Paul Simons: is ‘integration’ to blame for the failure of Virgin’s ‘Arrive Awesome’ to hit the spot?

A sign of things to come?

When I spotted the new campaign for Virgin Trains I expected something exceptional but was left feeling something was missing.

The client was keen to point out their roster of agencies on the case: Krow who created the TV spot, TMW who are credited with devising the campaign idea and Lowe Profero on digital duties. All backed up by the boys and girls at Manning Gottlieb/OMD on media planning. This is where I became confused because TMW suggest their core skill is ‘digitally led relationship marketing’ based on data skills whereas Lowe Profero are the digital designers and producers.

Confused or what? I’m not quite sure who is doing what job here.

So this suggests TMW devised the ‘Arrive Awesome’ concept and it was handed to Krow to turn into TV work. It feels to me this is one of those situations where it is tricky to define who is in charge due to too many cooks in the kitchen. Further, the ‘Arrive Awesome’ idea in the TV spot lacks a foundation as it is based on a generic customer desire rather than a reason to choose Virgin Trains.

The TV work is actually an excellent production, to be expected as it was directed by Chris Palmer of Gorgeous, but it fails to convince the viewer why Virgin Trains can deliver the promise. My guess is the client bought a bigger package from TMW where the proof is online, ie. a list of product benefits without one overarching benefit. (As an aside, the TV idea is a bit of a poor relation to the fantastic Virgin Atlantic ‘25 Years and still Red Hot’ spot.)

This all might be a good example of one of my concerns about the whole integration piece being taken too far. The danger is the various players don’t stick to their knitting and drift onto territory that isn’t their core skill. Given the luxury of a brochure and/or website it is easy to park the uncomfortable requirement to focus on one benefit because the available space allows the client and the agency to indulge in War And Peace. However with TV luxury is 60 seconds, with no room for ‘and here is another point.’

I strongly believe the biggest and best ideas remain the territory of good advertising agencies; one reason is the rigour of a rifle shot creative brief combined with the limitations of a 48-sheet poster or a 30-second TV spot. The talent involved must condense a single proposition into a compelling piece of creative execution.

I know many examples of clients referring with pride to, say, a brochure, due to it containing everything they would ideally like to say to their customers but being difficult with advertising decisions because of the limitations of the media options.

In the world of ‘integration’ I have seen examples of a client embracing the long version being developed for a website and then expecting the advertising agency to convert the idea into a TV spot. It very rarely works; it never did in the old days of direct marketing and it doesn’t today.

The names have changed to more contemporary language but the problem remains the same.

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About Paul Simons

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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.

6 comments

  1. Avatar

    Paul,

    Integration has become a real issue for clients isn’t it? Getting an agency ecosystem together, getting them to work together, to deliver an “integrated” idea and campaign worthy of the name, looks hard when the “average” UK client has seven agencies, and 15% have 11 or more!

    If only they has a dedicated independent objective resource to help them with all this…

  2. Avatar

    @Paul…
    Surely “Awesome” is the most abused word in the English language? As for the spot, why are these people walking as if the have a broomstick up their arse? Why are they all grinning like churls? They are going to Manchester for fucks sake. Perhaps they are tripe aficionados. I’ll bet SIR Richard doesn’t find Manchester “Awesome.” CAUTION: Before everyone freaks out… I was born and grew up on Factory Lane, Manchester. You can’t get any more “Awesome” than that.
    Cheers/George “AdScam” Parker

  3. Avatar

    What about “Iconic”? Everything’s damned well “Iconic” these days. And probably “awesome”, too.

  4. Avatar

    @Brian…
    Your comment was Awesomely Iconic. I have no doubt it will be Artisanaly Curated by Stephen in a Holistic sense!
    Cheers/George

  5. Avatar

    Ha, seem to have scratched several itches here. I try to avoid being rude writing about other people’s creative work but very tempted here. Agree with the language point, the word ‘awesome’ smacks of American over-claim and surely not applicable to a train ride in rat class. A full carriage in standard class is not a life enhancing experience. Suggest Virgin compensate passengers who haven’t arrived feeling ‘awesome’.
    Also Simon’s point about integration is well made too, becoming a challenging issue as big advertisers squander squillions on attempting to get all of their agency partners to play together. Mostly they don’t, most are under the cosh on margins, and often the worst offenders are when they all come from the same global network. I have witnessed some of the worst muggings between two divisions of the same parent company.

  6. Avatar

    @Paul…
    As we both well know, clients are inclined to believe their own bullshit, particularly when it is being lobbed around by the big swinging dick at the top of the pyramid, who also happens to sport a “Sir” or a “Lord” in recognition of his “services to the realm.” Unfortunately, their agencies are complicit in the bullshit. Not since the days of Gossage, Bernbach and Ogilvy has an agency had the nerve to say… “Excuse me, SIR, I think you are underestimating the intelligence of your audience, and are in danger of coming off like a pompous twat. Can you imagine any agency today doing that? As Zippy the Pinhead would say… “Nah!”
    Cheers/George