George Parker: my review of 2015 and US agency pick

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Christmas seems to have come (and almost gone) in November this year so we’re kicking off our reviews of the year and choice of agencies and others early too. Who better than George Parker, founder and editor of the famed Adscam, to get the ball rolling? Among other highlights (or maybe lowlights) George picks his US agency. We’ll come to a final choice of this when Jerry Judge and Michael Lee have their say. As for UK agency the ones that have caught our eye are (in alphabetical order) adam&eveDDB, Brothers and Sisters, Grey, Lucky Generals, R/GA and WCRS.

This time last year I presented AdScam’s first annual Titanium Dildo Awards for ad agency excellence. This was to complement the efforts of mates Jerry Judge and Mike Lee as they picked their choice for MAA’s Agency of the Year over a blow out luncheon in an expensive NYC eatery. In his wisdom, Stephen has asked the three of us to jump through the same hoop this year.

Unfortunately, here in the Fourth Reich, my lunch will be sauerkraut & chips. Anyway, being an awkward fucker, I shall not announce my choice until the end of this rant. First I want to address some of the things that I believe influenced the degenerating state of the Ad Biz in 2015.

Fail of the year: There is no question that the best illustration of how far we are slipping down the shitty tubes was the decision by Johnnie Walker to move its account from BBH to Anomaly. Instead of a body of great work, including the superb, single take, six minute spot of Robert Carlisle “Keep Walking,” we got “The Power of Joy,” (below). A travesty of poseurs in every drinking cliché in the book, including a bunch at a cocktail bar deep in the Amazon rain forest.

However, Karina Wilsher, CEO of Anomaly New informs us that… “The power of joy brings a transformational, new lens on progress, and one that will accelerate Johnnie Walker’s momentum in culture.” What a load of old bollocks. I shall keep on walking.

Doing it for love, not money: Early in the year it was revealed that Miles Nadal (below), Uber-Fuhrer, of wannabe holding company, MDC, had been liposuctioning multi millions of dollars in fake expenses out of the company. So far he has kicked back $21 million, but the SEC inquiry is ongoing, so it could be a lot more. A spokesman for Nadal informs us that “He’s going to spend more time with his family and pursue his philanthropic endeavors and other business interests.” Well, I would bet that his “philanthropic endeavors” will heretofore be somewhat restrained due to a lack of funds. Wanker! And let’s not get into the other ongoing enquiry by the ANA about media kickbacks.
miles-nadal-hands-hed-2015

The increasing irrelevancy of awards: The value of ad awards has been falling ever since the audience at the 1991 CLIO’s stormed the stage to grab statuettes after Bill Evans ran off with all the entry fees and shoved them up his nose. Now it’s hosted by AdWeek and has a thousand categories, including “Best Vendor of Toilet Rolls.” Just kidding, see below!

As for Cannes, here’s what Jeff Goodby had to say about this year’s event… “It used to be a showcase for some of the most famous ideas in the world. This year, it felt more like a convention of industrial roofing specialists, discussing the latest in fiberglass insulation technology. Sure, there was ingenuity on display: content delivery systems, co-ordinated interactive installations. But when I got home and tried to tell friends from outside the industry what I had seen, they looked bored, even pitying.”

I’ve lost track of how many categories Cannes has now, but, God, those entry fees keep rolling in. And on a final note, why are all the ads from Azerbaijan in English?

Ad-Blocker Bollocks: I wish people would shut the fuck up about ad-blocking. It’s here, it’s growing, and it’s not going to go away. Yeah, I know ad-blockers don’t work on mobile devices… but they will soon. Some smart fucker is going to make it possible. Then all this bullshit about the magic of digital is going to come crashing down, ‘cos let’s face it, no one wants ads for hemorrhoid cream popping up when they’re watching porn on their smart phone, let alone on their postage sized smart watch. We should consider that putting shitty banner ads on someone’s wrist is a dumb idea. When “Wearable Technology” finally happens, advertising will shift from being intrusive to rude. After all, you don’t want your Wi-Fi underpants telling you it’s time to consider that aforementioned hemorrhoid cream, do you?

Native – Content – Whaaa: Two of the most currently abused “Mots du Jours.” As far as I can make out, Native is what we used to call “Advertorials.” In other words, ads that look like editorials. Masters of this art included Gossage, Ogilvy and Pierre Lemonnier. Gossage used to do ads that finished in mid sentence, to be continued in next week’s ad. Ogilvy explained everything you need to know about oysters (below) whilst advertising Guinness. Lemonnier, over at Impact in Paris, did beautiful ads for champers and other high end products that looked like editorial reviews.
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Now Native ads look like pages from a plumbing catalogue. As for “Content Marketing” I just read that it is about telling a story that resonates with your client base, be that an existing customer or a prospective customer. Hello, that sounds suspiciously like an ad to me. Or as Howard Gossage said before most of you were born… “People don’t read advertising; they read what interests them, sometimes it’s advertising.”

Data, data, fucking data: Ah yes, the eight hundred pound gorilla that refuses to go away. And it never will if Sir Martin Sorrell has his way. WPP has spent the equivalent of the GNP of a small African nation scooping up data companies of every description all over the globe. But, as he loves to point out in his daily speeches, we are no longer “Mad Men,” we are now “Math Men.” I suppose that helps when he is counting his annual remuneration.

Personally, I’m with Sir John Hegarty (Lots of ad biz Sirs these days… Unless you’re a Saatchi, then you’re a Lord.) As MAA reported last month… He made the very good point that data is important but everybody, if they can afford it, has it. So, logically, these data driven ads would all be the same. But branding is about differentiation. Well said Sir John. AdScam touches forelock and respectfully backs away. As someone much cleverer than me once said… Data has always been a solution desperately searching for a problem.

Super Bowl Bollocks: Remember when it used to be referred to as the Super Bowl of Advertising? It all started with “Rid’s” 1984 spot launching the Mac. It was fucking huge and even though it only ran once, as Michael Caine would say… “It blew the fucking doors off.” Today, clients and their agencies run the shit out of their spots for weeks before the game. After all, if you’re shelling out $5 million for thirty seconds of airtime, you need to amortize that spend over every media opportunity in the world… Right? No, bloody wrong.

As I write this, there’s news that the 2015 Budweiser “Lost Dog” spot out pulled everything else on social media for weeks before the game, racking up 31 million views. Unfortunately, sales of Bud plummeted (The fact that it tastes like Nun’s Piss might have been a contributing factor.) The dogs have now been taken behind the woodshed and shot. As should everyone else recommending this kind of stupid behavior. Give the viewer a surprise with something new, otherwise they’ll go for a pee.

A glimmer of light: Just to prove that it’s not all gloom and doom, news the other week that Pepsi has given its procurement department the boot. This means that Pepsi’s agencies will no longer be regarded in the same light as purveyors of toilet rolls. (See above for mind bendingly clever reference.) Which is a shame really, ‘cos most Pepsi advertising is shit! Is this the beginning of a movement we might see other clients joining? Don’t be silly.

Finally, the agency bit: I’m sorry to keep repeating myself, blame it on the 3A’s – Age – Alzheimer’s – Alcohol, but for 2015, I have to go with Goodby Silverstein + Partners again. The runners up, again, would be Droga5 and Wieden+Kennedy, particularly the London office. All three do consistently wonderful work with the very odd clunker thrown in, ‘cos nobody is perfect.

But, GS+P have been doing great shit for thirty two years. On top of which they are genuinely nice people. As I posted here a year ago… I wept for them over the Chevy “Commonwealth” fiasco. Because, when you get handed the biggest auto account in the fucking world on a plate, the world then becomes your oyster, and you go through hoops opening a Detroit office and staffing it with 300 people. But, when the bottom falls out due to no fault of yours, but because of the internal, Machiavellian bullshit within GM, instead of locking the doors and throwing away the keys, GS+P made sure that McCann took over the Detroit office and retained all the staff who wished to continue working there.

There is no other agency on the face of this planet that would have done this; instead, they would have gone Titanic, killing the women and children in their mad dash for the lifeboats. If you don’t agree with my pick, go to the GS+P Website. Read all of it, particularly the history dating back to the nineteenth century.

Then check out the 30 for 30 section, which features 30 of their most memorable TV spots from the last 30 years. Even in their first couple of years in business, they produced wonderful stuff for the “Mill Valley Film Festival” featuring Jeff and Rich in cameo roles. They persuaded William Randolph Hearst III to appear in a hilarious series of spots for the San Francisco Examiner. My favorite being the one with a totally fucked up Hunter S. Thompson delivering the immortal line… “Together, we shall drive the rats from the Tundra.”

One, I confess, I have shamelessly homaged over the years. And if you still don’t agree with my choice, I’ll be back in a year, so you’ve got twelve months to do something that impresses me. As Zippy the Pinhead would say… Good fucking luck!

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About George Parker

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George Parker has spent 40 years on Madison Avenue. He’s won Lions, CLIOs, EFFIES, and the David Ogilvy Award. His blog is adscam.typepad.com, which is required reading for those looking for a gnarly view of the world’s second oldest profession.” His latest book, Confessions of a Mad Man, makes the TV show Mad Men look like Sesame Street.