Advertiser: Borough of Islington
Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, London
Ad Review rating: One star
[Cannes] It's hot. It's fresh. It's memorable. It's not afraid to make a stink. The latest triumph of the advertising imagination, much talked about and applauded at the International Advertising Festival: Merde, as they say here. Human merde. In a heap, from Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, London. Yes, just when you thought the annals of advertising scatology had seen the ultimate--last year's Hakle toilet paper spot featuring a fly buzzing around the backside of an insufficiently hygienic beachgoer--along comes director Tony Kaye and his public service announcement for the London borough of Islington. The subject is the chronic problem, especially bad in Europe, of dog feces on public byways. The solution (which had been employed in a PR campaign two years ago in the north of England) was to graphically get the attention of thoughtless pet owners as to the disgusting consequences of their behavior.
Success. Graphic this is. The spot opens with a man walking cheerfully out of his flat with his morning newspaper. Thereupon, without self-consciousness, he takes a position on the sidewalk, squats, tenses his facial muscles--among others--and begins to grunt. Yes, as it has been now become apparent, he is moving his bowels on the pavement. A neighbor lady peers out the window in disgust. Children on the street watch and giggle. Others just look on in amazement. But the guy thinks nothing of what he is doing, and when he's finished his chore, a passing neighbor who hasn't noticed what has just transpired greets him with a pleasant, "Good morning."
"Turned out nice again, eh?" our hero absently replies, whereupon the passer-by steps into the fresh deposit and goes flying backwards out of the frame.
Oops! That darned fecal matter.
Now if you happen to be one of those blue-nosed prigs who find human-excrement gags somehow revolting, take heart. In one of the cuts, not screened at this festival, the audience sees the actual offal plopping onto the sidewalk. No doubt some nervous Nellie on the client side thought that was extreme, the cowardly sod. Doesn't he know that sometimes you just have to be forceful to make a point?
In actual fact, the blunt force of the Islington message is precisely what a good number of otherwise sensible people like about it. It is undeniably a crystal-clear enunciation of the problem, the payoff for which shows up in a couple of municipal-style metal signs. "You wouldn't," one sign says, and the other: "Don't let your dog" The assumption is that people need to be jolted into the reality of their fecal irresponsibility--and no doubt this scenario will more than do the trick.
There is, however, more to advertising than communication. More than effectiveness. More than memorability. There is also consideration for the viewer, who in this case may not be an offender--who may be as victimized by the gross ad as by the doggy land mines themselves.
What if Saatchi were on a new-business pitch and needed to make a point about how nauseatingly saccharine the existing advertising was? Would the agency send a guy into the client's office with his index finger extended, to stick it down the client's throat? That would be dramatic, and direct and memorable.
But Saatchi would never do anything so assaultive and repugnant in a business meeting. So why on earth would they ever do it on television?
Copyright June 1997, Crain Communications Inc.