Mad Men aside, there are not really that many (good) movies about advertising. Therefore it was great to finally see No as a part of Pablo Larráin “trilogy”* in O.P.E.N. festival here in Singapore:
Although it would be disrespectful for the movie to label it only as an “ad movie”, it has one of the most realistic portraits of the creative process (not necessarily of the 1988 election). The film tells the story about Chile´s 1988 election, when Pinochet was eventually brought down. Both of the parties were promised to have 15 minutes of advertising time in national television. The incumbent had the more positive “si”-vote and the challenger the “no”. The whole film starts about making that a product that sells:
“By its very nature, ‘no’ was a negative concept; it was very difficult to sell. “‘No’ was not a person, not a candidate. It had no personality, no ethics, no aesthetics.”
– Eugenio García (the ad man behind Chile´s No campaign in 1988)
Some of the scenes felt almost like a candid camera would have been roaming in the ad agency. The movie has four important lessons for everyone working in advertising.
1.Creativity is not a democracy
There were 16 political parties in the coalition against Pinochet and of course everyone had an opinion. There are times for committees, but not when you are trying to do the great work. Eventually someone has to make the decisions and endless feedback loop from random people does not help it. Also it is easier to have opinion about advertising than for example accounting. It is impossible to take everyone´s opinion into account if you want to be single-minded and make your mark.
2.Solve the real problem for the real audience
The goal of the 15 minutes of advertising was to win the ballot with a single-minded message, not tell everything you know. The debates in the film are centered on the messaging of the campaign. The fictional ad man René Saavedra (played by Gael García Bernal, and based on Eugenio García) tries to show more of the joy, where as the committee members wanted to show the suffering that Pinochet´s coup-seized leadership has caused. Advertising is not necessarily about doing what is right, but doing what has the most impact:
“After years of polarisation, we all needed to live together in peace. We bet on the good nature of the ordinary Chilean; that they didn’t like violence, they didn’t like fear.”
– Eugenio García
Many people don´t understand simplifying the message. They want to cramp too much in every ad. The real showcase of your knowledge is to just tell that part what is interesting and leave rest out. Every extra word is an extra barrier for your message to go through.
3. When market leader starts acknowledging challenger, they are in the trouble
If you acknowledge your competition as a market leader, you are weak. People can also smell fear whether it is on sports field or marketing battlefield. If you are market leader, you have to be immune to criticism and just brush everything off. To make matters worse the “Yes”-party attacked campaign, which was based on hope, joy and happiness. Big mistake. By acknowledging your challenger, they appear more prominent than they really are.
4. Execution matters
The movie is filmed with ¾ inch Sony U-matic magnetic tape, which was widely used by television news in Chile in the 80s. It makes really unique feel to the film and also looks totally different than Larráin´s other movies. That also enables seamless mix of the archived footage.
Whether you are adman or not, this film is highly recommended to everyone.
*Actually Tony Manero got censored, so they only showed two Larráin films in festival.