Private View :: James Lowther, Chairman, M&C Saatchi

Being in advertising during a recession is like running up the down escalator. To make progress you've got to run like buggery or Linford Christie, whichever's faster. What's more, Martin Sorrell thought it was going to be a bath-shaped recession. Now, apparently, it's going to be a double-dip affair (in plumbing terms, that means toilet-shaped). But is there a creative recession, I ask myself?

Being in advertising during a recession is like running up the down escalator. To make progress you’ve got to run like buggery or Linford Christie, whichever’s faster. What’s more, Martin Sorrell thought it was going to be a bath-shaped recession. Now, apparently, it’s going to be a double-dip affair (in plumbing terms, that means toilet-shaped). But is there a creative recession, I ask myself?

If you saw the Spitfire ads, you’d probably say “roger”. Not because of the parsimonious production budget – great ideas are often in inverse proportion to the size of the budget – but because of the paucity of puns about the French Resistance, Secret Service and The Joystick. Victoria Cross was the best one, but even that made Reviewer Tetchy. Generally enough to make Douglas Bader want to saw off his drinking arm as well.

During recessions and other times of strife, we’re told, we revert to family values, and Weetabix has stampeded back to home territory, with a campaign that uses children’s imaginary games to steer mum towards the energy-giving properties of the brand. Now I personally worship and adore Weetabix but imagine it has all the energy-giving properties of a Spotted Dick. That niggle aside, it’s well targeted, nicely art directed and charming enough. If not quite as Withabix as it was before.

Womankind reminds us that it’s not all soft focus in the real world that women inhabit today. The other world of domestic violence, rape and murder is all too common. The juxtaposition of sensual cosmetic pictures and brutal facts makes the point strongly. But does showing the sexualised packaging of women make Womankind as much a part of the problem as part of the solution?

Another thing people do in a recession is drink. This Christmas’ Drink Drive campaign is sensibly aimed at the toping masses, who believe that all drink drive advertising is aimed at everyone in the known universe except their good selves, because they can hold their drink. A man, who has just “had a couple”, is following a kid cyclist down the street. The nail is accurately aimed at the heart but when the inevitable denouement happens, it is tapped in rather gently rather than being smashed in with a hammer.

One strange thing about this recession is that the “consumer” (OK, I mean my wife) hasn’t really caught on yet and is still spending as if there is no tomorrow (mind you, with Dubya around, there probably won’t be one). Barclaycard, unsurprisingly, is trying to encourage this trend, with its three new spots. The best shows a couple measuring up the Mona Lisa for the front room on the grounds that it matches their skirting boards. Nicely acted and a gentle smile. Will it work? If my wife buys The Blue Woman to match the toilet cleaner, I’ll let you know.

Finally, a triumphant “No” to the question I posed at the beginning.

As long as there are ads like Nike’s latest two around, there is no creative recession. Nike knows there is only one thing to do when the climate, either economic or actual, turns nasty – put your running shoes on. These spots positively revel in crappy weather and it is a tribute to the ideas and stunning photography that they do it so triumphantly. In their way, they are an anthem not just to sport but to bad times and how to get through them.

Martin, the recession is not bath- or toilet-shaped. It is puddle-shaped. Splash through them and you’ll win through. If you have a blonde with you, it could even be fun.

As published in Campaign Live

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Posted by

Chris Wareham