Archive for February, 2012

Gimmicks

February 29, 2012

I came across the new JC Penny ads today.  Usually JC Penny wouldn’t really hold much interest for me, but Ron Johnson, the new CEO of JC Penny was the man who designed and ran the Apple Stores is remaking JC Penny.

I liked these ads. Using Ellen is a bit of a MacGuffin, she brings attention to the brand, but also her association lends some character to a brand that’s really nondescript — what does JC Penny stand for anyway? Are they design oriented like Target? Or cheap like Wal-Mart?  What’s their story.

These ads are gimmicky and entertaining, but I think it serves a purpose beyond attention — it signals a new direction for JC Penny. By focusing on four different areas — returns, coupons, sales and $.99 pricing, they show the new direction.  They could have just run ads saying, JC Penny, no coupons, easy returns, blah, blah, blah. Instead they indicate the new direction, a sense of putting customers first, a sense of caring about customers in way that other stores don’t, a sense that they understand our frustrations (and in that sense Ellen as the “every women” is a perfect choice for a brand spokesperson).

My only quibble would be are they JC Penny branded enough? Meaning, do you watch the ads and know it’s a JC Penny ad without the fanfare?  But still, I think these are really well done, entertaining and on-emotion, good job.

Here’s another gimmick ad:

I liked the way they based the ad on a real stunt — that kind of coordination is great in a campaign.  The hurdles are clever a way to make it clear the attack on women’s health. A minute ad might seem like a luxury, but I thought it was nice that they took their time, let the viewer take in the stunt, the meaning of the hurdles and some of the message, without forcing it on us.

The ad kinda doesn’t know where to go after it introduces the stunt, so it loses some steam (there are a lot of shots of people looking at the hurdles, that I’m not sure if they’re helping), but it’s a solid B+/A-.

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It’s on the screen

February 29, 2012

You know I once sat next to Tommy Thompson at a dinner, didn’t know who he was till he introduced himself, for the life of me I don’t remember his lips being so red.  In fact, I can’t remember an ad I’ve watched where a candidates lips have stood out so much. Not sure if his lips really are that red or it’s some kind of make-up malfunction — sorry digression.

What really struck me about this ad was how flat it was. There was no energy to the spot. Even the shots of him listening to people, he looks cranky.

Whether or not these Thompson felt comfortable with these words or he was really happy to be listening to the people in the spot, I can’t answer those question. Boris used to say, “Guys, your work is on the screen,” when a director would try to explain why a shot wasn’t working or an actor’s performance was off. What he meant was an audience doesn’t know or shouldn’t care  about all the time and trouble that went into a shoot, they don’t care about the obstacles overcome or the problems that plagued you, all they can judge you by is what’s on the screen.

By that standard, I question the decision to run this ad.  I don’t care what the plan is, if it’s not working, you have to be able to adjust.  I don’t see how putting Thompson to camera, looking grumpy and sounding uncomfortable helps sell his campaign message or convey the the emotion he wants voters to feel. Honestly, I was so distracted by what was going on, that I didn’t even hear the words until the third of fourth time I watched the ad. And, when I did hear them, they didn’t resonate at all, there was no conviction behind them, so why should I believe them at all.  The ad felt very paint by numbers, like they were all just going through the motions, I don’t blame Tommy Thompson for that, I blame his consultants.

 

Who is this Guy?

February 22, 2012

Just finished a great book Storybranding  The book echoes a lot of concepts I discuss here on the blog, like the need for emotional connection, storytelling and authenticity.  One idea it discusses is the difference between the outer layer of a brand and the inner layer.  The out layer of a brand is the how — a better mousetrap, a easier to use computer, a new kind of laundry soap, the inner layer represents the why — the values and rationale for why a brand, company, politician does what they do.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these ideas in recent days, especially in light of Santorum’s rise and Romney’s lack of traction.  For simplicity sake, Romney is running for President, Santorum is running to restore American values (or something like that) — which message is more powerful. You don’t need to be a conservative to show (not tell) the values behind what you’re doing.  A good campaign is able to “show” it’s values in everything it does.

I bring up these thoughts in light of this first commercial from Bill Faison, running for Governor North Carolina.

My first question after watching the ad is, who is this guy?  I assume most of North Carolina really doesn’t know Faison, so they’re trying to build his profile.  Ok, I get that, but other than name id, what do you know about Faison? Really, do you have any sense of who he is, why he’s running?  The ad is filled with cliches: “Get North Carolina Moving,” “Working together.” Cliches are fine because they’re shorthand, but you start throwing them around and they start to become meaningless.

The ad starts with “A New Leader” and he’s “fighting for the little guy” — either one of those ideas (both cliche) would make a fine theme to introduce this guy to voters.  But tossed in here together with getting the state “back to work” and “world class schools” (more cliche), they’re near meaningless. I talked recently about kitchen sink ads, and while this one doesn’t quite rise to that class, it has so many different ideas, that it’s just more blah, blah, blah.

After 30 seconds, I have no idea who this guy is, I have no connection to him. What’s going to happen after 1000 points? As I’ve drilled my kids over and over, anything times zero equals zero, 10,000,000,000 x 0 = 0.

The point here isn’t to rip on one ad or make Bill Faison question his choice of consultant, the point is something bigger actually. Here’s your chance to introduce your candidate statewide, what’s the walk away? What the theme that you want them to connect to the candidate?  The theme doesn’t have to be in the text, it could be the subtext.  (The subtext in this ad seems to be Bill Faison is very soft spoken.) But, they need a theme and idea.  I love fighting for the little guy, hell, we all feel like little guys these days with the bad economy, but here its nothing more than a throwaway line, that we’re told and expected to believed.  How much better would it have been to have shown us. As a lawyer, he fought for regular people injured by medical negligence and big corporations (I just got that from his wikipedia page).

This kind of ad makes me angry, because it’s shot fine, and it’s predictably standard that no one will call it out for being the worst kind of tripe. Forget mudslinging and negative ads, these re the ads that destroy our faith in politicians and make us increasingly cynical about the political process, forget ineffective, this ad is guilty of a far worse crime.

Dueling ads – The Republican Presidential Primary

February 17, 2012

In sports there’s something called a challenge trade — when two teams trade underperforming players at the same position.  Romney and Santorum are engaged in something of a challenge air war.  Romney err, Restore our Future is up attacking Santorum, trying to undermine Santorum’s conservative street cred.

The ad is pretty mediocre, basically a message delivery device without much creativity. But the point is to try and muddy the waters and subvert Santorum’s message that he’s the real conservative — would the “right” choice really vote <gasp> to raise the debt limit? If Romney’s not a man of the people, then neither is Santorum the “Ultimate washington insider.” If I was grading the ad, I would probably say it’s about a C or C+ if I was feeling generous. There’s nothing really wrong about it,but there’s nothing compelling or interesting.  Actually not sure why they include the Romney stuff, it’s not really catchy

Santorum on the other hand is running a pretty interesting ad with an interesting strategy behind it. It’s a gimmick ad, but the gimmick works because it reinforces the message. “Rombo” is on the lose shooting mud at Santorum.  It’s actually a pretty clever concept, and they certainly go all the way with it, down to an actor who looks like Romney.  I like the concept the execution is good, but not great, but I think the strategy behind it is just as clever.

Rombo also is subtlety subversive — Romney isn’t the tough conservative he plays on TV (Rambo), but some kind of phony “Rombo” shooting a mud in a white shirt and tie. It’s a slight jab, but  the subtext might be more effective at capturing the anti-Romney malaise that Republican primary voters are feeling than the text.

Santorum can’t compete with Romney’s cash advantage (I saw it as at least 3:1). This ad is trying to functionally dislocate Romney’s advantage — it’s not an unusual strategy, but well played in this case. The hope is to remind voters of Romney’s negatives every time you see a Romney ad attacking Santorum. While, I’m not a fan of the ultimatum approach at the end, I still think given the execution of the ad it could be effective in helping to blunt Romney’s advantage.

By wrapping the message around such an entertaining and off-beat concept, Santorum might be able to poison Romney’s negative ads.

The easy winner this round is Santorum.  The only question is can Santorum continue to move and out flank Romney.

Beware the dark side

February 15, 2012

Taking a break from political ads, to look at the controversy around the Westminster Dog show‘s decision to pull the sad pedigree dog ads it had been running. From the Article, the spokesperson (wouldn’t it be cool if they had a spokesdog) said, “The feedback we got from our primary audience was that they were seeing commercials that made them want to turn the channel.”

Here’s the commercial in question:

I thought it was a pretty good commercial, I really liked the copy, which I thought was well written if a bit much.

Here’s the ad that replaced it by Purina:

Have to say I liked this ad better. The music and inspiring images, made me smile. I could connect to the home images of the dogs and be inspired by the working dogs (like the dog jumping out of a helicopter, maybe he or she could be a spokesdog someday).  I thought the message was clever, make a good dog great.

My wife works in international development, and she saw some polling data some years back that people didn’t like to see sad images of kids in Africa in the advertising.  It depressed them, made the problem seem insurmountable, and left them feeling powerless and less likely to respond or act. Now we can argue how sad the Pedigree ad really was, but I wonder if the Westminster Dog show didn’t have a point?

Look the Purina ad has nothing to do with pet adoption, but honestly, if you slapped a “Adopt a dog” message at the end of that spot, I’m pretty sure it would work just as well. Like I said, it left me with a warm feeling. The Pedigree ad reminded me of a problem I know existed, but I’m not sure if left me ready to go out and act (not that we’re getting a dog, despite my two son’s great desire for one). Showing the ads to my my eight year old said the sad ad makes him want a dog more because it makes him worry about them, but I think the feeling the Purina ad invokes — companionship, the cuteness and love, the sense of play and connection with a pet, are equally powerful motivators (my eight year old says he liked this ad better) and their positive motivators carrying none of the guilt or avoidance of the Pedigree emotions.

Who knows why Westminster did what it, the decision has come under scrutiny, but reading the article Pedigree has found a way to spin the loss into a PR gain. The fight reminds me of something from Star Wars (doesn’t take much to go there).  Luke asks Yoda if the dark side of the force (anger, fear, aggression)is stronger? Yoda replies, “No, quicker, easier, more seductive.”

I would say the same is true about ads: The way our brains are designed it’s easier to appeal to those “darker” emotions of anger or fear. The Pedigree ad isn’t quite going there, but I think the point is the same. It goes for the low hanging fruit, guilt, sadness, hoping to inspire action, but the Purina ad reaches higher, it’s aspirational, showing the viewer the way things could be and touching on what really inspires us — that’s real strength.

Stuffed full

February 15, 2012

Rick Santorum is surging in the polls, and sure has a lot to say in his newest ad:

When I saw this ad, I wanted to comment about it, but can’t remember what I wanted to say. So je may have more to say in the ad than I have to say commenting about the ad, but here goes.

Let see he says:

First, he opens with a rhetorical question, who has the best chance to beat Obama… alright, I guess he’s setting us up for the big reveal… it’s him!

Next he declares himself a full spectrum conservative. I love when consultants make up phrases to cover some concept they need to explain quickly.  Of course, I’m not sure what full spectrum conservative means, but maybe all those half and quarter spectrum conservatives get it.

Third idea in the spot: A favorite of the tea party…. So this goes along with conservative full or half spectrum. But is the tea party really known for their strong stand on fighting corruption?

Forth, a jobs plan (cause you know, people care about jobs) that’ll make America an economic super power again. (How’s that? Well, he said it so it must be true.)

Fifth a summary of what they’ve said though now he’s a “trusted” conservative who can beat Obama.

That’s a lot of ideas to get across all at once, it feels like he’s trying to make up for lost time, and get in all his good arguments all at once. It’s a lot to take in, and even harder given the odd choice of music that sounds like it was stolen from an 80’s news open (wish I could find the scene from “Broadcast News” where the composer introduces his new opening music, and big finish).

Visually the ad is the typical with a lot of pretty shots of Santorum with his family (because you know he has values and he’s a full spectrum conservative) — not really interesting.

You never know the decision behind running an ad, all you can do it speculate, but it sure feels like the Santorum folks feel like they’re only getting one shot at this apple, so they better throw everything and the kitchen sink into one ad.  I can understand that desire, but I believe they would have been better off, slowing it down, and focusing on one or two things — like the conservative to beat obama theme, maybe letting the CG do some of the policy work (CG: “A jobs plan… Restore America to an Economic super power”).  Sometimes when you try to say it all, you say nothing. Not sure this ad fails that badly, but it kinda just gets lost in itself.

 

 

Super Bowl Ads… The Negative

February 7, 2012

Yesterday, I went through ads I like from the Super Bowl, today, I wanted to look at some ads I thought flopped as well a continuing trend, consumer brands going negative (see what I did there, there’s negative like bad, and negative like attack)….

I don’t get it. Met Life cartoon characters, what? Other than getting some attention, there was no connection between the form and the function. What the point? This was weak creative and probably pretty expensive to get the rights to Hanna-Barbara’s characters, so why? Because they could? To try and link to some nostalgia of my generation? Again, if you’re going to do it, then do it, why not show the scooby gang facing retirement, or Richie Rich or Grape Ape, but this was just kinda weak.

(As an aside, there’s a bunch of ads that I thought really sucked beyond my need to discuss, like the  sexist”Teleflora” ad where the woman basically says if you buy your girl something for Valentine’s day, you’ll get some action…. alright.)

Here’s an ad that ran only in Michigan, that stirred up some controversy:

The ad was created by Republican ad guru Fred Davis. I’ve appreciated Davis’ flare and talent here in the past, as well as his desire to make ads stand out, and not be ordinary. But again, I feel he missed the mark here.

I just read this great article in Slate on the demise of Crispin, Porter, Bogusky (a must read). The quote this line from the Crispin employee handbook “that defines advertising as ‘anything that makes our clients famous.'” I think Davis has a similar take on his ads (and he might agree with the Bogusky quote later in the article, “My relationship with advertising was that I was not that fond of it,” he told Canada’s Globe and Mail earlier this year. “So mostly the way I approached it was to kind of mess with the form. “). Any ad that gets his client attention is a good ad, and his ads are very good about getting attention.

Here’s the thing, attention is not the same as being on-message and being on-message is not the same as being on-emotion. This ad gets Pete Hoesktra attention, it’ll get a news cycle or more of talk, but does it move Hoeskstra’s message forward, does it connect with voters any more than the creepy King character connected with consumers?  It sometimes appears that Davis (like Bogusky) holds his medium in contempt, so he toys with it, plays with the viewer, and tries to get his client as much attention as possible — because any attention is good attention… right?

Beyond the offensive chinese stereotype, this ad feels emotionally tone deaf, the “Debbie Spend It Now” line feels forced, there might be a good message here about spending and China holding our debt, but this one is such a mess that it faces the prospect of missing the beat because of all the noise.

Beyond that, here’s are a couple consumer brand on consumer brand crime:

The Chevy ad caused quite a stir as Ford tried to get NBC to not run the ad. I appreciated more than loved this ad. Chevy’s commitment to it’s concept, from the music to the Twinkies,  was well thought out, and they didn’t break the reality they had created except for the line that seemed like it came right out of the Chevy Brochure, “Ford’s not the most durable… blah, blah, blah.” It would have been enough to say Dave didn’t make it, he drove a Ford, and leave it at that, it makes the point.  Still I thought it was clever, and loved the subtly of the jab in an ad filled with excess (in a good way).

The Samsung ad wasn’t the first of it’s kind (it’s run similar ads before), and I think they’re well done. They seem to know their target well — some one hip and cool, too hip and cool to be an Apple Lemming (notice the re-framing of Apple fandom from “think different” to one of the crowd of mindless followers), but someone who wants the latest tech which Samsung happens to offer. Not sure about the “stylus” — which felt like an odd feature (poll driven maybe) to highlight, if you want a stylus, I can did up my old Palm Treo out of my kids toys, still this ad was pretty good, though the big party at the end felt like an unneeded add on, it was something out of a beer commercial.

Still it the ad is nice framing by Samsung, they aren’t trying to beat Apple per se, but position themselves as the alternative to Apple. There’s an aikido like strategy at work here that I appreciate.

Best of the Night

February 6, 2012

I’ve been writing this post in my head since last night, but I’m still not sure I got it, but sometimes it’s more important to dive in than to dither in your thoughts. I started with the positive, here’s what I liked last night:

OVERALL

Dot.coms are dead, long live the car ads. Car companies dominated the buys last night.

I thought the ads were pretty “eh”, there were some good ones, but nothing that stood head and shoulders above the rest.

Consumer brands not afraid to go negative… Chevy, Samsung, Pepsi all had negative ads up.

THE BEST 

Probably the ad that people either loved or hated was “Halftime in America,” the Chrysler ad narrated by Clint Eastwood. I loved it. Yes, it was derivative of last year’s ad with Eminen. Yes, it was too long and sometimes too overwrought.  Of all the ads tonight, this was the one that I had a visceral reaction to.  I watched the game with my wife (who is a blast to watch football with, each play elicited a shriek or gasp of concern), despite backtracking this morning, immediately after the ad she turned to me and said, “That makes me want to buy an American car” — isn’t that the point?

Look, you can break this ad down in a lot of ways, but at the end of the day, I loved it because it was on-emotion and it connected with me at that level — and hell, I’m probably not even the target audience. Some called it the best political ad of 2012, as it harkens back to “Morning in America,” it acknowledges the best in us and speaks to American pride and spirit.  Chrysler = Detroit = America. And really is there any voice more soulful than Clint Eastwood.

An interesting entry from Hyundai. I really liked this ad as well (this was my wife’s favorite). Not as great as the Chrysler ad, but I thought it was an interesting framing for a company that people don’t really have a story for. I’ve never thought much about Hyundai as car company, but the idea that “they try harder,” that they’re in it together, that they keep working through problems is a great identity for any company.

My problem with an ad like this is, will people accept it? I have no reason not to accept it, but just because they say it doesn’t make it true. What’s the proof? I wish Hyundai would follow up with more ads along these lines, show me ways that the company has overcome problems, instead they followed up with this ad:

Funny and clever yes. On message and on-emotion…, not so much. How does this ad fit in with Hyundai’s message in the Rocky ad? It doesn’t seem to. Maybe it works as a way to get people to remember to Hyundai, but I didn’t even remember who this ad was for until I went back and looked.  I laughed at this ad, it was good entertainment, but not a great ad. In a way, this ad is a good representation of the ads last night, some nice entertainment, but nothing that was a great ad.

The Best ad that didn’t run in the US

I already talked about this ad. But thinking more about it, it reminded me of the old Bud slogan, “This Bud’s for you.” Bud was the drink for the everyman, for the unrecognized heroes out there, who do their jobs in quiet dignity. This ad harkens back to that tradition, and I think it would translate to America, it’s a shame Bud wasted their time with ads about Prohibition and partying through the ads, rather than this ad which is far more effective.

Ads my Kids like

Asher really liked this Coke ad.

It was funny, the polar bears are iconic coke messengers, but like a lot of ads tonight I think the humor gets in the way of emotion.  It’s funny, but not sure it’s really about Coke.

Owen’s favorite ad was the much anticipated Volkswagen “Dog” ad:

It was a funny ad, and while the epilogue was random, it made for a nice connection with last year’s ad.  I liked the genre busting that I saw in car ads last night, this ad led the way putting a story of desire for the car ahead of the attributes of the car.  It was funny and clever, but at the end of the day, it didn’t make me like volkswagen any more than I had before watching the ad.  I guess I agree with the guy in the bar, I liked the authenticity of the Vadar kid better.

Ads that people I respect liked

Really it was just this ad from Fiat. A couple of people who I really respect told me this was the best ad of the night, while I respect them…, they’re wrong…

I think this is a good ad — provocative and interesting. It tells a little story and is surprising, all good things. But I feel like the scope of the ad, the emotion it’s trying connect with (desire) is just not that big, it’s low hanging fruit. Compare the emotion of the Chrysler ad to this one, and this one feels small in comparison. Still it’s well executed and crisp, and does a great job of being on-emotion.

Emotion Wins

February 2, 2012

This is a Budweiser ad airing in Canada for the Super Bowl. I just have to say it’s a shame it’s not airing in the states, because it just might be the best beer commercial (or branding) I’ve seen. Not sure if Bud thinks Canadians are more cultured than Americans or just less interested in kicks to the groin or scantily clad women, but I think this ad despite it’s focus on hockey would be a winner in whatever market we it ran in.

Just because Americans don’t love hockey because this ad is so powerful emotionally it just plain works. Any weekend athlete can appreciate what those players felt playing that game under those circumstances.

It tells a great story about Bud too, it speaks to their values, and who their beer is for. You can’t do better than that.

Dueling Ads Hawaii

February 2, 2012

Two strange ads up in the Hawaii Democratic Primary…

So Ed Case has regular folks saying they’re going to vote for him then thanks voters for thinking about their choice.  I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something off about the ad. It’s shot in a documentary style (shaky camera moves that hint at capturing real life), but the people in it feel somewhat staged. Were they given lines to read or were the lines authentic? I can’t tell, I wonder if voters will be able to tell.  A third party validator is only as believable as they’re credible.  I don’t find these people particularly credible, but maybe that’s me.

A couple other choices I question: 1. The lack of music leaves the spot feeling rather flat, there’s no emotion too it, and that comes off in the delivery of the lines. 2. If these are real people, why not identify them?  Identifying people who are speaking helps because it makes them seem more credible, they’re real people, it’s not just some mechanic in an ad, but John Doe who happens to be a mechanic.

One element of the ad I do like is the frame of a choice. Ed Case, by acknowledging people have a choice (maybe a hard one for them) comes off as empathetic and understanding — maybe he gets it.

Mazie Hirono’s ad on the other hand decides to turn back the clock and run like it’s 2008 or 2006 or any other even numbered year George W Bush was president. Really are we still running against Bush policies?  I know it’s a Democratic primary, but somehow this ad seems out of step or at least out of date. I’m sure there must have been some polling on this (these) issue, but it just comes off as odd to me.  (And, yes, I get she’s trying to frame her Democratic credentials against the more conservative Ed Case, but it’s still feels like a throwback.) Do Democrats have to run against Bush to prove their liberal? When does that stop?

Also what’s with the two “regular” people saying her name, what’s the deal with that? They know her name? I kept waiting for them to come back and say something or anything more, it just seemed like a dangled promise that there was something else there.

So who wins this round? I’m not sure. Both ads strike me as slightly weird. Hirono’s ad has higher production values and music, but it’s about as cliche as it gets stylistically, there’s nothing interesting about it. Ed Case has a odd mockmentary flavor and is flat, but I think probably works slightly better despite it’s lack of credibility.


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