Unbelievably, this August marked 25 years since I started my career as a lowly graduate trainee media buyer at J.Walter Thompson. So to celebrate this milestone, I thought I’d compile the 12 Deadly Sins of Advertising, as no matter how ‘sophisticated’ our industry has become over the years, there are some crimes that just won’t go away…
1. Pointless Corporate Ads. Fire up the cliché generator and pick, in any order, sweeping shots of rainforests, deserts or cityscapes, businessmen dashing through airports to vast, glass boardrooms, groups of smiling multi-ethnic children and former Miss World contestants in national costume. Altogether now…
“GlobalPharmaTechBankCorp. Together, we can change the world…” Yes, you can. Usually for the worse.
2. The Meaningless Strapline. Often beloved by the corporate ads are the lowest-common-denominator global lines, so diluted to work in every language that they don’t actually mean anything anymore. Everyone’s searching for the new Vorsprung Durch Technique. Translate it or keep looking.
3. Almost All Car Ads. You’re making a car ad, you say? Might I offer you a choice of two locations? The long and winding country road, or the strangely empty city at night? Naturally, your choice will depend on whether you’re flogging a 4×4 or an urban supermini. Or perhaps you’d prefer one of those ’inspired by nature’ montages of waves, gymnasts, mountains etc?
4. Lazy Scripting. The three most annoying phrases – beloved by copywriters everywhere – are without doubt; “And what’s more…”, “And that’s why…” and “Here at XYZ Company, we understand…” PLEASE come up with a better and more original way to say these things.
5. Using Celebrities. Quite possibly the laziest shorthand of all. Why bother coming up with a brand personality of your own when you can just use Stephen Fry? The worst offenders are the famous voiceovers where the script includes the word ‘we’. No one believes Victoria Wood actually works at Powergen (or whatever brand she’s flogging this month).
6. Very Small Children As Spokespeople. Undeniably cute, but no matter how many times I see the ad, I still have absolutely no idea what they’re saying (Oreo and Aldi, I’m looking at you). If you must persist with this schmaltz, please add subtitles.
7. Poems As A Voiceover. Especially loved by cheese ads. Says it all.
8. ‘Life’s A Journey’. Almost as clichéd as the car ads, and far more depressing, are the Financial Services companies reminding us that we’re all on a slow train to the graveyard. If I want to be reminded how fleeting life is, I’ll listen to Absolute 80s.
9. Use It Up and Wear It Out. Some clients worry so much about wear-out that they seem to change their campaigns more often than their socks (hello, Money Supermarket). No such worries for TSB, Compare the Market or Homebase, who seem to have been running their current campaigns since about 1992. If I hear that whistling one more time…
10. Women Chatting Excitedly About Mundane Products. Note to male creatives: Women don’t get together and form close, supportive bonds over laxatives or yogurt or crispbreads. They never have, and they never will. Next time you feel tempted to write a scene like this, mentally cast it with three blokes and see how it looks. Ridiculous, no?
11. All Men Are Stupid. Regular readers of my blog will know one of my biggest irritations is how ads for FMCG products only ever feature women. But on the rare occasions they involve men, they make them look like idiots (Mr Muscle, Flash and now Bold). There are so many things wrong with that new Bold ad, it needs its own blog post.
12. Men Only Wash to Get Laid. Now this may be true of some of them, but does every male grooming product ad need to end with the obligatory ‘guy gets the girl’ shot? Can’t they just wash because they’re going to work? Oh having tea with their Gran? (Much respect to Dove Deodorant for recently bucking this trend).
And there is one final, terrible sin that shalt never be committed;
NEVER ANIMATE CHOCOLATE. It always looks like poo.