Hands up, who thinks the iPad Air Your Verse ad, with the Robin Williams voiceover from the Dead Poets Society and images of wind farms, mountain tops and coral beds is evocative? Of what, anyway? “Medicine, law, business, engineering – these are noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life,” says the voiceover. “But poetry, beauty, romance, love – these are what we stay alive for.”
Or how about the puddle-deep profundity of the Microsoft Nokia Lumia ad where bright young things do what bright young things do whilst framing what other bright young things are doing through an imaginary phone camera which when it stops being imaginary, turns out to be the first phone to put the camera first. Apparently.
Yes, it probably seemed like a good idea at the time. The mood reel. Throw together a bucket of clips from films which everyone likes, showing the target market enjoying themselves, lob half a yard of Moby or Hans Zimmer onto it all and hey presto/promo, you’ve got the perfect research aphrodisiac. This will get the respondents in the mood. They’ll be like putty in the planner’s hands when he or she gets their scripts out. And then the client sees it, with the brand logo at the end of this latest bit of video floss, and says – ‘why don’t we just run that?’
And that, my friends, was the Birth of the Age of Average. When clients realised you didn’t need an idea. You just need a track. And some footage of some good old human beings being quirky, energetic, emotional, dancy, sexy, introspective or cute. All over the land, creative departments took the afternoon off. Who needs one when you have an enthusiastic intern who can plunder Amelie or Inception yet again, knit some shit together, apply the branding iron and parcel it up for the next corporate conference call? This is then passed on to a director with the instructions ‘shoot that’. Well, that’s how it seems.
If you scan the horizon of current television advertising, it is overshadowed by such pieces of ‘blanding’. Content without content. Images of people doing stuff. There is nothing to feel because we are just observing. Watching another procession of carefully chosen tableaux of what a demographic looks like if it were on a permanent sugar rush. Mobile phone companies. Tech companies. Health food companies. Travel companies.
No wonder the 2011 John Lewis Long Wait film was so popular. Finally a film with a story, a narrative. You had something to hold onto. It was like Mrs Doyle from Father Ted bursting into a Stepford Wives coffee morning. (And, thank the Lord, it worked as well).
Mood reel ads – the lowest common denominator – abound because courage and individuality don’t. Mood reel ads aren’t just anodyne, they are plain lazy. Everyone knows the client will buy them because the client knows they can sell them internally. Because they are the safe kind of advertising. No-one has to do any thinking, least of all the creatives. And, ta da, they work everywhere. In every country. Like Coldplay. Or flu.
So what’s the point? Well, John Lewis proved the point. If you just want to look at the pictures and feel nothing, then carry on with the mood reel ads. Buy the track. Line up the scenarios. And sit back.
If you want to form some kind of lasting and therefore financially and emotionally rewarding bond with your consumers, you have to show them what you’re like, not what they’re like. Or what you think they’d like to be.
So as the next procession of cute kids roll down the hillside or jump in a puddle or the next pick ‘n’ mix bag of ‘20-somethings’ watch the fireworks in Rio or dangle their legs over a rooftop all accompanied by Elbow’s One Day Like This, do what they beg you to do. Ignore them.
Music Ad Trends
The Trend: Guilty Pleasures
“The Guilty Pleasure trend appears to be in full effect at the moment,” says Massive Music’s Roscoe Williamson. “Campaigns such as 3 Mobile’s Sing It Kitty (We Built This City by Starship, above), O2’s Be More Dog (Flash by Queen), and Confused.com’s Brian The Robot (Knightrider theme) are all examples of recent campaigns that follow the trend.
But will it last? Williamson thinks not. “The Guilty Pleasure trend will lose its attraction pretty quickly as the industry gets saturated with tongue-in-cheek spots and the appeal wears thin,” he says. “Last year we saw a very heavy use of dubstep which has all but disappeared now as the fashion has waned.”
The Trend: Cover Versions
“Most of them are very simply delivered with a solo piano or acoustic guitar and sombre vocal performance,” says Aaron Reynolds, sound designer and partner at Wave Studios. “This was probably started by the John Lewis Christmas campaigns (Bear & Hare, above) and/or that wonderful ad for Thomson that featured a piano and string recital of The Pixies’ Where Is My Mind. I guess what brands get from this is the recognition and nostalgic attachment of the old song while delivering a new message through the new version of the song. Or maybe I’m reading too much into the psychology and it’s just because it sounds nice!”
The Trend: Keep it real
“Clients seem more invested in live recordings now, whether we’re recording a full orchestra or a single featured instrument,” says Sean Atherton of Siren (McVitie’s Puppy by Grey London above). If we want to win the job, we have to do everything we can to establish authenticity in the music we produce.”
The Trend: Going epic
“Regarding bespoke composition, there is definitely a trend towards more epic tracks,” says Williamson (Booking.com ad by W+K Amsterdam shown). “Whether this be a full-on orchestral piece or layers of electronic atmospherics, we are noticing a lot of briefs want us to maximise the emotional connection through rousing music. This feels like a reaction against the handmade music trend we saw so much of at the start of the decade.”
The Trend: No longer seen as a sell-out
“There is always a lot of licensing of existing music for ads, perhaps more so in the past five years, as record labels and publishers are now looking to ads as a viable source of income,” says Reynolds, (Volvo Made By Sweden ad by Forsman & Bodenfors shown). “It’s now much easier for brands to work with artists and many artists now see advertising as a stepping stone in their career, not to mention a way to pay their bills.”