In the same way that caterpillars want to be butterflies, good advertising aspires to be entertainment. That scroll-stopping, pupil-dilating, synapse-firing quality that things you genuinely choose to spend time with possess. Mostly, UK advertising fails at this.
Which is weird. Because in terms of the wider UK creative industry we boss it on the global stage in creating entertainment, whether it's film, TV, music or video games. And our advertising is world class. It just rarely crosses the divide into genuine, I'd-pay-for-that entertainment (admitting that nobody pays for much these days).
I was fortunate enough to judge Cannes Lions last year and working through the Branded Content & Entertainment category was repeatedly struck by the narrowness of the showing. It wasn't bad: there was lots of things you would call branded content (in fact the category was rammed with entries), but not much that was properly entertaining. For the second year running no Grand Prix was awarded. The stuff that stood out was, generally, out of the US. Now yes, budgets for ambitious productions are much bigger there, but this is merely a factor, not an excuse. Here in the UK we're still quite polite in the creation of advertising: it knows its place (how terribly British) and I'd attribute this to our creative industries being so mature and well defined, alongside any cultural sensibility. We're a bit classical and sometimes miss the brilliant mélange of the US, which continues to be much happier shape shifting into new forms of entertainment that offer value to audiences on their terms.
As a parallel, take a look at our comparative TV industries. How frequently does something shared in your own newsfeed come from a UK entertainment show? Now, when was the last time you saw something pop up from one of the many US nightly shows: Fallon, Kimmel, Corden, Oliver, etc.? Bet you it's the latter that dominates. And the fact that two of those names are brilliant Brits surely says something too? It's not that we're not producing great entertainment in the UK, it's just that US producers are impolitely pushing further out of their box, placing social at the heart of what they make and cracking micro formats that will travel far and wide beyond the TV show itself.
Perhaps another thing that hamstrings the UK is a similarly classical approach to creative talent. If you want to be funny, get a scriptwriter in who's funny 20 times a day, everyday. There's still too many times that agencies fiercely defend an idea that Pixar writing teams would use as a warm-up exercise. A broader melting pot of creative talent needs to be fast tracked, and the good thing is we're finally seeing this more hybrid skillset as our freelancer market matures. Now, if we can evolve how advertising is taught in creative colleges to reflect this, we're onto something big.
Also this year Cannes Lions has taken the bold step of launching a whole new strand of the festival: the Entertainment Lions (which swallows up the old Branded Content category). It's a welcome move, and a step that makes everybody up their game. Hopefully it will reach beyond just the advertising industry and tempt the TV, Film and music refuseniks who have steered clear of the Croisette so far. With this fresh impetus, competition and renewed ambition, things are getting exciting. Let's hope we see a Grand Prix heading back to the UK very soon.
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