Years ago, Al Waldie did a campaign for B&H in a style no one had seen before.
The posters and the cinema commercial were completely surreal, beautiful but strange and they made no sense.
The campaign won every award going, and rightly so.
But it meant that everyone in every ad agency immediately copied that campaign.
For the next decade, surreal campaigns were the fashion.
It didn’t matter what the brand was, it didn’t even matter what the product was, and it certainly didn’t matter who the target audience was.
Surrealism was fashionable for all advertising, everything from detergent to breath mints, from motor cars to tampons.
Fast forward a few years and a new generation of young advertising people discovered re-runs of Monty Python.
Suddenly advertising had to make no sense at all, it had to be random humour.
And random humour was the fashion for every advertising problem.
Everything from crisps to underwear, from beer to washing machines.
Fast forward a few more years and advertising discovered foreign art films.
Suddenly the fashion was beautifully shot scenes with languid soundtracks.
We weren’t doing anything as corny as advertising, we were making artistic movies.
Selling would spoil the mood so the name of the brand must never be mentioned, only glimpsed briefly, almost subliminally, in the closing seconds.
We weren’t selling products, we were creating culture.
For everything from chocolate bars to toilet cleaner, from shampoo to frozen food.
Fast forward a few years and the fashion became audio instead of visual.
Take a raucous rock track, slow it right down, and have a girl sing it mournfully with a single acoustic guitar.
Like everything, it was a good idea the first time it was done.
But by the time it was done several dozen times, it wasn’t so good.
Done for everything from toothpaste to holidays, from pet food to mobile phones.
Advertising is dominated by fashion.
The brief doesn’t have much to do with the product or the market.
An example of the irrelevance of the brand was in something I saw the other day.
It was for Mercedes and it was desperately trying to be youthful, because that’s the fashion.
One particular word stood out because I didn’t know what it meant.
It was the word ‘finsta’, out of curiosity I looked it up.
It turns out ‘finsta’ is short for ‘fake Instagram’.
Apparently, young people make up false details on their Instagram accounts to impress their friends – no, me neither.
Anyway, this was how the agency was handling the Mercedes account.
Instead of targeting people who have the money to buy a Mercedes, they decided to target people who live solely on their mobile phones and make up their own language.
My guess is people like this live with their parents and aren’t even old enough to have a driving licence.
But the agency wanted to do fashionable advertising.
Because agencies aren’t looking at the product.
And they certainly aren’t looking at the market.
We know this because, although products are different and markets are different, the advertising is always the same.
The advertising must be fashionable.
At least, whatever’s currently considered fashionable in the advertising industry.