Missing our moment: where has all the great tactical work gone?


Ross Farquhar, Partner at advertising agency 101, considers the missed opportunities for tactical advertising in the age of social media.

What a week for London’s communications industry. Not one, but two national events have fixated the nation, giving us the precious opportunity to leapfrog the months of planning and multiple rounds of research associated with ‘business as usual’ campaigns to deliver work with the potency reserved for the great institution that is the tactical ad.

It feels only right to expect, therefore, that whether the subject is newborns or new governments we’d all barely be able to move for the kind of creations that fuel culture rather than pollute it. Our tube rides made bearable by an Evening Standard filled with hastily assembled gems, our Twitter feeds packed with brands making credible pitches for their ‘Oreo moment’.

Yet a strong effort by Saatchi & Saatchi’s Pampers aside, this week hasn’t felt like a gleaming showcase for what our discipline can do. I’ve seen a yoghurt brand accompany a tub especially marked ‘It’s a girl!’ with the clearly sweated-over headline ‘Congratulations!’ I’ve seen a bread brand toast the new arrival with… a piece of toast (I imagine #royaltoast is on fire right now). And perhaps best of all, Tesco stuck a bag of Charlotte potatoes on Twitter and suggested the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge pop in for some name inspiration.

And perhaps we know we’ve not turned in our best efforts when rather than applauding our witty missives, the rest of the country flocks to a Buzzfeed article entitled ’13 Really Cringeworthy Tweets From Brands About The Birth Of The Royal Baby’ (subhead: ‘Please stop’).

I profess that I do have an insatiable hunger for good tactical ads. Wieden & Kennedy’s ‘Arsena’ to commemorate the Gunners’ undefeated season on behalf of Nike. BBH’s ’24 Hour Lynx Effect’ timed beautifully with Britney’s short-lived nuptials. More recently, M&C’s ‘Time for a honeymoon’ effort in the wake of the same sex marriage bill for Virgin Holidays brought a smile and an inward ‘Well played…’

And when I put that together with my equally insatiable love of social media, and the opportunity it affords for those of us desperate to get more timely and interesting work into the world, it makes me think we’re letting the tactical ad die a slow, painful and far too public death when it should be an important foundation stone for an advertising industry attempting to rebuild its contract with both society and its clients.

They should be the ads that genuinely reciprocate value — you’re thinking and talking about this, let us make it even more entertaining. Moreover, for the clients willing to throw caution to the wind and take a punt, the spoils of war (or ‘fame’ as the IPA Databank would call them) are likely to lead straight to the bottom line.

So rather than soberly filling in the ‘topical’ line of the social media calendars that grace our inboxes with ‘Something to do with Rio 2016’ and ‘Something about Eurovision’, let’s put our backs (and our brass necks) back into ‘moment in time’ advertising. It might just be the thing that wins us plaudits beyond our walls once again.