Ice Cream and the Infinite Mystery of Advertising

I've always thought it must be a nightmare for people trying to get into the ad industry, and for people who buy ads, that ad agency people themselves can't even agree on what makes for a good ad.

An ad currently dividing opinion is this US commercial for ice cream...

Have a watch and see what you think before you read any further.

I've seen people praise this as brilliant, in fact someone called it 'the best ad they've seen this year'.

And I've seen people criticise it, Suzanne Pope of adteachings went as far as to say "Rest assured, even if you crash and burn in advertising, you will never make anything as terrible as this."

It's one of the interesting and infuriating things about this business that we can't seem to agree on what makes for good advertising.

Can we expect clients, especially the non-marketing execs, to take us seriously when this is the case?

Someone pointed out that if the ad above wins a creative award, everyone will retrospectively agree it's good. There's some truth in that isn't there? That's part of the reason I don't rate creative awards. Even though they're judged by panels of supposed experts in the field of advertising, often they don't even agree on whether an ad is worthy of an award or not. And I see way too many things that I don't think are good pieces of advertising win awards.

Then again - we have the very robust school of thought that if an ad is successful (ie. it 'works') then it's a good ad. Hard to argue with that isn't it? We have effectiveness awards in advertising, so do we need any other kind of awards at all, ones judged on opinion?

Then again, there are sometimes other factors that mean an ad doesn't meet the targets set, aren't there? And if an ad works, is it really automatically good? What about the notion that advertising shouldn't vulgarise our world? Is a well-made, enjoyable ad that works superior to one that works equally well but is awful to see or hear?

Byron Sharp's simple recipe for effective advertising includes using clear brand links by including the brand's distinctive assets, mentioning the brand verbally and/or visually, showing the product, showing the product in use, and refreshing and building memory structures to make a brand more likely to come to mind and be easier to notice. That still leaves quite a lot of wiggle room for interpretation doesn't it?

Byron points out that although it's commonly assumed that persuasion-oriented advertising must be more sales effective, this is not true, citing decades of research that show that most sales come from people who had no intention of buying.

Then again maybe you don't agree with Professor Sharp? I know a lot of people don't. This is difficult territory because Prof Sharp always points out, his points are based on scientific research. Personally I have a lot of time for the scientific method, as I'm sure do most people.

It's sometimes difficult to reconcile when you have giants of the industry like Bill Bernbach saying things like “The purpose of advertising is to sell. That is what the client is paying for and if that goal does not permeate every idea you get, every word you write, every picture you take, you are a phony and you ought to get out of the business.” or “However much we would like advertising to be a science - because life would be simpler that way - the fact is that it is not. It is a subtle, ever-changing art, defying formularization, flowering on freshness and withering on imitation; where what was effective one day, for that very reason, will not be effective the next, because it has lost the maximum impact of originality.”

As discoveries are made in the field of neuroscience and behavioural science about how we make decisions, some in advertising advocate that advertising needs to be emotional or evoke an emotional response to be successful. Then again, it's not completely clear that emotional stimulus equals emotional decision. Nevertheless, quite a lot of ad people now argue that ads only need to be entertaining or moving in some way.

Then again Amil Gargano, one of the great admen, says "All other explanations aside, the simple, obvious, and mostly ignored purpose of advertising is to get people to buy what your clients sell. To develop advertising that does that is not an embarrassment. But to develop advertising that solely amuses or entertains, is."

Of course these days some people counter the advice of people like Bernbach and Gargano by saying that they did great work, but it didn't work the way they thought it worked.

And on top of all this, you have what I call the Talkability Jonnies. These are the people who say on twitter, or on the blog, or at a pub "Well you're talking about it, so it must be working". They don't seem to realise that it's our job to be constantly looking at, interrogating and trying to understand the work that's out there and why it does or doesn't work. Whether good or bad. Getting a bunch of ad people talking about your ad is no measure of success.

So where does this all leave us? Back at the beginning I suppose. Looking at a commercial and trying to work out whether you think it's a good piece of advertising?

What do you think?

Eight Things That Help Us...

If you're visiting the blog and wondering why the lack of updates, it's because we're guest editing the APG website this month, so our posts are going up there. This week's piece is about eight things that help us develop ideas. Have a look here...

And thanks for stopping by, normal service will be resumed next week.

APG Guest Editors This Month - Us!

Hello there fine reader. Something strange has happened. For over ten years (9 on this blog) we've been calling bullshit on the ad industry and it's weird and counterproductive practices from the periphery of the business.

But this month, the rather lovely people at the APG have invited us to be guest editors of their website, specifically to help unpick the way that planning and creative work together (or don’t) in ad agencies. And suggest a better way of working.

We are on the inside, people.

The APG describe themselves as a membership organisation that promotes smarter thinking. That sounds good to us. More of that is needed.

Anyway, head on over the to the site here to read the introduction. Check back over the next four weeks as we'll be posting up articles that are intended to challenge the current way agencies work with clients and develop ideas.

If you have landed here from the APG website and are new to the karayzee world of Sell! Sell!, hello and thanks for stopping by. Stay a while and have a root around, here's a few posts to give you a flavour...

From 2008: Strategy Is Not a Department

2009: Three Chords and the Truth:

2010: Is Advertising More Stupider Than it Thinks?

2010: The Centre for Common Fucking Sense in Marketing:

2010: An Open Letter (The 'Brian Letter'):

2010: The Truth About Advertising Blog Readers:

2016: Are You Really Okay with the Idea of Creativity?

And don't forget our book (although it's currently sold out, new run hopefully coming soon) you can read about it here:

Pink Floyd V&A Exhibition

If any of you mortals happen to find yourself not sat on the sofa shovelling a combination of pickled gherkins and ice cream down your gob this weekend, I suggest you mosey on down to the V&A and check out the Pink Floyd exhibition.

Why? Because it's good (I hope you didn't come here hoping to find some kind of insightful review).

There's lots of musicy stuff to enjoy. There's also a dizzying amount of art directiony stuff to enjoy too.

Or, if you're like myself and you enjoy irritating the well spoken and well mannered amongst us by standing uncomfortably close and breathing your gherkiny-ice-creamy-breath all over them, then there's lots of potential for that as well.

It's the perfect day out for all the family.

New W&K ad for Finish

There's a hell of a lot to enjoy in Wieden & Kennedy's swansong ad for Finish. It's refreshing to see something so entertaining in what is a relatively dull category. Also refreshing to see something grounded so firmly in the world of subject of cleaning dishes rather than any high falutin' brand purpose lifestyle nonsense. Seems absolutely ludicrous that the account is moving when the creative work is as good as this. Maybe it's a sad indictment and sign of our times that for some marketing folk other things matter far more that the quality of their advertising...


Harry Willcock via the excellent Mike Dempsey blog

Mike Dempsey has written two great pieces about Harry Willcock, the man who helped create a large portion Alan Aldridge's work. You can check out the first piece here, and the second here.

If you're not yet familiar with Mike Dempsey's blog, then get to know, son. It's one of the few blogs remaining that is written by someone capable of designing themselves, it features in-depth and thoughtful pieces about work created from both today and yesteryear, and there's not a shred of 'it's-ironic-therefore-it-must-be-good-omg-lol'.

"I Like It" "So What?"

One of the things I like most about our agency is that when someone says something like "I think this works better" someone else always asks why.

Being able to explain why you think one thing is better than another is vital to our industry - because we need to do it if we want to get people to make better advertising.

Nothing in advertising is pure art, pure creative, for its own sake. We use the power of artistic techniques and creative crafts for a reason - to make communication more effective.

If you're putting something in a piece of communication that isn't there to make it more effective, just for your own artistic reasons or to win a creative award, you're probably a hack. Sorry about that.

This is why the language of how we talk about advertising is vital.

We have to be able to talk to senior people in client companies about why the creativity or craft will be more effective.

One of the fascinating, yet slightly crazy, things about advertising, is that it seems even the people who work in advertising can't agree on what is 'good'.

And I think part of the reason for that is that people are often not arguing about whether something is 'good' or not at all.

They're just saying they like it. So it becomes subjective.

I hear people say I like this.

Woopee-fucking-do. I like pineapple on pizza.

I don't care, quite frankly, whether you like it or not.

Instead, let's have a conversation about what makes it work. Why do you think it will work?

That's a conversation that professional people should be having.

Liking an ad is a privilege of the amateur.

Does it do what it's meant to do?

Why will this do the job well?

I still believe that there is no single 'formula' for what makes something a 'good' piece of advertising, which I think can only be a good thing, can't it?

But because of this, we have to become better as an industry, creatives, planners, everyone, at having a proper conversation about why things work, and why our creativity and craft makes things work better.

Until we all magically find clients who will just let us do whatever we think is right (I'm not sure that's a good idea by the way), this is the only way better advertising is going to be made.

With a respectful doff of the cap to Dave Trott