The initial poster from Saatchi & Saatchi for Labour (top) and the Conservative response by M&C Saatchi
I was reading a piece somewhere on the web a week or so ago that asked why we Brits seem to have an edge the US when it comes to creativity in advertising. There were a number of suggestions , legislation, cultural mix and training among them, but to my recollection the most popular seemed to be the Brits’ ironic sense of humor, which produces advertising that even if it is explained to them a lot of Americans don’t understand.
When, back in the eighties, I was at the old Saatchi & Saatchi there was a buzz about our Charlotte Street HQ that I have never felt before or since in any agency anywhere in the world. Sadly for today’s Saatchi & Saatchi the magic left the building, with Maurice, Charles, Bill Muirhead and the rest of the old team and unfortunately for everyone it never seemed to be replicated in their subsequent M&C Saatchi incarnation … until now.
I was disappointed to say the least, both when Saatchi & Saatchi teamed up with Labour and when David Cameron’s team switched agency from the M&C Saatchi to Euro RSCG. I have nothing in particular against Euro, although their contribution in this case has been pretty dire, but the culture upon which the brothers built the original Saatchi & Saatchi and the people involved, including Tim Bell, made it the perfect environment for political advertising and no agency has more ground-breaking case studies as evidence of this.
I couldn’t possibly list all the on-the-ball, witty, to-the-point campaigns that emerged from Charlotte Street in the Saatchi & Saatchi heyday to capture the hearts and minds of the British consumer, not to mention people in markets around the world. Saatchi brought fun and daring to the most austere sectors, with famous retail campaigns like ‘How do Do-It-All do it?’ for a DIY chain and they earned a reputation for smart repost, even in the previously utilitarian lawnmower market with “A lot less bover than a hover” for Qualcast in response to Flymo’s ‘Don’t slow mow, Flymo’.
The Tories aren’t the first clients to have brought the Boys off the subs bench and scored an immediate goal, in this case with an advertising campaign that has made Euro’s attempt look like the wallpaper it was. I’m sure somebody will get around to calling it ‘negative advertising’ but when your competitor has a Achiles heel you’d be a fool not to turn it to your advantage. In this case M&C appear to have enough material to keep them going and its not in their DNA to let the opportunity pass by. However, its their mastery of the counterpunch that delivered the stroke of true magic, turning Labour’s (Saatchi & Saatchi) ‘Ashes to Ashes spoof poster campaign back on them with the deftest touch, proving beyond a doubt that the old masters haven’t lost it. It’s a real pity that without knowing the background to this campaign – the characters and storyline of the TV series that it is based on – and without the English sense of humour that I was talking about a moment ago, the beauty of this piece will be lost on people beyond British shores.
I remember how we felt in Charlotte Street when we pulled a coup like this. It was electric and I bet its the same now at M&C. The bad news from Labour’s viewpoint is that coups like this always fueled bigger and better ideas that sent the competition running for their dug-outs. The British election has become a Saatchi & Saatchi versus M&C Saatchi head-to-head with both sides trying to prove that the old fire resides with them. If nothing else comes of this event we could see some great advertising!