By Marcus Honesta.
Well as the silly season creaks and groans to its inevitable and final Cristal hangover. And the floating gin palaces have set sail back to their various tax havens, now a certain tranquility, can return to Cannes. Ah—Cannes, how did Somerset Maugham put it; “a sunny place for shady people.”
Normally a place where one can luxuriate and bathe properly in its sleepy pomposity; free from the lunacy of the Advertising awards season, not to mention all those who have in-habit it, for the past week or so. It was these thoughts got me reflecting on just what were the elite of the ad-game really celebrating.
With all the disruption that the digital era has bought to the shores of ad-land; the obsession for content and the associated marketing hyperbole that is the inevitable result, what should be the common glue that binds them (the ad industry) together? Have their creative gurus lost sight of what is their raison d’être? Where has their mojo gone?
Needless to say, advertising first duty is to selling the products that their clients manufacture. Indeed it should be top of mind in any and all advertising stuff they create. But how do they best do this?
Truisms often present themselves at unusual times.
I attended the funeral of one of the old guard of the industry on the eve the Cannes awards to kicked off (Grahame Woodlock). Unlike the awards a million miles away in the lobby of the Hôtel Barrière Le Majestic, Woody’s final award ceremony took place at the Freshwater Surf Lifesaving Club. It was a modest gathering of some of the great names of advertising past. Throughout this ceremony there was a recurring theme and general consensus amongst the eulogies that were delivered, Graham “Woody” Woodlock, was a great storyteller. He had a yarn or two for every occasion. This got me thinking, is this, the essence of great advertising?
Earlier this year one of Britain’s most celebrated an important film directors Sir Ridley Scott, was honoured with a fellowship by Bafta for his outstanding contribution to film and TV.
During his acceptance speech he said: “It’s been 40 years in this business and this is the first time they’ve ever given me anything so I’m not going to go quietly,” a triumphant Ridley Scott beamed.
But Scott’s impact on popular culture goes far beyond creating cinematic masterpieces such as Alien and Blade Runner. Not only did he hone his craft making TV commercials, he went on to direct some of the most groundbreaking and important ads for global brands of the 20th century.
In accepting his award from Bafta, Scott added: “Today the explosion of content platforms and social media have made this a far more accessible and democratic art form with an unprecedented reach, 24/7, 365 days. The opportunity to create authentic and relevant engagement, the future of film and storytelling can have, must have, a profound effect.
“As storytellers, we have a duty to be mindful how we use this power. We must strive to protect the core tenet of the narrative, that all the best stories tend to come from the truth, even fiction.”
Onstage at Cannes he continued his mantra, sharing some of his tips on content creation.
“Within minutes, within moments, you’d better engage,” he said. “You’d better have that communion or union between the story you’re telling and how you’re going to tell it with pictures.”
But while images are crucial, and Scott admits that having a “great natural eye in photography” is a fantastic start”, you need to “go back to story. Story, story, story, story”.
Creators also need to keep up with current affairs, and the way news is communicated. What’s happening out in the world can and should affect storytelling in advertising.
“I’m a newshound and so I flick on CNN every morning,” Scott said. “Everyone says, ‘The BBC is better…’ No it’s not, because CNN hit international news in bites, so you see globally what’s happening all the time.
“And I get a sense that CNN is more conscientious than almost any other TV station. Yeah, they’re biased, but they put problems in front of you, so that awareness is very healthy.
“I don’t want to hear about another earthquake because there’s nothing we can do about it. But hearing about the border point in Mexico… some kind of abuse, or terrible error, you should be aware of that stuff. It affects all of us. So it will affect your storytelling as well, it will affect your thinking. You’ll be globally very conscious and very aware. Which I didn’t used to be but now I am.”
But rather than just talk, talk, talk,— below we have chronicled some of Scott’s greatest commercial work.
- Apple “1984” by Chiat\Day (1984)
Thirty-four years later and this ad is still considered a masterpiece, not least for the sheer bravery of making a spot about computers without showing a single device or even naming the brand.
- Hovis “Bike” by Collett Dickenson Pearce (1973) (Britain’s favourite TV ad)
There are very few ads one can remember after 40 years, but Hovis’ iconic “boy on a bike” ad was such a success for the brand that it reprised the idea (not for the first time) in 2015. The ad shows a delivery boy freewheeling down a cobbled northern hill.
- Chanel No 5 “Share the fantasy” (1979)
Scott again pushed the boundaries for the fashion brand with a timeless spot. At a time when erotic advertising was considered risque, DDB created a sensual ad for Chanel No 5 that introduced the tagline, “Share the fantasy”.
- Pepsi “The choice of a new generation” by DDB (1985)
Just rude enough to be recognised but delightfully understated.
- Nissan “Built for the human race” (1990)
Filmed for the 1990 Super Bowl, this controversial ad is known for being pulled after a single airing after Nissan executives became afraid it would promote street racing.
There is no doubt that being able to tell a great yarn, well, goes a great deal of the way towards making great advertising. Perhaps that should be the abiding theme of next year’s Gala Gabfest. Great yarns well told! Or as Scott put it you need to “go back to story. Story, story, story, story”.