Topical ads...still topical?

Topical ads...still topical?



Last night I spotted this lovely half pager in the Metro and it made me smile. Thank you Adam&EveDDB creative team Jonathan John & David Mackersey and all the other ad folks who probably worked extremely hard to make it happen. I salute you.


It got me wondering, are topical ads still a thing? Or is this a fleeting floral reminder of what used to be. And we’re all way too busy focusing on the day job to be doing last minute seat-of-the-pants ads that need a shitload of client approval in a very short space of time to run.

In my heart I want to believe we can all still be doing this. Creative departments feverishly on the front foot, ready to pounce with a witty one liner or simple visual that perfectly subverts a public moment for the benefit of the brand.  In theory it should be easier than ever. What with Twitter, DOOH, Facebook, Snapchat to name but a few live platforms to make your mark in 2018. But there still seems a lack of topical ads. Or rather a lack of great ones. 

What goes into making brilliant topical ads?

Timing? Wit? Controversy? 

It's possibly all these. But possibly the most crucial element is having the basis of a great campaign to bounce your topical idea off.

It’s going to be Oscars time very soon, will anyone top last year's Specsavers nifty number on twitter after envelope-gate?

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A couple of year's before, Oreo’s took advantage of the Superbowl power cut with this.

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Which follows on from their Daily Twist campaign by DraftFCB New York, 360i, Weber Shandwick, and MediaVest - daily topical ad on twitter.

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The Guardian, Lynx, Kit Kat, Paddy Power, Virgin - like Oreos and Specsavers - all have fantastic campaigns that can quickly accommodate topical messages.


Silver Press Lion winner for BBH creative team Simon Pearse and Emmanuel Saint M'Leux.


BBH again, with this quick bit of thinking for Lynx.

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Creative team Alex Ball & Ronnie Vlcek, Designer Chris Hutton, JWT London


With the 2014 World Cup being staged in Brazil, Lucky Generals faked a set of photos suggesting that bookmaker Paddy Power had chopped down part of the Amazon rainforest to create a good luck message to the England football team. Within minutes of the shots being leaked onto the web, social media went nuts. Paddy Power waited for full internet frenzy, before admitting, “We didn’t give the Amazon a Brazilian” in a follow up fake photo, and revealed they’d been working with environmental charities all along. The weekend before the planet’s biggest sporting event, Paddy Power were the most talked-about brand on social media, with 35 Million Twitter impressions. And thousands of people visited Greenpeace’s website.

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Weeks of media planning and writing ads is all well and good, but if a brilliant oppourtunity comes along to embarrass your greatest rival, you just have to go for it. That’s what happened back in 2000 when Virgin pulled one of their most epic stunts. On the day of the erection of the British Airways London Eye, there was a technical hitch which delayed getting the structure upright. On hearing this news, Sir Richard Branson couldn’t help poke yet more fun at BA’s expense: “We had an airship company just outside London so we scrambled a blimp to fly over the wheel bearing the slogan BA Can’t Get It Up.” Quick thinking and the necessary resources resulted in one of Virgin’s cheekiest and most memorable stunts. 

However there was one topical ad that creatives brought up again and again as a firm favourite. 'Arsena' from Tony Malcolm & Guy Moore for Nike.


A perfect fit. Nike and the Arsenal team of 2003 / 2004. It ran the day after they'd remained undefeated for a whole season. It is perfect in concept and execution. For such an historic achievement it's wonderfully humble. I remember seeing it as a strip ad in the Evening Standard.  Only once. But it was seared into my brain. Like Sir John Heg says, you don't need to run an ad to death spending millions on media. If you run an ad just once and it's good enough it'll work (I'm sure he said it much more elegantly than that but you get my drift)

As a Man Utd fan it pains me to praise such an ad. And yes, I am aware in the history of topical ads, no one has devoted more time and effort than the footy obsessed creative. And being our national sport, why not?

A pure topical ad is of the moment. An event occurs. A creative writes the ad in the shower / on the bog / on the way to work. And then he/she starts desperately trying to get it approved by CD, client and placed in the media for the next morning. Or tweeted on the same day.

By their nature topical ads are reactive. Something unusual has to happen, such as Britney Spears' bizarre 55-hour marriage (Did she fart in bed? Did he refuse to take his socks off?), so that Lynx could jump on it and create a brilliant press ad the following day that rightly found itself in D&AD.

Tactical ads feel a little more planned in their nature. A good example and another footy ad sorry, is the 'St Wayne' poster by W+K for Nike before the South Africa World Cup. A shoot was planned, bit of retouching done and lots of lovely media booked. It was the best thing the Roo managed that summer. 

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Creative team Chris Groom and Stuart Harkness @ W+K London.


And the online version with Ronaldo's severed head was even better and was probably more of a topical ad... of the tactical ad. Or was it a viral ad of the tactical ad? God knows. But it was bloody good. And possibly a turning point - a topical print subverted by an online version, proving the power of the digital medium, which is now commonplace.

Here's hoping for more Waitroses and severed heads. They may just inspire us to do an even better fist of our day job.



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