Advertising gripes from 1992


There’s so much good stuff to cherry-pick from this 1992 Adweek piece on the demise of Fred/Alan. It jolted me into realising how silly we all are in thinking that the problems we have are strictly contemporary. Maybe that’s the polite way of saying we none of us know our history.

Somewhere along the way, Seibert says, agencies became “no different than a free-lance writer/art director team. The client set a strategy and gave it to them, and they fulfilled it. If the client didn’t like how they fulfilled it they gave it to another team. Then another. But that’s how a real partnership works.” The agency/client relationship has since taken on so many vendor-like traits, Seibert adds, it’s completely acceptable to “blow an agency off just because it doesn’t take you skiing.”

To my shame, this was the first time I’d heard of Fred/Alan. Their archive is fascinating – start with their positioning presentation for Comedy Central, a masterpiece in concision.

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The world is becoming over-explained

Mark told me about these Will Ferrell spots for Old Milwaukee beer last night. They’ve nearly all been recorded as they played on TV, probably on a phone, and then uploaded to personal YouTube channels. (The video above is a handy compilation of several of the individual ads existing out there in the far reaches of YouTube.) I think the ads are great but I didn’t get why I couldn’t find them in HD on the brand channel, or why there wasn’t a neat precis somewhere detailing Old Milwaukee’s marketing strategy and its relationship with Will Ferrell.

This made me reflect on our relationship with information, or more specifically how we’ve gotten used to the near-instant sating of our craving for explanation. Enigma is disappearing. There is little mystery left now that Google has gotten so good at fulfilling our search queries. The world is becoming over-explained. We get to the bottom of something in a few seconds and move on.

It was the absence of answers, and the lack of any obvious ‘why’, that ended up drawing me deeper into the Old Milwaukee world. The grainy YouTube videos, the scant amount of available information, the obvious confusion of viewers – these are classic elements of virality even though the concept of viral is now well and truly appropriated.

An offbeat sensibility coupled with a willful disregard for the conventions of advertising is a pretty standard formula for a brand that wants to establish its independent credentials. But still there’s something else about these ads, something I haven’t seen explained yet. And I think it’s the fact that I’ve had to think for myself what that something else might be which makes me love them so much.


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Carlsberg blandifies itself


Carlsberg is currently rolling out an aggressive campaign aimed at doubling profits by 2015. The main plank of their strategy is a new positioning to ‘help the brand unleash its full potential’. Unfortunately, that positioning is a generic, unengaging and arguably derivative pile of toss.

In the UK, where Carlsberg’s long-running ‘Probably the best lager in the world’ advertising was hugely successful and popular, it’s already being noted that Carlsberg’s new work is little more than a poor man’s Carling ad.

As John Hegarty argued in his wonderful Cannes keynote a few weeks ago, brand growth is increasingly tied in to genuine difference. When confronted with a pack of brands, consumers are more than likely going to plump for the lone wolf. With ‘That Calls for a Carlsberg’, Carlsberg succeeds only in safely reinserting itself in the middling rank of beers. No one’s offended, nobody gets hurt. The brand goes nowhere.

Here’s the latest TVC. It’s rubbish:

Compare and contrast with the awesome new K-Swiss’ work featuring the Eastbound & Down character Kenny Powers as the shoe manufacturer’s fictional CEO. Tagline – ‘Shut up and buy them’.

Here’s a couple of the standout pieces of content:

Too profane and too niche for Carlsberg? Probably. But if a mass-market brand can’t risk doing something this brave on a global level, it should just forget about trying to develop global positioning statements that mean nothing to anyone. K-Swiss inserts itself into the cultural conversation. Carlsberg politely excuses itself and fades from view.

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