What ITV’s Ad of the Year poll shows about marketers and consumers (and agencies of course)

ITV canvassed a panel of 8000 people to vote for their favourite ads of 2011. I felt it was a very interesting reflection on public opinion versus advertising industry opinion. Let’s not forget Mr. Blobby was number one in the music charts some time in the past – a point I will return to.

Firstly, genuine congratulations to all involved, advertisers and their agencies, for managing to get above the clutter and getting into the top 20 favourite commercials of the year based on the opinion of the viewing public; no mean feat given the volume of advertising that is there to be seen.

Second, this is about what people like and isn’t necessarily about the amount of money spent behind brands. There are many brands spending tens of millions that don’t get a look in on the ‘likeability’ scale.

Thirdly, this is also not about effectiveness as there is not any judgement being made about the end result.

It is about what people like. Which to be fair is more than half the battle. For example did sales of VWs go up as a result of the their Star Wars spoof spot? I have no idea but I’m certain it added another few points to the good feelings many of us have about VW. Standing at number three it is one for the VW hall of fame of great creative work (by Deutsch LA not DDB this time) – simple, clean and very smart. First time I saw it I laughed out loud and it left me with warm feelings about the brand.

On the other hand the number one brand was a) one I have never heard of and b) have never seen the advertising. Cravendale milk has passed me by and I’m sure to my detriment. However for ITV’s 8000 panel it is their favourite for the year.

What did strike me was the way the top 20 split into clear categories.

The appeal of animals: Cravendale had the cats, Freeview the corgis, Wall’s a dog. It is a cluttered world they live in when one thinks of Churchill insurance and the dog, comparethemarket.com and the meerkats, plus many more; maybe a reflection of the nation’s love affair with pets.

The appeal of stylish productions including British Airways, Dior, John Lewis, VW, Lynx. Dior is a mega production and I guess for a large geographical region such as Europe that would justify the cost. BA was maybe the best UK production of 2011, nothing seen like it for years. John Lewis keeps turning them out, pulling on the nation’s heartstrings.

The appeal of clever techniques such as Weetabix and the girl dancing in her bedroom, Cadbury with the dancing clothes, Old Spice with the man moving from one scene to another. All excellent on a technical scale which clearly rang a few bells with the public.

What I did miss was the old fashioned notion of a proposition. For example the number one choice was the ‘cats with thumbs’ idea with an end line of “Jog on kitties”. I just didn’t get it. Was the thinking that if I liked the ad I would buy the product? Selling milk isn’t an easy brief by a long shot because for most of us milk is a commodity. We all understand any milk on public sale must meet certain quality standards so why buy one supplier versus another?

My guess for Cravendale is that distribution is key for them and trade sympathy for the brand is vital; perhaps liked and admired advertising gives them the critical listings necessary because for any major grocery retailer stocking a brand other than their own requires a pretty strong case.

My vote for proposition must go to BBH and BA. Their work for BA is crafted within an inch of its life and puts a stake in the ground that says ‘we stand for these values’. It is impossible not to understand the BA proposition and they don’t flinch from sticking to their guns. Full marks for backbone in a world that avoids having one.

The TV programme was full of hyperbole with language like ‘a golden year for advertising’; it is in ITV’s interest to promote advertising so fair enough as they produced and aired the show for an hour. However I don’t agree with the propaganda for several reasons. I would argue a slightly different point and suggest the top 20 is the best of 2011 from a viewers’ pov but not a vintage year. The influence of the Internet changes the role of broadcast advertising and I think it shows.

In many cases, although certainly not all, the agenda is to get the viewer to the website. That’s where the hard work is done on the sales pitch. This means the broadcast job can avoid the sales pitch but create an atmosphere of positive feelings towards the brand.

The John Lewis work is a good example on many levels. I understand they have bucked the retail trend this season by outperforming last year. The TV work is rifle shot in terms of target audience, its Christmas ad (not the one in ITV’s list) majored on a Smiths track from the early ’80?s, comfortable parents now around 40, young children in tow. This mid-year effort ‘Never knowingly undersold’ at number seven reveals a very good penetration of the populus and, given the target audience, I would make a wild guess they are all on broadband at home. Watch the ad, go ‘ahhh’ and move to the laptop. Before you know where you are £500 has been spent. Brilliant.

What I admire about this cunning plan hatched between Adam & Eve and JLP is the acceptance that the broadcast job, i.e. the tele, has one, clear, focused job to do – get younger, middle England on to our website.

However I watched numerous commercial breaks over the holiday period and ITV is running back to back sales ads for a range of retailers and they all look and sound the same. Lists of products, prices, a lot of white out of red, with a breathless v/o. In one break I saw two competing bed retailers, two electronics retailers, two furniture retailers. On the classic recall test I could not write down who was advertising and what they were telling me other than there are lots of sales – no shit Sherlock – it’s that time of year.

Back to Mr. Blobby. We do need to take stock from time to time on what is popular in the real world. That something as banal and rubbish as Mr. Blobby can outdo some of the best musicians and performers in the world to reach number one in the music charts says quite a lot. But we can’t make the people who voted with their wallets wrong – we are, after all, after their wallets too.

So it goes with advertising. Of course we all admire creative excellence within the industry and award gongs to those who go the extra distance. But let’s not forget a rip off of Candid Camera was voted number two in this 2011 ad chart and a miniature talking dog crept in at 19 for Walls.

We can’t make the punters wrong when it comes to what they like.

You May Also Like

About Paul Simons

Paul joined Cadbury-Schweppes in brand management and then moved to United Biscuits. He switched to advertising in his late 20s, at Cogent Elliott and then Gold Greenlees Trott. He founded Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnson in the late 80s, one of the leading creative agencies of the 90s. Simons Palmer then merged with TBWA to create a top ten agency. Paul then joined O&M as chairman & CEO of the UK group. After three years he left to create a new AIM-quoted advertising group Cagney Plc. He is now a consultant to a number of client companies. Paul also shares his thoughts on his blog. Visit Paul Simons Blog.

One comment

  1. Avatar

    The thing is, though, ITV never divulges how it comes up with the ads in question. Presumably ITV comes up with a shortlist of 20 and asks the 8,000 to rank them. I don’t really see how it’s feasible to do it any other way.

    So how do the ads get on the shortlist? Entertainment value? A nice spread of genres? Most watched on YouTube? Sure, there are some nice ads in the list, but until it’s clear how they find their way onto the list I can’t see how this amounts to much beyond light entertainment.