OY FOR ENGLAND

We here at The Escape Pod were very kindly sent a selection of fab UK ad annuals from the 1960s and 1970s by Ben Kay. Thank you Ben.

Ben Kay is about to become the new Michael Crichton. You heard it here first folks!

He writes an excellent advertising blog in London and has just published his first novel, which I have purchased and plan to read on my summer vacation.

And one thing that radiates loud and clear from the old annuals is the Britishness of the work. Or more specifically, the Englishness of the work.

No offense intended to Wales and Scotland. You know what I mean.

I’m from Ireland. So feck off!

London is still generally where it’s at media/culture wise in the so called British Isles.

But it’s this identifiably English tone that gives the ads their appeal.

For a culture with a reputation for calling a spade a you-know-what, the English can be very incisive and cutting given half a chance.

And advertising provides a wonderful platform for very direct communication that is designed to interrupt.

English people are funny. And they know how to have fun.

But they can also be really charming.

And English people are very conscious of the impression they are making. They are sensitive.

And the best of UK advertising reflects all the above. Or used to.

But I have noticed a marked decrease in this trait over the last ten years.

UK advertising seems to be in the grip of a dark force. The work has become increasingly bland and anodyne and lifeless.

It used to be the best in the world.

It used to be populist and cheeky and really engaging.

What happened?

Is that dark force internationalism? “Will it work in Belgium?” syndrome. London is an international capital after all.

Or is testing? Too boring to consider. Yawn. But probably a factor in the rise of the epic analogy film that neatly avoids
humanity and actual fun at great expense. You know, where the agency press release leads with the cost or complexity of the production. Like that’s going to make it better viewing.

Holding company dreariness stifling creative energy? Lots of that about. But it’s not new.

Lack of interesting UK startups. Have you seen some of the speccy herberts behind some of the latest agencies to pop up in Limeyland? Frank Lowe they ain’t.

The UK ad industry seems to be obsessed with digital and online but seems to have difficulty doing great work in the space.

A lot of UK digital efforts seem to strive to have everything seem “integrated” at the expense of feeling and sounding human. Why not just be random and fun like the Internet itself?

I personally think the very worthy UK focus on craft could also be getting in the way here. Just let it happen maaaan! It’s only the internet.

And of course, planning. It’s big over there. And I fear it’s one of the reasons so much of the work “makes sense”. You can almost smell the limp focus group sandwiches in some of the work.

Love to hear from some UK-ites on this one. It’s a real shame in my book.

Who knows, maybe we’re on the cusp of a cool Britannia for advertising.

Hope so.

10 responses to “OY FOR ENGLAND

  1. As Dave T. says, the B&H brief is a case in point. It was a great idea when CDP were the only ones doing it. The problem is everyone copied and still are. Also could it be that political correctness stuck the boot in when the ad biz was just copying this B&H stylee imagery and left everyone with very little room for manouvre?

    BTW I’d like to big up Ben Kay too for giving me his ‘Inside CDP’ book.

    • you mean the surreal Alan Waldie campaign from the 70s? what’s inside CDP?

      • That’s the fella. I think Frank Lowe said of the Benson & Hedges campaign, “We’ve got to do something nobody will understand. Because if they can’t understand, they can’t object to it.” http://amzn.to/iEPymE

  2. Don’t they have pretty harsh censors to overcome Vinny? Damn that magazine is almost as old as me and I am old as dirt!

    • then i am older than dirt howie. actually they do have shitty government TV scrip approval system. which sounds terrible.

  3. Vinnie, years ago when I used to sit on D&AD juries the jurors were 100% Brits.
    So the ads with ‘Britishness’ were understood and got votes.
    Two years ago I was on the D&AD TV jury and only 50% of the jury was Brits.
    So the ‘Britishness’ ads didn’t get understood or voted for,
    This year I was on ‘Writing for Advertising’ jury.
    Only 2 out of 6 jurors were Brits.
    The ‘Britishness’ ads weren’t understood or voted for.
    In order to grow, D&AD wanted to be international (to rival Cannes) so they needed international juries.
    So the work at D&AD has become more like the work that gets into Cannes.
    People say ‘Can’t the Brits do that quirky UK humour anymore?’
    But to get into the annual, ‘Britishness’ has to get voted for by people who understand it.
    Brits.
    In my experience, international juries just votes for what they understand.
    The same old bland international stuff.
    When it comes to advertising, I’m a fan of differences not similarities.

    • Very true Dave! This decline does coincide with D&AD going international. But do you think this alone would cause such a shift in the work? Are UK creatives that award obsessed that they’d stop being themselves?

      I think it was better when the ad work reflected the UK culture as a whole. It’s kind of one big in-joke that’s meant to be impenetrable to foreigners. but funny when you do get it.

    • Dave,
      that’s not only problem for D&AD.
      it’s the problem for any festival.
      you can’t be “the other Cannes”.
      irony is this is happening to industry that’s suppose to understand the point of being different.
      let Cannes be the most international ad festival. but make others “the most local ad festival”.

  4. Could the desire for Johnny Foreigner, with his ‘exotic difference’, to take up pivotal positions within the creative department in the good old U.K have proved detrimental to the unique outlook that still, the last time I looked, is what the vast majority of the proletariat want?
    ‘I thought it was the u.k or just another country’. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQkActP-isE

  5. Ok so it looks like everyone is steering clear of the ‘foreigner’ excuse. Scary stuff. If one gets involved one gets accused of being a racist and hence the issue never gets discussed. Like I said scary stuff. The nearest I can see how the ‘foreigner’ effect has negatively played out on a previously unique expression is the Premier League. Club sides with no restrictions on maintaining home grown players has certainly had a negative impact on the national football team, England.

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