Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Landrover scrubbing along but Dacia Duster should clean up


Let me start with an aside.

One of the things that I've noticed since starting this blog reviewing advertising is that good news ( ie when the review is favourable) whistles round the stakeholders' networks, whilst bad news is buried. Strange that.

Anyhow,a couple of car ads with  "cryptic" themes spotted last weekend. Landrover and Dacia.

First up Landrover.

Difficult for us Brits not to like this brand given its crucial role in our recent history.(Churchill's original is up for auction with a reserve of £60,000). 

So anyone working on this account has a built in advantage of the "benefit of the doubt" if the creative work gets slightly stuck in a rut.

This ad ran in the Telegraph magazine on 11 August.It is advertising a chance to "take the millionth Discovery 8000 miles to Beijing, across 13 countries and only 50 days to do it." In addition, we discover that the Red Cross and Red Crescent will benefit to the tune of £1m.
We are then referred to a web site to find out more.The ad is made up visually of a series of (evocative but rather dated 35 mm) film clips showing a Disco on various roads and conditions between here and the Orient, interspersed with road signs that spell out a cryptic message of "discovery" for those who get that far.

As a cryptic crossword fan I really, really wanted to commend this ad.
As a believer in Landrover,ditto.
But as a marketeer I can't. Because the ad is unlikely to work. (And there is a far simpler ad that will work far better, which will come later).
This is not because the ad is unattractive. It isn't. It's not over-original, but it is really rather beautiful. And quite clever. And arty.
It's because the ad has got caught up in someone's conceit, the result of which means we have a piece of indulgence rather than efficacy: art possibly, accountability no.
How it happens goes something like this.Someone, either the agency or the client comes up with what is essentially a promotional idea to plug the 1 millionth Discovery.
The agency creative team, who should actually knock out in 10 minutes a simple ad based on this premise, see an opportunity: (Their names have been changed to protect the guilty).
Gav: Ever been to Beijing Ed?
Ed: No I haven't Gav? Why you ask?
Gav:Fancy about six months out of the agency on a shoot for the new Discovery?
Ed: Does Dolly Parton sleep on her back?
The ad shown above slowly takes shape. The Landrover client is then shown the draft for the ad and brought into the plot to ensure it's actually made. ( Ed and Gav:"Why don't you come with us?" Client (who is paying): "Er...thanks don't mind if I do") and the caravan to the mystic Orient is ready to rock and roll.
The point of this is that the creative process involved is not only partly personal opportunism but often loses its way by becoming indulgently introspective and self serving. It does not take into account the way the punter actually receives advertising, how his brain is wired and how much work he is prepared to do to engage with an ad.

This ad looks inwards when it should be thrusting outwards. And for this reason it will be largely ignored.
More importantly, ads like this that deliberately attempt to conceal their message need to have such a major sense of satisfaction when the mystery is finally solved that the benefit of a smallish group of happy solvers outweighs the masses who never felt the urge to engage.The satisfaction in "solving" this ad is unlikely to reverberate around the dinner parties of Esher.
The ad lacks an entry point or hook that might conceivably have saved it.This entry point might for instance have been a (conventional) headline, based on The Challenge, that could somehow contextualise the visual element and encourage readers to solve the clue.
It would be hooking people in rather than "hoping" them in.
What we have in reality are the words in small print "Been anywhere interesting lately?" at the top right ( is this meant to be a headline or a slogan?) and the meat of the offer in even smaller print at the bottom. Both instantly missable.
Correctly conceived, the hooking would be based on some benefit to the punter that appealed to his status, his ambition, his wanderlust, whichever of the psychological drivers one cares to chose. But it has to be overt, visceral and instant or else the page is quickly turned. If the message is over- intellectual, over-subtle, it is easily ignored. ( In addition, although double page spreads look pretty and have undoubted impact potential in the right hands, they are also very easy for punters to turn over.)
Because of this, this ad is a William Morris: pretty, expensive wallpaper.
The ad they should have run would simply feature the car (biggish) and the promotional message (bigger), written in a way that appealed to a sense of urgency, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something that could change your life. It would be based on the idea of what the reader might lose by ignoring the ad as much as by what he would gain by reading it.
And then the ad will "work".

If interested, this and a general framework for deciding what will and what won't work is set out at www.cambridgecomms.com
Next up it's Dacia on the grid.
The overall campaign for the Duster is strong, not just for its clarity and clean simplicity, but because it correctly judges the mood. It gently insists, via a low price focus, that folk interested in 4x4s would be missing out if they do not pay attention to this new entry. Here's an example of the campaign so far:

They do this in a smart and slightly low-keyed way, using the psychology of price (without any other obvious and potentially cliched imagery) and combine it with messages of efficiency, transparency and general 21st centuriness ( you can buy this car at a dealer or online, for instance).This means the brand comes across as smart not cheap.
This concentration on price and accessibility prevents any form of  distracting artifice being introduced into the brand and it comes across as authentic.
And, while the imagery appears modest - in that we only ever see the product - the overall effect is a result of Dacia understanding exactly the position of its product in the continuum of 4x4s: why me, why now?
( Compare this for instance with VW's Touareg, which has failed to create any traction, by failing to answer that question or understand that it exists.)

Dacia have delivered a proposition with a compellingly high degree of purity about it, with a lot of white space and none of the slightly breathless claustrophia that can creep into the visual expression of other more brashly art-directed car brands.
White space = absence. Absence = freedom, something the luxury brands of this world understand world to good advantage. Yet this is a price brand playing that game. Smart.
The campaign shows you don't need mud and mountains if the central emotional proposition is strongly conceived. And even though this campaign  won't trouble the Awards jury in the way the Landrover work might, I know which approach I'd be happier with, both as agency and client.
So much for the campaign as a whole. Then this happens...
This ad for the Duster appeared in the Telegraph on Saturday, right next to the cryptic crossword.

Its position there is important.It is meant to get crossword solvers involved. It's an old idea ( no harm in that) and we play along with the game a bit as we know what the answer to the clue is going to be, but...and here's the  quibble...Why is there no cryptic clue?
Just as Landrover were over-cryptic when they should have been clear, Dacia has been under-cryptic when they should have been covert.It is lazy writing.
It's not the end of the world. Just a small opportunity missed.
For future running of this ad, can I therefore suggest that a headline clue such as: A car studied, rebuilt, gives a no nonsense SUV ( 5,6) might be more what's required if Dacia wish to deliver an extra soupcon of relevance and engagement to their otherwise strong effort. 
Why not do a clue writing contest with a Dacia as prize?
The extra PR/viral interest achieved could be high.
You do the maths, as they say at Dacia.