Don’t stand so close to the brief

John Lewis have done one thing right when it comes to advertising. They’ve certainly got us talking.

Like a panicky pitch meeting, everyone has an opinion on their campaigns. They’re analysed, dissected, often sympathised with – who would want to be the copywriter handed that brief – you would? Yes, I know, we all would. But, I am certain that on the day an advertising creative gets handed the John Lewis Christmas Ad brief, somewhere a dove cries. Or a fox or a penguin. Or whatever.

Always be asking, ‘so what?’

Yet this new re-brand is a classic case of the client, the planners and possibly the creative team, being too close to the brief.

The point is, I don’t feel the whole brand awareness about their partnership actually matters to the consumer. And it all feels like old news.

What the consumer now wants is the signal that John Lewis aren’t a dying brand, and that our die-hard staples of old have something new and vibrant to bring to the table. Because let’s face it, to release this in a week that has seen redundancies along with the CEO of John Lewis talking about generational retail landscape change of the like that has never been known before, well. I’m willing to bet that the whole, ‘we’re awesome’ message just rings empty for most consumers.

What I really want to know is, how are you going to solve the problem of non-shopping? Now that is a proposition. Tell me how you can cure the ailing high street of its woes, and leave Brexit out of it. Britishness is being pedalled out by brands across the land right now.

The lazy post-Brexit vote brief

Just yesterday Vauxhall’s radio ad explained what ‘fomo’ was to me and how they are a British car maker. Good news for the ageing Brexit listener. Not so interesting for the rest of us who are likely to really cringe at it. I’d also wager this is the totally wrong demographic for Vauxhall. They need to think younger. But that aside, it’s a huge job to make people pay out for a high impact spend just because it is British.

Never underestimate your customer

Same goes for JL and Waitrose. I am target market, judging by their latest Bohemian Rhapsody advert. But as their new Waitrose direct mail suggests, I am not going to be making Baked Sea Bas with a Black Garlic Parcel this weekend.

No, I will be dipping into Sainsbury’s magazine telling me how to save money on meals whilst giving me what is one of the best educational children’s editorial I have seen  – the new Lego sticker album. Now that is a brand partnership with legs, albeit plastic ones.

Actually, the Sainsbury’s store I visited was awful inside and needed a total revamp. John Lewis and Waitrose may well have cleaner looking floors, but more is needed to boost customer loyalty.

Retail brands should start with the in-store experience to drive footfall – as indeed their Oxford Street revamp aims to do – rather than spend millions on shiny ads and rebrands that are simply unbelievable for the average consumer. John Lewis would do well to put the product back into its advertising and show the quality and price points to attract our attention.

There you go partners, you can have that one for free.

Ask, are you too close to the work?

I guess it helps that I’m coming at this with fresh eyes, but any copywriter worth their salt will have probably interrogated the brief and made this suggestion already. Sometimes, clients need to listen and know when to trust the professionals.

Unfortunately, for John Lewis, like the baked sea bass, this one reeks of blinkered thinking.

Let’s hope Christmas has something more to offer…

 

 

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The business of outrage

People are so busy being outraged, it’s as tiresome as an all-nighter on a box set binge.

If there was ever one thing the advertising industry is certain to display, it’s a dog-eat-dog approach to life. Advertising has never been kind.

When I worked as a copywriter in large companies such as one in the WPP building, I felt this more keenly. People could hide behind their screens and avoid eye contact to indicate they were on deadline, but really, they were reading something vaguely interesting to them instead.

Real-life interactions were fairly London-standard: talk if you have to, but only as a last resort.

Now we have social media to express ourselves, the interesting articles take a back seat and we absorb information that someone else has seen fit to write. Yet increasingly, that something was written not by a professional writer, but by a person like anyone else.

Social media: the end of professional journalism

Journalism is a dying art. Chasing it as a career option is like wanting to be an ostler at an inn at the turn of the twentieth century. Sadly, if you’re seeking good career prospects, there is little to zero point. One can only hope this isn’t the same for copywriters!

Yet it’s this ‘noise’ that is sucking us in and driving our creative processes.

But is that right? What value do these words have? If anyone can write something inflammatory and drive news headlines into a storm in a teacup territory within seconds, what chance do the rest of us have? Anyone, it seems, can be a writer. Question is, should we be giving any of the writing our attention?

Is it best to simply leave the social media playground to the kids with less focus and return to the pages of actual printed books and other intellectual stimulus? Practice free thinking and absorb the mind in other matters? Observe, give where you can, but don’t get dragged into the undertow?

See it for what it is, like the big ad agencies with their swipe cards and free canteens – something fleeting and precious to behold, but also full of smoke and mirrors; real life happening beyond its doors.

Creative work without Creative Direction

We’re told that to be shocking and provocative is good – but ideas need creative direction. And these ones are often limited by a lack of life experience and agency (business) wisdom.

Recently, a bunch of creatives took this approach and their work was viewed as sexist and misogynistic. Clearly, that was where a Creative Director would have said, “Er, guys, what’s that about?”

But.

One person’s outrage, another’s chip shop statue?

I do wonder if work like this ever gets through to the Chip Awards? There is a category ‘In Bad Taste’ and I once saw a Creative Director submit an ad about bombs on the underground. Having lived through that fateful day, I was personally a little taken aback about this, but he said it was alright. He submitted it and it made it through to the finals.

Back to outrage.  Like a client do that ends up in the Bada Bing strip club, advertising hasn’t exactly got a great rep.

Twitter doesn’t have a Creative Director. Yet it goes to show that experience counts for a lot in this fast-moving world of outrage.

Get it wrong and you serve up all sorts of pain in nano seconds. It’s why sales of business insurance amongst copywriters and creatives are in demand by recruiters.

Everyone is liable, yet no one wants to be liable. They want to play and eat their cake at the same time. Real life rarely works this way unfortunately.

Mix this with advertising and what have you got? A dog-eat-dog world where the dogs have been replaced by zooped up ninja sharks on steroids.

Play along at your peril – but whatever you do, play nicely.