Posts Tagged ‘ad age’

You’ll pry that soda out of my dead sausage fingers…

February 9, 2011

With all the hoopla and spectacle of the Super Bowl ads, I almost forgot there was actually one political ad that aired during the big game.

Let me get this off my chest right away: This is exactly the type of ad I hate. A supposed real person, railing against the latest government injustice.  The “real person” in question is unusually well informed and amazing speaks like a policy wonk.

Sigh…, do these spots ever work? (Ok, this one did, but then again this one didn’t have actors channeling a poll.) This ad is obviously aimed at a certain segment of the population — folks who are angry and think government is too involved in our lives, so it may have some effect in getting them fired up against the Soda tax.

But really, “Government needs to trim it’s budget fat and leave our grocery budgets alone…,” I mean come on who wrote that line? Where does that come from?

What makes me so angry about this ad is that it’s essentially a cynical attempt to tie itself into some existing discontent. Oh, people are angry, tea party, government bad, socialism, blah, blah, blah, let’s make the ad about that.  There are no principles there except trying to scare folks into thinking that government is coming for your soda.  Look, I’m sure some people will see this ad, and they’ll get angry, but a lot of people remembered Mr Whipple too.

(As an aside, interesting to note that the most memorable super bowl ads were not the same as the most liked — which is more important…?)

Is this an effective, I don’t know, but let’s say that it is, does that mean it’s ok to create a badly executed, badly written cynical ad? Shouldn’t we be trying to do better?

I really hate ads like this one, have I said that already?

Try a little Honesty

June 1, 2010

A good commentary by Bob Garfield on why doesn’t KFC just embrace who they are, and try a little honesty in it’s advertising.

For those who haven’t heard KFC is donating money for every pink bucket of chicken you buy.  Stunts like this don’t work precisely because they are stunts that don’t connect with any deeper meaning.  What does KFC stand for?  I don’t know, do you?  Does KFC?  What do they have to do with breast cancer?  No idea.

This is akin to a campaign throwing an issue out there just because it scored well in a poll.  It all has to have some deeper meaning, some connection to make sense in the mind of voters or it’s just another stunt.

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.

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).

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.

Beware the power of the negative

July 20, 2009

When I reviewed the Corzine negative, I didn’t actually talk at all about negative ads.

There’s the conventional wisdom about them that goes something like this: Everybody hates negative ads, but negative ads are the only things that can really move people and change numbers in a campaign.

So, you’re an incumbent down in the polls, let’s say you’re the Governor of New Jersey for the sake of argument. Go negative, move numbers — heck, your approval’s at 41%, can’t get any worse can it? You drive voters away from your opponent, and they end up either staying home or voting for you as the best of bad options.

Besides the obvious issue that this approach probably is a big part of the reason people hate politicians so much (not their politician, mind, you, just the general class of public servants). There’s also another price to be paid: Going negative tends to drive up your negative as well as your opponent’s.

It’s a dangerous decision in any campaign when to go negative. Of course, that’s assuming your general good enough/adequate negative ad — the garden variety negative you see most days in political campaigns. The big two no-no’s of negative ads are: 1) Over reaching: Saying more than you can legitimately prove; and  2) Attacking on something that’s not relevant to people’s lives or not making it relevant to their lives.

Like this new ad against Judge Sotomayer.

Look, I’m obviously not the audience for this ad, but seriously, do people really think Ayers is a “terrorist”? Are people ready to believe that Sotomayer supports terrorists? It’s a claim that’s so outrageous you’d better be able to prove it, and they can’t (and don’t).

There’s a new line of thought on negatives, which I think is true, that goes something like this: “People don’t hate negative ads, they hate bad ads.” (BTW, the author of the article is also the person responsible for the “Call me Harold” ad in Tennessee. While I actually think the ad was not something I would ever run, I agree with his take on negative ads.) Take this ad for example:

Oh, you were expecting a political ad, oops, my bad. A negative well done, that resonates, is like a ripple in pond. These Mac v. PC ads are perfect examples of that effect. Becoming a social phenomena that people actually seek out.

It’s always easier to activate fear and hate in viewers — that’s the way our brains are hardwired. But, if you can activate other emotions, humor for example, then you have a chance of avoiding some of the fallout from your attacks.

Something to remember next time you get that negative script and start thinking dark backgrounds, bad music, and fuzzy pictures.

Such a fine line between stupid and clever

July 6, 2009

Ok, I feel like I know you all well enough to admit something: one of my big pet peeves is the notion of the “viral” video. What’s my issue?

Well, two specifically:

1. The idea that viral videos are cheap, that you can produce them for $2500 and get 1,000,000 hits. There’s this notion that some college kid in his (or her) basement is pumping out viral videos for the price of a case of beer. Great, I’d like to meet them. The most successful “viral” videos are usually fully produced pieces that cost $20,000 or more to make (or get donated).

Occasionally, you catch lightening in a bottle (if you’re Will Farrell, for example), but as a general rule, the best viral videos aren’t necessarily cheaper than a televised video. The internet has lowered the cost to entry — you don’t have to pay to air your video anymore — but your audience isn’t captive either, so you better give them a sugar coating.  Which leads to….

2. You can’t make a “viral” video. You can make a good video, promote it, push it out into the world, and hope it goes viral.  But if you try too hard (or are caught trying too hard), then forget it. Someone asked me about a guarantee that their video would go viral — I said there is no such thing. Another time a client wanted to promote their pet issue, they wanted a viral video, something that would get attention, how about an interview with a sitting US Senator on the subject…?  I guessed they’d get about 500 hits, if they were lucky.

This video does as good a job of breaking down the elements that make a video go viral. It’s longish (close to 10 minutes) but worth watching when you get some time. The two elements the interviewee highlights are 1) leave room for a conversation — is it real, what’s going, did it happen, how’d they do that, and 2) a sense of whimsy or fun. Essentially, you have to engage your audience, but have fun doing it.

There are some other usual tidbits in there, so if you’re interested in viral video (and if you’re a political or any other type of campaign, you should be interested) then go watch.

And here’s a link to Visible Measures’ top 10 viral videos of the week, which is useful for inspiration as well as seeing what you’re up against out there.

As you watch the videos on the list, just remember what the immortal David St. Hubbins of Spinal Tap said: “There’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.”

Imagination, Obama, and Hope

July 1, 2009

Did Obama win because of his ads?

His campaign just won a Titanium & Integrated award at the prestigious Cannes International Advertising Festival. The Obama campaign did almost everything right. It was maybe the best one I’ll ever witness. But, the ads? Eh…

Ad Age’s ad review columnist Bob Garfield writes in his Cannes round-up about the Obama award, “…the messaging was as creatively barren as it was tactically brilliant. There was no “Morning in America” in this campaign. No “Daisy.” No any single thing that stood out. Cannes has just awarded two Grand Prix to a back office. It’s like giving the best-picture Oscar to the turn-off-your-cellphones announcement.”

Garfield asks, “Shouldn’t recognition go to those who exhibit startling ingenuity in messaging — not technological ingenuity in dispersing the message, but imagination in the message and medium themselves?”

Look, the ads were adequate, but there was nothing about them that stood out. There was nothing imaginative or creative about them. Obama won despite his mediocre ads, not because of it. Most campaigns can’t do that.

Ads are less important for a presidential campaign — no other race gets even close to the same level of exposure. Most campaigns need creative, message-driven ads to break through and create that same inspiration. Political ads that offer “imagination in the message and the medium” can act as creative leverage — gaining attention that far outweighs the amount of time they air. (Think of the Daisy ad; for all its fame, it only aired once.) When they win voters’ hearts, campaigns win voters’ minds, and candidates win elections.

Maybe this is a bigger issue than I have time for, but I would even argue that part of the reason people are fed up with politics is the lack of imagination in political messaging. Obama captured something, a feeling — of hope, of change. It was a different campaign, even if the ads didn’t necessarily express that difference; people responded anyway.

In an election, you can always overwhelm your opponent with more money, a solid message and numbing repetition, but wouldn’t it be better — better for politicians, better for campaigns, better for voters, to have a great message and outsmart your opponent with imaginatively delivered content? Not only is that more cost-effective, but it might even change how people feel about their elected leaders.

[My Note: Just saw this intro video for David Plouffe at Cannes, now this is interesting, wish the actual ads had looked like this:

Is Cool Enough?

June 30, 2009

These aren’t political ads, but I think there’s a lesson to be learned here.

Take a look at this Cannes award-winning ad (for fairness’ sake, I linked to the actual website where it ran rather than youtube). Now look at this ad, which was considered, but didn’t ultimately win (it’s about condoms, but don’t worry it’s work safe).

Which one better communicates the story of the product? The first one “Carousel” sure is neat and compelling (what’s going on?), and I wonder how they made it, but I don’t know if it makes me want to buy that TV. The story is interesting, but it’s random and doesn’t really connect to any core message. In my mind this video is cool, but ultimately ineffective. It offers a sugar-coating with no nutrition.

[Ok, I showed this video to my partner, Dan, and he made the point that he might not buy that tv, but it made him think that Phillips was cool, hip & cutting-edge, so there’s something more than sugar-coating. Still, putting nuts in your candy doesn’t make it nutritious.]

The second ad, the condom one, is clever, it tells a story and it intrigues me.  But more importantly, a condom ad told through a love story makes sense; I’ll actually remember it next time I’m shopping in Japan for condoms. It’s compelling (what is that counter?), but it connects to the product, too. In the world of advertising, that counts for more than simply “cool”.

(Digressing for a moment, both videos do a great job of showing a story with visuals only, no words.)

What’s my point? Not sure, maybe it’s this: creativity imaginatively delivered with no message is just as much of a problem as a message delivered with numbing repetition, but no imagination or creativity . Either may end up with a “win” (a campaign, an award) but don’t be fooled; neither should be considered effective advertising.

Review: Chris Dodd Fighting Back for Us

June 2, 2009

This may be the first ad in the 2010 election season.  If you’re an incumbent US Senator running an election ad in May, a year and a half before the election, well, it doesn’t take a pollster to know you’re in trouble.  According to Nate Silver at, this is number 3 on the list of seats most likely to change parties and number one among incumbents.  That’s quite a feat.  Nate finishes his analyisis with, “the important thing about Rob Simmons is not that he’s Rob Simmons, but that he’s not Chris Dodd.”

That’s interesting in light of the ad, an ad for Chris Dodd, about Chris Dodd, in which Chris Dodd hardly appears.  Even when he does appear, it’s in a group shot alongside President Obama.

Form (on a scale A-F): B-

Nothing really compelling about the form, it’s a pretty standard-issue political ad.  They did a nice job of making the stills interesting; adding the black and white to the end gives those images a sense of weight and importance — not inventing the wheel, but nicely done, nonetheless.  Pretty moves on the pictures.  I like that they didn’t try to cram too many shots into the spot and kept the pacing nice and easy.

Still, it’s striking that Dodd hardly appears in the ad, and when he does, he’s not front and center.  Between Obama and the woman in pink (Rep. Carolyn Maloney), it’s hard to find Dodd in that group shot.  I think that was deliberate.

Function (on a scale A-F): Incomplete

Is it a cop-out to say time will tell?  The ad is an obvious attempt to re-position Dodd: look he’s with Obama! You like Obama, Obama said his name, he helps people and fights big mean credit card companies, you don’t like them.  Get it?

The only 2 pictures of Dodd show him in a group with Obama in the center.  Dodd’s part of the Obama team.  You might be angry with him, but Obama needs him — Obama says that in his Dodd shout out, and it’s reinforced in the visual.

Final Grade (on a scale A-F): B-

Can one ad undo the damage that has been done to Dodd’s reputation?  Probably not.  Fortunately for Senator Dodd, it’s early enough in the election cycle that it doesn’t have to carry all the water in one audio-visual package.  This ad is the first of many to come.

A new study published in Advertising Age says “Though most campaigns cluster ads in a short period of time, consumers retain information better if it’s spaced out over longer intervals.” (Their emphasis.)  If this is the first of a long series of ads reframing Dodd, it’s probably a modest success.  If Dodd can continue to avoid the kind of special treatment stories that got hin into trouble, then this story can help smooth over the damage done and remind people why they voted for Senator Dodd over and over again.

This ad is also a good reminder that its hard to judge an ad out of the context of the campaign. If Dodd wins next November (assuming he makes it out of a primary), nobody will remember this ad, but ti probably played some small role in changing the Dodd story from a Seantor who’s out for himself to a Senator who is fighting for folks.  In that way, its kinda like the grunts on the ground in a war, doing its duty to the best of its ability, but part of a larger effort.

%d bloggers like this: