Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Top Ten Christmas Party Tips

The Christmas party season is upon us.

Here are my Top Ten Christmas Party Tips, some of which may help you survive yours.

If you already had your Christmas party, and died... then I'm sorry.

1.  Planning on wearing fancy dress? Then this is the guy to beat. R/GA Christmas party, 2012, NYC.

2. Don't follow the Christmas bash tips of Melbourne agency BGM, listed here, unless you want your party to be utterly lame. They include: "PC rules still apply – Politics, sex, toilet humour, religion, women, races are off limits." (Women are off limits?) And "Dress appropriately and make an impression for the right reasons. Jedi outfit to remain at home." Why does the Jedi outfit have to remain at home, BGM? Perhaps because the highlight of their 2009 bash was "a guy with a mullet wig."

3. What happens when you give every agency in the world, the same brief? This. If you should happen to get the brief, my tip is to be extremely rude. Like this.

4. Do you work at 2Day FM, the pranking radio station? You are off the hook. Your Christmas party this year has been cancelled.

5. Fun card, though I don't like the sexist way that it's the men exchanging the women. I guess they're satirising the fact that ad execs were all men in those days.

6.  Prepare to be asked “What are you doing for Christmas?” by anybody you happen to stand near for long enough. Resist the temptation to tell them you’ll be trying to avoid meaningless conversations.

7. If you cop off with someone, everyone will know about it the next day. That's right. Everyone.

8. If you start ranting about a co-worker, be aware that this person will be standing directly behind you.

9. It's normally better to throw up in a bin than a toilet.

10. Don't corner your boss and tell him: "What this company needs to start doing differently is..." He will have come wearing a chest protector. And maybe earplugs.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

In Praise Of Prank Calls

Obviously I don't mean last week's call by 2DayFM DJ's Mel Greig and Michael Christian, which ended in tragedy

For me, the genre works best (and occupies a higher moral ground) when the victim is an authority figure, or at least makes some claim to authority, as in the example below of a prank call to a TV psychic.

That caller - Robin Cooper - is the alter ego of British comedian Robert Popper, who as well as his involvement in hit shows such as Peep Show and The Inbetweeners, is a seriously talented wind-up merchant. More Robin Cooper prank calls here.

Given their high humour potential, it's perhaps surprising that prank calls aren't used more often for advertising purposes. Probably something to do with the difficulty of getting clients to sign-off an unscripted script. 

But here's one fine example, for McDonald's, from 2009.
This campaign, for Apple Tango, dates from 1995, and it takes the biscuit. If you haven't heard it, you're in for a treat.

After last week's events, I doubt we'll be seeing too many prank call-based ad campaigns in the near future. Which is a shame really, because when they come off, it's a very disarming technique.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Has Advertising Turned Into Candid Camera?

Candid Camera was an American TV show that began in 1948.

Its creator, Allen Funt, had worked as a research assistant to influential social psychologist Kurt Lewin, and many of the show's sketches reflected Funt's interest in psychology.

For example, the famous 'Elevator Conformity' scene demonstrates the psychological principle of 'social proof'.

Funt's idea has since been copied many times, but usually without the same psychological depth, and played purely for comedy; notable examples include Trigger Happy TV and The Jamie Kennedy Experiment.

Sometimes, it's unsettling. 'Ghost in the Elevator', from a Brazilian TV show, was doing the rounds of the internet just last week.

Occasionally, the format has been put to serious purpose. In this Egyptian candid camera show, actors playing talk show hosts pretended to be Jewish, and got attacked by their guests.

And very often, especially in recent years, Funt's idea has been used as the basis for ads.

LOTS of ads.

One agency alone - Duval Guillaume in Antwerp, Belgium -  seems to be responsible for many of the most famous examples, such as 'Unlock the 007 in you' for Coke Zero (9 million YouTube views), 'Amazing Mind Reader' for (6 million views), and 'Push To Add Drama' for TNT (39 million views).

Last week, saw the release of the newest installment in the genre - 'Music in the Corner Shop' for Red Stripe, made by KK Outlet, the London branch of Dutch agency KesselsKramer.

The release of this latest exemplar has prompted the usual two questions:

1) Aren't we sick of this kind of ad now?


2) Is it fake?

Personally, I don't like the Red Stripe ad, because I think it's cheesy. And yet, much as I love original stuff and don't like tired stuff, I wouldn't say I'm sick of the genre as a whole yet. Since it's a form that's inherently based on surprise, it's quite easy for each new execution to still be surprising, even if the form as a whole is not.

The question of whether it's fake is a debate which is simmering (if not actually raging) at places like Ben's blog.

My own view is that the reactions are real. If the piece feels fake to some, it's because the reactions we see are so conveniently what the film-makers were looking for. The reason for this is that they have simply edited out the reactions that displeased them.

But Allen Funt himself was apparently a ferocious editor. Only a small portion of the public reactions to his stunts -  those that reflected the perfect combination of dismay, confusion and surprise – were broadcast. Funt left the openly-suspicious, and those who spoiled the joke by guessing it too early, on the cutting room floor.

He heightened the humour, with a little judicious editing. And I think we can forgive that, can't we?

Exclude that one piece of artifice, and what we are left with, whether in an ad or a TV show, is a creative examination of the disruption or violation of rules, people’s real and spontaneous reactions, and - sometimes - surprising insights into human behaviour. All worthwhile stuff, I reckon.