Archive for December, 2009

Best of the Decade #3 – #1

December 30, 2009

And now we’re at the end of the line.

I want to say, these choices are highly subjective.  These are my favorite spots, in making the list I tried to balance out affect with effect — essentially form  (how it was shot, written, put together) with function (how well it delivered a message, feeling, story).  I think that’s one point I’ve made over and over again here, that it’s not enough to have one over the other.  An ad has to to have a message it’s delivering, but to just deliver message these days is not enough, you need something else, whether that’s story, emotion, or personality (kind of a combination of those two elements), something that’s authentic to your brand.

“Herding Cats” or the Cadbury “Gorilla” deliever personality in droves, but they ultimately don’t connect to what they’re trying to sell.

By the way, I tried to come up with a list of my favorite political ads of the decade, but there are so many ads, and not many places that compile such things, in addition to the fact that many of them are no longer on youtube.  Maybe I’ll try to post a couple if I can find them.

Now, our #3:

The one that started it all for iPod (less the original ad that I profiled in an earlier post).  I love the simple expression of information: “iPod,” “Mac or PC,” Apple logo.  Did you need more to want to go out and buy one?  Did you need someone to tell you, digital music player? How about holds over 1000 songs? (For a contrast check out this funny video by Microsoft Marketing folks, what if Microsoft made the ipod.)

You don’t need more to know this is the hippest, stylish,  most fun device around.  A good reminder ads don’t need to be jammed full of information to make their point.


My dark horse choice, but this is the only ad on the list that made me want to go out and actually buy the product, that’s pretty impressive these days.  Again, it’s a genre buster, a video game ad that doesn’t show the video game.  In a way, it gets to the point of why we play video games cause we want to believe they’re real.  It’s the reality of the fantasy.

This ad brings a fantasy world to life (reminds me of how I felt as an eight year old when I first saw the Star Wars trailer), in a very real way. In fact it’s grounded in reality, the acting is very good, the style feels like the interviews from “Band of Brothers.” It feels like a documentary, which makes the unbelievable aspects of it more acceptable, you suspend disbelief because it’s so grounded in reality.

And, again, there’s no talk of how much it costs or how many levels, no shots of the game or all the features.  I didn’t know anything about “Halo,” this commercial just throws you into the world no explanation necessary, and you’re drawn into it.  It’s compelling and real.

There’s a whole series of these ads, I’d recommend you check them out on youtube.


No surprise to anyone who knows me, I mentioned this one back in June as an ad that inspires me.  It has all the elements I’ve mentioned before, all in a package that is executed perfectly.  It’s unexpected — we don’t know what it’s selling until the very end, and then we barely see the car. It’s experience, I know this guy, I have friends like him, I’ve been him.  It’s compelling, it shows and doesn’t tell.  It’s stylish and visually interesting.  The music is great and informs without distracting.

This ad is a near perfect mix of form and function, each one working together to inform and support the other, and that’s how it should be.

Happy new year to everyone.  2010 offers a year of political ads and a whole new slate of issue ads.

Best of the Decade # 6 – #4

December 28, 2009

After a brief Christmas break, it’s back to my blogging.

Now up Six through Four.  Nine through six were all amazing ads, but had some faults to them, as we get closer to the top of the list, these ads are not only brilliantly executed, but form and function combine to present the message in a compelling way.


You can be groundbreaking in form — movies like Star Wars, the Matrix, fall into this category.  New technology, new ways of doing things.  You can also be groundbreaking within a genre.  I’ve talked about this before with car ads.  Think about the Saturn ad that sits at #7, a car ad that doesn’t show the car, inconceivable. This ad a lot of these ads take the genre and turn them on their head, computer ads that don’t tout specs, car ads that don’t show the car, and then there is this ad:

A beauty ad that shows you the truth behind beauty ads.

What’s wonderful about this ad isn’t the execution, but the concept.  It subverts beauty all beauty ads while building up the Dove brand.  Every time you see one of it’s competitors ads, you can’t help but think of this one, at least I can’t help it.  By being the first one into the space, Dove owns it in consumer’s minds (read the classic book “Positioning” for more on this theory), everyone else is just fighting for second place.  Dove becomes the brand that cares about women, cares enough to be truthful, and honest, imagine pitching the concept to the Dove executives, I can imagine the looks that passed between the executives.

But this strategy and its execution move Dove from just another beauty product, a commodity if you will, to something special, it now has personality for lack of a better word, and so it differentiates itself not by features but by emotion.


This ad directed by Spike Jonze falls into the same genre busting template.  It’s all about emotion, about a feeling of a brand.  I admit I’m probably ranking this one higher than it deserves, but it’s just so damned well made.  The shots, the music, the POV (point of view shot) of the lamp looking into the house, watching the new lamp, while it sits hunch over in the rain.  As Boris would say, “Guys this is film.”

I like the unnamed guy at the end making his appearance, breaking the forth wall, and calling the audience on it’s connection to the inanimate lamp, but I have trouble with connection to Ikea…, unboring? Ok.  Don’t know what happened to this campaign, and I don’t remember much from Ikea after this ad, but this one is a mastercraft in film making and storytelling.  You’re never told to feel sorry for the lamp, the lamp never voices it’s sadness, but you’re made to feel it nonetheless, that’s brilliant storytelling.  Jonze leads us, but our minds fill in the gaps. adding story and emotion.

This ad is the ultimate form over function, but it’s about as good as form can get.


Another great ad from VW, and another genre buster.  You see the car at the end, but it’s wrecked. That’s a pretty bold choice in a car ad.

This commercial is about shock value.  You don’t see the accident coming (isn’t that why it’s an accident), so it puts you in the mind of the characters, to quote Boris again, “Guys, this is experience.” The banter at the beginning lulls you, you don’t where this is going, a beer commercial maybe?  It breaks our guessing machine, gets our attention, and then bam, surprises us.  Remember negative emotions are easier to burn into our primate brains than positive ones (I still have this sinking feeling everytime I cross a railway track because of the Coyote and Road Runner).

I tend to discount shock value, comparing it often to spitting on the table, but in this case it works.  The shock is directly related to the message.  Quick who makes the safest cars…?

You probably said Volvo, know for their safety. How to break that link with consumers, to dislodge the first one into that space?  I don’t know if VW replaces Volvo as the safest car in my mind, but it certainly enters the conversation after this ad.  Sure it’s a stunt, it’s shocking, but it works. To me that’s effective.

Best of the Decade #9-#7

December 21, 2009

Here we go the nice best spots of the decade.  Why nine?  Because ten is so cliche, and I could only think of nine that I would put on my list.  Most of the spots are what’s called (I think I read this somewhere) branded emotional storytelling.  They aren’t selling features, so much as connecting with emotion.  Still they are all strong on message as well as execution.  I had a conversation with a friend of mine in the political consulting business whether this approach would work with political ads.  These are all established brands he argued, so you can sell on feeling more than the laundry list of features.  I argued I thought it could work in politics, the ipod wasn’t established as a brand for example when those commercials came out.

It’s an interesting conversation, and one  I’d like to blog about some more.

Now on to the list:


Pick one, anyone.  This had the most hits on youtube so I chose it.  This series of ads might just be the campaign of the decade.  The individual ads range from wonderful to pretty good, but the conceit works each and every time.  Want to know how to make great negative ads that stick, these are a master’s course.  They have totally changed the Mac v. PC debate.  They’re sharp, but not mean spirited, on message and factual, but not full of blah, blah, blah.  Most of all they entertain, they essentially pay you for your attention.


I’ve already mentioned this one.  But briefly, it’s just really good story telling. It uses genre cues — the music, the look of the child (is it Damion from Omen — a movie I’ve never seen, but I still get the cultural reference, weird how that works), color scheme, to add to the tension, how is this going to pay off?  When it does it’s brilliant. Again, a classic piece of storytelling in :60, that pays off at the end.  Think of it this way, they could have told you how delicious milk tastes.  How good it was for you, how great it washes down a piece of chocolate cake, instead they go straight for emotional connection. It’s memorable and effective.


Most of the other commercials on this list, I’ve thought about before in the intervening years, I had forgotten about this one.  Once upon a time kids, Saturn used to be a very interesting company with a great backstory and a compelling standout message.  They were the Southwest of car companies.  Once upon a time Saturn used to have fans and not customers.  Once upon a time, it was a company that offered buyers a unique experience, that helped it stand out, to be more than a commodity.

This commercial touches on those roots.  It doesn’t show the car until the very end.  There’s no voice over telling you about the value of the car, the features, a different kind of ad, for a different kind of car company.  The metaphor of people as their cars, gets your attention, what is going on? How will this pay off? In the words of one of the books on decision making I’ve read (Predictably Irrational, maybe) it confuses our guessing machines in our heads and that my friend gets our attention.

It’s high concept but simple at the same time. It’s well executed from the choice of car moments, to the music.

Now Saturn is just another car line, is it out of business, closed down by GM?  Who knows, and more to my point, who cares.  But once it was different.  A cautionary tale of a company that loses it’s way, when it forgets it’s own story.

Spots of the Decade: Honorable Mention

December 19, 2009

I wish I could list the best political spots of the decade, but I’m not sure I could come up with the list.

So I I’m opting for best ads of the decade, starting with my honorable mention choice.

I love this spot, it’s so well executed, and it sums up the genre of dot com spots that dominated advertising in the early part of the decade.  I still laugh out loud watching it, its very clever and memorable.  Well, kind of memorable, see I remember the ad, but I can never, for the life of me, remember who it’s for. I remember what they do is like herding cats (great metaphor), but not sure what it is they actually do.

See that’s the problem with this ad, and the other ads of this genre.  They’re spitting on the table memorable, but there message is lost in the humor and cleverness.  I’m reading an interesting book (only about 25% through), “Personality Not Included,” which argues for the importance of personality in marketing.  One of the key issues with personality is that it needs to be authentic.

This ad, and the genre is represents, are funny, clever, memorable, but they fail ultimately because they don’t connect any of those qualities to the company they represent.  Is the company funny and clever?  What is the personality of the company?  The Apple ads work because they connect to the core of what Apple is — hip, clever, outside the box, marching to the beat of their own drummer.

Its’ not enough to be all those things if it doesn’t connect to a message, a core value, a core principle something real and authentic that people can identify with your brand.

iPod v. iPod

December 15, 2009

In my last post I show the iconic iPod ad.  Well before that one there was this one:

Well it’s not bad.  But it ain’t iconic and doesn’t inspire the same feelings as the what we’ve come to know as iPod ads.

Everyone can misfire once in a while, even Apple.  When you think about this ad versus the “Hey Mama” which one do you think better represents what you think of as Apple in your mind?

It’s that time of the decade

December 15, 2009

Time for end of the year lists, and this year as an added bonus, we get end of the decade lists too.  As cliche and hackneyed as these lists have become I enjoy them, as much to catch up on things I might have missed.

Here is the list of Ad Age’s best ads of the decades.

I can’t really remember any ads from the past ten years, so I don’t know what I’d add, though I’m pretty sure I’d drop the Sony “Balls” ad.

It’s an interesting list, more for the fact that all these ads are focused primarily on entertainment and brand rather than on pure message delivery.  You don’t see Honda telling you how quiet their new engine is, or Nike saying you’ll run faster, or the iPod telling you how much memory their portable music device has, each of these ads is more about the feeling they brand wants to convey.

I’m not saying these ads don’t have a message at all, but most them are 90% build up, 10% message and payoff.

Here are my top three from this list (in order):

I remember this one.  The visceral feeling of watching all those children eat cake, my mouth gets dry every time I watch it.  The unexpected ending, no milk.  Brilliant.

Total game changer.  This ad took the ipod and launched it into the minds of consumers.  It’s so iconic, yet so simple.  Ipod…, Mac or PC…, Apple Logo. It’s conveys hip and cool, cutting and and different, fun and exciting. For anyone who doesn’t think it’s about connecting to viewers feelings, well they should take a look at this ad, and let’s talk.

On the principle of unexpectedly awesome, this one is a winner.  I didn’t see it coming at all, when it does come wow, great use of music.  My only knock on it is that I can’t quite see the connection between a Gorilla playing drums and Cadbury, though there’s something to be said for defying the conventions of the genre.  An ad like this about candy, is preciously memorable and effective because it’s not about the product per se — in the way a car ad that doesn’t show the car would be memorable (think Bubble Boy from VW).

Confession time

December 8, 2009

I don’t know if I’ve ever revealed that I’m a comic book fan.  Now, before you judge, these aren’t your father’s comic books — comic books today are actually aimed at an adult audience.  I’ve used all sorts of professional rationalizations, reading them sharpens my visual eye, they’re like storyboards, blah, blah, blah.  All that’s true, but the bottom line is I enjoy the combination of story and pictures, I enjoy reading them.

If you still doubt me or if you’re curious and want to get a taste of some great comics here are some recommendations:

DMZ: New York is a DMZ in a civil war between the government & the conservative forces that are trying to take over the country.

Y: The Last Man: A plague kills everyman on earth except Yorrick, the last man in a civilization gone to the women.

Fables (my current favorite): What if Cinderella, the Big Bad Wolf, Little Red Ridding Hood were real, and alive and living in downtown New York?

Ex Machina: Super hero, turned New York City Mayor.

Walking Dead: Zombies, people on the edge of survial.  Great read, though bleak, I had to stop around book 5 because I was too depressed.

Astro City: (An all-time favorite) The only pure super hero comic on this list,  the art here is beautiful, really gorgeous stuff.  It’s a new take on the classic hero, a blend of styles and tone that’s unique.

There’s also a great book called “Understanding Comics,” that in some ways is a must read for any visual artist.  I bring this up because I’ve seen more and more animated ads recently, and while I have some predilection for the technique, I think it’s an effective story telling tool.

Still not convinced? Take a look at this piece done by StoryCorps for Veterans Day.

That’s pretty moving stuff, animated or not.  It’s not perfect, I would have left out the end photo and text, but it’s pretty damned good storytelling if you ask me.

Look there are always people who are going to dislike something because of their preconceived notions.  I hate comic books or cartoons are for kids, whatever.  To cater to that kind of thinking is to cater to the lowest common denominator.  If I have one point to make with this blog, it’s that ads in general, and political ads in particular do not have to cater to that level.  You can make creatively interesting and challenging ads, that are still effective in conveying emotion and message.

A little hanukkah hunor

December 7, 2009

Saw this PSA this morning.

I find it amusing and disturbing at the same time.  I guess there is no easy way to talk about getting a pap smear, so humor is the way to go, just not sure this humor works.  It certainly puts the issue out there, but without any kind of reinforcement, I wonder if it will actually have the desired effect.

Negative Ads…It’s not just politics anymore

December 3, 2009

It seems negative ads are everywhere, and there’s nary an election around (Massachusetts Senate excepted).

Much to Ad age columnist Bob Garfield’s dismay negative ads and negative attacks are making their way mainstream.

What’s funny (or funny to me) is that they really aren’t much better than their political counterparts.  Yes they’re better produced, and they try or pretend to be more high-minded, but the reality is that’s they’re pretty ordinary.

I read somewhere that if you have to explain your analogy or metaphor then it’s really not a good one.  This Caribu ad is obviously aimed at Starbucks.  Now I think there is a decent line of attack, Starbucks has become the McDonalds of Coffee places, it’s not authentic or real.  But there are two questions, is Caribou any more “authentic” than Starbucks in the public’s mind?  Plus this analogy doesn’t quite work for me, I don’t know.  Real chocolate in their drink, ok…, that’s a lot of effort to frame yourself as authentic, real, and your opponent as not.

The big one fight is the AT&T v. Verizon dust up that was taken to court and recently settled.

Is Luke Wilson really the best messenger for the ad? I’m not sure how he ended up as the attack dog for AT&T.  In the Bob Garfield piece, I link to above, he says about the fight “The current tit-for-tat between Verizon Wireless and AT&T demonstrates that the ugly tactics of what politicos call “opposition research”—and what we call “lying”—can corrupt a major commercial brand.”

I’ve taken issue with Mr Garfield before about political ads, and I’ll take issue with him here.  Opposition research isn’t lying  — lying is lying, whether you do it in politics or consumer advertising.  The best negative ads have to be truthful, they have to connect to something authentic to connect with the audience or else they’re seen as out of line or untruthful (even if technically true).  Opposition research is simply finding potential areas of contrast with your opponent.  In political ads that necessary when key voters (those 20% on the fence who haven’t made up their mind) see little difference between one candidate or another.  As products become less differentiated in consumers minds, this kind of comparison and contrast becomes more important.

Is there a difference between AT&T and Verizon?  Yes, Verizon has the better network (not even close as a former Verizon customer), AT&T has the iPhone (not even close as a current iPhone user).  But mostly it’s the same prices, same crappy customer service, same package.  The AT&T response is ineffective not just because they picked an odd choice as messenger (wouldn’t some kind of “expert” or third party be a stronger choice), but because they’re fighting against the public’s perception — that Verizon has the better network (is there any doubt).  To win that fight you’re going to need to make a stronger or funnier case than Luke Wilson and his magnets.

I quoted this article before, and I’ll quote it here again because it’s so relevant: “People don’t hate negative ads, they hate bad ads.” I wonder if Bob Garfield has as much an issue with the Mac v PC ads, he didn’t seem to object to this clever Verizon ad, placing the iPhone on he Island of Misfit toys:

It’s an important point to remember as these types of contrast start moving into the mainstream.

Some Inspiration

December 1, 2009

I drove up to New York for Thanksgiving.  It was about a five hour drive on the way up and seven hours on the way back.  So I had some time to listen to one of my favorite podcasts: Radio Lab.  I mention it today because I’ve already told two or three folks about the show on Parasites which was the last one I listened to.

The show is a cross between this American Life & Science Friday.  I happen to think it’s one of the best produced shows on NPR (admittedly that’s about five shows I listen to).  It use of sound and interview technique is really innovative and interesting, and has given me several ideas, I want to incorporate into my TV ads some time (remember if you see something you like, steal it — thank you Carol Dysinger).

Anyway take a listen, good storytelling is good storytelling whether it’s audio or video.  While the last couple of ads I’ve showed told a story with video, you can tell a story with audio that’s not necessarily a voice telling you, you can show with audio too.

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