How you see the Gillette ad is like how you see Ferris Bueller. Kind of.

I love an online furore, me.

Have you see the new Gillette advert? Boys will be boys? It’s been hard to miss.

After all the campaigns empowering our mothers, sisters, and daughters – from This girl can to Like a girl to Blood normal us chaps finally have our own bonafide ‘purpose’ campaign.

Except this one is for Gillette and the other campaigns were for um…bodyform? I dunno.

But let’s leave aside whether purpose based campaigns are worthwhile for now. In Healthcare we take a brands purpose as a given, improving lives, saving lives, but in consumer it’s still a point of contention.

Either way, Gillette has 50% of the razor market, which ordinarily would make this kind of decision – to get stuck in to a political arena – unthinkable, because why risk that massive brand leadership position to virtue signal?

Which makes their decision all the more brave, stupid or smart, depending on whether you see the ad as half full or half empty.

Because whether you identify with the men being ‘corrected’ or the men doing the ‘correcting’ determines how you see the film.

If you don’t see how identifying with characters makes a difference to your interpretation (of anything) try watching a favourite film from your youth, thirty years later. When I first saw it I, like you I dare say, thought Ferris Bueller was the coolest kid ever. Thirty years on and all I can feel is the horror of a father whose precious Ferrari is trashed by some spoilt kids who aren’t taking their education seriously.

I was first made aware of this new Gillette campaign over my porridge when an incensed Piers Morgan had a tantrum on ITV, here on UK breakfast TV.

It’s my own fault, but BBC breakfast is quite the snore-fest.

Of course, Piers spectacularly missed the point of the commercial and thought it was about not being masculine. He was in the glass half empty camp and only saw men being corrected. How very dare they.

In terms of identifying, make of that what you will.

Because Piers (and quite a lot of other online-people too apparently) clearly thinks evolving from a pre #metoo male in to any kind of aware human being means being all weedy and not beating up softy types and not being able to pinch girls bottoms, catcall and mansplain all over the place.

Clearly some of his favourite things to do and a definitive mark of a man* (*Old Spice strapline 1970’s BTW)

I quickly started scanning twitter responses. The anger was pretty substantial, it must be said.

“I will never use Gillette products again!”

“it’s an attack on manhood and masculinity”

Were just some of the comments I’ve made up, but accurately sum up the reaction.

But does that mean it was universally hated?

Have you been on twitter recently? As someone in my office pointed out, the kind of people who get incensed about this kind of thing all live on Twitter and the comment section of Youtube.

So is there a silent majority who would actually champion this kind of brave and purpose driven marketing – or at least the message at its heart – but who just don’t tend to bother shouting in to the internet’s infinite void about it?

Maybe.

Going online this morning (the day after) and the tide seems to have changed. The supporters have come out in force. Yesterday it was 10 attackers to every 1 defender in terms of thumbs up or down on Youtube. This morning it’s down to 2:1.

Not a knock out punch but a definite bounce back. (assuming there’s not been any shenanigans with the numbers)

So, call me controversial, but I want to show Gillette some love.

They’ve taken a sensitive issue and been brave enough to nail their colours to its mast. Good for them. What better brand to do this?

And what better time?

Three years ago this campaign would have been unthinkable. Today it’s controversial, in twenty years time it will seem quaint.

I mean think of how far we’ve come since the 50s.

Advertising has always reflected our society. Always made semi political statements, even without knowing. After all, there was a time when these ads were perfectly acceptable and seen as funny even.

When brands realised they were out of step, they changed. Perhaps this is what Piers thinks appeals to real men and mourns these campaigns?

I doubt it.

Okay, the Gillette ad is a little cheesy for my British palette, it looks a little like the agency presented the mood reel for the strategy and the client pointed at the screen and said let’s run it!

And I found parts of it a little patronising. Plus I wish it had been handled with a lighter touch. It is quite a blunt instrument with no nuance or subtlety.

But I must admit I identified with the men trying to do the right thing more than the men who weren’t.

But it wasn’t always so.

In my youth I’m not sure I was as aware of what I said and did as I am today, more through ignorance than malice. Age, experience and this whole movement has made some of us question our actions, but more importantly see what we hadn’t seen before.

Maybe I won’t comment on what she’s wearing. Maybe I won’t make a dick joke. Maybe I will listen more and not interrupt.

Most men try to do the right thing. But also most men are a product of their upbringing.

I grew up in the seventies, when it really was a man’s world, admen were men, clients were men, and so were the women (to paraphrase an 80’s Leagas Delaney Timberland ad). Today’s young men have the benefit of a somewhat more balanced media world and have been exposed to opinions and messages that emanate from a more diverse range of voices.

The seventies and eighties style Gillette ad, glossy women fawning over square-jawboned men would simply not resonate with our sons today. They’re as outdated as those 50s print ads.

And literally nobody ever talked about Gillette ads back then. They were sometimes parodied or spoofed, but as advertising campaigns they were like toilet roll or cat food, just something glossy to reassure you they worked well enough.

Now suddenly Gillette is relevant. Topical and has purpose.

Suddenly it’s the number one trending topic on Twitter.

As any adman will tell you, getting noticed is the first and most important thing any ad has to do. Without that, everything else is meaningless.

So are the predictions of brand suicide without merit?

Mark Ritson in Marketing week:

“…But in Gillette’s case there is a bigger price to pay. There is a special place in marketing hell for companies that not only waste their marketing budgets but actually invest that money into things that ultimately make their situation much worse. That’s going to be the cost of this foray into brand purpose for Gillette.

It has spent its own money to make its still excellent commercial situation indelibly less positive at a time when it can ill afford the misstep, given the many alternatives vying for its sales. And for that we should stand back and appreciate what might turn out to be the worst marketing move of the whole year.”

It’s an interesting article and I can see his point, but I for one will be renewing my purchase of their blades. They work well enough, so what’s not to like?

We’ll see how Gillette sales do over the coming weeks and months.

But bear in mind this:

People always hate change, when Heineken famously dropped doing beer campaigns with ‘busty barmaids’ ( a phrase that’s all but died out it’s just occurred to me) their research groups were up in arms. Heineken refreshes the parts that other beers cannot reach??? what a load of bollocks, they said, bring back our barmaids!

And yet, it became one of the greatest ad campaigns of all time – at least in the UK.

So, if the Gillette ad makes someone think twice before saying or acting inappropriately and link that action back to the brand, then all well and good.

And so what that it’s a mere razor brand who is doing that. Their brand relies on ‘The best a man can get’ and if that meaning has to change from adoring women and fast cars to a higher standard of behaviour, then that’s moving positively with the times.

And I suspect that the customer base that Mark Ritson worries will desert Gillette on point of principle will un-ruffle their feathers soon enough when they realise that not being an asshole is actually an ok thing to be.

Apart from Piers Morgan obviously.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You take the high-brow I’ll take the low.

Before Easter I took a trip to the US and Canada to visit our agencies in my new capacity as Le Grand Fromage Creative de la CDM.

My ‘talk to the troops’, or as our CEO Kyle Barich described it, my ‘Stump’ speech was a way of introducing myself to those who had no idea who I was or how I got the job or what the job was. It was also a chance to share some of my thinking about creativity and pharma and whatnot.

I hadn’t reckoned on the North American weather though and so the trip was somewhat compromised by a shit ton of snow which decided to disrupt a promising spring in New York, so sadly I never made it to Montreal. It was like the scene in Home Alone when the mum tries to get back to save Kevin and due to no flights has to share a bus with a Polka band, lead by John Candy.

Well, there was no touring Polka band but the frustration was similar.

I managed a quick visit to our Princeton agency but these were guys who’ve become extreme weather experts and weren’t dumb enough to attempt to make it in to the agency with two feet of snow forecast, so a small band of hardened professionals were left holding the fort, while the others worked remotely.

Nevertheless as a small part of my ‘stump speech’ I started to grow more fond of this notion of where ideas come from and how it needn’t be the high brow visits to art galleries and French independent films that supply all the ideas to steal, I mean..ahem..be inspired by.

As you know, if you are looking for inspiration, by the time you come to sit down with a pencil and paper and try and think of something it’s already too late if there’s nothing in the idea bank. You need to be making deposits all the time.

For a creative you never know when the visual or intellectual stimuli will resurface. Even a night in the Hyatt in a business park in New Jersey can provide fodder at some point.

(Right now I can’t think what, but the 1970’s decor and cold scrambled egg was a delight and may pay dividends some day!)

But I digress.

This idea for a flexible fabric Bandaid would only have come from someone who’d skipped the Rauschenburg retrospective at the Tate Modern and gone to watch a Marvel movie instead. I love this idea, yes I know it’s just a print ad, but the thinking is so pure no copy, beyond what the product does, is necessary.

Similarly this idea for Wonderbra swimwear has a delightful simplicity that can only have come from a few viewings of Finding Nemo.

But it’s also not about just watching films, arty or otherwise. (although I highly recommend it)

I was reminded of this when I read about how Dan Weiden (founder of Weiden and Kennedy) who among other things wrote the famous Nike line ‘Just do it’.

Who would have though that his inspiration would have come from the last words of the famous American killer Gary Gilmore.

As the firing squad lined up and he was strapped in to his chair he just said ‘Let’s do it’.

Dan wanted something that would inspire professionals and amateurs alike, an attitude he could apply to the brand and this somehow popped in to his head.

He didn’t like ‘let’s’ in copy, so he changed it to ‘Just’.

And the rest is adland history.

We can get so tied up in our heads that we disregard the everyday creativity and attitudes that surround us. The conversations on the bus, the random acts of graffiti wit on walls. If we want to relate to people on a people basis the more ways we can find to repackage the familiar in unfamiliar ways the easier our job will be.

And so little of it comes from staring at our phones while life goes on around us.

Our clients and customers aren’t art critics or film buffs. They like populist work, they like pop tunes and they like best selling novels about crime and love (okay and maybe science).

So by all means check out the Turner prize winners, go to the opera but also next Sunday when you’re lazily skimming through Netflix in a fug of hangover, take a look at that Pixar movie and well …

… Just do it.

 

Starting out as a creative? Get Creative.

When I started out, after a period traveling around the USA with a backpack, I decided to give this lark a proper go.

I found myself a writer out of Watford Copywriting school to partner with (I was very much an art director then) and Rob and I started to get a book together.

We had a rather short list, like many ambitious creatives, of where we wanted to work.

In the 80s GGT was the agency every young creative wanted to work at, the Droga 5, Adama & Eve DDB or Mother of its day. We even turned our nose up at JWT…JWT? who did we think we were!

What we never considered was going the Pharma route.

Not glam enough. No TV. Maybe that was it, but also we just never knew about it or saw anything it produced.

But what we needed were placements at agencies, a short internship that could get us some experience and a foot in the door.

Even today most agencies, consumer agencies at least, still get requests for placements from young teams and some agencies even have to put you on a waiting list, to work for them for free.

This was before minimum wage laws. We had to finance the placement ourselves and make up the shortfall by nicking all the markers and layout pads we could get our hands on. (Apologies to Y&R circa 1986)

But placements were also a way of networking, getting some briefs under our belt.

Rob and I did a hundred and ten ‘book crits’ with every hack in town and ten months trudging the streets before we got offered a job, I dare say it would take more these days.

But today when it’s harder than ever to get a foothold, why do creatives still avoid placements in pharma agencies?

Take a look at the work that’s happening in Cannes, Clios and the Creative Floor awards. Anyone involved in that kind of work would sail in to a decent consumer agency surely?

And yet, I’ve not really heard of any student teams looking in Pharma for a month’s placement.

Not one. Never even been asked.

Okay, the briefs are sometimes more tricky but the opportunities are there.

The way I see it (with hindsight) is that 90% of the placements creatives do in any agency, do not end up in a job anyway so what have you got to lose?

Everyone has the dream of being plucked by a top agency but like footballers if you stay too choosy you can miss out on some great football matches in the lower league and in doing so, improve your skills.

There’s a reason why the top clubs loan out their players to the lower leagues; to get experience.

So, if you are a young creative team looking for placements, would you rather be on that waiting list at BBH or AMV that might get bumped to next year or get a foot in the creative door and start making stuff?

If I had my time again, I might have at least taken a look.

But where to start?

Try doing what we did, scour the award websites, see which work you like and give them a call. ( ok, these days its an email or tweet!)

You never know, you might even like it.

 

 

Is Pharmaland a one way ticket?

I recently had a phone conversation with a Creative guy who was uncertain about a move to a CD role in Pharmaland.

He had some legitimate concerns.

Would he be forever labelled as a ‘pharma-creative’ with all the mediocrity that that would imply. Could he ever get back in to consumerland after having the ‘Pharma stink’ on his clothes?

He didn’t put it like that but it’s what he meant.

I remember from my days in consumer the disdain that all self-respecting-ATL creatives had at the time for the lower divisions.

By the lower divisions I mean the BTL lot, the Direct lot, the Digital lot, the global lot.

You know…what all creatives are nowadays.

It wasn’t overt, but when a creative left to join a healthcare agency there was always the same reaction, a mixture of pity and there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-like thankfulness it wasn’t you (yet). Like the scene in THE GREAT ESCAPE where the little Scottish guy runs at the fencing shouting “I cannee take it any more!!!” before getting gunned down by the guards.

We looked up, nodded them a farewell and returned solemnly to our desks writing ideas that would never make it beyond a special account handling department file labelled ‘Meeting fodder‘.

This was the life!

As I spoke with my new consumer-creative acquaintance I even surprised myself with my now solidified passion for Pharma, now that there is clear water between my old career and this one, it seems I have gone native.

And what’s worse, I don’t even care.

Because what’s so great about consumer these days? have you seen the work that is on our outdoor posters recently? have you watched a TV break? when was the last time you asked anyone if they saw ‘that ad’ last night.

Believe it or not, that used to happen a lot.

Sadly, the most memorable ad of late is probably the diabolical Pepsi debacle.

Maybe the ‘content pieces’ that seem to emerge from somewhere or other and find their way on to your Facebook page are all that’s left of a once heavily populated ocean of opportunities, deftly avoiding months of focus groups and re-briefs. Occasionally there is the odd socially motivated film that gets shared, about how we should all just get along and have a beer (insert brand). That kind of thing. Fair enough.

There are some great humanitarian campaigns about empowering girls, or teaching the world to read.

I’m sure there are some other great campaigns but I can’t really remember them.

So, I wonder why a consumer advertising career is still attractive to a young creative person. It’s now much more about tactical thinking, direct targeting and content platforms than it is about launching new brands to the world. That’s much like Pharma, but we still get to launch brands all the time.

And consumer-land isn’t even much of a haven for heavy drinkers anymore.

These days many of the restrictions and legal limitations that a consumer brand faces are similar to those in healthcare, at least creatively speaking. No use of clever language please, no regional in-jokes etc because the world wants global ideas.

(Customers don’t want or need global ideas, but corporations do.)

Ok, so Pharma has a bunch more self-imposed restrictions than just that but the creative opportunities, when they arise, are just as potent.

It’s all about what you do, as a creative, with those opportunities. And recognising them as such in the first place.

Okay, you counter –  it’s the clients and target markets that are worse in Pharmaland. They’re very literal and unsophisticated (never understood why) and obviously consumer clients are more media-savvy and braver.

Can they be any worse than whoever insisted upon or bought and signed off these attempts? It seems now its quicker to bypass creative teams and go straight from brief to production.

So much for the un-shackled glamour and creative opportunities of a career in consumer. At least in Pharmaland there are no pack shots, (just big logos) to substitute for an idea.

Anyway, back to my creative guy: I just heard he accepted the job. Good for him.

He’ll find that Pharmaland isn’t a land devoid of budgets, cool people or creativity.

There are some cool people and creativity.

Ok, definitely creativity.

Occasionally.

And if it is a one way ticket, then that suits me fine.