Dark and fascinating advert here for the Mumbai Mirror, made by Taproot India found thanks to bestadsontv.com It shows how the Mumbai Mirror newspaper is hated by those up to no good. We see a doctor conducting illegal organ harvesting, a pair of sex criminals, a woman prostituting young girls and the public scandal of train platforms leading to injury.
It takes a good deal of confidence to market a product as being hated, even if it is by the bad guys. This falls firmly into what I call ‘real life’ territory with its grim black and white world and glamour-free casting (and, by the way, the performances strike me as excellent in this).
Of course real life territory is as artificial as any other. For life as lived by real people is utterly diverse. And here is the Achilles heel of this approach: for it to work, the life it depicts has to be recognisable. Elsewhere this can mean that banal moments like getting wet in the rain, or missing a bus become its currency. The desire for common experience means that gritty realistic portrayals can drift into cliché. But this advert, perhaps because it is from India and a visual culture I am not so familiar with, seems to me to excellently sidestep the expected in a compelling and confrontational way.
There are all kinds of romantic ideas about how you should behave as an artist. But starving in a garret, which I have done in the past, was not for me. Just recently, pockets full of air after moving house, I had a sequence of six freelance assignments being cancelled one after another – all for legitimate and completely random reasons. Suddenly worries were tugging at my sleeve like a tiresome child, saying ‘how can you be wasting your time on stupid POETRY when you are not earning any MONEY’. Luckily the pesky tyke has given it a rest lately as I have work again. Obviously, thanks to the work I’m now doing, I have no time to finish off the poetry I was able to start in the last few months, but was too twitchy to complete. The Catch 22 of real life.
Having returned from 15 or 20 years scribbling about locusts in the wilderness, I notice that the poetry world is now populated by poets who market themselves excellently through social media. Of course there are people who are giants in cyberspace, but Lilliputians on the page and vice versa. But I love the fact that the internet has opened up avenues to all kinds of writing. But I do get irritated by all the ‘on-message’, relentlessly positive stuff – almost as much as I do with passive aggressive self-righteousness. When the little homunculus of real life is goading me and I’m not feeling positive, I try to steer clear of cyberspace for a few hours. With my marketing hat on, I’d say sincerity is an undervalued commodity when building any kind of a brand, especially a personal one.
I prefer to get hold of a book or a pamphlet and read a collection. I want my attention to focus on what I’m reading, not see it on a screen where there are a bazillion other possibilities trembling with life at the touch of a finger or the click of a mouse. I felt this when I started and edited an e-zine around 2000-2003 called AnotherSun. Although it was quite obscure it featured the work of poets around the world and was visited by quite a few in its time.
One way to be successful, of course, is to focus on one thing and do it properly. A life lesson I have never been able to learn. If I had focused on AnotherSun for a few more years, for example, perhaps I could have been somebody, instead of sitting writing this at my computer screen like a bum.
But focusing on one thing is just not who I am. I wish I could because I think I would be a lot more successful. Poetry as my first love has cut the deepest, but I can never resist diversification.
The Opera I’m working on with Helen Russell, for example, is going remarkably well. We have settled into a good working arrangement, meeting regularly to discuss at length the section we are about to write, and how it fits with the shape of the whole piece. I write some words and Helen then scores them for singers and an orchestra. Naturally my bit is a good deal faster than Helen’s, but we already have nearly half an hour of music fully scored with words since February. I like writing these words as you can introduce as much fighting, sex, and stabby stuff as you like. After all, they lap it up in opera I’m told. More news of this when it happens.
Banks have been responding in interesting ways to their unpopularity. This of course was brought about by a series of largely self-inflicted wounds: the credit crunch, computer lapses, PPI and investments mis-selling, indefensible banker bonuses and so on. And the last couple of weeks we have the spectacle of HSBC money laundering in Switzerland.
Banks have tried lots of ways to deflect attention from all this. The main broad tactic is to position themselves not being vast corporate pirates, but as on our side. Barclays, typically tied themselves in knots to do this, adopted at one point a postmodern approach with their Barclays Squirrel of Postmodern Irony.
NatWest, meanwhile, began to provide ‘helpful banking’, and much of their marketing focused on how their helpful staff were ordinary people just like us, who nurtured the modest ambition to be helpful. Of marketing in the UK NatWest’s approach seemed to me to be the best way to sidestep unpopularity. They did so by re-positioning their offering in in what I call ‘real life’ territory. Their ambitions appear modest, but plays to an awareness of how difficult ordinary life is for us ordinary folks. And of course by saying they are ordinary just like us, we can almost have sympathy for them too. Very clever.
But the hair shirt is still there. Passing through Victoria Station yesterday I noticed a huge banner with its stale old hello/goodbye riff. But its implicit acknowledgement of the sector’s guilt made me grin. How did it all end up in such a marketing mess for the Banks?
I caught this US ad for Weight Watchers on the Best ads site. What I like about it is that it refers to ‘my butt’. I worked on a campaign for an appetite suppressant drug, where a larger woman was pictured was saying, ‘I decided to stop being fat’. The word fat proved controversial, with some countries balking at the idea of running it. So hats off to Weight Watchers and Wieden + Kennedy, Portland for actually using the language that the majority of their target audience would use.
The voiceover ends with ‘the relationship with my butt had nothing to do with my butt, and everything to do with my brain’. Am I alone in finding this a bit odd? It could point to a potentially uncomfortable objectification of women’s body parts, but I think the ad does enough tonally to avoid this.
The concept, the rueful voice over and the copy approach what I’d call ‘Real Life’ territory – being matter of fact in tone and somehow suggesting it’s time to face up to reality and act. Sadly the execution loses its nerve visually. The butts on display remain aspirational for those in its target audience. Weight Watchers want you to get real and think about your own huge post-festive butt, but then lose their nerve.
Sad this, for what Weight Watchers are asking us to trust it with something about which many people feel deeply vulnerable: their weight issues. But as it does not reflect the truth when it is trying to acquire customers, it undermines this potential trust. A vague ‘support system for the brain’ doesn’t quite compensate for not staying real.