Archive for February, 2010

I’m sorry if what I did upset you…

February 24, 2010

One of my rules of parenting is that I don’t my kids say they’re sorry if they hurt something.  They have to take responsibility for their actions, check on that person, see if they can do something to help the person they’ve hurt, but they don’t have to say sorry unless they’re really sorry.  The point of saying you’re sorry is to take responsibility for what you’ve done, but if you’re not really sorry you shouldn’t have to say it, and face it a lot of times kids mean to hurt each other, they’re not sorry, but they are responsible.

A lot of apologies these days take the form of “I’m sorry if my [insert action here] offended/upset/hurt anyone….” That’s not a real apology, that’s not taking responsibility for what happened, that’s putting the blame on the hurt party.

Which brings me to Toyota.

Toyota never says they made a mistake, they never say sorry, they’re spinning the issue.  Instead of taking responsibility, they’re saying they’re fixing things.  They say “Great companies learn [from their mistakes]” but for the life of me, I can’t figure out what Toyota has learned? They don’t tell you in this ad.  Compare this “apology” with the GM ad, which not an apology was an admission that the company had lost its way.

GM owns their mistakes, Toyota glosses over them, we’re fixing it see?  They say they’re rebuilding trust, but how can they without actually taking responsibility first?  In that major way, Toyota fails the first test of any ad and especially an apology ad, they’re not being authentic — heck they’re not even saying the right things.

It seems the same strategy that got Toyota in trouble in the first place is behind this ad.  I tell a story to folks that my mom told me about my dad: On day lounging at home he got a call, “Mr Strasberg, we’re calling for President Nixon’s campaign.”

“Yes,” my Dad answered.

“We’d like you to help the President appear more truthful.”

“That’s easy,” my dad answered, “Have him tell the truth.” And he hung up the phone.

Toyota could learn something from that story.

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Pet Peeve…

February 18, 2010

Sigh.  Ok this kind of ad drives me nuts.  I think it’s great to have “real” people talking or actors pretending to be real people talking, it can be effective in mirroring what people are thinking.  In effect, it allows the “real” people in the ads to become surrogates for the listener, they connect with them so they connect with the message.  Great idea.

But like in the case of this ad, often these attempts are clumsy and sound more like policy wonks talking than “real” people.  Come on, do real people talk like this?  Would a real person say Congresswoman Bachmann five times? Or would they say Bachmann?  Would they say :

“Congresswoman Bachmann actually said we should be “weaned” off of Social Security and Medicare. She wants to privatize Social Security and replace Medicare with some kind of voucher system that won’t even cover the full cost of medical care or prescriptions.”

Listen to the ad again (if you can).  Does that sound like the way real people speak?  To me it sounds like two actors who are being told to “talk conversationally” while they’re spouting talking points. When you write dialogue, you need to hear how real people speak, how the conversation ebbs and flows.  What you lose in precision and factual detail, you gain in authenticity and affect.

Nothing about this ad rings true: The sound mix sounds fake, and the actors aren’t believable, even if they were given better lines, I doubt they’d be able to pull it off.  The key to any commercial is authenticity, but particularly in ad like this it has to sound real to connect.  They’d have been better off just using a narrator to read a straight attack rather than trying to fool people with something that wouldn’t fool my six year old.

Sorry for the rant, you can return to your regular programming now.

A little digression

February 17, 2010

Not on my planned posts for the week, but I came across this parody of the Google Ad:

This ad might be the first political parody of the ad, but it won’t be the last.  I’ve said before it’s hard for me to seperate the message from the execution in ads like these.  I try my best, and I hope I’m able to point to good executions even if I disagree with the message (see my post on the Inhofe ad which I thought was brilliant, even though he seems like a real SOB).

So the Google ad is in the news, and it makes sense to parody it for politics, riding on the coattails of something that’s already in the public consciousness.  I can’t decide if the “Boondoggle” is cute or too cute, but alright let’s agree that it works…, more or less.

My issue with the ad, and the reason I think it’s not good parody, is they miss the essence of the Google ad — they steal the form in terms of the “look” of the ad, but they forgot the story part of the form. The google ad tells a story, it engages the viewer in that story, it resonates emotionally,  and it accomplishes this simply and elegantly.  This commercial is just random attacks on Democrats and their policies, jumping around from health care to some vague charge of waste or influence.  There’s nothing holding the ad together, it’s like a flaky pastry that falls apart in your hands when you try to take a bite.

I frankly got bored half way through, and I would question if the ad would be effective on anyone but people who are already inclined to believe it.

What if they tried to tell a story?  Maybe it’s a person looking for work, they could do some of they same things, show the unemployment rate, the “ineffectualness” of the stimulus, etc. They would have to leave out some of the more specific attacks, but maybe not, but if they do it’s not a bad thing.  Emotional connection and resonance are far more important then any specific attack in my opinion. If they told that story, I think this ad would hit and not just with true believers, but with people who maybe are in the middle, people who would feel their anger and frustration, their fear and worry reflected back at them.  If they told that story with this parody, well then they’d be cooking with gas.

A day late and a dollar short

February 16, 2010

Super Bowl ads are usually high in entertainment and gimmicks, but low in effectiveness and message.  In other words they make me laugh, but they don’t do much to help me remember the product they’re selling.  Here check out this list of best Super Bowl ads from ad age.  There are a lot of laughs, but how many of those laughs are connected to the brand message?  How many make you want to use the product or even have some relevant link to the product they’re selling?

And there’s this:

It tells a story, it sells a message.  It’s elegant and not overblown — it cuts across expectation for Super Bowl ads, it’s quiet where most are loud, and simple where most are frenetic.

Compare it with this ad for Microsoft Bing (not a Super Bowl ad):

What is search overload?  What is a decision engine?  What does it have to do with folks riffing stream of consciousness? What does it have to do with Bing?

Now Google needs no introduction to most internet folks, but still this ad is about brand storytelling.  It cements the idea of Google as a part of our lives, even as our lives change, and we remember it because it tells the oldest story of all: Boy meets Girl.

So close…

February 10, 2010

So I had a post planned about my favorite Super Bowl ad, but then I saw this video, and I wanted to talk about it:

This video is close to being good, really good.  It’s premise is brilliant, and you can see that the folks who created it really had a good time with it.

So close…. But in the end it falls short. Why?  Two reasons: 1) It’s too darned long.  I get the joke, the joke is funny, I don’t need three minutes of the same joke — it’s a like a Saturday Night Live skit that’s overstayed it’s welcome. I forced myself to get about a 1:30 into it, but after that, I realized they weren’t taking it in new directions or really giving me new information, just rehashing jokes I had already laughed at.  It really needed an editor or someone to say, we should leave the audience wanting more.  It’s just too thrilled with it’s own cleverness.

And, 2) I’ve made this point before, but humor comes from playing the reality of an absurd situation, not from playing the absurdity of it.  The b-roll here tries too hard.  I’m with the video when the “lobbyist” is on camera, but every time we cut to b-roll of him with his “matched’ politician, it loses me, it’s just a little too goofy. To use a phrase I’ve used recently, the tone of the b-roll doesn’t match the tone of the sit down section, and it throws me off.

One thing I had to learn as a writer was when to edit myself.  I wanted to get so much into a sentence, a paragraph, a document, so I added that extra line, one more phrase.  Experience has taught me that less is usually more, and sometimes that means sacrificing something you really like to make the whole better.

That’s the problem with this video.  If it was a minute, it would have been hilarious even with the distracting b-roll.  If it had been a minute with better b-roll or no b-roll, it would have been brilliant in execution and concept.  (BTW, it’s not lost on me that this is an attack on Senator Lisa Murkowski, and I like the fact that the attack is so subtle, it helps the attack to “stick” in my mind.)  But, as this video stands now it’s clever, and so close, but ultimately falls short.

On Hooks and MacGuffins

February 8, 2010

Sometimes the commercial is the thing, and sometimes it’s just a hook — something to get your attention, get you interested.  It’s different from just spitting on the table in that there’s usually more behind it then attention, that is, the hook is just the beginning, you’re trying to get attention to eventually drive that motivation to someplace.

There was a lot of controversy over this commercial and CBS’s decision to run it, after rejecting other political messages. All that attention just played into Focus for the Family’s hands, they used Tim Tebow and the Super Bowl as a hook.  Had this ad run almost any other time it would have gotten some notice, but would be deemed innocuous enough.

The ad is pretty simple, with Tebow’s mother telling a story, how Tim was her “miracle baby” and she still worries about him.  The tackle part is down right stupid, it just doesn’t work — it’s the wrong tone for this spot, and feels more like it belonged in a beer commercial or a snickers commercial (which I guess is genre appropriate for most Super Bowl ads).

There no mention of choice or abortion, though all the earned (free) media filled in the details of her story for Focus on the Family.  That’s the genius of this Focus’ plan, the attention they got drove the story, at the end of the day, the ad was just a MacGuffen.

This ad served its purpose, but ultimately the ad itself wasn’t very important, but it worked anyway.

On Strategy

February 3, 2010

Found this interesting ad from Dish TV attacking Direct TV, another in the recent trend of consumer products going negative against their opponents.

For a high end ad, I think the design is poor.  Visually it’s not much better than your usual political ad, higher end maybe, but this is the best they can do?

In the martial art Aikido, your taught to use your opponent’s energy against them, their attack becomes your attack. It’s really quick clever, and minimizes differences in size and power.  That’s what this ad does.

It’s strategically brilliant, Dish Network is turning a weakness (lack of celebrity endorsements) into a strength, lower cost, and at the same time undercutting Direct TV’s endorsement strategy.  I think this message sticks because it makes sense, those celebrities must cost a lot, and they quote some stats saying how Direct TV costs more, there’s a pretty logical if A = B, and B = C, then C = A logic at work.  If they tried to link celebrity endorsements to let’s say the quality of the satellite signal, then it would be less authentic and less effective.

No I think this works and will stick, and it forces Direct TV to respond in some otherwise they risk people thinking about how expensive they are every time they roll out another celebrity endorsement.

On form this ad would score about a C-, but for function, I think it’s an A.

I had an Italian friend, and driving the streets of Rome, she would say, red lights are only suggestions.  There’s a general rule that you don’t repeat your opponent’s charges in your ad, Dish TV reminds us that rules like that are only suggestions, good as a general guide, but should be broken when breaking it give your side the advantage.

The messenger or the message?

February 2, 2010

I’d talked before about getting out of the way of a message.  Take a look at this ad:

Visually it’s not just boring it’s ugly, but it’s message comes through loud and clear.

Now I don’t know what the relationship is between Pat Quinn & Harold Washington or what folks in Illinois think of Harold Washington, but that’s as devastating a critique as you can get.  The only touch I would have liked to see is the context of the interview with Washington — was that a campaign sponsored tirade or a news interview?

Why does it make a difference?  Because it goes to motivation, if he was interviewed by the campaign it makes me more suspect about what he’s saying.  If it was “news” then it makes it more honest.

This ad is pretty harsh, but I think the extent to which is effective is the extent to which the messenger is believed and seen as objective.  Looking at it from afar is seems to work, but up close there may be more than meets the eye, if there is, then it’s the type of attack that can come back and bite a campaign.

With you never a quickie, always a longie…

February 1, 2010

A classic line from the classic movie “Love at First Bite.” No idea if it still holds up, but when I was 10 it was really funny.  That was a long way to introduce a quick post.  I can across this video the other day:

It’s a brillant parody of genre, in this case the news genre.  I started thinking about the gimmicks, tricks, & shortcuts we use in political ads — especially the negative ads: Grainy B&W footage of your opponent, the music, the headlines in negative (white text on black copy — scary).

Genre is a funny thing because those conventions are helpful, they’re a shorthand, they let people know what to expect, what’s coming, they save time (and words) by communicating a lot in a simple image or sound.  But genre is also a trap, it’s so easy, and readily recognizable that it can quickly become cliche.

Again cliche can be helpful sign to folks, and as Magnum P.I. once said, “Cliches are cliches because they’re true.” When I write, I try to be careful about not using cliche’s, or at least if I use them I hope they’re just a place holder for a more original construction.

It’s the same thing with ads, but still cliche’s are so damned easy and so damned safe, pre-approved if you will.

But the problem is exactly that, cliche is familiar your audience doesn’t have to pay attention or the cliche has lost its meaning after having been used, and used, and over used again and again and again.  You can use cliche to surprise your viewer, to break their guessing machine, as the Heath brothers say in their wonderful book, “Made to stick,” and get their attention.

Like Ned Lamont and the messy desk or this ad from Michael Steele:

The next time you find yourself falling into cliche think is there a non-cliche way to write this line, film this shot, bring up this graphic.  Sometimes the cliche is the easiest, most efficient way, but we should all try harder.

It’s a cliche to end a piece on cliche with a cliche, so I’ll spare you that cliche at least.


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