Five Questions: Duncan Macleod, TV advert blogger

10 September 2007

Five Questions is where I talk to bloggers about their projects and some of the other things they are doing. I ask {Q}uestions, and hopefully get some {A}nswers.

TV ads: are they a necessary evil, an outright distraction, or do they make for useful intermission breaks? Not all TV ads are forgettable though, and some are almost an art form says Duncan Macleod who reviews TV ads for his blog TV Ad Land.

{Q} What prompted you to become a TV ad reviewer of all things?!

{A} I started Duncan’s TV Ad Land back in 2003 in response to requests at conferences for copies of TV ads I’d been using as illustrations. I was aware that passing around digital copies of the ads could be breaking copyright law and so undertook to show people where to find the ads on the internet for themselves.

I was already working on a blog focusing on my research on generational change and thought it might be an interesting side line. What started out as an occasional post on Blogger has turned into a domain name with five blogs, read by approximately 5000 people each day.

{Q} How much time a week would you spend doing research, and watching TV, for the blog?

{A} I do my research and writing for TV Ad Land in the evenings and the weekends. Ironically I don’t get to sit down and watch TV much — it’s going on in the background.

Most of my information comes from press releases, emails and other web sites. All up, counting the posts I write on TV ads, print ads, music videos, popular culture and faith, I spend between 10 and 20 hours a week blogging.

I maintain a few blogs in my work with the Uniting Church during work hours.

{Q} In your opinion what makes for an effective TV ad?

{A} I’m interested in the ads that tell a story, providing plot and characters, like the Ikea Tidy Up series. Even better are the campaigns that show some kind of character development, like the Geico Cavemen series that morphed into a television series.

And then there’s humour — the ones that don’t take themselves too seriously — like the Big Ad from Carlton Draught. Just like at the movies, music makes all the difference to the way we engage with the ad.

The recent Tooheys HarvesTed ad, in which a guy grows clones from his hair, puzzled a lot of people. But people were drawn back to the ad time and time again by the Yama Yama track.

{Q} What sort of things do you think ad makers should avoid doing when producing commercials?

{A} Effective creative teams have to work out how much information is required in the thirty seconds. Is the ad about developing interest, curiosity, loyalty, pride or love? Or is it about giving people facts and figures that they must remember?

There’s been a bit of debate over this question in relation to a recent ad for the Honda CRV in which a guy constantly changes clothes as he walks through a Sydney street. More and more we’re seeing TV ads that attract viewers to online sites that can provide the details required.

Another tension faced by advertising teams relates to irreverence. The Nandos Fix Patch and Gum ads struggled to win wide support when they showed a working mum using the fictitious nandos-fix patch and gum in a strip club before taking her family to Nandos.

The ads are funny, but have left a bad taste in the mouths of many parents I’ve spoken to. Very few people get the joke.

{Q} So are TV ads underrated creative genius, or merely a distraction TV viewers must tolerate?

{A} Some TV ads are appalling and deserve to be muted. They’re loud, hard sell and unimaginative. But we’re seeing the growth of the television commercial as an art form, a short form of the short film.

The only problem for the people behind the scenes is that they go uncredited. In most cases we’re not sure who the actors are.

As I research for Duncan’s TV Ad Land I try to tell the story of the people behind the scenes: creative directors, art directors, copywriters, film directors, producers, editors, directors of photography, visual and special effects teams, colourists, sound designers, composers and of course the actors.

Many of these people are involved in long form film work. The director of the movie Halo, (coming out in 2009) is Neill Blomkamp, known mostly for his TV ads for Nike (Evolution and Crab), Citroen Transformer, Gatorade Rain and Adidas Adicolor Yellow.

My challenge now is how to connect the popular culture angle back into my original work on generational values and spirituality.

When I talk to groups about Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y I find the TV ads, print advertisements and music video are great illustrations, texts for discussion. The Virgin Blue Get What You Want in Todd’s Life provides a way to talk about the dominant culture of choice, change and variety.

My brief with the Uniting Church in Australia has included helping people explore what faith might mean in an environment driven by consumerism. Do we ignore the lessons of the advertising world and settle for poor marketing? I suggest not.

But at the same time it’s important not to be sucked into the danger of continually presenting faith as a product that can be bought now and discarded later.

Thanks Duncan!

Originally published Monday 10 September 2007.


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