Ads v/s Ads

07 Apr,2014

 

By Delshad Irani

 

In an age of outrage, nothing – no person, no government, no company, no brand, is immune. Not even advertising, the one business we all – child, millennial or over-40, man or woman, regular Warhol or famous welder – fancy ourselves experts. (If you’ve sat mum during ad breaks, then count yourself in a rare minority and continue reading.)

 

Now, combine an innate public curiosity, and burning desire to contribute your two-bits on any 30-second spot, with the power advertising wields over the masses, which has been both underrated and overestimated by the legions of adbeings as well as anti-advertising guerrillas. It’s only natural then that advertising has us bound in common love, hate or dedicated indifference.

 

Advertising has been hit with anti-ad campaigns by outsiders – culture jammers like Adbusters and artists such as the influential British graffiti master, Banksy, among others of the creative ilk and intellectual classes. New York based artist Steve Lambert’s projects involve replacing all outdoor advertising with art.

 

Practically everybody, from outraging Twitter hordes to concerned politicians and parents, has hauled up advertising for its excesses and accused it of rewiring our brains and turning us in to shopper-drones. And even as online ads skyrocket, Adblock’s crowdsourcing a war chest for its campaign, which includes a Times Square billboard, a full-page ad in the NY Times and a telly commercial to advertise its product, one that eliminates all online ads.

 

In fact people have jumped through fiery hoops to make sure their anti-advertising/consumerism campaigns see the light of day. For instance, Kalle Lasn, founder of Adbusters, tells us the campaign to advertise ‘Buy Nothing Day’, a day when people forsake a trip to the mall and cut up credit cards, was one of their most challenging and rewarding campaigns. It turned in to a hard fought legal battle against TV stations which refused to air their 30-seconder.

 

Says Lasn, “People, especially young people are uneasy about advertising. Why at a time of austerity do we need a $1 trillion industry telling us to buy more?” The objective of anti-advertising, he says, is to make people more critical of big advertising because we don’t think there’s a downside to it continually telling consumers you can be happier if you buy more. “Advertising needs to become what it was many years ago.” That is ‘Here’s A Good Bargain’, ‘Here’s What This Product Can do’, turn around and go back to the days before Mad Men were revered, ads were more functional, cheaper and not an end in itself.

 

To add a dash of insult to injury, advertising’s faults and trending obsessions have been criticised and mocked by insiders too. From advertising insurgents like Alex Bogusky, who, in a previous interview, had said “I follow in the footsteps of Howard Gossage” to agencies and brands who have a bit of fun with a satirical twist at advertising’s expense. Bogusky, like the visionary ad man Gossage did in the 50s and 60s, now uses his creative chops for conscience advertising.

 

Of course, the famous B in the agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky, who was the blue-eyed boy of global advertising, isn’t a member of the consumer liberation front exactly. He’s just an adman cum consumer advocate, whose campaigns like ‘Real Bears’ for the Center for Science in the Public Interest pulled up all Big Soda marketing in the US. He said, while some quarters of advertising is getting worse and more irresponsible, the best is getting better and empowering a new generation of social entrepreneur and consumer/citizen.

 

Providing empowerment in its own way, another celebrated creative David Droga’s agency Droga5, one of the most popular on the worldblock right now, recently launched a campaign called “If We Made It” for Newcastle Brown Ale. The campaign takes, for lack of a more precise term, a piss out of “Mega Huge Game Day Ads” and over-the-top pricey spots which run during the Super Bowl. (According to reports, Anheuser-Busch InBev paid $30 million for 4 minutes of airtime.) The Bowl, of course, is the annual American-football feeding frenzy which turns even the most seasoned marketer in to a wired 13-year-old who just got retweeted by @justinbieber.

 

‘If We Made It’ currently is the most applause-worthy Super Bowl campaign and it’s not even an official half-time act. Says Quinn Kilbury, brand director for Newcastle Brown Ale, “This isn’t just some “banned from the Big Game” ambush spot. We’ve created a fully integrated program that tells a story and is in line with the rest of the No Bollocks campaign: fun, witty, funny, timely, no-BS. We genuinely believe we can “win” Big Game marketing with this strategy, and without spending millions of dollars for a one-and-done 30-second spot. Our goal is to win the social conversation, not get the highest score on a TV spot.”

 

He tells us creating great beer is something they take seriously, their advertising they don’t take so seriously. “We have fun with it, and we acknowledge that our fans are smart enough to see through the bollocks that are so common in a lot of other advertising,” says Kilbury. Newcastle Brown Ale’s two-year old ‘No Bollocks’ campaign is a more potent version of Sprite’s ‘No Bakwas’, which has spoofed ad plots in its quirky commercials featuring the smarter underdog who wins.

 

Droga’s agency, however, is not the only one that’s taken a shot at advertising’s fixations du jour. Vancouver based Rethink created a parody on the industry’s fascination with awards and 3D printing. (They simply printed awards and gave themselves the title of the most awarded agency in the world.) Another Canadian shop, Toronto based John St. have mastered the art of satires on advertising themes. Although created purely to publicise the agency, the parodies are seriously entertaining views on what gets an ad guy and marketer all hopped up.

 

And no, it’s not Red Bull, just millions in viral hits, cat videos and pranks on unsuspecting viewers. So what do the makers of these ad parody hits think of the real ads against ads? Angus Tucker, partner & executive creative director of John St., believes groups questioning advertisers’ agendas are important. “I hate bad work as much as they do,” he says. “But I don’t hate the industry as a whole.

 

I like the quote “everyone has a problem with advertising until they have to sell something.” I admire the agencies that try to do good, intelligent original work. And I don’t have an issue with advertising as long as it’s respectful and smart. And now that consumers can choose to ignore or engage with work, it makes it very important that your work is relevant.”

 

The truth is who doesn’t like or want to share a truly great ad, or even an anti-ad ad, when you see one? One that piques interest or puts a smile on your face or makes you type LOL or shocks and stirs you to think of world hunger before you bite a chunk off of a whopper. Whether you dole out the dollars, rupees or rubles, though, is entirely up to you.

 

WHY SO SERIOUS, MISTER?

Soon after John St. released a film advertising the agency’s status as the world’s premier and only dedicated cat-advertising agency, they got a call from a television network in Los Angeles, which wanted to do a reality show about the agency.

 

When the agency launched a publicity film touting the Toronto-based shop’s ability to employ armies of the best professional clickers globally, including India, and guarantee viral success, they had over 3000 people attempt to buy their “Buyral” service. And more recently, right after their latest release ExFEARiential, a film that highlight’s John St.’s expertise in heart-attack inducing publicity stunts, a member of the viewing public sent them a death threat. Of course, the TV Network, the 3000 buyers and the deranged viewer had to be told it was all a joke and the job of these films was quite simply, to advertise the agency.

 

The films were the agency’s attempt to break monotony at the annual Agency of the Year show, which they won this year. Generally, ad firms put together a sizzle reel of their best campaigns of the year. “It’s always the same thing. Agencies cut together the best bits from the year to a good song,” says Angus Tucker, who with his fellow partner and executive creative director, Stephen Jurisic, created these industry hits.

 

“So four years ago, we just decided to do a case video instead — of an 8-year-old’s birthday party. People loved it. They thought it was really funny, but they also loved that we were taking a crack at the proliferation of case videos that is now almost a necessity for any award show entry.” The first video was called ‘Pink Ponies’. But ever since, they have tried to make some sort of comment about the industry that people in marketing and advertising will recognise as true.

 

“So with Catvertising, while everyone was saying that advertising was dead, we thought it would be funny to say that “Yeah! We agree! And we’re betting the farm on cat videos!”, says Tucker. ‘Buyral’ was poking at the inflated numbers that you could get for online videos by buying or seeding views. And ‘Exfeariential’ was taking a crack at the popular trend of ‘Prankvertising’.

 

Pepsi, Carlsberg, Heineken and LG are just a few who have indulged in prank marketing. But it’s, in fact, far from a trend, really, with agencies such as Thinkmodo specialising in viral video marketing. Thinkmodo’s latest stunt which did indeed “go viral” is called ‘Devil Baby’, it’ll put the fear of God in to the most committed atheist even.

 

So did the industry respond to John St.’s humorous take on advertising tropes with bouquets or boos? It has been almost universally appreciated. They got this note (after releasing ‘Buyral’) from one of their favourite agencies, Barton F. Graf 9000: “Gentlemen. Thank you for injecting some fun into a business that’s gotten far too serious.” Their clients think the videos are hilarious and they almost expect to see a new one every year. They have generated new business interest; the agency has landed client meetings they might not have had otherwise. And yes, John St. has been inundated with resumes from people keen to work there.

 

Indeed, creating these satires is a hoot, but, says Tucker, “the focus is always on the work we do for our clients. But it’s not like they’re mutually exclusive. Creativity begets creativity. Ever since we started doing these films, we’ve gotten better and better as an agency. I think maybe because clients see some of these films and go ‘I wonder what would happen if we gave them some more rope’ or ‘maybe we just go with our gut on this rather than research it to death.'” And, Tucker confesses, the traffic that they generate to the agency’s site when they do these films is way bigger than when they win a Lion at Cannes.

 

Source:The Economic Times

Copyright © 2014, Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All Rights Reserved

Licensed to republish

 

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