Laurence Green: a winning gamble from Ladbrokes

A Winning Gamble.

I don’t like gambling ads.

I don’t like the product they promote, the way that most are executed, the inconvenient truth that children still see and hear so many of them.

I do, however, like the new Ladbroke’s commercial, “Balloon” from new agency Neverland, or “Keepy-Uppy” as it should really be known.

Maybe it’s the Proustian rush. As a football-mad kid growing up in a suburban semi in the 70s, the balloon was the perfect indoor playmate. (My brother was the other.)

This was a ball that could be struck at maximum velocity yet do no damage, which could not be said for its only real rival, the sponge ball, as my mother can attest.

There’s something about a balloon that begs to be airborne; grounded, it is a melancholic thing. Playing “Keepy-uppy,” by extension, is a vital act of public service. The Ladbroke’s commercial understands this, its prime mover quite rightly forsaking Carol’s leaving drinks for just such an act of nobility.

It’s no “Red Balloon,” of course. (How could it be? Albert Lamorrisse’s short won the 1956 Palme d’Or and Best Original Screenplay Oscar, and is still a thing of beauty sixty-five years later. There are worse ways to spend 34 minutes this week.). But it is well cast, well-crafted and – praise the Lord – has been given space to breathe. Well done, media agency as well as creativ..and of course client.

“Keepy-Uppy” is also a rare slab of ‘pure’ brand advertising. It asks nothing of me now except that I think more highly of – or more differently about – Ladbroke’s, goodwill to be monetised later rather than harvested now. And it’s job done, in that respect, albeit it will take more than good advertising to genuinely transition from gambling to gaming business.

Blame for the receding tide of brand advertising is often lain at the door of ‘brand purpose.’ I’m not sure that’s quite right, or at least not the full story. It’s the tsunami of activation and ‘bottom of the funnel’ activity that’s getting in the way, driven by short term ROI rather than the fuller, longer term returns that great brands enjoy (ask Apple).

In the sense that it is a bet on future returns, brand advertising can feel like a gamble. In fact, it is nothing of the sort.

Laurence Green was co-founder of Fallon london and 101. He is now an independent adviser to creative businesses.

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