The art of rejection

A new book of advertisements shows some of the campaigns we never saw as, for a variety of reasons, they were rejected. Matthew Valentine takes a look

If Jeremy Beadle was let loose in the offices of Bartle Bogle Hegarty with a camcorder, to record the ads created for our TV screens or magazine pages but later dropped, we might know what to expect.

Trousers would fall down, animals would look cute. False teeth would fly across rooms.

The selection of abandoned campaigns in Unpublished – Best Rejected Advertising has a different agenda, though. Chosen by big name admen and clients, it judges the rejected ads by a different criteria; whether they would have worked or not.

The credentials of the pickers are beyond criticism. John Hegarty of BBH and Jacques Seguéla, vice chairman of Euro RSCG Worldwide, are among them. Text is by a selection of advertising creatives, marketers and senior advertising staff at client companies.

The writing is not the book’s strong point. Advertising copywriters are great at creating short, crisp one liners for ad campaigns, but less fluent when it comes to writing essays of several thousand words. Notes From the Trenches by Rob Moss at Wells Rich Green/BBDP in New York reads like a bitter rant at the state of his career rather than a constructive discussion.

Some of the rejected ads featured are funny, some aren’t, and they were dropped for various reasons. One manufacturer, of a brand of strong cigarettes (which allegedly threatened legal action if its name was reproduced in the book) dropped a campaign with the strapline “Definitely not for girls,” without an explanation. Not that one was really needed in the current anti-smoking climate.

While the absence of Beadle doesn’t mean an absence of toilet humour, it does lead to toilet humour of a different, and perhaps more direct, kind. German toilet humour, as with all Teutonic wit, is unique and difficult to translate.

It is difficult to imagine the Economist running a double page advertisement comparing fly-covered dog turds as a comment on an EU Commission draft document on comparative advertising. But the advertisement was targeted at readers of Forbes Magazine, a similar German publication.

Danish humour seems more accessible than German, with the country’s office for milk narrowly avoiding a campaign that insulted skinheads, teased the elderly and showed drunken men urinating in a bid to appeal to young cola drinkers.

And opportunistic British behaviour continues to impress. Ad agency J Walter Thompson drew up a campaign for a washing powder manufacturer, which was planned to run next to the infamous Benetton poster ads of bloody combat fatigues. The ad showed the same clothes, washed to a brilliant white. The bullet hole was intact.

It makes a change for the hard-talking ad industry to admit some of its own mistakes, even if it veers towards blaming narrow-minded clients. But you could hardly expect advertising creatives to admit too many of their own shortcomings. That would be bad salesmanship, after all.

Unpublished – Best Rejected Advertising is published by Grey Press, priced around 45

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