Tried out a new little idea a couple of days ago, something I’ve been meaning to do for ages.
We’ve been having an all-staff meeting once a month for years – everyone’s invited, second Thursday of every month, beer and wine, horrible toxic-looking crisps, a bit of a show and tell, a chance to see what other people have been up to, a report on how the business is doing, the new business situation and so on.Â
My new idea slots in half-way between these Second Thursday meetings, which is why after much thought I decided to call them Fourth Thursdays.Â Couldn’t be simpler:Â everyone’sÂ invited, beer and wine, horrible toxic-looking crisps, and we have a look at a selection of work produced by other people and see what we think about it.
A little unimaginatively, I started the first meeting with a reel of recent financial commercials – most, if not all, of the new financial commercials aired in the last couple of months.Â Â
Whenever you order up a reel like this, you’re always a bit surprised to discover that half the “new” commercials aren’t actually new at all, they’re old commercials with a minor change like a new contact telephone number or some new legal wording.Â This can be irritating, but on this occasion it worked quite well because it meant that the reel included “new” commercials from most of the major players – all the high street banks except NatWest, loads of direct insurers, several big life companies, three or four credit card issuers, a couple of regional building societies, a partridge in a pear tree and so on.
Anyway, here’s the point:Â when we summed up at the end, we came to the conclusion that out of the 34 commercials on the reel, there was only one really good one, which wasÂ the latestÂ in Nationwide’s great Mark BentonÂ campaign.
There were aÂ coupleÂ that we thought were pretty good, including Direct Line, and there were a few that were generally unpopular but had the odd keen supporter, like Halifax and Churchill.Â The rest we thought were all pretty rubbish, really.
You may think this is no surprise when youÂ have three dozen or so cynical and arrogant agency people in a room with a chance to neck a few beers and slag off some other agencies’ work.Â But actually, here, it isn’t like that at all.Â Because we haven’t had a major TV account since MORE TH>N, and because agencies like this don’t often have major TV accounts at all, we’re surprisingly humble on the subject.Â Around the place, there is a bit of a feeling that the glamorous world of big-budget TV production isn’t for the likes of us.Â (Needless to say, this is not a view that I share or indeed approve of.)
And that’s why, from my point of view, the best thing about the session was seeing a lot of my younger and lessÂ experienced colleagues realise that in the financial sector at least, most of the commercials from those big famous glamorous above-the-line advertising agencies occupy positions on a spectrum that extends from “shocking” to “mediocre.”Â Â Barclays at BBH, Lloyds TSB at RKY&R, Zurich at Publicis, Abbey at Euro RSCG, The AA at Rapier, HSBC and their absolutely inexplicable “different points of view” at JWT:Â everyone here, even the least confident and experienced, was quite certain that we could do much, much better.
Of course everyone could quite easily be wrong.Â Writing decent scripts isn’t so hard.Â Piloting them through the storm-tossed waters of the approval process and then shooting them as brilliant films is very hard indeed.Â One film on the reel was the eventual product, from a regional agency, of a pitch that we’d taken part in and lost.Â Â All of us (including me)Â thought the work we had shown was better in every conceivable respect.Â Well, every conceivable respect except one:Â we couldn’t persuade the client to buy it.
Still, despite this important caveat, the experience of the first Fourth Thursday was an encouraging one.Â My most often-repeated message, internally at least, is that we can certainly aspire to produce the best financial services marketing communications in the country.Â I think quite a few of my colleagues left the meeting with a lot more belief that this goal just might be achievable.