Now don't get me wrong… I love a bit of Greasy Greggs as much as the next short, fat northern bloke! And there’s nothing wrong with a bit of humour to get attention, it’s what creative agencies have been doing since the Egyptians started selling camels BUT - there’s something about that Greggs image of a sausage roll in a manger, that just stuck in my throat a little.
I remember creating a Christmas card for Wire back in 2005. It had almost exactly the same visual joke, but with Chips & Curry Sauce in a crib instead of a sausage roll - but that made me and the people we sent it to chuckle - we never had one negative.
So why the difference? Eventually, I managed to dig out the original card from the Wire archive (chaotic plan chest) and I asked myself ‘why does the image from Wire work, and the Greggs image not?’
There’s a lovely bit in Spinal Tap when the manager explains to David and Nigel about their new album cover for 'Smell the Glove' and the subtle difference between getting it right and totally missing the mark. Their reply - “…there’s such a fine line between… clever and stupid”. I think that’s exactly what we’ve got here. There is a fine line, but Greggs and their agency have jumped over it with both feet, wearing hobnailed boots.
So - when I look more deeply, I reckon these are three main reasons why the Wire image made people chuckle and the Greggs image just doesn't work.
Firstly - Wire’s image is an ‘in-joke’ to friends, clients and partners. It was sent out as a Christmas card with the message… ‘Have a Wire Christmas’. It was sent to people we knew and who knew us. They all knew that - Wire came from the wire manufacturing, chips & curry worshiping town of Warrington in the North West of England. Wire had been using Chips & Curry Sauce as their central running theme for years. Gregg's intent was full-on commercial, designed to create media attention and make lots of noise - which it did.
Secondly - there is a lovely, yet subtle synergy and natural relationship between the shape and size of the crib and the tray of chips and curry sauce in the Wire image. Also, the tray has a lovely supporting, comforting form for the precious cargo it holds. You can even imagine the ‘swaddling’ (chip paper). What Greggs have is a disproportionate, half-eaten (yuk), pastry product!
Now let’s look at the set-up and the scene. Wire use a classic, renaissance, iconic image that fully captures the intense focus and deep adoration of that very special moment. There's a massive irony there that is the core of the joke. On the other hand - Greggs have used three cheap figurines, not quite paying attention to pastry product, plonked in from of them.
And last but by no means least - there's the PORK!! It says a lot about a company if they'd rather be irreverent and whacky than consider the feelings of their customers. Most people I know (and like) aren't religious at all but they wouldn't go out of their way to upset someone who is.
So whilst I suspect the good people of Greggs and their wacky agency are quietly pleased with the noise and attention at the moment ‘All publicity is good blah, blah, blah…’. I just wonder if, in the long-term, they might be left with a slightly nasty taste in their mouth?
Answers on a Christmas card please, to: