Murdering mascots and a hot famous guy in undies.

It's time to let the creatives be creative again.

(Web version image credit: Jed Cohen)

Two ads have dominated our collective conscious so far in 2024. The Pop Tarts mascot and Jeremy Allen White’s Calvin Klein ad.

Two pieces of work that, at face value, couldn’t be more different and further apart - but in the most important way, born from the very same place.

If for some reason you’ve been living in a nuclear bunker and haven’t seen them, here they are:

The rousing success of both has dragged every kind of LinkedIn expert out of the woodwork to infuriatingly overcomplicate both pieces, conjuring long-winded overly-verbose lists of reasons why each ‘worked’. (Or in some cases, didn’t.) Many of them some kind of analyst, or consultant, or researcher, or digital marketer, ironically the very people that have stood in the way of this kind of traditional creative thinking for a long time now. Because anyone that overanalyses advertising to this degree is often the very kind of person that says ‘no’ to these campaigns when presented as concepts.

Real world people see advertising for a fleeting second and then respond from the gut and the heart. Maybe they smile, or laugh, or in 99% of cases, hit skip. But in 100% of cases, they aren’t writing check point lists, or pressing buttons with emotion labels on them, or tracking their eyeballs around the television. (I’m not completely deriding the use of any of this stuff, but we need to collectively step back and acknowledge we’ve lost the plot when this is the ONLY way some people can assess a 30-second video about corn flakes now.)

The absolute shock and surprise from marketers in response to two pieces of work that are, if we’re honest, brilliantly executed rehashes of old ideas is starkly telling about the lack of cut-through thinking in modern advertising. 10 years ago, both of these would probably have just been ‘some good ads’ amongst many others.

But, in 2024, I absolutely love that they both exist. And I want to take a moment to massively applaud the clients involved in enabling this work.

Especially Pop-Tarts. Mascots can be really clever, powerful devices. They cooked theirs alive and had football players eat it on live television. The internet went into absolute melt down. Hundreds, thousands, millions of people in absolute hysterics. No one could believe their eyes. And killing your mascot isn’t even a new idea. Planters murdered Mr.Peanut for lols. LifeDirect murdered their loveable sloth to convince people to get health insurance. I mean, it was the entire idea behind ‘Dumb Ways to Die’.

I don’t even need to go into Calvin Klein. This is what they’ve been doing for decades. It’s the same playbook. (As my unintentionally viral joke pointed out.)

I said at the start that while these campaigns look vastly different, they’re both born from the same space. And that is that they’re just made by people having fun. They’re self-aware. They’re culturally relevant. They’re free and loose and silly. They’re not made to be disposable pieces of skippable crap. They’re things that people actually want to look at. The fact that this is the pure intent behind the work IS WHAT MAKES THEM SO GREAT.


The big shift we need to make is not to ‘start with a logo’ or ‘use more data’ or ‘argue about purpose vs. humour’, it’s to intend to make a genuinely interesting piece of work from the very beginning. From there, do whatever you want with your best practices to make the work 2% better. I’m all for it. But you cannot start from the spreadsheet. You must start with positive, ambitious intentions for a great idea.

Advertising needs to be fun again. To make and to experience. It needs to be playful. It needs to be weird and stupid and unhinged. It needs to go right through your chest and crack open the tear ducts. It needs to stop being analysed to death and researched into oblivion. It needs to be unapologetically human. It needs to be firmly in the hands of the people who care. The people who want it to succeed.

And the way to do it is written all over the corpse of a Pop-Tart and Jeremy Allen White’s bulging jocks.

As George Lois famously said, “You can be cautious, or you can be creative. But there’s no such thing as a cautious creative” or my favourite, “People think the ice is three inches thick and it’s two feet thick.”

It’s time to let the creatives be creative again.

(And maybe, just maybe, this a sign of good things to come.)


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