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Monday, 13 September 2010

A rich seam of intellectual sewage: the vagaries of corporate advertising

For years I wrote six pieces a month for various marketing publications. Come to think of it, I now do more, but they're on line.

Someone once asked how I managed it, and I replied: "Easy. I only have to open any marketing magazine anywhere in the world to find something idiotic to write about."

Most of these publications are made up of gossip, who's just been fired and who's just been hired, the latest campaigns and which accounts are up for grabs, which are looking for new agencies and stunningly dull supplements to get advertising. And there is usually a sickeningly sycophantic profile of some shooting star in the marketing firmament.

These profiles, which usually position their subject somewhere between Jesus Christ and Batman, are made up of two chief ingredients: arse-licking comments from suppliers and people who work for them and arse-licking comments from people who would like to be suppliers or work for them.

Fame is brief in the glittering world of which I speak. The average marketing director stays in the job for under 2 years - just long enough to make big promises, change everything, good or bad, fail to get results, and get fired.

This is not as sad as it sounds. They usually get new jobs for a simple reason. Those who hire them know even less about marketing than they do, and never bother to find out what results they got in their last job.

Among my current favourite sources of stuff is Adnews, an Australian magazine in which I saw that the biggest Aussie bank, Westpac, has just fired their agency, The Campaign Palace.

They earned their fate as you can see from one of the ads they "created", in which, besides the deadly dull headline I spotted that the man in the box is "decision-enabled".

If anyone working for me ever used a word like that I'd have them run over by a truck.

Bank advertising is usually a good source of jokes. There was that idiotic campaign a few years ago for Barclays featuring the well-known financial expert Samuel L Jackson talking to a pig. They capped this by sticking fatuous "consumer-friendly" tripe up all over their branches like "the hole in the wall" over the ATMs. The millions they pissed away on that little pranks must have had an interesting ROI.

My current favourite is the campaign for Natwest/RBS which announces a "Customer Charter" - which says little more than "Guess what? We're going to try to do a decent job. We don't actually guarantee we will, but we'll try". How fucking sad is that?

But then in a world where banks generally do a lousy job, I suppose it's quite a promise. I wonder if their people are "decision-enabled"? What do you think? I suspect they're mostly just fed up with working for grasping, overpaid, incompetent creeps who run advertising that makes them feel slightly ashamed of themselves.

P. S. Bill Bernbach remarked that one average campaign run for ten years is better than ten brilliant campaigns, one a year.

HSBC have run the same campaign based on their international strength in various guises for over ten years.

It started out as absurdly pretentious (and still is in some respects) but has slowly morphed into something quite good.

Their main competitors have almost all followed a strategy Bernbach never considered: an endless series of rotten campaigns based on nothing in particular.

The only shining light in this subfusc world is Nationwide. Relevant, entertaining, right.

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