“Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless imitative style”. George Orwell
In thinking about the role and efficacy of advertising it is very tempting to dwell exclusively on the external pressures the industry is under.
We are all naturally concerned by the changing relationships between people and brands and the emergence of ad-skipping technology, both of which are covered extensively in this blog.
However, regular readers will be aware that I lay much of the blame for advertising’s ills on the inability of brands and their agents to say anything interesting about themselves to consumers.
In particular this industry is swamped by cliché, whether in insight, strategy or creative work. Few brands have anything to say that we haven’t heard a million times before, often from their own competitors.
Of course the automotive category is one of the worst offenders. How many marques or models have told us that they are ‘the family saloon that thinks it’s a sports car’, or ‘the diesel that’s so good you’ll think it’s petrol’, or ‘the car that looks so good you’ll pretend it’s your own’, or ‘the small car that is surprisingly big’? So many strategies and pieces of creative work appear more the product of automatic writing than any kind of conscious thought.
But it’s not just cars. Most categories have their resident clichés – breakfast cereals that are a good start to the day, beers that are cold, bottles water that is filtered by lots of old rocks and any number of organisations that have nice staff.
Which brings us to George Orwell. No really.
I have been re-reading his anthology of essays ‘Inside the whale’. Quite apart from his very moving account of life as a miner between the wars there is an excellent piece called ‘Politics and the English language’, written in 1946.
In this he rails against the corruption of the English language by politicians eager to cover up the reality of their actions from the people they serve.
His bete noir (except that’s the last phrase he’d use) are dead metaphors, verbal false limbs, pretentious language and the use of foreign words, particularly Latin and Greek, when more appropriate Anglo-Saxon words exist.
He believed that most politicians write on a kind of auto-pilot in which they simply open their minds to a flood of ready-made phrases and metaphors, that obscure any real meaning often from the writers themselves.
I’m convinced that is what happens when most people sit down to think about insights, write strategies or create work. They open their minds and a stream of hideous clichés pile inside.
And that’s the sad fate that appears to have met the new BA campaign. Here is a brand that is absolutely desperate for a new role to play in people’s lives and what does it get? A bottom drawer visual device in the form of cloud formations and the longest list of inane airline clichés, both visual and verbal, in aviation history.
Ads literally stumble from “at BA we believe” to “your holiday should start on the plane” to “air travel shouldn’t cost the earth” to “cutting costs not corners”. There are also one or two cut-aways to the kind of flight-attendant-servicing-grateful-passenger shot that we all thought had been evicted from airline advertising a decade ago.
If BA and BBH ever knew what they were trying to say to us about their brand they have succeeded in concealing it. A shameful result for one of the most anticipated new campaigns of the past few years.
So here’s the call to action. Commit yourself to fight cliché whether insight, strategy or work. And show that brands can say things to people that are genuinely fresh and genuinely of interest.
As Orwell says “One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn out lump of verbal refuse into the dustbin where it belongs”.