Turning judgemental.

It’s been an interesting year for judging awards shows, from my perspective.

Two down, one to go.

Last November I joined a small band of creatives and clients in judging the PM Society awards. As you may know, these awards guarantee a winner in all categories. Some people find that against the principle of an award, but like sport you can only beat who they put in front of you and I think a show that celebrates the best of the year in the UK still has a valid role.

The only problem is, it isn’t the best, it’s just the best of what was entered because some agencies don’t see their worth.  And for 2018 it appears print categories will be judges by HCPs as well as Creative Directors and we all know where that could lead! so reintroduce graphs in to your ads and up those call to actions and its a shoe in.

For me, this is a slight step backwards and will only discourage the more creative agencies to stay away. Then again, who actually does print ads any more?

Nevertheless here are the other new categories that are helping the show up their game.

A new Disease Awareness category for HCPs, alongside the existing one for patients.
A new category for Film & Animation aimed at patients, alongside one for HCPs.
A new category for the Best Use of Insight in campaign development
Direct Mail material should now be entered into the Interactive Communications category.

The work that wins at the PMs generally, with some exceptions (ahem), is not the kind of work that does particularly well at other more prestigious shows like Cannes or the Clios. But what I like about the PM awards is that they feel honest and reflective of the work we do every day. Plus they’re not cluttered by international agencies muscleing in.

And clients like them and frankly an old fashioned piss up with a client and a chunk of perspex to lose in the taxi on the way home, takes me back to the old days when D&AD was hosted at the Grosvenor house and advertising was still a hoot (and for some a toot).

I recently was asked to join the London Chapter of THE GLOBALS by the one time Bruce Springsteen lookalikey and all round creative superstar Dick Dunford, a partner at Loooped, who had volunteered his services. A little higher percentage of creative top brass here but given that these entries were from a worldwide market, I must say the quality wasn’t that different. Just a little bustier in the budget department and a little gooeyer in the sacarin department.

Hours went by without sight of a decent idea. There were also three campaigns that were so similar, being for a similar type of client, no matter how respectable or worthy they were they managed to cancel each other out by the fact that we couldn’t remember if we’d seen it already and if we had, which client it was for.

All that separated them was a typeface.

When that happens you’ve already lost the room.

The golden rule of being prudent with the number of entries you submit for fear of ‘death by entry’ was totally ignored by one particular agency. Mentioning no names, but by the ninth time it came up we were all ready to confess to anything.

Another entrant added a 70 page PDF complete with the brief and disease background etc. We have five minutes to judge your entry, that document was longer than some pitch decks.

Another hopeful had the client in the case-video saying how great they thought their entry was.

Sorry, but we’ll be the judge of that.

Thankfully a few gems rose to the top and made it worthwhile. It’s funny how just being different in the category can give you a massive head start. An idea is like a gasp of fresh air.

And so to my trip next week to Las Vegas and the inaugural ‘Pharma and Health and Wellness’ categories at the LIA awards.

The cast list looks impressive and I am honoured to be asked, obviously.

I mean, who could turn down a trip to Las Vegas and a chance to hang out with some top creative brass?

As I mentioned this to the chums at the Global judging day, we realised that probably some of these very same entries would be raising their head again. I mean, if you enter a campaign that many times you have to be pretty damn sure it’s wonderful.

How we laughed.

So if you are about to start work on your entries for an awards show remember a couple of things.

I’ve said them before but it’s worth repeating.

Don’t hide your light under a bushel! Jurors won’t sit through a voiceoverless video of someone scrolling through a website if it’s not immediately apparent what makes it great.

Please be prudent with your entries. Unless they are all the standard of the early VW ads by DDB, repeat viewing can strip a half decent idea down to its naked, brutal mediocrity.

Just ask yourself; does this break the category norms? If it doesn’t and is just a decent job, then its probably likely someone else has a similar campaign and all that hard work will be dismissed in a heartbeat.

All juries get excited by ideas, not just execution. And vice versa.

Finally, one of my favourite ads of the day – because it made me laugh – was a short little radio ad. If it’s good it doesn’t matter what the medium, or how tiny the budget, it will shine.

To me at least.

Happy award hunting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Releasing the Lions.

So the week is over, and Lions Health is a distant Rose-tinted memory.

It’s been a weird period with the new CEO of Publicis, Arthur Sadoun, risking pissing off his entire creative workforce by pulling out from entering Cannes 2018 or indeed any awards, in order to spend money on an internal collaboration tool called ‘Marcel’.

The nations headhunters just got a whole new bunch of candidates.

To me it just shows a fundamental misunderstanding of creatives, and the point of awards in general, let alone Cannes.

But let’s not forget there was a whole heap of griping from the world’s Healthcare agencies about how the whole Lions Health event is unrepresentative of what we do and therefore why should we bother?

So let’s explore that.

I’ve given myself a little time for the whole thing to sink in before immediately rushing out a strongly worded blog, because, having slept on it, it’s not as easy as just saying that the awards are irrelevant to what we do every day. It’s my belief that they serve a higher purpose than just representing the best of our day to day briefs. They do inspire and the high bar is there for a reason.

Nevertheless, something is wrong when Healthcare agencies are squeezed out of their own award show.

In the Health and Wellness category, the consumer agencies marched in like Hells Angels at a teenage house party then they undid their flies and whopped a driving safety campaign out on the kitchen work top.

Put a more delicate way, it was like watching Torquay United play Real Madrid.  To quote my imaginary Torquay manager’s post match interview, “We could have had a chance if we could have just gotten the ball”.

(The analogies are pouring out of me today!)

In other words it’s hard to compete with the awesome effects of a milk advert and the impressive blend of science and art of ‘Graham’  if you don’t get those briefs.

If you think I’m being alarmist, out of the 80 pieces that won guess how many were specialists in Healthcare?

Two.

It was more of a warm up for them and easy points for their CEO dick measuring competitions, so the word around town was pretty much that that category was now lost to our big budget consumer brethren and you’d be mad to enter anything in it.

Which Lions Health should be concerned about, but Pharma agencies need to be canny with their precious entry budgets.

The H&W category had something like two and a half thousand entries and Pharma had around 600.

So could Pharma come to our rescue? show some much needed reflection of our day jobs?

Well, of course all the agencies that did win were from pockets of Pharmaland but there were only a handful of actual branded pharma clients. The Pro-Bono gang (another motorcycle gang but with smarter jeans and Japanese made bikes) had moved in and the more ethnic and third-world the plight that the idea was solving, the more brilliant the idea.

The most awarded campaign in the Pharma category was “The Immunity Charm” – created by McCann Health New Delhi for The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) in Afghanistan.

It was a simple creative solution that harnessed a long-standing cultural tradition of new born babies wearing lucky bracelets. The coloured beads on the bracelets were then used as a communication system between HCPs as to what inoculations the child had had and it provided mothers with a powerful new incentive to get their children vaccinated.

No one can deny that it was a worthy winner. Except it didn’t win the Grand Prix. Why? because it was a public health campaign and as such ineligible.

But why no branded work? A good friend of mine was on the jury and according to her the quality ‘just wasn’t there’.

It’s always going to be hard to compare simply improving sales of a drug to a device or programme that saves lives. (Check out Area 23’s Trafficking concept) but surely there is a possibility that we can do that kind of work?

So is it right that we all stand around at the gutter bar feeling disillusioned? Who can we blame? The clients? The regulations? The budgets? The PI? The HCPs themselves?

Well maybe, it’s all of these other factors. But Lions Health will always get my support.

I think of it this way: Bear with me.

I once tried for a job at Gold Greenless Trott, back in the 80’s. I’ve mentioned Dave Trott before and his influence over a generation of creatives. Read his blogs if you get a chance.

We took our book in to see a CD there, called Paul Grubb. He liked one thing in our book, so told us to go away and do another book in a week.

In a week? this book had taken us three months!

Anyway we worked morning noon and night and duly returned to see him the following week.

He liked two things. He told us to go away and do it again.

Again? Jesus. Well, we really wanted a job there so we knuckled down again.

We struggled but returned the following week and he looked at the work and said he liked a couple of things.

So what then?

Yup, a third week ensued.

But the fourth time we went there, he simply said ‘congratulations, you’ve now got a really good book and you should get a job somewhere soon.’ We felt duped but…

He was right, we had and pretty soon we did.

And that’s how we need to see Lions Health. It’s a different game at this level. Our ‘nice for pharma’ won’t cut it anymore.

If we have one eye on the standard that is required to win, before we submit that work to a client, it might just give you a different parameter to judge it by and thereby even improve the industry’s work as a whole, hang the awards…the clients will benefit won’t they?

We might have to work harder to get that client to buy it, and we might have to work harder to get the budget to make it. But that’s what it takes in any agency.

In the end what no one wants to consider is that we don’t have the chops to win in our own awards show.

So, what are going to do?

Withdraw or up our game?

 

 

 

 

(By the way, GGT did offer us a job about three years later, which we turned down because we couldn’t afford to start again from the bottom…one of the big regrets of my career)

 

 

 

 

 

When political parties forget they’re a brand

There will be many observations made about this election in June 2017, but here’s mine.

There’s a very simple set of principles in advertising.

Over the years, if you watch closely, you can see them played out in various campaigns to great effect. You can also see when those principles are ignored and disasters ensue.

Principles like how a brand leader behaves and how a challenger brand behaves.

There is one area where the two major brands constantly swop roles and can behave differently depending on their position at any given time. Indeed how they behave can define their role.

One could argue that, going in to the election, the Conservatives were the brand leader in this case with the polls predicting a landslide and labour was the challenger.

If you are a brand leader you don’t concern yourself with your challenger brands.

You don’t find Coke talking about Pepsi. You don’t see Apple talking about Samsung. If you are a brand leader you set out your stall with confidence in the knowledge your offering is superior.

Samsung talks about Apple though. That’s the challenger’s role. What’s so great about Apple phones anyway? we have this that and the other and they don’t.

The challenger needs to disrupt, bite at the heels of the brand leader. We’re number 2, so we try harder.

So here’s my theory.

Over the course of the election Labour adopted the brand leader positioning and Conservatives were adopting a challenger role.

Nobody had told them they didn’t need to challenge labour.

The Conservative’s approach was a ‘strong and stable’ leadership. No solid policies, no clear manifesto. Their strategy was ‘we’re not that bunch of deadbeats’.

‘Not being something else’ is never great when its said from a superior position. It just sounds smug.

The Left went for a clear and honest manifesto. They didn’t try and slag off Theresa May, they left that to the electorate.

This somehow put the Labour party in to a positioning of brand leader. They were looking straight ahead, this is what we are going to do. Make your choice.

While the Tories insisted they were the only choice, without giving us much of a reason.

And lo and behold the Labour vote surged.

Sometimes the only thing holding a brand back is the way it talks and behaves. Alpha people behave like alpha people, they don’t need permission.

The Tories campaign came from what research must have told them. People want a strong and stable leadership, so they kept saying ‘we’re strong and stable’. It was the political equivalent of a 1950’s ad campaign with an annoying slogan that just gets repeated over and over.

‘You’ll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent”

People often confuse what they say with how they want to be perceived.

Labour behaved strong and stable and won the argument.

They came across as honest, earnest and thought through, a few minor Dianne Abbot interviews notwithstanding.

Maybe it wasn’t quite enough, but in terms of brands Labour went from no hopers to contenders in a very short space of time.

Now somehow we’re in a world where May won but lost and Corbyn lost but won.

But I know who’ll be keeping their job.

 

 

Throwing money at a problem

Everyone has a story they tell when they dine out or meet new people. Mine is about the time I found myself in the lift with all of the members of U2 and was greeted by Elton John.

But that’s for another time.

My brother-in-law Dermot has a story that he used to tell a lot, but these days he will only bring out if you insist. So I tell it here instead, with his kind permission, mainly because it illustrates a reasonable point about creativity but it’s also a pretty good tale in itself.

It happened back when Mullets ruled the hairdressers and band names sounded like the ramblings of an eight month old baby (Kajagoogoo? no? oh please yourselves) and the internet was just a twinkle in Tim Berners-lee’s eye.

Our story starts on a fine spring day in a ski resort somewhere in the Alps when Dermot and two friends, Henric and Mike went off for an afternoon’s skiing. Such a fine day in fact that he decided, as people often do, that a jacket was surplus to requirements.

It was one of those afternoons where the sun reflects off the slopes and turns the whole mountain in to a giant reflector, the sky was a pastel blue and the snow was powdery and perfect. Bliss.

The other two cursed him as they sweated in their jackets and the three friends, all pretty good skiers, decided to take a detour and go ‘off piste’.

It must have been an hour or so later when they realised they had taken a wrong turn, missed a marker or sign and now were completely lost.

It was getting darker, but they carried on down the mountain anyway, thinking they were sure to find a route somewhere.

They chopped through the trees, weaving their way down when they abruptly came to a cliff and all three narrowly avoided going over the edge. That was close, they thought, but things were about to get a lot worse.

By now it was now almost totally dark and now it was getting freezing. They were properly in the shit.

And Dermot only had a sweater on.

They couldn’t risk walking in the dark and going over another ledge, so they reasoned they would have to make a camp there and spend the night on the mountain.

This was before mobile phones, and they hadn’t thought to tell anyone of their plans. Nobody would miss three guys in their twenties who didn’t come home all night.

They tried to make a fire. They had a cigarette lighter, no cigarettes of course, but nothing would burn.

They destroyed their skiis trying to use them as axes on the pine tree branches but no luck.

They would have to survive with no fire and no food.

If only they had some paper!

They dug a hole out of the snow with what was left of their skiis and cuddled up.

Stupidly they tried to sleep, which you shouldn’t do if you are in sub zero temperatures as you can quickly sink in to a coma.

Nevertheless Henric and Mike sandwiched Dermot between them to share body heat.

Dermot usually says at this point ‘I told them that if one of them needed to pee to just do it on me’ because the cold was so intense.

It was a long night, during which they all genuinely thought that they were done for.

As the first light appeared around 4am they were relieved to discover that they were still alive, if a little urine sodden. Slowly they made their way back up the mountain, (in 1980’s ski boots) trying to find a route down.

By 3pm that afternoon they eventually made it back to some kind of civilisation. A town that wasn’t where they were staying but had a taxi that would take them back to their village.

Exhausted, hungry and grateful for their lives they arrived back at their hotel.

Now, you may be wondering what all this has to do with finding a simple obvious answer.

The story would have ended there, a lucky escape and cautionary tale about the perils of mountain conditions. But as they entered the chalet, Henric, nonchalantly produced some money to pay the cab.

He has been sitting on a thick wedge of cash.

Paper.

Paper that they could have burned to start a fire.

But it never crossed his mind. Money wasn’t paper to him. It was money.

Sometimes the best ideas aren’t that hard to find, you just need to know where to look. You just need to think a bit differently about the familiar. What good creatives are able to do, rather like good comedians, is take the ordinary and twist it in to new shapes and present it back to you in new ways.

So it’s not always about new media, or new techniques.

Sometimes it’s just about looking afresh at something you’ve seen a million times before.

And setting light to 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.

 

 

Award show jury members are thickos.

So it’s been Pharma-awards season recently and we have a few on the horizon.

Did your agency enter work this year but not garner the adulation you expected?

We’ve all been there.

If so, there’s a reason for it and it isn’t necessarily because your work wasn’t good enough.

It’s because jurors are well….a bit thick.

I should know, I have often been one and I am thicker than Simon Cowell’s platform heels.

You may reasonably deduce that your work wasn’t good enough, but really…because of the general fuckwittery of us jurors it was probably more accurately – your entry wasn’t good enough.

Yes, in the midst of that excited preparation of entries for creative awards it’s easy to forget who your target market is.

Frustratingly, juries are made up in the most part, not from sciencey people, clients or account people who know the brief, the brand and the disease area but the kind of cool kids who would copy your homework at school and still somehow get less marks than you.

Otherwise known as other creatives.

I know. It seems unfair.

And what compounds the problem is that it’s usually us banana-brained flowery-shirted neanderthals who prepare the entries. It would be a vicious circle if the people involved on both sides were smart enough to be vicious.

You see, your entry may have made a few basic, not unreasonable assumptions.

These are that:

  1. Jurors would bother to find out what disease the brand was indicated for, if it wasn’t obvious.
  2. Jurors would bother to read the 5pt font that explained what the idea was because the concept page was printed on A4 but designed in A3.
  3. Jurors would instinctively know what the work was trying to achieve.
  4. A video of the app in use with no commentary and crudely shot on an iPhone would hold their attention beyond the first five seconds.
  5. A case history video rushed together on the morning of the deadline with no voice over and subtitles so quick that they could induce epilepsy was sufficient to fully capture the glory of the whole project.
  6. That in a case history video Jurors will be captivated by the five minute testimony of the client’s conference delegates, telling them how much ‘they loved the stand’ because your agency didn’t re-edit it for awards and just used the one you used for creds meetings.

If you made any of these assumptions without making allowances for we sludge-brained amoeba that sit on juries you might be hiding your light under the tinsiest of bushels.

From what I’ve seen, the work that does well in any awards show (certainly for any craft category) isn’t just a good idea…it’s well presented with the concept up front and personal, with some legible copy explaining the brief and why the solution is what it is.

Make it easy for a horses-arse like me, and just like your lovely work that needs to be recognised as such, keep it simple.

Then cross your fingers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Mr Hammer, your problem isn’t a nail.

Aren’t all branding ideas sort of advertising ideas and vice versa?

Well, sometimes, I guess, but not always.

In Pharmaland we can lean towards treating every problem as if it needs a good whack on the head. Give it a brand image that people will remember, plaster it all over the congress stand and the iPad and stand back.

Not you obviously, but you know…other agencies.

The most recent Mr Muscle campaign highlights the often subtle differences between what (I regard as an..) advertising idea and a brand idea. Both have found their way in to an adspace mind you.

Now, I am not saying that this is the greatest campaign of all time, but it provides a useful, albeit mediocre, example.

The old campaign featured, for years, a feeble nerd who took on super strength because of the product. Mr Muscle loves the jobs you hate.

screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-17-29-24 screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-17-29-46

Yes, irony folks. But it worked because people could see the role of the brand in their life.

Then after a 30 year successful run some sort of global adboard switches it around and makes the product a superhero (yawn), complete with muscles and a square chin. Not sure why he’s animated but never mind.

One shows the user having a clear benefit.

The other says the brand is great.

journal-mr-muscle

I can imagine the team somewhere deciding that the weedy guy was too negative, he didn’t embody the brand in a positive way.

“I think people might think the product is weedy too…I just feel it’s too negative”.

“Good point Gustav, what we need is a more positive image.”

“Yes, and we need a woman in there so housewives can relate to the user – because men don’t really do cleaning”

“Thanks Maria, good point.”

That Maria is a bit sexist if you ask me.

To my mind they fundamentally lost what makes a good advertising idea work.

The hero is all about the brand, the weedy guy is all about the benefit to you, the bathroom attendant and therefore the brand.

Truth is, clients can often miss the point and go straight to what the pictures in front of them appear to be saying purely on a visual level.

It’s the semiotic argument.

But to paraphrase Eric Morecombe, do all the right notes in the wrong order still add up to a concerto?

At one point in the third act of the film ‘Notting Hill’, you’ll remember that Hugh Grant and the gang all pile in to a small car with a lion in its logo. The cookie sister shouts to Rhys Evans as he squeezes in to the boot ‘You’re my hero’ and they whizz off to stop Julia Roberts from leaving town, to the tune of ‘Gimme some Lovin’.

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I only found out about this a couple of years ago that this was a secret sponsorship, product-placement kind of a deal, brokered by the the account director on the car account I used to work on.

Unsurprisingly, it bypassed our creative department entirely.

It showed the family car could take a lot of people (obviously) and the ‘hero’ line was spot on the branding strategy about heroes that that particular car brand was employing at the time.

The client loved it. They couldn’t sign up quick enough.

That little deal cost them about £150k and it went straight in to the pocket of Working Title films and became an iconic moment in a much loved movie.

But wait a bloody minute.

I’ve seen that film a dozen times and all I saw was a group of friends jumping in a car and driving though london.

And I worked on the brand!

All the right notes, not necessarily in the right order.

Maybe it had some semiotic effect that I don’t know about, but even with all those branding elements that the client held dear and spent millions on, it still didn’t add up to an actual message.

Pharmaland is full of images that capture the ‘brand essence’ or even the MOA without making a connection with the doctor or end user in any meaningful way. We mistake branding ideas for ideas that connect with our audience, the orange bridge, the blue apple, or I dunno….the red sodding banana all probably encapsulate their respective brands perfectly, without ever actually meaning a bloody thing.

What we need in Pharmaland, heck even adland in general, is less hammers looking for nails and more advertising ideas.

Or at the very least, to be able to know the difference.