Eyes Wide Open

January 23, 2012 / Features

By Graham Fink

I spent many years walking the streets of London’s Soho. Every day would include a transvestite or two; a man sheepishly ducking into a sex shop; buff gay guys strutting their stuff; token drunks.

Photograph by Barney Edwards


Eventually these became reassuring. Even the most bizarre overheard exchanges were in a language I understood. Well, more or less.

I now start every day completely unaware of what will cross my path. Old people practicing Tai Chi or tapping tree trunks (to promote longevity apparently). Others walking the streets in pyjamas. Or walking backwards. Or walking backwards in pyjamas.

Traffic lights have little purpose. Road signs are pointless. One-way streets don't exist. The Chinese are a people are on a mission. To get ahead, no matter what it takes. They are completely driven. Constantly striving. Out for themselves, or more to the point, their child.

There’s no shame in barging past as you walk, cutting up traffic, squeezing into an overloaded lift or disobeying a one way street. Not if it saves time.

I may still be a little way from comfortable with all this, but I’ve certainly grown to respect it. This is a nation dedicated to achieving its goals, double speed. Undistracted by other people's opinions. In the daily Zen rituals and the made up road rules lies an unwavering commitment to moving forward.

The results defy belief. Want to see a daring and creative approach? Try building a 16 storey hotel from scratch in 72 hours.

I’ve seen the footage.

Then you start to understand why a client has no problem with asking for 5 new campaigns by Friday.

There’s no doubt I’ve got my work cut out here in this supersized creative department. There’s talent from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and of course local Chinese, with an American and a few Brits thrown in for good measure.

The creative standard is not as high as I was used to in London - there’s a lot of training to be done - but with the self-belief and sheer drive of the people here, it won’t be long before China is competing with the best on a regular basis. In Cannes this year JWT Shanghai won the Grand Prix for best outdoor with a beautifully crafted piece of work for Samsonite. The creative future, just like the economic future, is Chinese.

So I find myself looking homeward, for people who want to be part of something exciting and new. A frontier land of creative opportunity. A place akin to the old Wild West, where anything is possible.

Ogilvy Shanghai is becoming a global hub, with a mixture of local and international brands. Then there’s Beijing. More Chinese, more rooted perhaps, with a big, original and exciting art scene. Google the area 798 and you’ll find a district full of amazing galleries that takes two days to walk round.

Modern post-Olympic architecture rubs shoulders with the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven - an incredible place to spend a sunday morning, among hundreds of Tai Chi practitioners with their fans and swords, their chanting in the woodlands. On my last visit to Beijing we took the head creatives to an old favourite restaurant of Chairman Mao, eating beneath photographs of his meeting with Che Guevara.

The agency there outsizes even Shanghai. More than 1000 people, including an exciting digital department. Hardly surprising when you learn that more Chinese sign up to the internet each month than the entire population of New Zealand.

A mind boggling statistic, but one amongst many. More people are learning English here than in the rest of the world put together.
The economy has grown 7 times faster than the US in the last 10 years. They will build enough skyscrapers by 2025 to completely fill 10 cities the size of New York, and China has more pigs than the next 43 pork-producing countries combined.

So come on out, eat some pork and help shape the world’s future.

Or just tap a tree trunk...

In Praise Of: John Armitt, Mega-Producer

September 23, 2011 / Features

By John Hackney

John Hackney on the ultimate producer

I love John Armitt. Who? Well that’s exactly my point.

In 1998 I was travelling from London to Worcester and back by train on the same day. The journey involved two changes.

The wheels came off at the very first of six legs and I missed the connection. What followed was an entirely Third World infrastructure experience where I was forced to consider staying overnight in some godforsaken Midlands town.

Determined to make it back to civilisation, I turned to one of my fellow beleaguered travellers on a trainless and informationless platform and asked him if he knew what had happened to the 11.42. When he had finished laughing, he replied that I obviously didn’t do this journey much, did I?

Surely I wasn’t actually expecting to catch a scheduled train? Well, actually yes, I replied. More laughter:

‘What you do, is get on the platform in the direction you’re headed, go as far down the line as you can, get off and start the process again. Worcester? Good luck mate!’

Then out of nowhere a miracle happened. From about 2005 trains began to not only turn up but arrive on time. They also stopped hitting the buffers, other trains and mounting platforms at speed. One man produced this miracle: John Armitt. He converted the disastrous Railtrack into Network Rail, and now one of the most intricate, complex and ageing rail networks in the world actually works. Not only that, but at the end of the process, everyone liked and respected him, including the unions.

Give that man a cigar.

And while he’s smoking that, give him another cigar for another Olympian task - delivering the Olympic Stadium, under budget and ahead of schedule.

Where it gets interesting is to look at who’s getting the limelight for the Olympic Stadium non-fiasco: Seb Coe and Boris Johnson, complete with builder’s helmets, spades and shit-eating grins as Mr Armitt quietly sidles off back to the shadows.Us Brits have a nasty habit of pursuing the underachievers while completely overlooking the achievers. More accurately, when we do recognise achievements, we very often attribute them to the wrong people.

I’ve been trying to counteract this with mixed results. My business partner and I, being winos, recently decided to treat ourselves to a slap-up lunch at our favourite restaurant. The sommelier dutifully delivered our chosen wine, swilled it around the glass, sniffed it, turned his nose up at it and refused to serve it to us. Pretentious wanker. Off he minced to get another bottle of the self-same wine and guess what? Still not good enough for Monsieur. Double pretentious wanker.

In spite of our reservations about Monsieur Masturbator we took his advice and ordered an entirely different and much more expensive bottle. And boy was it worth it. What followed was needless to say a gorging of Roman proportions.

So credit where credit’s due, I emailed the restaurant, thanked them for the above and observed that thanks to their gifted sommelier we had probably spent three times what we might have otherwise. Did they thank me for thanking them? No. Did they even acknowledge the email? No. Could it be that the restaurant has a ‘star’ chef, and the last thing he wanted to hear was that the man from the shadows had overshadowed him?

Producers are backroom boys by nature. Calculators, schemers, plotters and manipulators. You can’t do any of this from the front room because people see you do it.

Producing absolutely anything is all about focus on the target, not listening to the white noise, concentrating on what could go wrong (and often what is actually going wrong) while amplifying and building on what is right.

Is it enough for John Armitt that the 11.42 turns up on time without killing anyone? Is it enough for the producer to stand off-stage as the much-lauded ad and its director are showered with praise and gongs?

I suspect the answer to both the above questions is yes. Turning away, knowing what you have achieved should be enough for the men and women in the shadows.

I have flirted with direction and it is frankly terrifying. I have the utmost respect for the director and his vision, a) if he has one, b) if it’s his and c) if he can deliver it under fire. But we should make no bones about the fact that while Danny Boyle will be arranging a nice firework display for us all come next summer, the fact that he’s not doing it in a half finished mud pit or embarrassing White Elephant is down to John Armitt.

Film producing is undoubtedly a more glamorous job than sitting in an office at Network Rail for four years with your head in a spreadsheet, but I won’t try to argue it’s as important, difficult or beneficial to the lives of people up and down the country. I wish I was as good a producer as John Armitt. Then I could take over from him, and he could run the country.

John Hackney is Co-Chairman of the APA

Unsung Heroes: The Agency Producer

September 23, 2011 / Features

By Tim Mellors

Tim Mellors on the difference a great agency producer makes

© istockphoto

I have few regrets, but when it came to choosing the recipient of the President’s Award the year I was President of D&AD, I chickened out of my first and natural choice - Di Kroll. I regret it. Di is the best producer I have ever worked with, not to mention one of the best Heads of TV any agency has ever had.

I don’t regret the alternative I chose: David Bailey (the first photographer I worked with when I came to London, and someone who D&AD had never awarded in his own right) but when I look back on my motives for not choosing a producer, it makes me squirm to realize I was enacting the traditional creatives’ prejudice and lack of balls instead of going with my true instincts. So why have agency producers seldom if ever garnered the praise, respect and dignity they deserve?

The first reason is that most creatives (and I include myself in this) are jealous children and want all the cash and prizes for themselves. What I love about working with creatives is their innocence, vulnerability and fragile sense of self worth. What drives me mad about them is their inability to play nice and share like mummy told them.

All too often ‘mummy’ is their producer, required to do everything short of wiping their ass, but like all mummies precluded from taking any credit or praise for doing it. You might find it difficult to view some of the great male producers like Arnold Pearce or John Staton as mummies, but believe me it’s not. I’ve been there.

The second myth about agency producers is that they don’t really have creative input. This is bollocks, and behind it once again is creative insecurity. Let me go on record stating that many of the ads I won, Lions, Pencils and Arrows alike, were not just improved by the likes of Maggie Randall, Perry Fry, Mac McArthur and Paul Mezulianick, but co-created by them.

I moved to New York seven years ago, and didn’t like the way producers were siloed. My first talk to the agency stated that I don’t see producers as servants to the creative department, but as members of the creative department, and I genuinely believe this has been a major contributor to Grey moving from winning nothing at Cannes to taking 20 Lions and being the ninth most awarded Cannes agency in the world.

Here’s another old chestnut: agency producers aren’t ‘real producers’ like production company producers. They don’t have ‘real financial responsibilities’ and aren’t entrepreneurial like their production company counterparts. Three words: Sandy, Mary and Martha. Not only were Sandy Scott (formerly Watson), Mary Francis and Martha Greene as fresh, creatively inspired and skillful as any of the famous writers or art directors I’ve worked with, they also had tremendous business heads on their shoulders and went on to be partners running famously successful production companies in Lewin and Watson, Weilands and Stark Films.

One snotty little put down I’ve heard about agency producers is that they are ‘glorified secretaries’, a snide allusion to the fact that many agency producers get into the business as a secretary, often in the broadcast departments. This too is arrant nonsense. One of the most brilliant and sadly almost unique things about the film business is that it’s still built on the apprentice system. Most people serve their time as a runner, a clapper loader or trainee of some kind.

Working as a secretary or assistant is the agency equivalent, and similarly means a thorough and comprehensive schooling from the ground up. My secretary at Publicis, Steph, moved with me to GGT, on to Mellors Reay and then Grey. Long before she joined the TV department, Steph would alert me to cool videos or get me interesting tracks by new bands. In return I would privately discuss promising scripts with her, then take all the credit for her incisive comments and fresh ideas. Of course I may be the only Creative Director who’s done this, but somehow I doubt it.

One of the things the web has taught us is that good ideas can come from anywhere, and I’ve always cared more about the actual idea than who came up with it, especially as if I’m in the room, it’s always me.

Steph became a Senior Producer at Mellors Reay and ended up as Head of Broadcast at Grey. It made me proud and grateful that someone whose intelligence and drive I spotted when she was 21 ended up exactly where she should be – at the top.
In essence, what I’ve always looked for in a producer is a creative partner. Someone who can compensate for my lack of organizational ability, but also give me the confidence and guidance to choose a director that will stretch me, and create an atmosphere in which we’re both prepared to take risks.

I’m not an idiot with money and having directed for a few years I broadly know what a budget will buy, but clever strategic thinking by a good producer can push money where it really makes a difference on the film. On the Holsten shoots Di always managed to find a little extra for the shot that made all the difference, justifying knocking out the big bucks for Jeff Goldbloom and Denis Leary.

Sandy and Mary always came up with unusual and talented directors, and if the shit hit the fan (such as Ridley Scott melting the windows on a 747 for a British Airways shoot) they didn’t melt away in the heat.

There are times when doing a runner is the wisest call a producer can make. On a BP underwater shoot in Martinique, some of the crew turned out to be inter-island drug runners making a bit of spare cash. They were authentic badasses, and although they didn’t like us, they really hated the gay French art director. So much so that they chopped the head off his Old English Sheepdog to teach him a lesson. Feisty Martha went up to them to remonstrate and they replied by (literally) taking a crap in her handbag.

Within 20 minutes Ms Greene had us on a light plane out of there. I remember making a mental note: when the shit really hits the fan (or the handbag), make sure you have a good producer.

Tim Mellors is Global Creative Director and Vice Chairman, Grey

Good Law Versus Bad

September 23, 2011 / Features

By The Beak Street Bugle

The law as a foundation of great advertising

Photograph by Lewis More O'Ferrall

Great advertising is a communication that achieves the client’s objectives. It has to aim at the twin goals of impact and relevance, expressed through brilliant and well-executed ideas.

So if the key components of great advertising are understanding (of the client’s objectives and market) and creativity (the idea and its execution), are legal contracts and frameworks important? Aren’t they in fact the antithesis of creativity, something that simply gets in the way of making great work?

Quite the opposite. The right legal/contractual framework is in fact an essential component of a fertile environment for great advertising, but only if it comes with an avoidance of the negative ways the law has impacted on other creative industries.
This is something the UK commercials industry has got right, the strongest evidence for which is the UK’s reputation for brilliant advertising.

The central purpose of a contract for any service should not be to tie the other party up in legal knots but to ensure that what the delivering party (the production company in this instance) think they are responsible for and delivering is the same as what the receiving party (agency) thinks it is receiving. There is simply no other way to do this than with a standard contract which sets out who is responsible for what and provides a checklist to minimise the prospect of anything being overlooked.
To take one example, specialist insurers can write their policies to reflect the risks the production company and agency each assume under the standard contract. A one off contract on the other hand can have any insurance obligations it likes, but if the parties don’t actually have the insurance cover specified, the protection the contract provides is illusory.

How does this help make advertising better?

Firstly, it minimises the time and money spent in putting contracts together, reviewing them and negotiating changes, allowing these resources to go towards making the best possible commercial. It also provides clarity, reducing the scope for misunderstanding, mistrust and conflict that generate defensive corporate behaviour, which truly is the enemy of creativity.

It’s helpful to look to other businesses for context.

The construction industry is defensive in that it prioritises undertaking exactly what was agreed at the outset over doing the best possible job. Anyone who has tried to have work done to their home will be familiar with the inevitable conflicts over instructions given, negotiations as to what is included in the price, with a builder whose central objective is often to generate extra charges.

Defensive contractual behaviour has had a particularly negative influence on doctors, and indeed lawyers themselves. In those professions, the concern about being sued for negligence is such that every alternative has to be given by the practitioner, setting out the advantages and disadvantages of each and then writing a note for the file as evidence such advice was given. The poor client/customer probably most wants a course of action to be recommended to them by the expert, but he can’t give one. Instead huge amounts of time and effort are wasted on setting out every alternative.

These negative practices have negative outcomes. The surgeon is afraid to take the bold course that his judgement tells him carries the best prospect of success, because if it goes wrong he will be subject to criticism and worse.
So contracts, if applied unreasonably or negatively, in fact fail the very people they purport to protect. The patient in the above example has been ‘protected’ out of having their life saved.

The commercials production industry has so far managed to steer a path through these obstacles and concentrate on doing the best possible job. Whatever issues arise, whatever time and budget pressures exist, production companies and agencies embark upon shoots determined to do the best possible job. They don’t look to deliver the minimum possible against the spec (in the form of the script and treatment) but to over-deliver to create the best film possible.

Production companies and agencies look for creative solutions and opportunities right up to and including the shoot itself. They can only do that in an atmosphere of collaboration and free from the threat of being subjected to a negative application of the contract.

We are fortunate to work in an industry that has applied the sensible parts of the law while avoiding the disadvantages. This is something the industry should be extremely careful to uphold and preserve, unless we want to end up like doctors, outlining every possible shot to the client while being careful to leave him or her in the dark as to which might work best.

Commercial production is far from a perfect industry, but in fighting to amend and mitigate the bad aspects of our working environment, it’s only right that we acknowledge the good.

Perspectives: What Your Composer Is Really Thinking

September 23, 2011 / Features

By Andrew Sunnucks

Andrew Sunnucks on our peculiar approach to commissioning music

© Lewis More O'Ferrall

Some years ago, a friend went to an advertising agency to take a brief to provide the music for a toothpaste commercial. The toothpaste brand in question was of the striped variety and my pal, Chris, found himself sitting with a roomful of creatives around a large boardroom table in the centre of which was a single blank sheet of A4 paper.

The Art Director produced a tube of the aforementioned, squeezed a lozenge of paste onto the paper and sat back.

Art Director: So what do you see?

Chris (puzzled): Err, toothpaste?

AD: Yes, but what do you NOTICE about it?

Chris (panic stricken): Well, it’s stripey...

AD: BRILLIANT. HE’S GOT IT, PERFECT.

Chris (tentatively): So you want some...stripey music?

AD: Perfect. You’re brilliant. You da man. Nailed it.

Chris: Oh, OK.

Because Chris was a helpful kind of a chap and didn’t want to seem stupid, he left the meeting without daring to ask the enthusiastically nodding agency folk what the hell stripey music sounds like.

I started my career producing music for commercials. The battle was always the same: how to take and how to give a clear brief. Ad agency people are hugely skilled at what they do. In their own environment they can explain concepts to a client or director with complete clarity, they can juggle creative inspiration and their clients’ needs seamlessly, but communicating the mood of something as ephemeral and instinctive as music without knowing the right language can be daunting.

I’ve recorded music that was not ‘eggy’ enough for a cream egg and not ‘moist’ enough for a shower gel. I’ve been told to make it faster but feel slower and make an emotional, thematic build in two seconds.

At the moment of the music brief, the control of the agency and filmmaker’s work is handed to a composer. An outsider. Worst of all, with it goes a lot of power. The music is a huge part of a film’s tone and abdicating the responsibility to someone outside the core team is a leap of trust.

The magic of music is synaesthesia. Locking the emotions of sound and picture to become more than the sum of their parts. The easiest way around that problem for some is to dive into their iPods, find a track they like and put it on as a ‘temp track’. This helps the editor cut the film and is often used to sell the cut in to the client.This, for the composer, is a complete, total and utter disaster. My heart sinks to its depths when I hear those fatal words: ‘We love this track, but we can’t clear it.’ The chalice is now poisoned. Anything from here on in will be seen as a pale compromise next to what they had their hearts set on. Once sound and pictures are mentally locked, it is next to impossible to prise them apart. Imagine trying to come up with alternative music for Jaws, Dad’s Army or Shake ‘n’ Vac? A non-starter.

This also opens up a legal and ethical hornet’s nest. If a composer is asked to do something ‘in the style of’ another work, these are potentially very murky waters indeed. Morality apart though, creativity is closely related to individuality, so if a track is simply a play on someone else’s work, by definition it isn’t individual. We can then hardly claim to be creative, and if we aren’t aiming to be creative and original in everything we do we may as well give up.
So what are the rules of briefing a composer? At risk of stating the bleedin’ obvious, here are some tips:

Ask the composer. You will be very close to the film by the time the composer sees it. Often first impressions are the most valuable, so try not to lose the opportunity to hear what the composer’s instinct is telling him/her.

Listen to yourself. Try to play the music you want in your mind’s ear. Give yourself time to do this. Even for the musically illiterate you’d be surprised how strongly your mind suggests what images should sound like, but you need to listen to yourself.
Simple terms. Stick to adjectives which describe what you are aiming for in ‘primary colours’ – fast, slow, sad, happy, threatening, suspenseful, building, youthful, prestigious, chilled.

Ask what you’re trying to achieve. This could be as simple as what age group are you trying to appeal to? Is the music to be congruent or incongruent with the picture?

Instrumentation. Are we in the world of an orchestra, band, vocals or wobble board?

I know these seem obvious things, but in the mistral of production, obvious things get overlooked. How else would the airwaves have been graced with such products as Golden Pea Soup, or strap lines like “You can’t beat our meat”, “Feel a new man every day in the Navy” and “Fresh codpieces in a creamy white sauce”?

Finally, if you remember only one thing about music composition, let it be the words of Alfred Hitchcock:

When the music and the pictures are doing the same thing, one of them is being wasted.
 

Andrew Sunnucks is Chairman, Founder Audio Network

The Sexy World Of Planning

June 19, 2011 / Features

By Charlie Snow

First in our Perspectives series, DLKW Lowe's Charlie Snow tells us why planners need an image change.

Photograph by Lewis More O'Ferrall

In the business of Advertising, we don’t have much contact, planners and producers. Which is a shame. I’ve always secretly admired producers from afar. They’re the sexy ones, the Foreign Correspondents of our profession, right at the heart of the action, swanning around in their shiny, puffed up North Face jackets, sorting out the evening’s entertainment for their close friends, the stars. They do stuff, make stuff, produce stuff. They are the mothers.

And we’re the Planners. The people that prepare stuff, set up stuff, plan stuff - the fluffers of the industry. Or at least that’s the common perception. 

As a little experiment (you could call it research), I asked our Production department and their Producer friends what they thought Planners did. The answers either made us out to be pretty dull and geeky...:

“Planners are thinky.”

“Planners are yawn.”

“The Planner’s work is based mainly on the critical analysis of research and focus groups, which are generally attended by people who are only there for the free sandwiches and Jaffa Cakes.”

“Planners read the graphs no one else can understand.”

Or, they made us out to be an incompetent nuisance:

“Planners take so long, there is never enough time for the production, which is really the only thing that matters.”

“Couldn’t planner (sic) piss up in the brewery.”
“Like the Grinch, they’re there to take the joy away.”

There was some ray of light, though:
“Planners are normally more interesting than Account people.”

Well, thank goodness for that.
I’m here to try and put the record straight, tell you what Planners do, and show you that we’re just as sexy as producers, if not sexier.

In Planning, as in any trade, there are some people who are good at it and some people who are bad at it. In my view, good planners do the following five things:

1. Have commercial nous.

Good planners know that we’re in the business of making ads not art. They make it their business to know how the client makes money, and they are very clear how the advertising will contribute towards building business.
Good planners know that advertising is there to sell things or get people to do things. Sure, we must do this in brilliantly creative and surprising ways, but it is the planner’s responsibility to define the purpose for this creativity.
This is the bit of the equation that requires planners to be ruthlessly logical and analytical.
A fantastic example of a planner applying commercial nous to a problem is on Sainsbury’s. Sainsbury’s wanted to grow revenue by £2.5bn over three years. The planner did the math, and worked out that this equated to an extra £1.14 for every individual shop that a Sainsbury’s shopper made. This thinking led to a new role for Sainsbury’s, encouraging people to ‘Try something new today’. Precision planning at its best.
In today’s world, what we are finding more and more, is that clients are not so much asking for communications ideas so much as broader business ideas - new product and service initiatives that can transform business – think Walkers ‘Do Us a Flavour’.

2. Love people.

On the softer side, the best planners also care about people, deeply - they obsess about what makes people tick, why they do things the way they do, how they can change their behaviour. It is this real understanding of people that reveals the magical ‘insight’ that can have a powerful influence on strategy. It is why anti-smoking messages to young women focus on how cigarettes can destroy their looks (the thing they care about above all else); it is why parents are told that their children will copy them if they cross the road when the little red man is flashing; it is what stimulated the Real Beauty campaign for Dove, because women were tiring of the perfect looking models.
In recent years, there have been many exciting developments in the world of neuroscience and behavioural economics on how the brain works and why people behave in certain ways. And contrary to what you might imagine, much of this learning proves that humans respond overwhelmingly on an emotional rather than rational level - meaning that the tone, the look and feel of the communications, carry far more power than rational messages. We all know this to be true, but now the science is proving it. And this is good news for all of us.

3. Think different.

Great planners also have the ability to think laterally. And this, for me, is the part of the job that makes it so stimulating. There are numerous examples of advertising ideas based on brilliant thinking: the AA being positioned as the ‘Fourth Emergency Service’; the idea that Honda used ‘Positive Hate’ to revolutionise the diesel engine; the idea that ‘Dirt is Good’ for Persil. The best planners provide inspiration for creative people to let their imagination run wild – they turn things on their head, they provide provocative thoughts that will get noticed. Bad planners constrain creativity, good planners unleash it.

4. Care like mad how it’s working.

Good planners should also take responsibility for how the advertising is working in market – always asking how things could be made better.  These days, with the power of new technology and social media, you can tell almost immediately how people are responding, and what further opportunities can be exploited. It’s all about real-time effect, and the best planners are on it.

5. Keep it simple.

Above all, what the very best planners are able to do is make it all seem so simple. They take the reams of data and the bundles of marketing bumph, and don’t just regurgitate it in an indigestible way, but shine a clear light on it, make sense of it and insightfully edit, interpret and illuminate it.
The best planners make it all seem so easy and obvious. The worst make it all seem complicated and clever.  

All these are very difficult principles to live up to. And it’s because they are so difficult that it’s such a wonderful discipline to be part of. It is a constant challenge, stretching you in all different directions, requiring you to be both Scientist and Artist.

I’m sure now that you’ll be desperate to get into Planning. Well, it’s got to be better than being a jumped up Cost Controller, which is all producers really are isn’t it?


Charlie Snow is Director of Strategy at DLKW Lowe. He was Convenor of Judges for the 2011 IPA Effectiveness Awards. 

charlie.snow@dlkwlowe.com

Advertisers Anonymous No.1: Producer

March 14, 2011 / Features

By Anonymous

Each edition we seek to get some honesty out of ad people by offering them the cloak of anonymity normally reserved for crime victims and MI5 agents. First up is a production company producer.

Photograph by Lewis More O'Ferrall

I live on a one–way street. Tonight, a motorcyclist roared past the front window going the wrong way. Momentarily exhilarating but quickly dull again. Two opposing thoughts immediately zip though the mind: ‘wanker’ and ‘good on yer mate’. Producing is akin to motorcycling the wrong way down a one way street. Calculating decisions that can make you a ‘mate’ or a wanker. Momentarily exhilarating but suddenly dull.

In filming terms, producing commercials is boring in the extreme. Doing the job properly involves being completely paranoid about everything that can go wrong rationally and irrationally, taking some ever so calculated risks, ignoring certain aspects of Health and Safety and current employment law, exposing yourself to uninsured risks and putting every failsafe in place in order to turn up on the shoot and watch the fruits of your paranoia deliver the dullest day in the whole history of dull days. Get it right and you are resident bored-shitless-smartarse.

Yes, we have to think hard about chemistry and politics. Sometimes there’s arduous mediation in the natural conflicts that occur between the director and the creatives, the agency and the production company, the crew and the production company, the location and the production company. Again though, do your homework, set the framework for a good day and largely a ‘good’ day is what you get. Yawn.

And then, Kaboom! Out of nowhere something completely unpredictable happens. The catering truck runs over the actor’s foot. The client cant give you any of his product to film (yes, really!) and, unbelievably, this becomes your problem. You fire two cars at each other via hydraulic rams to see the effect of the new hydraulic bumpers absorbing the impact, with the slight hitch that the effects bloke manages to get his head in between them just as his colleague presses the fire button. As night draws in, your location turns out to be the epicentre for local rent boy renting, and the head pimp wants to stab you and / or the director for ruining his business, to which the director prefers the staying alive option and goes home. 

None of the above are invented, and here we have the real oddness. Such is the art of producing that we celebrate these problems. The perversity is that we strive to avoid all that can negatively affect the production and yet this produces a deep - seated desire for something, anything to go wrong on the day in order to engage the grey matter and bring to an immediate halt the fascinating 45 minute conversation you’ve been having with the make up lady about her children. This in itself is a direct product of the crew having to apparently like you personally and ‘love working with your company’ since you pay them money. Yuk. 

Not the whole crew, you understand. The sparks, in contrast, are giving you the evil eye for ‘swanning about drinking cappuccinos’ while booking actors’ taxis unnecessarily early and generally pissing money (which of course would otherwise be going straight into their pockets) up the wall. Give me a spark any day. 

Many are the times that in refuge from these inane conversations you lock yourself away in a production office or Winnebago, staring gently at the wall. And then, the briefest of cursory knocks at the door reveals an ashen faced, breathless assistant who’s been despatched to find you. Brilliant, you think. Something to DO

 
If you have things to say that you can't put your name to, please contact editorial@beakstreetbugle.com, quoting Advertisers Anonymous.

Thought Experiment: Small Print ⊧ Hoodies

March 14, 2011 / Features

By M. Barron

How we might all be less angry, if we weren't constantly lied to.

Let us take small print to mean any proposition whose truth is contained in a subclause standing in the corner whistling with its hands in its pockets and looking shiftily from side to side while the main clause SHOUTS AT YOU EXCITEDLY! For example that

READING THIS ARTICLE WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE*.

Now let us take Hoodies to be angry disaffected kids who loiter in groups at poorly lit bus stops and fly kick phone boxes, smoking and grow up to be the kind of people who jump redfaced from their cars veiny and screaming when you so much as remind them that the lights have been green for 10 seconds.

Consider that the defining social relationship of our human lives is between us and what used to be called The Man, i.e, the voice of authority in all its forms. Every day we are at the mercy of The Man - whether he provides our broadband, our speed limits or our phone boxes1. The tone of this relationship dictates how we relate to the world, whether we see it as our friend or enemy.

I submit that subdivisions of The Man are not appealing to us. When I (or Joe Hoody) get a flyer through my letterbox offering a free large bottle of Coke when ordering two medium pizzas, somewhere in my mind that flyer has come from the same place as my council tax bill. So when I then go out and fly kick some phone boxes I’m venting my anger not at BT specifically but at the pizza leaflet, my crappy broadband connection, taxes & cetera.

I also submit that the advent of small print was the point at which the tone of The Man’s conversation with the individual became openly contemptuous. The underlying message of small print is that not only is he lying to you, he’s not even lying about lying. This is an important distinction.

Another important distinction is between intuitive and technical truth. Free texts** is NOT the same thing as Free texts when you spend £25 a month. We all know it isn’t. It may be technically true but we instinctively know that in spirit it’s a lie. A doubly insidious lie for its derisive bet that you won’t follow the asterisk2. It’s the spirit that matters when we assess how The Man feels about us, just as in any other relationship. Emotionally speaking, technical truth is empty3.

One might reasonably ask why, if we all subconsciously know these to be lies, they work. My answer would be: well, do they? As we wander confused and preoccupied through our lives, it seems obvious that we can’t afford to interrogate every message to get to the truth of it. Can I read the whole of the provisional contract supplied by every home insurance provider as I consider their quotes? I cannot. Instead we form the defensive (and prudent, though inaccurate) general opinion that all insurance is a con or that all advertising is a lie. Even worse, seeing as we can’t opt out entirely we’re forced to buy in through gritted and hateful teeth. The transaction is poisoned by the feeling that we’re being stiffed - whether we are or not.

By employing small print or even by allowing it to exist, The Man is saying that it’s OK for him to try to trick or mislead us into doing something we wish we hadn’t done. He is defining our relationship thus: his role is to wheedle and trick our money4 out of us in any way he can, and our role is to be diligent enough to prevent him. Assuming that our money is precious and we are inclined to dislike anyone making eyes at it, the relationship has become adversarial. Him against us for the prize of everything we hold dear.

Not only is he unashamedly declaring himself the enemy, our only defence is blanket distrust of anything and everything with his name on it. So every time we see an ad we’re reminded at a deep, instinctual level that The Man (the government/ the world/ life) is against us. Given that this happens on average 32,000 times per person per year5, is it any surprise we’re against him too?

There is an initially ludicrous sounding but surprisingly neat remedy: ban small print. Would this result in 48 sheets rammed to the gills with copy detailing every last exclusion to an offer? Perhaps initially, but how long before the first advertiser decided to sacrifice these labyrinthine clauses in exchange for cut through - before Free texts for the first 6 months when you spend £25 a month on a minimum contract of 18 months only applicable to new customers became simply Half Price Texts For Everyone?6

In terms of enforcement the onus could be placed on the advertiser to prove in any dispute that the central message of their communication is true without recourse to further information. Central would of course be defined by visual prominence (and for television / radio, aural). Typeface, font size, volume, length of time displayed etc. As punishment a contravening advertiser would be legally obliged to deliver on their misleading central message, incentivising consumers to enforce the rule and allowing the spectre of Hoover to hover grimly over Marketing Managers’ heads whilst signing anything off.

These ideas are hardly detailed enough, but it’s surely nothing a few clever people in a room couldn’t solve. The prize after all is substantial: a realignment of our attitude to the world we live in. The transformation of The Man from hated adversary to something more like advisor.


Do I think advertising has a moral obligation to be honest? Yes. Am I naive enough to argue for that? No. But a first step would be to remove the legitimisation of open deceit that small print represents - the barefaced admission by The Man that he hates you, and therefore the invitation to hate him back.

There seems to have been a time when the general public had implicit faith in The Man. To today’s reader this seems more remote and outdated than top hats, penny farthings or even slavery. Distressingly, slaves can still be found in modern Britain. You’d be hard pressed to find a single person with blind faith that the forces of authority are acting in their best interests.

It does raise the intriguing question of whether, and how, this trust could be restored. It’s interesting that it seems to have begun to decay around the mid 20th century, parallel (coincidentally of course) to the emergence of a newly sophisticated advertising industry. It may have survived a million bullets when in the First World War those same authorities he trusted sent him to pointless death, but Joe Hoody’s faith in society has turned out to be no match for 32,000 lies a year.

 

*When read in conjunction with another article that persuades you for example to undergo cancer screening just as a malignant storm happens to be gathering.

**When you spend £25 a month.

 

1Needless to say the less money you have the more the terms of this conversation are in The Man’s favour, hence the comparatively low numbers of Eton educated youths to be found riding bicycles slowly down the middle of main roads / throwing bricks through windows of disused buildings & c.

2 In fact asterisks seem to have fallen out of favour these days, replaced by a crucifix symbol, perhaps to lend an air of religious solemnity or even JC’s implied approval to proceedings.

3 Cf. The husband who argues that he hasn’t lied to his wife because she never actually asked him if he was fucking his secretary. He is resorting to a technical truth, with results I think we can all predict.

Money is the most obvious but far from the only example. Consider also time and personal information.

5 I googled this stat and I don’t care if it’s inaccurate. We all know the figure is high.

6 Equally they may choose to dispense with offers in favour of something more abstract, in which case fine. The object is simply to prevent ourselves being surrounded by lies.

 

Max Barron is a writer and director.