I like lots of things about Transport for London. The whoosh of a train coming down the tunnel. The sardonic humour of a driver apologising when the same train hasn’t moved for ten minutes.
But most of all I like the ads. I think they’re one of the absolute joys of living in this city. That down in the dark, among the posters for hair-loss treatment and vitamin supplements, a local government body shines out as a beacon of smart and original communication.
I liked the 150th anniversary work.
I really liked the 2012 Olympics work.
And I even liked the rhyming posters. I thought they were sweet in a try-hard way, and that their naffness might have actually encouraged people to read them.
(Keep that to yourself, by the way. Admitting you liked those posters round these parts is like saying you didn’t mind the latest Simply Red album.)
And then I saw the new TfL campaign. The one with the Mr. Men (and Little Misses).
And I thought…meh. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve got nothing against Mr. Men. But I’ve also seen them used to flog pretty much everything under the sun. Spectacles. Washing powder. Britain’s best-known steak restaurant group.
Come on, TfL, I thought. You’re better than this. You’ve got 150 years of design heritage to live up to. And so I turned up my nose, cocked my snook, and dismissed the Mr. Men campaign as a rare off-day.
Then came my moment of conversion. It arrived in the shape of my desk neighbour Sam P (or Old Sam, or Original Sam, or Sam the First – we’re still figuring out the naming convention). I was in the middle of saying all of the above when he politely suggested that maybe TfL’s primary audience wasn’t grumpy creative types, but maybe, just maybe, the entire 8.6 million population of London.
Ah. So. Um. Seen in that light, the Mr. Men campaign makes a lot more sense. It’s clear. It’s eye-catching. It uses universally known and loved characters to make really simple points:
Be nice. Think of others. Help people out.
And don’t be a snootypants by presuming a public organisation charged with moving millions of people safely around one of the world’s largest cities owes anything to your notions of originality or effective communication.
(I made that one up. It might be a bit long for a headline.)