Art & Commerce: Enough Already

Skip the wacky ads–we want some consistency please
Less is more. Yet all we seem to get in the ad world is more and more outrageous, attention-grabbing ads that are unrelated to anything we’ve ever seen. The ones that award-show judges seem to love.
Ad people are constantly complaining about marketing clutter. Here’s an idea: Stop creating it. How about slicing through the commercial onslaught with campaigns that are consistent and–heaven forbid–predictable. Ads with recognizable characters, storylines, taglines, tones and concepts.
It has gotten noisy out here in the consumer world, and it’s getting louder by the minute. Marketers are in our faces and yelling in our ears. Amid this cacophony, an engaging, predictable ad campaign is like a friendly face at an overcrowded party.
Think of the classic brilliance of the familiar but ever-fresh Absolut vodka work by TBWA/Chiat/Day, New York. It’s stimulating after 18 years, even though it is designed around something as potentially boring as the shape of a bottle. Or the straightforward Visa campaign by BBDO, New York, built around the tagline, “Everywhere you want to be.” It’s been around for 14 years. GM’s Saturn work by Publicis & Hal Riney in San Francisco has kept its messages about “a different kind of car company” pure for nine years. Motel 6 and The Richards Group, Dallas, thankfully opted to nix the idea of a new campaign last spring. They kept Tom Bodett’s well-known voice and jazzed up the 13-year-old ad formula.
In contrast, wacky, one-of-a-kind ads for Web sites, beer, soda and fast food are overrated. Been there, done that. News flash: We consumers experience nonsensical, one-shot, off-the-wall marketing all the time. It’s no longer novel. Might drum up a buzz. But brand loyalty? Don’t count on it.
The latest round of Absolut, Visa or Saturn ads won’t generate the attention of a new tagline, spokescelebrity or punch line. Creative directors and young talent lean toward “out of the box” ads that impress their colleagues. And when you work on ads all day, it’s easy to get bored with concepts you didn’t invent. I know of a client who wanted to retire a set of ads he was tired of seeing on the company wall even before they broke!
Good, consistent campaigns are hard to do. They require a killer idea. “An amazingly simple idea that was brilliant for the moment and could last forever” is how Richard Lewis, TBWA/Chiat/Day account director, describes the Absolut concept. It takes discipline not to cave into restless creatives, clients and critics.
Rich Kronengold, BBDO’s managing director on the Visa account since the shop won it in 1985, knows about pressure. “The tagline and positioning is always being questioned by the client,” he says. “Does it still have meaning? Is it still relevant? Can we do better?” The agency’s been able to stay the course by focusing on the consumer, not the other constituencies involved in the process.
“You have to ask yourself if people have heard [your tag] so many times they don’t hear it anymore,” says Motel 6 executive Eric Studer. It’s important to keep an idea fresh and alive, yet recognize when a concept is bankrupt.
So a toast to agencies and clients that are cultivating continuity. Amid this marketing mayhem we call modern life, we are grateful for your familiar, clever and coherent ads.