Have TV ads gone all Hollywood? The art of advertainment.


Someone once said, “The only people who pay to watch TV ads are the clients, the rest of us would rather pay to see a film.”

The point is obvious, great entertainment warrants a ticket, but ads rarely rise to that level.

Recently I pitched a million pound ad to a client whose overall budget was £2m (a modest budget these days).

“That’s 50% of my media money” he screamed at us, “are you nuts?” The meeting wasn’t going well at this point.

It was an ambitious idea that was using a top film director and crew. And was about as far away from his idea of an ad as you can get. “I’m not a bloody art cinema trust you know.”

Finally he came around and saw the argument, a great film is like a great song, it travels, wins hearts and lives on. A bad one dies quickly, no matter how many times it is played on the radio.

He was a musician and once played in a one hit wonder pop band in the 80’s before going into sales and then marketing, so the analogy worked well.

Alas, he quit his job before he signed the deal, to go on a reunion tour. Life sometimes has anything but a Hollywood dream ending.


Ads are no longer as formulaic as they use to be, they have evolved into forms that sometimes don’t even look like ads.

If you are about to spend on a TV ad, and more and more brands are, then consider the following.


“An ad’s effectiveness is 70% creative, 30% media.” [Google]

As the power of advertising is 70% down to the creative and only 30% media (a well researched Google fact, also supported by Thinkbox), why not spend 70% of the budget on the ad, the rest on media. Surely this makes more sense? This’ll guarantee a great ad, which means the public will do the rest via social media channels, not to mention the media.

Great ads get talked about, just look at Cadbury’s Gorilla ad or the Old Spice campaign.

By contrast, how many brands spend 90% of their budget on the media and then make a bad ad on a small budget, only to wonder why it fails?

The problem here is that some marketing directors have been sold a myth – that media is more important than what you put in it.


Think of it another way.

You have 3 minutes on the X Factor stage, but probably actually 30 seconds before they will buzz you off. 95% of over optimistic performers get booted off. Knowing that, would you do an average performance? Or the best you could ever do?

So why make a crap TV ad then waste money pushing it across the screens of millions of viewers who will just give it the buzzer in the first 5 seconds?

But what happens when it’s amazing? The media and social pick it up. Everyone talks about it.

Try this idea – challenge your ad agency to write an ad for just one paid spot. They have 60 seconds to make an impact. That should test their creativity.


Are ad agencies no longer relevant?

Having just judged the TV and film section of one of the big creative awards, top of the list of great ads has to be the Burberry film. ‘The Tale of Thomas Burberry’ was directed by Academy award winner, and four time BAFTA award winner, Asif Kapadia. Script was by top writer Matt Charman. The film stars Sienna Miller, Dominic West and Domhnall Gleeson.

Burberry turned to Hollywood rather than a top ad agency and made probably the best advert of the last few years. It instantly went viral clocking up 12 million views in just a few weeks. But then again is it an ad, or is it really a short film? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6D5IZtDCS5c&ab_channel=Burberry)

It works like an ad but performs like a movie. You just want to watch it again and again, which you can rarely say about any typical ad you see on a Saturday night.


Then there’s Wes Anderson’s H&M commercial, ‘Come Together,’ based on his Grand Budapest Hotel movie (winner of a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture) and starring Adrien Brody. (9,689,000 views https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDinoNRC49c&ab_channel=H%26M)

Anderson also directed the amazing Prada ad, “Castello Cavalcanti” (2013).

And last year, Ted Baker’s ‘Mission Impeccable’ by Guy Ritchie.

This is really the world of ‘advertainment’, where advertising uses the power of film to convey an advertising message

The results are great films, where quality of direction, script, casting, performance, editing and music rise above the average level of advertising.

Brilliant in cinemas, impressive on TV and ideal for social.

Do you really need an ad agency anymore?

Well if you area fashion brand, where the ad is a bit of a one off, maybe not, but if you are an FMCG, insurance or automotive brand, you’ll need a lot more than one ad, you need a campaign and that’s where ad agencies trump Hollywood.

Bit of advice – if you are smart with your money, go to an independent agency (most are ex big agency staff) and pay half what the big agencies charge – and you’ll probably get a better job.


“The problem is, we have we got the balance wrong on where we invest our budgets. We put too much into media leaving too little to make good ads.”

Ever been to a restaurant with an amazing décor but the food was terrible? Or would you prefer a modest décor with really amazing food?

As an example, one FMCG brand I know spent about 10% on execution, so £200k on the ad (agency fees about £75k, director and production £125k) leaving £1.7m on the media. Not untypical.

The ad was bland. No style. Plain ordinary. In fact boring. It had a typical patronising image of housewives in a kitchen (which women hate by the way) comparing notes. It bombed.

Big brands think big!

The lesson here is if you want to win gold in sales, you need to spend a lot of gold. Advertainment films don’t come cheap, but if you are marketing a chocolate bar with a turnover in multi millions, what’s a million on an ad?

Years ago I wrote an ad for Death cigarettes, that featured John F. Kennedy not being shot because he dropped his cigarettes in the back of his limo, so the shots missed him as he bent down to pick them up. It involved using the original Zapruder film and new filming. “That’s not an ad,” I was told by a fellow creative director, “it’s a film.”

It wasn’t going to be cheap, despite getting the rights to use the original film, it was going to cost a bomb. But everyone know that ad would become famous overnight. It probably only need to air once. It was worth the investment.

Sadly Death cigarettes got assassinated by the government before we could make the ad.


As a medium, TV makes great sense as it delivers the best ROI – the average is about £2.50 to every £1 spent, and if the ad is really good, £3.50. Great ads also find their way into the social stream, amplifying engagement.

No wonder TV is now back in popularity and growing (with a lot of budget coming from digital). Great TV works.

But bad, boring and predictable ads don’t. They just die. Usually followed by the brand.

“No one buys from a dull salesman,” was a David Ogilvy quote.

Having recently judged the Creative Circle film & TV awards section, I was left thinking the age of the big idea, so favoured by adland over the last 40 years (which 50% of the time is actually a pun) has been replaced. Instead we are seeing big budget films that may have a little idea, but a powerfully engaging storyline. Filmic ads that are pure entertainment.

TV ads as we knew them are dead. Long live TV ads. Long live advertainment.


Chris Arnold is founder of Creative Orchestra Advertising (an independent agency) and the disruptive innovation lab, The Garage.

He is also author of Ethical Marketing & the New Consumer and long time Brand Republic blogger.



Feedback to: chris@creativeorchestra.com