Brendan Kennelly a national treasure

In his latest Stray Thoughts column, Breandán O Broin writes on why he believes Irish poet Brendan Kennelly deserves to be honoured as a national treasure

We don’t have an honours list in Ireland; we are a proud republic, not a suppliant monarchy.  But we do have the rank of laureate where we honour our writers and the role of Saoí which is awarded to the titular head of Aosdána, the elite collective of artists working in Ireland. But if we had an honours list, then surely there must be room for one of Ireland’s greatest poets?

He wrote the poem Begin, he’s the one and only Brendan Kennelly. He’s a man who always told it as it really was, his storytelling poetic pen had a common magical touch. Who in advertising has ever had the balls to publish an article titled ‘Advertising My Arse’? But that’s exactly what Kennelly did when referring to his calling in a poem titled ‘Poetry, My Arse’.

Eat your hearts out, William Butler Yeats or Seamus Famous Heaney; neither of ye every managed a ripper of a headline half as caustic or self-critical as that. Another of Kennelly’s poems is called Guff which might – just might – be a recall of the times when the Kerryman became the only recognised poet and Trinity professor ever to have appeared in an ad.

During the 1990’s, his distinctive Ballylongford lilt was used to great effect as the TV presenter and voiceover for Toyota. Tim Mahony’s car franchise which had already used the Irish language deftly in several campaigns created by the late, great Brian Cronin.

The fact that Kennelly (above) didn’t actually drive wasn’t seen as a hindrance either by the client, the agency Javelin or the audience. Today, such an omission would probably cause a storm of outrage on social media. But if ICAD is thinking of handing out any honorary citations, then Brendan Kennelly, the poet, now in his eighties, is undoubtedly an admirable choice.

Presidential trump card

Our dearly beloved Uachtarán na hĒireann is worried. He’s concerned ‘creativity’ is now so broadly interpreted and loosely applied to all manner of non-creative things it’s becoming debased. From his lofty perspective, the term will soon cease to be a critical descriptor of ‘true’ creativity and will become an easily-awarded paradigm of the marketing profession.

Ouch, well and truly ouch. Presumably, he won’t be invited to open this year’s ICAD expo.  Or perhaps, maybe he should. Maybe we do need to hear alternative perspectives that stem from outside our industry bubble. Perhaps we’re too creative with the term creative. Maybe we need to look harder at ourselves and not just consider that operating in the creative arena de facto entitles us to consider ourselves a notch above all the other marketing disciplines.

Maybe the brand planner is creative? Maybe the media planner is creative? Heaven forefend, but maybe even the client is creative? And maybe they’re not. And heaven forefend a second time, maybe you’re not always creative, not each and every time with every concept, not every second of every day?  Maybe when you come in of a morning you should look at the ad you developed yesterday and subject it to what was often referred to as the ‘morning-after test’, but shall now be known as the ‘Michael D’. Would your latest concept qualify for the Presidential seal of approval?  If not, better to begin again, as the poet says.

Happiness is…

Those of you no longer in the first flush of creative youth will remember that happiness is (or was) a cigar called Hamlet. The famous ads used a jazz rendition of Bach’s Air on the G String. But that was then, and this is now. What part, if any, has happiness to play in marketing? Hoping to make your brand entices people to feel better is pretty much a given.

But can we really earn extra brownie points by making the user actually feel happier in his or herself? We’re not talking here about the use of advertising as entertainment. Providing people with a quick laugh is all very well in its own right, but repetition means the laugh soon wears off and your expensive campaign dies an early death, with sadness for the brand.

Happiness goes deeper than an instant response; happiness is longer lasting in its impact and its effect. Cadbury’s ‘Feel the Joy’ campaign is certainly in tune with the happiness concept. It clearly indicates that the chocolate experience can expand but to make the eater enjoy a feeling of warmth, human kindness and the need to share their new-found emotions.  The Gorilla banging away on the drums to Phil Collins’s ‘In the Air Tonight’ was the start of it all; and the campaign has since developed to feature actual real humans proclaiming their hitherto hidden abilities in the all-night, boogie-woogie department. Our own Eamon Dunphy and John Giles even got in on the act. It seems Cadbury could be onto a smart thing.

Dr Karam Al Mandil, lecturer in marketing at the University of Cumbria, is the author of academic paper detailing the growth in ‘Happy Advertising’ at a branding seminar event which brings together scholars, researchers and practitioners in a “lively debate on ideas of the role of sensory branding in engaging consumers through the five senses”.

The areas covered include brand experiences, place branding and neuromarketing. Dr Al Mandil’s paper is titled ‘From Brand Experience to Happiness: Exploring the Impacts on Brand Loyalty and Price Premium’. In it, he argues that the current “overemphasis on the utilitarian aspects of products has shifted the interest to the hedonic facets of consumption”.

And then comes the important bit. “Experience marketing presents a new approach to address this shift and to achieve long and lasting competitive advantages… happiness has received attention from marketers and studies have also begun to appear. Therefore, this research is investigating how brands contribute to consumers’ happiness through experiences.” Yikes and double yikes. Someone please pass me a bar of Cadbury’s… but with no nuts, please.

Pretty cringey: Kendall Jenner handing a tin of Pepsi to a police officer. The ad was an embarrassing attempt at trying to capitalise on the protest movement and make Pepsi appear that it had captured the zeitgeist among the brand’s young consumers.

Happiness isn’t…

Another recent trend in creative positioning is to align your brand with social or political perspectives. But this supposedly noble cause can rebound as Pepsi found when they were forced to hurriedly withdraw an ad linking their product with the power of protest. Handing the baton of street protest (a Pepsi tin) to supermodel Kendall Jenner was a step too far.

In the UK, Heineken drew flak for its socially-inclusive campaign where the problems of our mixed-up world can appear to be solved by the sharing a bottle of lager. Here at home, there was a rush for right-on brands to establish their credentials with the Marriage Equality Referendum but no one dared share an ad platform with the Rights2Water protesters.

Equally, one imagines there may not me much of a queue forming when it comes to adopting strategic marketing positions on a future Repeal the 8th referendum, should our legislators actually manage to get around to holding one anytime soon. So the emphatic message for brand owners has to be, tread carefully before you tread creatively into the protest zone.

Self expression

Adding grist to the Presidential mill that our relationship with creativity is becoming fast and loose is a research finding that 22 per cent of Irish people regard themselves as ‘creative’. But just one in ten believe their place of work ‘champions change and innovation’. It leads to the conclusion that there’s a lot of unhappy creative square pegs in non-creative holes.

OMD’s Future of Ireland III report tells us that most self-proclaiming creatives are female and are younger than the average. Creatives apparently have the highest propensity to make sacrifices in the short term for long term gain – which sadly makes them ideal cannon fodder for companies tempted to take advantage of interns eager to work in creative environments. There’s a second group called ‘advocates’ who also like to think of themselves as creative.  They make up one in four of the population and tend to be slightly older and are innovators in cooking and crafts. That’s almost half who believe they are ‘creative’. How the other half lives is a lot more pragmatic, as they cast themselves as ‘realists’ and ‘doubters’.

The report concludes on an optimistic note overall with the finding that the Irish people are at a positive juncture moment in their journey in the 21st century. This type of finding offers support for the plethora of Irish corporate style ads that consistently portray Irish people in Irish and international settings acting and interacting in a modern, energetic, inclusive and environmentally-aware global society. Our Cadbury milk glass is more than half full.

Brand Ireland abu

Sometimes you don’t need sales figures to tell you when an ad campaign works, or not. Just look anywhere around town, or check out the flow of overseas visitors pouring into venues like The Storehouse or Trinity College and the evidence of your own eyes will tell you that Ireland is winning hands down in the competitive race to win over more and more tourists.

Brexit may lead to a drop off in visitors from the UK as sterling loses ground against the euro and as middle Englanders become more like little Englanders and opt to staycate in their own green and pleasant land, but it seems their absence is being more than counterbalanced with arrivals from further-flung parts of the globe. Take the most recent Good Friday.

Okay, admittedly the bars of Temple Bar and other city centre venues were closed. Yet, over 90 foreign visitors walked through the doors of the James Joyce Museum in Sandycove in one hour before noon. Not all were Joycean culture vultures; many had arrived out from the city for the view from the tower and the sight of doughty locals dipping in the Forty Foot.

Advertising is about speaking well of oneself and clearly the multiplicity of messages being put out there by Fáilte Ireland are being noticed and acted upon, much to the benefit of us all.  It’s not only the Irish who see themselves as creative; the rest of the world agrees too.

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