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Creative Advertising
Contributor: Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable

Advertising surrounds us at every turn, some campaigns hit the mark, others never get close. I've pulled together my thoughts about when advertising works, not just by increasing interest and sales of a particular product, but also when the making of an advert has satisfied the creative team producing it.

The Cog

Honda's £750,000 two minute TV ad 'Cog' inspired a marketing campaign that had at its centre a quality and cohesion rarely seen. From print to web site, text copy to DVD, Honda's creative team ensured every word and image was crafted, every photo optimised, every allusion to the product, the Honda Accord car, perfectly targeted.

The Honda Cog Add The Cog Team

Director: Antoine Bardou-Jacquet
Assistant Director: Olivier Coulhon
Honda Advertising: Matt Coombe
Advertising Agency
: Wieden & Kennedy:
Tony Davidson; Creative Director: Kim Papworth; Production Producer: Frank Montillot; Producer: Rob Steiner

The Campaigning Trail

Premium advertising campaigns like the Cog come at an incredibly high price. The Honda Accord campaign is reputed to have cost around the $6 million mark, enough money to carry out 30,000 cataract operations (cataracts are the leading treatable cause of blindness worldwide). Perhaps the goal of advertising a product might sometimes be best served by publicising good deeds. I'll address this whole area in a special issue of The Column. For now I want to focus on a few ads that successfully combine an effective marketing message with an imaginative creative edge.

screenshot of Honda website: click to enlarge The Strength of Continuity

One of the great strengths of the Honda campaign was the cross-media continuity that was deployed. Honda's website (click the image on the left to enlarge the screenshot) delivered a web version of the Cog movie which required a great deal of additional development time. The DVD of the Cog which was released in the UK also demonstrated the keen eye for presentational detail and quality that positioned the Honda product above its competitors.

The high production values associated the Honda Accord with the creative flair that characterised the Cog campaign. This served to reinforce the product placement and at the same time encouraged the creators of the advertisements (the TV and print ads, DVD production, and web pages) to explore their own creativity within the confines of the ad's purpose, thereby creating a virtuous circle.

The Fog of Cog

In May 2002-2007, filmmakers Peter Fischli and David Weiss threatened legal action against Honda over similarities between the 'Cog' commercial and 'The Way Things Go' (Der Lauf der Dinge), a 30-minute film they produced in 1987.

Although the principle direction of the Cog may well have taken its inspiration from The Way Things Go, the Cog is a very different undertaking. The purpose of the Cog was to sell a product, the purpose of The Way Things Go was primarily aesthetic.

There are very few new ideas, and we all reference other works when we create 'new' works. I've lost count of the times my 'new idea' has been presented elsewhere before I've even had it! I'm not for a moment advocating the copying of creative work. I spend a large part of my days being 'creative' and when I see something I've put a lot of time and effort into being presented by someone as if it's their work, it infuriates me. That said, referencing other works and making something new from the examples of external sources is very much part of the creative process.

There are major similarities between the Cog and The Way Things Go, but I feel the Cog doesn't cross the boundary from inspiration to content theft.
Cog screenshot: click to enlarge
  The Way Things Go screenshot: click to enlarge

The most important issue is whether the creators of the Cog made something significantly new as compared with the 'source work'. For various reasons I feel the Cog stands on it's own, not least because the context of the Cog is entirely different than The Way Things Go, and context, as Marcel Duchamp long ago pointed out, is everything.

Make It Real

When the advertising medium, be it paper, digital, or text, becomes the object of desire as much as the promoted product, the lines of the customer's engagement blur.
HP mini CD Rom: click to enlarge
HP ad pack: click to enlarge

Hewlett Packard's advertisers created a mini rectangular CD Rom with the face of a Digital Camera printed on one side, all housed in a three way paper wallet...

Art, design, and advertising perfectly married as the aspirations and creative drive of the target audience was manipulated in an exquisite production.

Watch This Space

Disney's Kim Possible 'Kimmunicator' was positioned in comics with the the text 'Are you ready for your secret mission?' printed on the back.

Disney Kimmunicator: click to enlarge Kids were encouraged to watch a TV program and to place the 'Decoder Screen' against the TV set when the program was on. If the name on the screen matched the card there was a chance to win ... A Secret Agent Pack ... To win the pack kids paid 25p (UK) to phone their code through. Disney successfully introduced kids to the show and involved them in an imaginative way. They even managed to offset some of the production costs with revenue generated by the phone calls.

Quality and Quantity

Saab used many of the strategies mentioned above in the kids ad. Saab's 9-3 Convertible ad was a four leaf, premium quality production with three clear inner sleeves, each containing a colour transparency. The target audience was encouraged to explore the transparencies by removing them from the sleeves and holding them up to the light.

A free 'driving experience' was also run as part of the ad campaign that invited people to test drive the car for 24 hours with unlimited mileage, free insurance, and no hire charges. I even took the offer up myself but I never bought the car... The emphasis of the Saab campaign was generosity, quality, and an extremely high standard of presentation.

Keep Out, Come In

Sappi award ad: click to enlarge My intention in writing this article was to show how an inventive approach and a drive for perfection in advertising benefits not only the commissioner, but also encourages the creative professional to give more to the project.

Whether it's a simple paper door tag by Sappi who were promoting their award grant to support design for social good (see left screenshot), or Honda who merged the boundaries of product exposure and aesthetics, the best advertising development policies encourage creatives to explore their potential within a clear boundary.

Maintaining a principle of high presentational values need not be beyond a company's means. If you have to pay for creative labour using an external advertising agency, great ad campaigns may be expensive, if however you're advertising a product using the services of an individual advertising design specialist or in in-house creative team, there's no good reason why you can't match the best that's out there...

Authors background

Mike de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author.

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