There’s a good reason (beyond their respective business and creative legacies) that many in the ad industry continue to revere the likes of David Ogilvy, Bill Bernbach, Leo Burnett and George Lois. And that is they oozed pride and confidence in their product as well as their own particular theories and ideas as to how that product should be made.
They wrote books about it, they made barn-storming speeches about it, they peppered their employees with missives and edicts about it. They prescribed rules for its creation and brimmed with pithy maxims, aphorisms and epithets encapsulating their beliefs. Right or wrong, there was never the slightest doubt that they genuinely believed in the exceptional value of what they created.
Steve, the Henry in Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury, has a wonderful piece in Campaign Magazine about the ‘smarmy’ nature of the advertising industry these days. Now smarminess is next to godliness here in Tundran agency-world because, as the venerable Prouk has been heard to utter on more than one occasion, “arrogance in Canada is having a point of view.”
But I’d always attributed the superiority of British advertising (as in, their best work was superior to other places’ best work – the 90/10: dreck-to-exceptional ratio still operates even in the UK) to the fact that their good agencies actually had bollocks. Some had rules for clients who aspired to work with them; some even fired lucrative clients who flouted the rules; creative work was less hidebound by mandatory testing (I recall Peter Mead speaking about that creeping paralysis they called the ‘American disease’); brand managers were otiose on shoots; clients felt privileged to be working with a notorious agency.
This is a “making of” film about one of the truly remarkable commercials, the launch spot for Blackberry Tango (ta to Ben Kay for posting), which coincidently was done by HHCL.
It’s bollocks personified, both conceptually and in its ambition. There is no amount of smarm, schmooze, wining, dining, fawning, whinging, hand holding, or log rolling that would convince a client to buy this script, let alone sign away the spondulicks to produce it. I’m not suggesting there weren’t all sorts of analysis and strategy and argumentation and general argy-bargy behind it, but work like this just doesn’t happen unless the agency is supremely confident in it and the client has faith in the agency’s expertise and judgement.
Pace Dave Trott, Bob Hoffman and Rory Sutherland among a pitifully few others who loudly, articulately and frequently declaim and define the continuing value of strategically apt, creatively arresting advertising, but the spokespeople for our industry are more often than not holding company tools whose sole goal it seems is to distance their own ‘brands’ as far from the pariah advertising as they can.
Which, given the rampant confusion among marketers about how and where they need to communicate with their customers, the enormous uncertainty surrounding the efficacy of alternatives, and continuing evidence for the effectiveness of advertising, is about as smarmy as it gets.