Neil Christie is managing director of Wieden+Kennedy London, one of the UK’s most awarded agencies and, since winning Tesco and Three among others, one of its biggest. He began his career in 1984 as a ‘lowly dogsbody’ (his words) at Allen Brady & Marsh, moving via Yellowhammer and BBH to become managing director of TBWA London. He became W+K London’s first managing director in 2004.
I admire great campaigns more than brilliant one-offs. It’s very hard to create a unique classic like Cadbury’s ‘Gorilla’, but it’s extraordinarily difficult to create a sustained run of work of that quality. Those are the campaigns that live in the memory forever and create lasting value. So my choices are all examples chosen from long-running campaigns that made a real dent in popular culture
As well as the legendary ‘50s American stuff, VW had a sustained run of excellence throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s in the UK. I spent much of this period struggling to do good work on various car brands, watching and gnashing my teeth in envy as VW kept on rolling out one classily understated campaign after another: from Paula Hamilton chucking her fur but keeping her Golf, to the obsessive Passat engineer who is irritated by the world’s unsatisfying doors, to the brilliantly simple ‘surprisingly ordinary prices’ work, to ‘don’t forget it’s a diesel’. The campaign helped VW grow share to the point where it is now the UK’s third best-selling car brand. Here’s one lovely example.
I don’t know what the ‘campaign idea’ for Virgin Atlantic is and I don’t care. What I do know is that they have over time thoroughly convinced me they are cooler, sexier, and just generally better than BA. The ads have always been distinctively glamorous, whether lingering over Helen Mirren’s legs or exuberantly celebrating Virgin’s je ne sais quoi, as in this spectacular, executed in the style of a Bond title sequence.
In the early days of console gaming Playstation was the clear leader, backed by a smart, provocative ad campaign, ‘Do not underestimate the power’. ‘Double Life’ was the strongest ad in the campaign. “I have commanded armies and conquered wurrulds.” It still gives me chills. Dark, powerful, thought-provoking and surprising, this campaign persuaded us that PlayStation wasn’t a toy for kids; it was the gateway to living your wildest dreams.
There’s not much I can add to the praise already heaped on BBH’s astonishing run of work on Levi’s. Classic after classic – Launderette, Swimmer, Creek, Drugstore, Flat Eric. This is my favourite and I can still remember how it enraptured me the first time I saw it. The brave, surprisingly apt choice of music is the stroke of genius that makes this spot so arresting and even somehow moving.
“You know when you’ve been Tango’d” swept the playgrounds of Britain and made a fairly vile fizzy drink desirable with a series of irreverent, anarchic commercials that seemed to come out of nowhere. Blackcurrant Tango’s Ray Gardner was a joyous creation of comedy gold and, looking at it again now, I wonder if it may have in some small way helped inspire Ricky Gervaise to create David Brent.
‘Reassuringly expensive’ was an idea with legs. It ran from 1982 until 2007 and hit its stride with the series of commercials inspired by the French movie Jean De Florette. They are beautifully-executed masterpieces of concise storytelling that have you licking your lips in anticipation of a delicious pint of Stella.
This one, with the dying father, and the son who can’t resist temptation, is a gem.
And this one, the story of the red shoes, again somehow packs a whole movie into 60 seconds. Lovely stuff.
A few years ago, it seemed like Crispin Porter in the US could do no wrong. They kept coming up with smart, funny, fresh ideas that used new tech and emerging media in ways we really hadn’t seen before. But they did it in a genuinely different, entertaining way, particularly on Burger King. The first thing that really caught my attention was the strange and somewhat creepy world of Subservient Chicken. Then there were quirky and often controversial campaigns like Whopper Sacrifice and Whopper Virgins that didn’t conform to any of the accepted norms of advertising.
Ultimately, Crispin lost their way, lost customers and lost the account, but for a while this was the work of which I was really jealous. In this one, Whopper Freak-Out, they simply filmed the reactions of real customers who are told that Whoppers have been withdrawn forever. They freak out.
Steve Jobs may have been an obnoxious weirdo (that was my impression from reading his biography) but he was also, among many other accomplishments, a marketing wizard. ‘1984’ is sometimes cited as the greatest ad of all time but the renaissance of Apple began in 1997 with the ‘Think Different’ campaign and ‘Here’s to the Crazy Ones’, an ad which is not a sales message so much as an inspirational manifesto for the life less ordinary. This spot speaks directly to anyone with any sense of creativity and individuality. How could you not want to be one of the rebels who push the human race forward?
It’s a simple montage of library footage but, my God, it’s thrilling! The writing is great and Richard Dreyfus’s measured delivery of the words just grabs you. ‘The Crazy Ones’ makes me proud to work in this business and it still has the power to bring tears to my eyes.
At the time the ad originally ran, Apple’s continued existence was in doubt. Today it’s the most valuable company in the world. The ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world really are the ones who do.
As my desert island luxury item, just to be inconsistent with my opening remarks, I’m adding a single brilliant, hilarious one-off. This beautifully written and directed Alka Seltzer ad from 1969 never gets old.
Looking back at these campaigns I am reminded that, at its best, what we do can be inspiring, engaging, moving and hugely entertaining. It can be highly effective at influencing opinion and changing behaviour. So let’s not settle for mediocre. Let’s do work we can be proud of, that people will love. Let’s dial up the crazy and try to change the world.