By Jonathan Kneebone, founder, The Glue Society.
In the truth stakes, ad folk used to be the bad folk, well beneath real estate agents, second hand car dealers and corrupt coppers. You couldn’t trust them as far as you could throw them.
So who would have thought in 2023, we might suddenly be more trusted than surgeons, the military, lawyers and journalists? More because they’ve got worse than we’ve got better.
But our (at times) highly frustrating code of ethics, governed by our somewhat lame-duck slap-on-the-wrist authority, nevertheless does hold us accountable if we overstep our legal, decent, honest and true obligations.
And in this day and age, that’s becoming something of a novelty. For those people who like such things, it could be advertising’s USP.
Of course not everyone sees trust as a plus.
We had a referendum this year which was potentially swung by a burst of false political advertising (which true to form sees itself as above regulation) on a platform which seems to encourage frippery and fakery.
A real shame then that this film featuring Briggs to combat the No-sayers didn’t appear sooner.
Most of you will know by now, I’ve long had a beef with ads for the gambling industry – simply because their entire business is based on a pretence.
It was comforting to see The Guardian this year decided to ban its advertising. And SBS gave viewers the chance to remove these ads (amongst others) from its in-demand service.
So perhaps we can regulate ourselves into a position where people turn to advertising for the truth in an ocean of fake views, news and agendas and opinions.
AI of course gives us the chance to create all manner of supposed realities, but if we use this opportunity to abuse the audience’s trust by pretending something is real when it’s not – then that could be a dangerous precedent.
To my mind, simply acknowledging the existence of a deceit or simulation upfront would make the craft or idea no less interesting. If it means we get to be seen as the honest media citizens, then it could be worth it.
This year a few brands tested those waters. Maybe the line was crossed by Maybelline. With a fake ad for mascara – as opposed to an ad for fake eyelashes.
@maybelline 📣 All aboard the Sky High Mascara Express ✨🚄 After hitting the NYC Streets, we’re taking over London💂🇬🇧 We are on the move with #SkyHighMascara elevating your lash game to new heights🌤️ 🌇 it’s guaranteed to serve limitless lash length 📏 and full volume😍 #Maybelline ♬ original sound - Maybelline New York
Uncommon proved you can probably push things so far into the ludicrous that it becomes less devious.
With all that said, I doubt we’ll ever get to the point where advertising is honourable.
Not when there are people in the industry who are comfortable with the idea of rolling out Shannon Noll at the State of Origin singing Fried Night Footy to a bemused audience of paying fans.
Nothing against the man, but the 12 days of the Jetsmas might just have undone any small amount of cred he gained by spoofing his most successful lyric for Uber Eats.
But perhaps we should reflect on the idea of being better.
Because when we’re good, we can be very very good. And this year, it felt like we might have spent Covid determining to be a bit more creative.
Australia’s very own Steve Rogers – in Revolver’s 25th year – was coined Campaign (and Ciclope’s) Director of the Year. A truly remarkable achievement, given the likes of Daniel Wolfe, Andreas Nilsson, Jeff Low and David Shane all had stellar years.
With his work for Apple, Cadbury, John Lewis, Uber Eats, NRMA and more, Steve continues to give every idea he touches an inherent confidence, so you as a viewer can just relax and enjoy the ride. We are left in no doubt that the right choices have been made at every step of the way.
The highlight in his very high year would be Hornbach. With great cinematography, storytelling and production design by Steven Jones-Evans), we navigate our way through the smallest of spaces, celebrating craftsmanship.
Looking at Steve’s work it does make you realise that there is a definite skill to “commercial” direction. It’s an artform all its own.
You only have to witness the rather weak attempts of feature film directors who turn their hand to the shortest of short forms.
Most seem to miss the point, and resort to cliché or the assumption that it just needs to be super-selly or tricksy.
Edgar Wright’s eyebrow raising McDonald’s spot was oddly flat. Taika’s Bublé ad for ASDA seemed so full of itself it almost disrespects the audience. And don’t get me started on Damien Chazelle’s Hennessy odyssey. If you make it to the end, you really do need a stiff drink. So much so, I‘m inclined to think perhaps that was the idea.
But it’s proof that having a big name doesn’t make an ad bigger and better.
At least Saint Laurent got Pedro Almodovar to make a short film. It featured their clothes, some good actors and a half decent script.
But as with most short films, it would have been better if it had been shorter. Like really short like an ad!
Mattel got Greta Gerwig – a film director – to make their film length ad for Barbie. Heaven knows quite how bad it would have been in the hands of an ad director however.
So the lack of capability seems to be work both ways.
Of course there are exceptions. Jonathan Glazer, Ridley Scott, Garth Davis have shown themselves adept at both advertising and film.
But I suspect their skill lies in recognising that the formats have distinctly different rules.
Which not a moment too soon brings me to the best ads, music videos and creative ideas of the year.
Saatchi and Saatchi London have had a good year. Actually make that a great year.
Not just catching the potential hospital pass of John Lewis – and managing to confidently break the mould of schmaltz by creating a big shop of horrors with Megaforce – but in creating a brilliant series of films for EE.
The use of incredible British music to accompany moments in time – be that the end of lessons, the tedium of a rainy Sunday or the chaos of bedtime on a school night – all shot by the director Daniel Wolfe and the team at Love Song.
The Bloc Party film was so well received they turned it into a music video – and it’s hard to fail when Faithless ‘Insomnia’ is your soundtrack.
Apple advertising is fast becoming a benchmark – winning the Film Grand Prix at Cannes for a 30 second ad is something of a coup these days.
But the Christmas spot was perhaps one of their best – with a neat blend of animation and film.
Proof that you can include product in a commercial and have it contribute rather than irritate.
The Channel 4 series of idents managed to re-launch one of the most beloved channel logos – in a way that made it feel fresh all over again.
The sequence of films utilised 17 different creative artists working to a looping sequence designed by Art Practice in partnership with Daniel Wolfe’s Love Song. (Told you he’d had a good year).
Rest assured, this will be picking up a whole case of pencils at D&AD. More than likely a black one for the full sequence with a remarkable poem by John Joseph Holt.
Some brands that had been a bit quiet were back with a vengeance. Tango’s ‘Bust’ was just plain silly. Pot Noodle filled all kinds of holes with their noodles. And even Carlton Draught made a comeback with Long Live The Keg just in time for the coronation.
One of the best ads of the year was the Orange spot for the French women’s soccer team. The film proved – just as the World Cup tournament did – that the women are every bit as skilful and watchable as the men.
And it proved a great set up to the 20 penalty shoot out between the Matildas and Les Bleues.
That was probably the most extraordinary piece of TV of the year.
In complete contrast – the most underplayed moment of the year would have to be the Uber One spot featuring Robert de Niro and Asa Butterfield.
It’s just a joy to watch this spot. And perhaps the first time Mother has outclassed Special at the Uber games. Great too that all those rumours about Robert de Niro playing an Uber Driver were made up.
It gave the ad a bit more bite when it did appear.
In Australia, there were some great bits of work. Unusually good given the climate of uncertainty and doubt.
Special were behind the game-changing Shift 20 project for the Dylan Alcott Foundation. (We were fortunate enough to be asked to assist on this one I have to confess.) And the way the agency managed to convince all manner of marketers to let us re-create scenes from their existing ads bringing in a new cast with disabilities was inherently and instantly effective.
The Monkeys played a good game. With some long form ads which seemed to all come out at once.
The two that shone was the Telstra spot by Mark Molloy. Talk about going out on a high – with the account heading Bear-wards.
But the Opera House piece is something that has divided many of the ad community. But for me, it captures Australian creativity in a witty, understated way.
Play it safe manages to express why we should aspire and endeavour to do everything but that. Tim Minchin’s lyrics nail the sentiment. I think it is probably the best advertisement to encourage creative people around the world to come to Australia that there’s been.
It’s certainly about the best tourism ad for Australia I’ve seen.
To that point – Susan Coghill’s idea to mimic Brent Smart – and create a three-layered agency sandwich certainly got tongues wagging.
Competitors were forced to talk about working collaboratively. And in some respects, the industry in Australia is creating a new approach to creativity as a result.
With boutiques hosting brilliant creatives working alongside agencies who handle the day to day and media companies delivering the big picture – there is a shift emerging here.
And already we are seeing lots of small independent creative companies hoping they mirror Bear Meets Eagle’s success. If they can match their smart and refreshing creative work, then they will be doing very well.
There’s rarely a year when ALDI don’t produce a winner. And the wonderfully dry performances – particularly of the cashier – in the wettest of supermarkets made this spot one of the year’s best. It’s a great bit of honest communication.
Beyond advertising, there were a few other highlights which can’t be ignored.
Cate Blanchett re-creating her dance moves live on stage at Glastonbury with Sparks was worthy of every headline.
Music video wise, the director of Chernobyl – the TV series, not the reactor – delivered an emotional masterpiece for Sigur Ros. Kendrick Lamar’s ‘We Cry Together’ is about as tough a watch as you can manage, but blending as it does music and performance, it’s an extraordinary work.
But for the sheer fun of it, Oscar Hudson’s clip for James Blake’s ‘Big Hammer’ would be my pick of the year.
But my absolute highlight – something truly hi-vis – would be this 3 minute piece of TV. If you want a lesson in creating a viral sensation, then this is it. It is joyful, infectious, inviting, fun and shareable. No wonder this guy won the whole thing.
Yep, good honest entertainment.
Just like all advertising should and could be.