AdMan: Olympic advertising is sh*t.

Marketing guru Steve Henry laments the crop of bad ads out there and offers some alternatives

So a handful of  the corporate backsides are sitting in their £350-a-buttock seats watching the wrong flags being raised and the rest of London is cursing at the closed-off traffic lanes where a limousine is ferrying  the mother of the global marketing director for Greggs the Bakers to Harrods for the afternoon and Central London seems quieter than it’s ever been and meanwhile what has the ad industry done to celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime occasion?

Well, nothing to write home about. 

In fact Campaign, the ad industry bible, did a piece last week asking why the work was so bad.

The article came a week after another piece which asked why client/agency relationships were at an all-time low. The answer was that agencies weren’t showing clients enough innovative thinking. And you start to wonder if there might be a trend here.

98% of the Olympic ads look the same.

The exceptions being Paddy Power having a laugh and this frankly life-changing Channel 4 film Meet the Superhumans, directed by the brilliant Tom Tagholm. Compare that with the average piece of meaningless corporate air-tape-breasting.

But it’s not just Olympics ads, is it? 98% of shampoo ads look the same… and car ads… and dog food ads.

Why is this, surely the people who commission these clone-ads are killing themselves by continually shooting themselves in the foot?

(Can you do that? I don’t think you can, actually. But I’d quite like to see someone try.)

I went to Southwark College the other day to talk to  a group of students who come from underprivileged backgrounds and who want to break into advertising.

I asked them this question – why is so much advertising garbage? They paused. They thought it was a rhetorical question and I was about to tell them the answer.

But I honestly don’t know.

Why, on my way to the college, did I see four posters for an electronics brand that were simply pictures of athletes with the line “Share the Passion” ?

The posters could have been for any soft drink, any sportswear brand, any fast food emporium, any bank - in fact, any brand at all really.

It’s going to be tough for those underprivileged kids to break into advertising because the industry is a remorselessly middle-class profession, but I wanted to help because I’m always looking for fresh thinking and we were giving them a brief on a new computer game from Ubisoft.

Within two hours, we had a raft of about 10 interesting ideas to promote the game.

Any one of which, I believe,  would  be better than the work currently being  done in this sector - which is generally shoot-em-up footage with a caption saying that this isn’t real game footage.

Now, I can’t tell you the Ubisoft ideas because the client hasn’t seen them yet.

And nor can I tell you about some Olympic ideas, which were produced in about five days via a crowd-sourcing website which a friend of mine has set up called Alternative Genius. Because, again, the client (Metro) hasn’t seen them yet.

But the brief was to get Londoners engaged with the Olympics, in a way that all the corporate waffle ads have failed to do. And there were some very interesting ideas.

I’ll just tell you one I liked, about creating a legacy.

Let’s teach TfL staff how to engage with people. Give them pink armbands that say ‘I trained in the Olympics’, and coach them in being helpful and positive.

How about if the legacy of the Games was that our Tube staff were the most helpful and welcoming in the world ?

Citius, altius, fortius… courteous.

Steve Henry was founder/creative director of Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury, the agency voted Campaign’s Agency of the Year three times and Campaign’s Agency of the Decade in 2000. He has won most of the major creative awards, including the D&AD Gold Pencil, the Grand Prix at Cannes, the Grand Prix at the British Television Awards, and the President’s Award at Creative Circle (twice).

In 2008 he was included in Campaign Magazine’s inaugural Hall of Fame, a collection of the 40 most influential people in British advertising over the past 50 years. He now works as a creative consultant.

Steve has just launched Decoded, a ground-breaking programme that promises to teach anybody code in one day.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Ian Middleton

    Perhaps in respect of the Olympics it's because non-sponsor companies are terrified of even making a glancing reference to the games due to LOCOG thought police. Whilst the sponsors themselves believe they have the market so well ring-fenced by the same mechanism that they don't need to try that hard.

    You could also ask the question : why have so many brands with virtually no connection whatsoever with sport or the Olympics wasting so much time and money trying to establish a connection?

    Does anyone really care what the 'official' Olympics toothpaste is? Will people really rush out and buy it just because a few tubes have been thrown in the athletes goody bags?

    In world of opted-in, on demand content that kind of gimmickry really doesn't make sense any more IMHO.

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