by Magnus Shaw.
Do you remember Kiss? Of course you do. Ludicrous American band - wore loads of black and white make-up. Well, they're back. Sort of.
The new campaign for Costa Coffee features their track 'I Was Made For Loving You. The song doesn't have much to do with hot drinks, much like the rest of the ad.
It comes from the agency Karmarama and I must admit, it's highly 'creative'. That is to say, the ad is built around an imaginative concept, rather than a price deal or literal shots of grinning punters, caffeine and expensive buns. Is it entertaining? I suppose, in a somewhat surreal way. But does it sell me the coffee shop brand? Er ...
Of course, I didn't see the brief from the client, which may have read 'Do absolutely anything you like as long as it's unusual and attracts a bit of attention.' In which case, mission accomplished. However, if the instruction was to build a campaign to drive footfall, increase the Costa customer base and accelerate revenues, then I wonder whether the singing heads, buried in coffee beans, was the best route. Essentially, I fear the ad might be 'too creative'.
Writing this amuses me. I have exited many client meetings with the words ' ... a bit too creative for us', ringing in my ears, the frustration and annoyance rapidly building. But I'm pretty sure the work I presented was based on a solid proposition and any adventurousness was never at the expense of a firm strategy. So I have no desire for our domestic advertising to mirror the US 'shout and sell' model. In fact, I positively relish the off-beat, surprising and risky in any creative work - as long as I can see a compelling message. Watching the Costa ad, the oddness is obvious but not a strong message isn't. The closing caption tells us Costa is for 'coffee lovers'. Well, I always took that for granted. Discovering the brand was aimed squarely at those who detest coffee would have been a shock indeed.
Any successful ad distinguishes a product or service from its competitors, offering a reason to buy via a unique selling point. Cafe Nero, Starbucks and any other beverage chain could easily claim to be for 'coffee lovers'. So the only uniqueness in the Costa campaign lives in the creative approach - and that's not enough.
This is a common problem in creative projects. The lack of something engaging to say is masked by an elaborate execution. When I visit an art gallery and inspect the modern installations, the only pieces I admire are those that engage me emotionally, those with something to say. I don't mind being challenged, but presented with something merely arch or wilfully obscure, I'm left cold. The same is true of music. A performer whose work is nothing more than awkward noises is no artist at all - they are simply covering a lack of inspiration with an empty shell. In real terms, I'm saying The Ronettes', 'Be My Baby' (the perfect pop single) is infinitely more artistic and creatively accomplished than The Beatles' 'Revolution 9' (a random racket).
When Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer launched their revolutionary comedy 'Big Night Out' in the early nineties, it was wonderful because the crazed nonsense was a vehicle for careful wit and tremendous characterisation. Unfortunately, as their shows progressed, something was lost. They mistook enforced daftness, for genuine humour and allowed the creative anarchy to conquer the sharp thinking and clever writing.
And so it is with advertising. The 'Compare The Market' meerkats may have outstayed their welcome, but when they first arrived they were attractively unusual. More importantly, they carried an easily understood message in a refreshingly different way. Rather than confuse, they endeared and the creative idea didn't get in the way of the pitch.
So frankly, it is possible for advertisements to be too creative, but the pitfall can be avoided. Start a project with a robust proposal for the target audience; then build a platform to deliver it in a memorable, intelligent, easily understood way. Follow that track and let your imagination run riot - be as creative as you like, but never forget the message is king. Otherwise you may end up with nothing more than buried heads and Kiss songs.
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