Thursday, December 21, 2006

MINISTRY OF TRUTH – Hats off to the madmen

It was a wearisomely humid afternoon in Manhattan,
one of many New Yorkers had suffered that sticky
summer of 1959. The normally sanguine Carl Hahn ran
his finger around the inside of his shirt collar and
bit down on an expletive. He looked at the board on
the desk in front of him and raised the Cross fountain
pen his wife had given him for Christmas. He was about
to put his name to a press advertisement that seriously
worried him.

Simmonds - Gooding flicked through the research report
one more time. He turned to the justifiably nervous
account man in the seat next to him.

“Doesn’t look good does it?” he said. The other guy
said nothing in reply but, almost imperceptibly, shook
his head. Tony looked back at the cover of the report.
It was damning of the campaign he’d helped create.

Gary Haigh paused outside his boss’s office. He was about
to tell him that the TV ad he was working on had changed
from a full colour, Beach Blanket Bongo movie set to a
Beach Boy’s track, into a stark, monochromatic film with
a downbeat voice over and music by a group famous for
their gloomy melodies.

Worse, it was going to cost over £500,000 more than
the budget.

Each one of these guys had to make a really tough decision.
Should they put their necks on the line for this work? Or
should they simply bin it? After all, there were other
ads on the table, other campaigns that could run.

Less creative, admittedly, but hey, they wouldn’t
get you fired.

For any Creative Director worth their salt it was a hell
of a dilemma. But these three weren’t Creative Directors.

They were clients.

The work they went on to champion was ‘Lemon’ for VW of
America, ‘Policemen’s Feet’ for Heineken and ‘Surfer’
for Guinness.

Were they stupid? They had to be a bit soft in the head
to take the options they did.

Who in their right mind would launch a small, ugly foreign
car into a market that worshipped bigness, beauty and Made
in America with an opening ad who’s message was’ ‘This car
is crap’?

Who but an idiot would commit hundreds of thousands of pounds
on a campaign that had some of the worst research results
he’d ever seen? Or persuade his board to invest half a
million pounds more on a commercial for a product that
sold reasonably well anyway?

Thank heavens they did.

The VW work would change 20th Century advertising forever.
The Heineken campaign helped propel a Dutch lager from
obscurity into one of the best-known and best selling
beers in the UK. ‘Surfer’ became one of the most
awarded commercials ever, garnering along the way the
accolade ‘Greatest Ad Of All Time’.

But where are today’s marketing madmen? When was the last
time a press ad made you want to read it, or a poster
stop you in your tracks?

Spend a week watching commercial telly and apart from one
or two shining gems, the rest is dross.

‘But media costs are incredible these days. We just don’t
get the same bangs for our buck’.

True. But if you haven’t got that much to spend, why
not spend it well?

What’s more expensive? Twenty poster ads that have people
walking into lampposts or one hundred that no one notices?
Thirty seconds of bland anonymity or a couple of kicking
tens that start conversations in the pub?

‘Ah, but the agencies aren’t as good these days. They’re
just not as creative as they used to be.’

Well I’m sorry chaps, but it just ain’t so.

The originality is still out there, the innovation is
still out there. But it needs a certain type of Marketing
Director to bring it to light.

People with a supreme confidence in both their own judgement
and the skills and abilities of the agencies they employ.

People like Marsden at Britvic, Marsh at Sony and not
forgetting Honda’s Thompson.

Mavericks, eccentrics and nutters to a man? Hardly.

They’re hard nosed businessmen driven by commercial
success. But like Hahn, Simmons-Gooding and Haigh before
them, they know the value of a well spent dollar. They
understand what distinctive, popular and talked about
advertising can do for the health of a brand.

They’re the real heroes in advertising, the folk who buy
the good stuff.

And they’re not mad, they’re mensch.

Long may they live.



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