Mark Denton Ponders the Power of Being Puerile
Puerility is something too many of us 'unlearn', states Mark Denton. Ahead of his talk in Kinsale on the topic, he explains to us why that's definitely a bad thing.
Mark Denton is no stranger to puerility, and nor would he want to be. The multi-award-winning creative and director believes that advertising has lost the art of embracing silliness as a means to convey a message, and he's not happy about it.
Ahead of his talk at the Kinsale Shark Awards and Festival next week, Unleash the Power of Puerility, at which he will demonstrate his proven formula of coming up with a schoolboy idea, scribbling it on a bit of paper, persuading other creative people to make it real, and finally stepping back to watch magical, unexpected results unfold, Denton talks to shots.net to explain why we shouldn't turn our backs on a fart gag.
"Everyone was a kid once so puerility isn’t something you learn, it’s something that a lot of people unlearn."
Do you think puerility is underrated and if so, why?
The dictionary definition of puerile is ‘behaving in a silly way, not like an adult’. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence of that sort of behaviour in advertising at the moment, which is probably why most people fast-forward through the adverts on the telly and can’t be arsed to look up from their mobile phones when they walk past a poster hoarding.
My favourite ad when I was growing up in advertising was Smash Martians (I don’t have to describe it because everyone still knows it over 40 years after it first aired). It could be mistaken for a clip from a kid’s puppet show, it’s the perfect example of the ‘power of puerility’.
After all this time there’s still nothing running in the UK that’s even half as funny. So why has everything got so sensible and worthy? I dunno, it baffles me.
How has puerility served you in your time as a creative and director?
Back when I was a creative I loved coming up with lots of different types of ads because obviously humour doesn’t suit every situation. At the same time, it’s funny how ‘funny’ can be a useful option for even serious subjects like charities and the like.
And thinking back I didn’t employ too much sophisticated humour, it was usually the sort of thing that would make a kid laugh. Where the application of puerility really paid off though, was in the back of a taxi talking to the cab driver.
When the subject got around to 'What do you do in advertising?' I’d tell them about a funny ad I’d made… they didn’t seem too interested in the D&AD pencil I’d won for best use of cinematography.
Above: The portrait Denton created for use on the cover of shots issue 150.
Is being puerile something that you can learn or do you think it's an inherent characteristic for certain people?
Everyone was a kid once so puerility isn’t something you learn, it’s something that a lot of people unlearn and discard as they mature and become more sophisticated.
Comedy is often seen as a lesser form of art than drama; where does puerility sit on that sliding scale?
I don’t know why comedy is seen by some as a lesser form of art than drama, it’s bloody hard to do well. I suppose the more childish the humour the less it might be appreciated by some critics. Of course, I don’t agree, I think the opposite. So, nah, naaaah, nah nah nah!
Above: A campaign designed by Denton and shot by COY’s photographer Joe Giacomet as part of a campaign for chocolate company, Edible Anus
Are creatives and other people in creative fields often too self-aware and guarded to truly embrace puerility?
I think creatives nowadays are every bit as capable of writing puerile humour as we were in the old days but it seems that there are dark powers at play to take the silly option off the table.
What examples of puerility in advertising (assuming there are some) have caught your eye in the past?
Don’t get me wrong, there are still some shining examples of puerile out there and of course the public still loves that sort of stuff. The best of the Money Supermarket campaign springs to mind and what could be more puerile than ‘Compare the Meerkat’ (even though that’s been around for quite a while now).
But where are the funny beer ads? And there’s definitely no rib-tickling posters for ANY products out there at the moment (apologies to anyone who’s got a humorous poster campaign up that doesn’t happen to be on my bus route to work).
Advertising trends are constantly changing though, so I’m hanging around ’til the pendulum starts swinging the other way and ‘silly’ becomes a sensible option again.
Attendees of the Kinsale Shark Awards and Festival can hear Denton speak on Friday September 28 at 12.15pm. If you would like more information about the festival, please visit the website.
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