Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Howard, Howard, Howard

Last night I glugged down a disorientating cocktail of authentic and contrived advertising.

I attended a lecture by the very watchable Erik Kessels, presented by paper company, Howard Smith.

Kessels is renowned for his 'authentic' approach to advertising. That is, holding up a mirror to his audience, rather than conjuring up synthesized ad-land gloss.

He looks for the truth in things, for human emotion, mundanity and innocence and it shines through in both his advertising and his penchant for unravelling the stories behind discarded photographs.

The lecture was the seventh annual talk of its kind, presented by Howard Smith papers. It's an initiative the company is obviously committed to, and those of us that enjoyed the show on their credit card are grateful.

It's just a shame the organisers didn't look into Kessel's methodology before the night itself. The way they crowbarred their products into the experience was utterly painful and a masterclass in misunderstanding context.

Before the lecture itself, A Howard Smith representative explained the importance of paper to a person like Kessels. This was a little forced, but just about relevant. Just about.

What followed though, was embarrassing. A shaky, nervous co-presenter went through a ten-minute (which is a very long time!) presentation about Howard Smith and all its different paper stock.

The stock was detailed in huge letters in front of the trapped audience, as the presenter lauded the products as though they were the main attraction itself.

It wasn't done with wit, charm or character. It was like a watching a primary school play, directed by the retired science teacher.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to communicate with an audience you have assembled about a product you have deemed relevant to the event. But this episode displayed an utter lack of respect for the context and a total lack of empathy for the audience. It reminded me of this:


The opportunity was seen as a way to force their products into the eyes and ears of an audience with nowhere to run.

I left wondering what Mr Kessels would have made of it. And how he might have advertised the paper on their behalf.

Oh wait - he did - we all got a book of his work, printed on the stock itself. Wouldn't that have been enough?

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