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Ad Breakdown's pick of 2008

The faces of Woolworths, Halifax, Bradford and Bingley and Hovis

The Magazine's review of advertising

Our traditional annual look back at the adverts which have stood out to the casual sofa-dweller this year, for good or bad.

We've become familiar, as viewers of adverts, to the years of plenty - lavish, epic adverts with lovingly constructed conceits and beautiful soundtracks. So how will the coming years - not, one hopes, of famine but perhaps of tightened belts - be felt? What will we see between the programmes (on some channels), between the pages and on the hoardings between the buildings?

Woolworths advert
Woolies 1970s style

It's at least clear that it will be a future without some familiar advertisers. Woolworths, for instance, whose Leslie Crowther-fronted 1970s adverts have graced many a TV news report about the company's demise, will be a distant memory.

That's in spite of a now incongruous advert earlier this year in which Jackie Chan appeared with the Woolworths sheep (Woolie) and sheepdog (Worth). But that was in April, well before the banking crisis of the summer which led into the downturn and ultimately the closure of Woolies, back in a time when it must have seemed like a good idea to pay a celebrity appearance fee to a Hollywood star in order to launch a UK-only children's clothing range. It seems almost quaint now.

And no more will we be bombarded with Boxing Day adverts for MFI sale kitchens after it also went the way of Courts. Or ads from luxury airline Silverjet, which last year painstakingly reconstructed British Airways' iconic "face" advert. So much creative effort for nought.

New lives

With the banking world's woes, it's noticeable that the adverts for financial services which once were everywhere are now not so much. And what will happen to dozens of familiar advertising identities? The Bradford and Bingley bowler hats, for instance, or Howard Brown from the Halifax, or any number of other associated brands. With the expected creation of a new superbank with Lloyds TSB in the driving seat, will even the famous Black Horse survive, or be sent out to pasture to be replaced by a new icon?

Maybe tight budgets will leave the door open for some low-cost but highly creative campaigns
Rob Mortimer

So how will the recession affect advertising? Blogger Rob Mortimer, a planner at CheethamBellJWT, says there will undoubtedly be an effect. "Many companies will have tighter budgets which means advertising agencies have to fight harder to win their share of it," he says, adding that the end result for the audience may not be much different.

Production budgets will be cut back, and there might be a move towards more "hard-sell" adverts. But at the same time there will be "forward-thinking" brands who will use the opportunity to "stand out with more creative work that can give them a more powerful position once things improve".
"If we are lucky, maybe tight budgets will leave the door open for some low-cost but highly creative campaigns over the next year or two; as agencies strive to get the most impact for the brands' money."

MFI advert
Closing sign

Fellow blogger Peter Kenny agrees. "Marketing folks will spend smarter, and make fewer TV ads. There will be more activity online - expect to see more viral films on the internet, where people can gain lots of coverage for little spend. There will also be a back-to-basics focus on junk mail and door drops. Clients will demand agencies prove their spend on TV ads to be worth it. So we'll see more prominent phone numbers and website addresses being touted - because responses to these can be measured, allowing the agencies to justify their costs."

If this latter point is true, we might also see more examples of how Orange trailed its website - instead of putting its web address on its adverts it instead wrote "Search online for 'I am'" and bought "I am" as Google keywords. A cunning way to get noticed and of avoiding the URL blindness which results from web addresses being in so many places that nobody notices them.

Price cutting

The extent to which the recession will mean an end to conspicuous consumption and even branding will be worth watching in the coming year. Supermarkets, whose adverts always wax and wane between price and quality, are definitely in a price phase at the moment. Most High Street institutions will surely follow suit.

Yet this has not been the only theme of the year. Concerns about binge drinking and obesity have flared several times, and resultant toughened limits on food and drink advertising could be seen in practice. So alcohol adverts must not now appeal strongly to the under 18s - though of course every advertiser will want to make sure they do appeal strongly to the over 18s. That's a creative challenge.

Adverts must also not make even subtle links between sex and drinking. And they must now show alcohol being handled responsibly.

Kronenbourg advert
Chopping bubbles for Kronenbourg

The result? A series of pretty abstract drink adverts this year. Kronenbourg has a kitchenful of chefs chopping and grating and slicing bubbles to make them as small as possible, on the basis that more bubbles meant a smoother taste. This advert attracted complaints for allegedly encouraging violence, though the Advertising Standards Authority gave it the all-clear on that count.

Stella Artois, who for years have brought "reassuringly expensive" ad satisfaction and cheap lager in equal measures, went out in several new directions - the least impressive taking us back to times pre-Stella, in 1366, when people apparently believed the earth was flat. Odd how breweries make such a big deal of their foundation date. But Guinness cleverly used theirs to square the don't appeal to under-18s circle - by focusing on 1759 as being one minute before the end of the working day. Start pouring a pint then, and it should be ready for when you are, is the message, seamlessly referring to the previous "worth waiting for" campaign.

Drinks adverts will, however, be included soon in Google searches, along with gambling adverts. Worth watching if any advertisers do anything interesting or creative with this new opportunity.

And the changed environment for alcohol is also felt by food too. It's a sign of the times that a very memorable line used to promote Jaffa Cakes - that they had only one gram of fat per cake - is not now allowed to be used in advertising, because it implies that Jaffa Cakes are a low fat food. These things are not measured by the size of the cake, they are measured per 100g, and for a solid food to be low fat it must have no more than 3g of fat per 100g. Jaffa Cakes have 8g.

Hovis advert
Is that you home, love?

But some things don't change - at least that's what Hovis's mammoth advertising epic tries to persuade you, in what many will feel was the most memorable advert of the year. In a 122-second-long ad, one second for each year of the company's history, a boy runs across town as the years advance in front of him. It is joyous and upbeat and beautifully crafted, even if it does feel like a cross between a Victorian Dr Who and Life on Mars.

A selection of adverts worth using your remote control to skip and some worth rewinding to watch again will be published next week.

Ad Breakdown is compiled by Giles Wilson

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

Three words.
One symbol.
Marks and Spencers.
Vicky, East London

Best advert of 2008? No contest - Visa Running Man - pity that they don't seem to show the full-length original version any more.
Mark Ziemba, Fleet, Hampshire, UK

That water advert with Brains from Thunderbirds was excellent. What I don't understand with the perfume adverts is how they spend all that money on the actors/actresses and the glamour and by the end of the ad, you're always baffled and STILL don't know what it smells like.
Tiff, Chester

The McCoys advert where the bloke in the pub unthinkingly reveals his ballet knowledge (and is immediately ejected).
Mike Roper, Liverpool

For me, it was the Ladbrokes "everyone's got an opinion..." advert because it challenged people to put their money where their mouth is instead of just talking.
Rob, Sheffield

The advert which really winds me up at the moment is the Pringles Select ad, the one where the woman in it says "it's in bag which is amazing". I'm fairly sure most crisps come in bags and have done for years. What's so amazing about that.
Richard, Bradford, West Yorkshire

The worst adverts by far are the Halifax adverts. At what point do they think that a man singing about his talking fish is going to make me want to get a mortgage? Who pays these people?
Trevor Seymour, London

I missed the Coca-Cola ad this year with the huge lorry and the song "Christmas is coming..." Always gives me that Christmas feeling - missed out this year.
Lyndsey, Swindon, Wiltshire

So irritated by the money wasted on the Hovis ad (couldn't it have been used for medical research or improving our hospitals?) that I turn off immediately it starts. Time this country and manufacturing businesses got their priorities right.
Christine Chivers, Cambridge, UK

I think it's absurd to expect a private company such as Hovis to give away their advertising budget, no matter how deserving the charity. As a business venture they are not only free to, but expected by their shareholders to put funds back into the company to generate further profit. The advertisement was highly enjoyable, good fun, and well worth every penny, despite what some Puritans might think.
Shannon Kennedy, Sheffield, England

In these troubled times it was nice to see a company like Hovis creating a feel good advert that reminded us all that Britain may be down but we are by no means out. The advert showed what creative marketing and imagery, focused on our patriotism, can do. I will now always think of Hovis as British produce.
Dean Smith, Kenfig Hill, Birdgend, mid Glamorgan

Companies don't have to spend a lot of money to improve their brand's identity. Something memorable or different will do the trick. I don't like Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, but always appreciate the humour. They should think about bringing back old ones too - I vote for the Tesco advertisements where Dudley Moore hunts for chickens.
Margaret, London, UK

Perfume adverts for both men and women do not appear to be suffering from any kind of budget limitation, an example is Chanel 5 with Nicole Kidman. Likewise car ads are very glossy... wonder if all that will change?
Lucy, Oxford

Just a quick note on the Chanel No 5 ad - this is a recycled ad. It was originally shown sometime ago, so they have not recently paid Nicole Kidman a large sum of money to shoot it.
Corinna, London

This years classic is the Irn Bru/snowman parody. Hasn't been on much though.
Ady, Edimbourg

What I find unbearable and quite freaky is the number of talking "things" in adverts. Sofas, shopping trolleys, vegetables, even dustbunnies. It just ain't right! What must children think?
Robbo, Suffolk

The one that stands out for me is a recent one and is the long Think motorcycle safety ad. You're waiting for the guy to get hurt and he never does - which is good. There also seem to be a lot more CoI adverts - so there must be a large number of voidage deals happening.
Andrew Clarke, Sandbach, England

I loved the Stella advert, it reminded me of a Terry Pratchett novel. I've noticed very few summer holiday adverts this Christmas period. Obviously the travel companies are tightening their belts too.
Gareth Boon, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear

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