OK; nothing special; goes on a bit; but pleasant enough. What rankles is that he's clearly wearing one of your old shirts: that endline, "fuel for big days", doesn't just look familiar, it was the strategic foundation for WCRS's pitch, penned by our planning goddess, Giselle. How did he come by that, you wonder? She must have hidden it in the laundry basket when you went round to clear out your stuff. Crafty cow.
Right, time to move on. Unfortunately, there's not a lot to sweeten the bitter cup. I'd be freakishly overgenerous if I described what ensues as motley.
No-one wants to belittle efforts to raise money for Cancer Research UK, but these stories of human suffering are diminished by attempts to "craft" them into the formulaic shape of a vox pop TV commercial. Too many of us know the truth of the final message that there is still work to be done. I'm just not sure this advertising shines any new light on to the issue.
Depending on your view, Elton John is either a tireless toiler for good causes or a tiresome tinker who will do anything to keep his face in public view. What is undeniable is that he is the foremost musical vampire in history, swiftly latching on to fresh talent as it emerges, from George Michael and Eminem to Lady Gaga and Plan B, among oh so many. His latest bit of piggybacking is persuading artistes to record quick films to be played at their gigs asking the crowd to send texts pledging £3 to the Elton John Aids Foundation. The dubious incentive is the chance of a "shout out" from the band during their performance. But, be warned, you will also receive a pre-recorded thank you from Reg himself, looking like a partially melted candle.
Sony Music is also chasing gig-goers. Upload your pictures of muddy feet and pissed-up mates and it will stick a load of them together to form a video for The Vaccines' song Wetsuit. I'm not sure how this benefits Sony. Or us, come to think of it. Nice song, though.
Honda has made some documentaries in association with Channel 4. They are beautiful and engaging. The question they beg is: where's the brand? The most recent film featuring a night fisherman contains barely an apologetic glimpse of a Honda logo.
If you pursue matters online, you can find out how to set up your fishing rod and cook Ben the fisherman's favourite fish supper, but Honda is keeping its head down. There's almost a sense that it would be uncool to assert any brand ownership of it all. Sure, you can click through to find some nice motorbikes somewhere, and send in your own Honda stories, but it's hardly harnessing the magic of the documentaries.
VO5 redresses the balance with some old-school hokum about treating every head of hair as unique. Strangely, it chooses to support this claim by shampooing identical dolls coming off a production line with identical nylon manes. No matter. Connoisseurs of the compulsory "science" bit will not be disappointed by the glowing, golden globules moment and the breathless jargon of "adaptive haircare". Phew! They really do make them like that ever more.
Chief strategy officer,
My good friend Barack Obama celebrated his 50th birthday a fortnight ago. And as the two of us cruised the bars of Washington DC, slamming tequilas and wearing traffic cones on our heads, I took the opportunity to run this batch of ads by him. After all, there are only so many times you can read Private View from the perspective of the columnist's mum, dog or personal trainer before you yearn for some genuine leadership on the serious issues that face our industry.
First up is VO5. Against my expectations, I quite like this idea. There's a strong product story that doesn't require a degree in chemistry to understand: a new formula that adapts to individual hair types. The creative idea then amplifies this thought using a rebellious doll who creates her own look on a factory assembly line. It's not rocket science but it's certainly better than the usual pseudo-science that plagues this category. Barack agrees, although he's sceptical about whether the product would cope with a hairstyle as unique as Donald Trump's.
Next is an idea for Sony Music and The Vaccines. The idea is to get fans to upload "Instagrams" of themselves, which will then be used to create the band's next video. Now, normally, I hate creative crowdsourcing: all too often, it's a lazy option that grossly overestimates consumers' desire to participate with brands. But, in this case, the fact that we're talking about genuine enthusiasts makes the strategy much more plausible. Barack quibbles that only 1,411 people seem to have tagged their photos so far, but given that he's been signing off his Tweets as "BO", you could argue that his digital judgment is a bit whiffy anyway.
Talking of whiffy stuff, it's on to Honda's mini-documentary: not because the idea stinks but because it's all about fish. The film tells the story of some anglers who go out to sea in the dead of night and rely on their Honda engine to get them home. It's actually quite nice, in a gentle way, but I miss the opinion and provocation that has characterised "the power of dreams" to date. Barack's equally nonplussed, saying that killing animals by moonlight is more Sarah Palin's thing.
On a more serious note, we now have a couple of charity campaigns, for Cancer Research UK and the Elton John Aids Foundation. They're both great causes but, then, so are all the 160,000 registered charities in the UK. Cancer Research makes a strong competitive pitch by weaving sadness and hope expertly together into a seamless narrative. In contrast, the EJAF work feels a bit assumptive: it doesn't make any attempt to address the misinformation and prejudice that still surrounds Aids and instead goes straight for the money. As a result, it feels rather shallow. Having said that, the idea of charging festival-goers for a "shout out" on stage is a novel call to action, for which credit is due. Not that Barack wants to talk about credit these days, so moving quickly on ...
Our final campaign involves Weetabix, which is now repositioning itself as "fuel for big days". OK, so this precise phrase might be a bit clunky (it feels more like a proposition than a consumer-facing line), but the sentiment is bang-on-brand and provides a springboard for some really engaging, populist work. The toddler steals the show in the TV commercial but I'm sure this idea will work brilliantly in other media too - not least on a tactical basis.
Of course, Barack has a big day every day and he kindly offers himself up as a frontman for the campaign (tough times and all that). But, personally, I feel this would be a disastrous mistake for Weetabix. After all, if you've genuinely got something that's worth saying, why invent some spurious connection with a celebrity to help you make your case?
This article was first published on Campaign Work