11 London Charity Helicopter Marketing Peter Kenny The Writer Ltd. TV advertising

Zooming in on drought

I should mention here that some of the work I was doing in Chad has now started to go live. The audience for this particular execution (below) is those watching faith channels on TV, particularly Evangelical Christians. After much discussion with the  11 London team with Tearfund I came up with the positioning Give Like Jesus, and evolved the questioning format that poses the thought “Would Jesus…”  I wrote the initial script for this advert, however, as it became a very collaborative process and I cannot take credit for the final wording.

The filming was done by Brad Bell, with Tearfund’s Steve Adams and 11 London’s MD Matt Hunt doing the drone shots, which Brad incorporated. Before I went to Chad I imagined (from the comfort of my Brighton office) a shot that would dive down from the sky onto an isolated village, thinking this would enable us to show the lack of infrastructure and support for these people living with the consequences of terrible drought. I also liked the way it focuses attention from a vast landscape down to the detail of lives lived there.

I call this approach Helicopter territory. A film director will fill the screen with an actor’s face in close up when the story requires us to see things from that actor’s perspective. Think of Janet Leigh in the Psycho shower scene, and we are left in no doubt that that the actor’s thoughts and expressions are important to the story. In this advert we come in from afar so we can see the context. By locating and locking onto an individual, however, we pin the landscape and its drought to an individual. And when that person is vulnerable, and immediately relatable, we have taken a big step towards bringing the subject to life.

Even in Chad, this shot proved fairly simple to achieve with a drone camera. The shot had to be done in reverse, with the drone hovering in front of the child,  before climbing into the sky. I think the results are excellent.

I sincerely hope that Tearfund is successful with its campaign to raise money for those people we met in Chad and others like them who have been affected by erratic rainfall across the Sahel region of Africa.

Charity TV advertising

F*ck the poor? The eternal DRTV charity ad dilemma

I find myself writing DRTV (direct response TV)  scripts for a charity and trying to dodge the weary ‘tried and trusted’ tropes. For we all know how these things are supposed to play out, when we are going to be asked for just £3 a month and to brace ourselves for the money shot of a defenceless large-eyed animal or child.

It is comfortingly familiar to the British public. They don’t like the formula to be messed with. Witness the minor furore in 2013 over the hilarious campaign for the Marmite yeast spread. The TV commercial for this British food institution mocked DRTV conventions and sparked hundreds of complaints to the UK’s  Advertising Standards Authority. Soon after, Marmite’s parent company Unilever donated £18,000 to the RSPCA (the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).  A small but significant sum compared to the cost of making the advert.

Marmite Rehoming Centre
Marmite Rehoming Centre

The spoof ad showed a rescue unit’s ‘neglect’ inspectors forcing entry into homes to discover jars of Marmite that had been left in the back of food cupboards. The voiceover, gravely describing these events, was by respected BBC journalist Michael Buerk, whose reporting of the Ethiopian famine in 1984 helped to spark the Band Aid charity. The neglected jars were removed in miniature pet carriers and taken to the Marmite Rehoming Centre. This advert ended with the payoff copy line: Love it. Hate it. Just don’t forget it.

Many viewers were initially taken in, but then felt their finer feelings were being ridiculed when it became clear it was all about a yeast spread and not abused animals.

Meanwhile, a year after everyone else apparently, I have just discovered a fascinating advert for the Pilion Trust, where a brave person walked about the streets of London with a placard saying ‘Fuck the Poor’ and the results secretly filmed. Naturally this was met with outrage. When he swapped over his sandwich board for one that said ‘Help the Poor’, he was roundly ignored by one and all.

The eternal challenge of Charity DRTV is to create enough anxiety to force engagement. The road lies in mixing enough of the ‘Fuck the poor’ element into your ‘Help the poor’ message. Showing how the poor are being fucked, and then offering a route to help. You must watch this if you haven’t seen it.

Comedy Marketing TV advertising

Postmodern Homelistic Art? Guilty as charged

Hilarious. I’ve not enjoyed an advert as much for a long while. Love the mockery of po-faced artistic statements and its talk of ‘Postmodern Homelistic Art’. Also hats off for recognising the latent botcher in us all and how, having botched something, we attempt to justify it.

Madefor Promart by the Fahrenheit DDB agency in Lima, Peru. Great job.

Marketing Real life TV advertising

Weight Watchers – ‘My Butt’

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.

Comedy Drinks Industry IT Postmodern Irony TV advertising

Somersby Cider wobbling on the shoulders of a giant?


The Somersby Cider advert is funny, and quietly remarkable. For it relies on a knowledge of  Apple stores, and the Apple brand.

It is no coincidence that Apple’s fanboys and fangirls are stuck to the flypaper of creative departments everywhere. It subverts the seriousness of Apple stores, replacing customers with drinkers examining pints of cider with intensity and fascination. At a stroke it makes other cider marketing appear creakily old-skool.

A win for Somersby?

Yes. It is getting Somersby talked about, and making people laugh. Then yes it is as great result.

But here’s the caveat

What we are doing is combining a streak of comedy – and this was one of the few ads that actually made me guffaw when I saw it – with Postmodern Irony. This is an advert that is busy nudging us in the ribs, and making us co-conspirators in the knowledge that we are watching an advert.

The danger in combining comedy with postmodern irony is that you can disappear up your own marketing fundament. For the Somersby ad is as much about advertising as medium, than it is an advert for cider.

The ultimate winner from this marketing spend is Apple. Hitching a ride on a global brand is an interesting strategy, but not without danger. I watch Somersby’s progress with interest.

Financial Postmodern Irony TV advertising

The Barclays squirrel of postmodern irony

Postmodern irony is one of those terms whose meaning depends on which academic discipline the Hogwarts sorting hat chose for you. For our purposes, however, Postmodern irony stands for ironic self-reference and absurdity, and it is a territory that advertising and marketing regularly dwell in.

Nudge-nudge, wink-wink

The 2011 Barclays Tracker ads with Stephen Merchant’s voiceover. One example, started… ‘Ere we go. This one’s about Barclays Tracker Mortgages that’s why these people are on some kind of track. Cut to a laboriously symbolic hill of rail track with two people on a pump truck.

Barclays Tracker
Barclays Tracker Mortgages

Now being on a tracker mortgage when the going’s good is good – there’s a squirrel – but if times get tougher… The random squirrel is glanced at for less than a second – and then we get back, um, on track with the information. Luckily the random squirrel has also jolted us out of a mortgage talk coma. Later in the ad the voiceover says: I don’t know if the squirrel’s relevant. Is the squirrel relevant? The squirrel’s not relevant. Ignore that.

Barclays' postmodern squirrel
Barclays’ postmodern squirrel

Merchant’s voiceover is spoken as if he is viewing the execution for the first time and saying what he sees – in the way that people do when commenting on the TV at home. This marketing trickery puts the endorser of Barclays side by side with its customers on the sofa, watching the advert together.

Barclay’s self-depreciating positioning

Given a backdrop of unprecedented hostility to the banking sector, the choice Barclays made to situate their products in Postmodern Irony territory was calculated. This self-depreciating approach made it less vulnerable to attack from a public more disposed to taking offence.