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Dave Trott's Blog
HOW DUMB ARE WE?
A few days ago I got an email asking if I wanted to be on a Channel 4 documentary about advertising.
Apparently the government is worried about all the expected Bulgarian immigrants next year.
They want to do advertising to run in Bulgaria, to dissuade people from coming to the UK.
So I said I was happy to talk about it before I agreed.
They came to the agency and set up their camera equipment in one of the conference rooms.
Before we started they asked me to sign a release form.
I said “Let’s see what you shoot first, then I’ll decide.”
While they were interviewing me, I asked them what they did.
They said they were an advertising agency.
The interviewer said he was a copywriter.
He said he was famous for launching “hashtag creativetops” and “hashtag crazylife”.
I didn’t get the actual names because I was confused.
What did that have to do with advertising?
I asked the other guy what he did.
He had huge glasses, skinny jeans, pointy shoes, and he used a lot of long jargony words that I didn’t understand.
He said he was an account man.
Then they got out the posters they’d done.
The first one was a poster of Tower Bridge with the words “OPEN” and “SHUT”, but “OPEN” was crossed out.
Then they showed me a copy of the famous WW2 poster, but with the line “KEEP CALM AND STAY HOME”.
Finally they showed me a poster with the headline “WE DON’T NEED U IN THE UK”.
Then they asked me what I thought.
I said “This is a wind-up, right?”
They asked me what I meant.
I said “You can’t possibly work in an ad agency with posters that bad. Is this candid camera?”
And they started to get upset.
They said the posters might not be very creative by UK standards, but Bulgaria was a poor country.
I said it wasn’t that these weren’t creative posters.
It was that they didn’t even communicate.
For a start, if it’s a poor country, how many Bulgarians will get a reference to an ironic use of a British WW2 poster?
Second, how can you run an ad depending on an ability to understand puns (‘U’ meaning ‘You’) to an audience whose native language isn’t English?
Third, ‘OPEN’ and ‘SHUT’ is another pun: expecting Bulgarians to get the reference between the bridge and the UK.
And all of that is before we get anywhere near the fact that this advertising is actually much closer to graffiti.
The kind of stuff you find scrawled on walls, not a reasoned argument about immigration.
So I stood up and took off the mic.
They said “Okay we’ll be honest. This is actually a satirical show where the humour comes from the interviewees not being in on the joke.”
Oh, okay, I get it.
This is kind of like Sacha Barron Cohen’s characters (Ali G – etc) where we laugh at the mugs for being taken in by him.
They assured me that it wasn’t.
But it so obviously was.
I don’t blame these guys for trying it on.
Good luck if you can get away with it.
But two things really worried me about the whole thing.
These guys assured me they’d already done three or four interviews at other agencies and no one had noticed that it was a send-up.
They dressed and talked like absolute clichés, and no one noticed.
But much worse, the ads were pre-student level and no one noticed.
Everyone took them seriously as an ad agency answering a problem.
If I was a client, I’d find that very worrying.