Posts Tagged ‘Authenticity’

It’s the story stupid…

February 7, 2011

Super bowl ads. Everyone’s talking about ’em. On twitter, I linked to this article, “Super Bowl TV Spots (Versus All The Rest of the Year).” The gist was basically, yeah Super Bowl ads have a larger audience, but the quality of our work shouldn’t depend on the audience that’s going to see it. It’s summed up with, “Just seems to me that a TV spot is a TV spot. TV, radio, any media buy is a public appearance for which we ought to put on our Sunday best, no matter how large our congregation is.”

Super Bowl ads are known for their spectacle, for their over the top quality, but the ads that I always seem to like are the same ones I like the rest of the year, it’s the ones that tell a story and connect with me emotionally.  Seriously which ads to do you remember over the years?

Ad Age just did an all-time Super Bowl ad poll, it came down to Apple’s 1984 spot and Coke’s Mean Joe Greene ad, according the reader’s poll Mean Joe Greene crushed Apple’s ad.

(Here’s a link to all the ads polled: My favorites NFL “Crazy” & Reebok “Terry Tate, Office Linebacker,” Monster, “When I grow up,” and EDS “Herding Cats”– though it’s a little too much of a gimmick, I find it amusing).

I’ve never understood the appeal of the 1984 ad, though of the spectacle ads it does have a compelling narrative and emotional element (the drive to break free from Big Brother). But the Mean Joe ad, come on? Just watching it now, I was almost in tears. “Hey kid, catch…”

That brings us to this year’s ads which has the usual blend of stupid beer ads that aren’t funny the other 364 days of the year, the offensive — Groupon, the unremarkable…, can’t remember any of those, and the spectacle — Coke & Audi, which were all right, but will probably fall into the unremarkable category before too long.

So which ads did I think were the best. To me one stood out:

I don’t know if this ad was targeted to parent’s but it sure felt real to me. Another company might have gone for over the top, might have tried to make it funnier by making it more absurd, and they would have lost the reality of the moment. Absurd is fine if it’s real, but when it becomes surreal, it needs some element to ground it back to reality.  This ad feels so true to life to me, and it’s so well executed, down to the music, the way the child rushes past his dad at the end, and the surprised reaction at the end.

Does an ad like this sell cars? I would say yes. It’s clever and honest, and somehow sympathetic, and I believe it makes VW seem clever, honest and sympathetic. They could have shown the car racing around corners, but that wouldn’t hook me the way this ad does. That’s the power of emotion.

Along those lines the other ad that caught my attention was the Eminem Chrysler ad. A paean to Detroit (and America frankly), I think it’s a powerful ad, that appeals to that underdog spirit in all of us. I love the script, again eschewing talking about the car, the car is a symbol for something more powerful, and if you want to connect with that story, if you want that story to become your story, buying the car is a way of broadcasting that to the world.  I love the end tag, “Imported from Detroit,” simply brilliant.

Here’s my problem with it, do you need Eminem in it? Why not have him narrate the entire spot? The spot is great for 3/4 then it falls apart at the end. Why does he get out of the car? What’s the deal with choir?  It’s one of those commercials that had me, then loses me at the end. Don’t get me wrong it’s better than 90% of the car commercials out there because of the script and the music, but it ends up falling flat at the end.  Too bad.

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the negative ads of the night…. What, wait you missed them?

How about this one:

The ad is obvious swipe at Apple from the 1984 reference to the white ear buds. I find the interesting, but not credible. The ad is trying to turn Apple from the rebel fighting Big Brother into Big Brother. But ultimately I’m not sure that I believe the argument coming from Motorola. I’m not sure what people think of Motorola, but rebel isn’t really one of the first ten themes that come to my mind.  So ultimately while I like the message aikido going on here, I’m not sure it can be successful without some other validation.

The other spot that I recall going negative was this one:

A lot of spectacle, pretty funny and well executed, but ultimately it felt like they were too clever. Audi is trying to be luxury for those who don’t want luxury or something like that. That might be the right position for them, and this ad communicates it well, but there’s not emotional component to it other than the basic message. Compare this ad to the Chrysler ad or the VW ad, which one moves you more?

Still, it’s good to see brands going after each other at the Super Bowl, gets me excited for 2012.

Super Bowl ads remind me of big Hollywood blockbusters, full of sound and fury but ultimately as forgettable as Transformers or X-Men. The best blockbusters, like the best ads are the ones that focus the sound and fury in service of an emotion and a message. The best way to do that is to tell a story. The best ad this year was probably the least expensive to shoot, the same thing was true of my favorite ad from last year.  You can be simple and powerful if you focus on story and emotion instead of spectacle and being clever.

Paint by Numbers

January 19, 2011

I remember an interview way back before Beverly Hills Cop 2 came out. Eddie Murphy was promoting his new movie, and he said something like, “People loved the first movie, so we took everything they liked in the first movie, and made it bigger in the second one.” Now, I was pretty young, but I remember thinking at the time that seems to miss the point. You can’t just paint by numbers, we need a bigger explosion here, we need this & that, and expect a movie to be better.

I feel the same way about this ad. In theory it has the right approach, it’s trying to appeal to emotion with shots of kids and families, trying to engage our outrage, but the whole spot is just… I don’t know, flat. It’s soulless.

It’s not that script is so bad or the images stink, it’s just doesn’t add up to a good spot or even mediocre spot. Now, the voice over doesn’t help at all, the narrator sounds like she’s on ambient. The spot has no energy or hook, there’s nothing memorable about it.

That leads me to another point, to call the bill Affordable Health Care Act instead of health care reform is an interesting choice. On one hand I applaud the effort to embrace a new frame, Health Care Reform has been branded Obama Care with all it’s death panels and job killing effects. On the other hand, even though I know they’re talking about Health Care Reform, I find the ad confusing, I don’t really know what they’re talking about. Maybe I don’t connect it in my mind to my support of Health Care Reform, it almost feels like a whole new issue.

This ad is one of those rare birds that’s actually worse than the sum of it’s parts. Like Eddie Murphy learned, it’s not enough to have bigger explosions and expect your movie to be better, you actually need something authentic and fresh to engage an audience.

Now what?

November 8, 2010

Things will be slowing down on the blog, I’ll still be posting as much as I can as I see things that are relevant.

This weekend, I did come across this article in Fast Company about Neuromarketing political ads. Neuromarketing is, well as the article points out there is some debate about what it actually entails.  To my mind, it basically means looking at physical reactions (brain scans or non-voluntary physical responses like public dilation) to determine underlying emotional states.

There’s obviously something very intriguing about this research.  Scientific studies have often shown, most people are not very good about describing why they’re feeling what they’re feeling. They often give rationale’s cloaked as rational reasons.  I also think the focus on emotion over logic is a step in the right direction for political advertising.

On the other hand it all feels like snake oil to me — psuedo-science at his best.  A physiological response is just that, you still have to interpret it.  Maybe more importantly, the person having the response also has to interpret the response based on the filters they’ve collected in the course of their life.  Neuromarketing seems like a silver bullet, trying to quantify what is not quantifiable (like this scene from “Dead Poet’s Society”).

Who remembers New Coke? It was one of the most tested product roll outs of all time, it surpassed classic Coke in taste tests, and when it was introduced to the public…? Well, it failed the only test that really matters.  A friend of mine said of focus grouping spots, who are you going to trust, the consultant who you’re paying a lot of cash for their expertise or the person you’re paying with $20, a diet coke and a ham sandwich.

I think there is a role for testing ideas, concepts, messages, but not executions. The familiar, the tried the true, the boring and same old will always win over the cutting edge, the interesting, and the novel.  People will tell you they want logic, when they’re longing to be touched emotionally.

Back to Neuromarketing, here are the spots they looked at in the article with my brief thoughts (I’ve already written about most of them):

This spot was the highest testing in the sample.  The tester points to the constitution and the pledge of allegiance as “making it pop.”  I would say it’s an interesting idea, that’s not executed very well, and comes off as rather flat.  The fact that it tested well, makes me doubt the effectiveness of the test.

I’ve already described this two minute spot as one of the best of the year. The test and I agree it feels authentic and real.

I thought this commercial was a little creepy, but to the extent that Ted Stevens’ endorsement carried weight after his death, I thought it would be effective (as long as you could put the fact he was dead behind you).

I’ve reviewed this spot as well.  Good commercial that feels authentic to Hickenlooper (but wouldn’t necessarily work with someone else). I agree with the analysis that viewers connect with Hickenlooper’s disgust for negative ads, though not sure you need a brain scan to tell you that. Also which ad is stronger this ad or the West ad that started off the analysis?

Now the ads viewers did not like so much:

This ad has been talked to death.  Good ad? Bad ad? Effective? Is it just a coincidence that the worst testing ads were negative/attack ads?  Or do negative ads routinely test worse?

The final ad also negative used the fake Morgan Freeman voice over:

Again do negative ads get a bigger neurological response? Is that what makes them more effective? Did folks hate this ad because they believed the Morgan Freeman voice over was fake? Or did they hate it because other than the Morgan Freeman voice over and the restrained patriotic music, the script is so hack and generic that it’s almost cliche?

Neuromarkerting — new tool on the cutting edge of political advertising? Or pseduo-science?

Definitely something I plan to learn more about this off-season.

Final Push Connecticut

October 26, 2010

This ad came out about a week ago, and it got lost in the shuffle of my day job.

I think this is a very powerful, very moving ad.  McMahon feels authentic and honest in it. It’s not complicated design wise, it doesn’t have to be does it?

My only issue with this ad is how it fits in with the rest of her campaign? I haven’t seen all the McMahon ads, but this one feels like a new piece of information for voters, it shows her as passionate and caring in a way I don’t think they have before.  With two weeks left in the campaign (when the ad started to air), that’s a huge piece of information for voters to work into their story of who Linda McMahon is — business woman, WWE CEO, rich,…caring and passionate?  The problem is it’s not the last piece of information that sticks with folks, its the pieces of information that fill in their stories, the stories we all create for our candidates (and for us and the “why” we chose the candidates we do).

It’s a good ad, but I think this story has already been written.

True to yourself

September 30, 2010

With politicians (Democrats) running away from Health Care Reform like it was the plague, Russ Feingold embraces the best (most popular) elements of the health care plan, and attacks his opponent admonishing him “hands off my health care.”

While I think the ad is not a particularly good execution — I never like scripting real people, it can be hard for them to pull off the lines, and I’m not sure they do here.  I think it’s the right play.  Getting back to my last post, you have to be true to your values and who you are.  Feingold is doing that, and pushing back on his opponent at the same time, if he’s got any shot of winning this race, that’s the best strategy.

Using real people is smart because it’s not just politicians who appreciate health care reform.  Scripting the people takes some of that power away from the message, they’re a little stiff and they’re  indicating (as my mom used to say), but it works well enough I suppose, and it’s a bold play.

I said what!?

September 30, 2010

Another good ad from yesterday.

Sometimes when my seven year old is blaming me or my wife or his brother for whatever mistake he just made, I remind him of something Shakespeare said, “The fault lies not in the stars, but in ourselves.” (It came back to haunt me when he quoted it to a friend, and said, see it’s all your fault.)

I like the visual look of the ad, the multiple filmstrip style. I think it’s both interesting and effective at presenting the clips, which are at the heart of this spot. I think this is spot is pretty devastating to Crist, capturing his own words, turning them against him now that he’s an “independent.”

Look, I think Crist gets what he deserves in this case. He’s been waffling and trying to play both sides, as he ran in the Republican primary, then switch to independent as it became clear that he couldn’t win.

Crist’s positioning was completely political and never felt authentic to me.  Now he’s paying the price for his political maneuvering. I believe you’re better off doing what you think is right then doing what a poll tells you people think is right. It can come back to bite you when the winds of change shift.

To quote Shakespeare again, “To thine own self be true.”

When a gimmick works

August 23, 2010

Mr. Fix Chris Cillizza asks rhetorically if this is the best positive ad of the cycle:

Unlike the last video, this ad is a gimmick that works. What’s the difference? At the most basic level this ad works because while it is a gimmick, there is something truthful about it. It’s authentic to the candidate, so the form says something about him.  It reinforces his image as not an everyday politician and it goes to the public’s desire to see government work instead of fight. The fact that it’s an easy pledge for him to make given the nature of his race is immaterial to the ad.

Here’s the Hickenlooper ad from his run for mayor:

Now if John Kerry of John McCain tried or Andrew Cuomo tried to be this quirky so voters could “relate” to them, it would be an abject failure.  It works for Hickenlooper because the guy is goofy.

I agree with most of Chris’ analysis of the ad, though I do take exception to his final point, “it provides a broad thematic blueprint of what to say and how to say it for candidates — incumbents and challengers alike — dealing with a very volatile electorate.”

This ad works for Hickenlooper, the themes work for his race and candidacy, someone else running along similar themes may or may not work.

The broader point I would make is this: with a volatile electorate, it is especially important that you run ads that are honest and authentic, that can resonate and connect with the voting public. If you can do it with humor and entertainment all the better, but more importantly, as Shakespeare wrote, “To thine own self be true.”

This is Different

June 16, 2010

I’m not sure how I feel about this one.

Here’s what I like about it: it’s different, it’s impressionistic rather than linear or literal, and it only tries to make one or two impressions despite all the images.  I also like that they don’t spend time trying to explain what we’re seeing though a couple of the shots at the end had me perplexed as to their meaning.

Maybe more importantly the spot seems to capture the little I know about Alan Grayson — he’s bold and out spoken, and this spot is certainly bold.  It feels true to him.

Why am I conflicted? I don’t know. I almost didn’t write this post because I don’t like writing I don’t know, it’s not satisfying for me, and I’m sure it’s pretty boring to read. Just something rubs me the wrong way.

It’s just a feeling, that the spot is trying to hard or something.  Maybe that’s it, I can feel creators presence, but not in a guiding Errol Morris kind of way, but in an overdone Michael Bay way.    Maybe that’s something voters won’t notice, maybe it only bothers me.  Maybe it’s what works for the spot because it fits Grayson, but it makes me not want to like the spot.

A tale of two ads

June 15, 2010

Been a long time between posts, sorry.  Thought I’d make up for it looking at two ads today.  The ads are pretty different but both are thematically the same (after watching them you may think I’m crazy for saying that).  Both ads play upon voter anger at “broken” government.

The more traditional of the two ads.  Wonder why the guy is wearing a t-shirt?  Shhhhh…. don’t tell anyone but Charlie Baker was a CEO at a big time health insurance company.  This ad was kinda strange to me.  What’s the deal with basketball?  I don’t get it.  Again, I’m all for doing something different, but it just feels fake to me.

People hate CEO’s and politicians so we’ll put him in a t-shirt and show him playing basketball with his son.  People will love that!  He’s just like you, get it? Awesome.

I think Robert McKay in his arrogant but seminal book, “Story” said something like a baseball hat is not character — meaning just putting a character in a baseball cap does not tell you anything about the character’s character.  What the character does tells you something about who he (or she) is.  It’s about action, not what they’re wearing.

It seems to me like Baker is trying to run away who he is from and his story.  The guy went to Harvard, he was a CEO of a health insurance company, that’s the elephant in the room, better to embrace it and own your story, than let the other guys tell their story.

The ad is fine in terms of shots and the way what it is made, but it just feels phony.

This next ad goes in a different direction:

Well this is one way to go.  Not sure what’s in the water down in Alabama, but they sure are going for it down there.  So where to start?  On the positive side, I think it’s actually well filmed, I like the shaky cam, documentary feel.  I think the reveal is also nicely handled.

The ad is actually playing on the same anger at government as the Baker ad, though obviously going in a way different direction.  I think where the Bake ad feels phony this ad at least feels honest in its emotional center.  They’re definitely going high concept for political ads.

I can almost see the consultants in the room coming up with concept:

“We revolted over a tea tax for christsakes.”

“Hey, what if that was the ad…”

“No, no what if he was talking with Sam Adams, George Washington, telling them about what’s going on…”

High fives all around….

Look, I find this ad scary, and not intellectually honest, but I think that misses the point of it.  I do wonder who they’re aiming the ad at? If they get 100% of their base vote, do they get any of the independents you usually need to win a general election?  I mean come on, “Gather your armies?” Seems like a pretty radical message even for Alabama. [Ed Note: Seems Barber is in a Republican runoff, so this message is directed at his base.  I guess you have to win the election in front of you, but there is tacking to the right, and there is damn the torpedos full speed to the right. Reading his responses to questions about the ad, he’s also trying to play it coy which undermines the authenticity of the feeling the ad is designed to manipulate.]

My partner Dan loved the ad and talked about how honest it was.  I think it’s a little too honest.  There’s the text of an ad or campaign and the subtext.  This ad seems to confuse to the two (or maybe it is not a confusion, maybe it is deliberate).  All that anger and fear of government could be the subtext, but to be so on the nose with it feels a little like drinking from a fire hose.

I think when I looked at the Tim James ad (also from Alabama) I said if Tea Party and the radical right learned how to package their anger into a cooler more thoughtful package, they would be a dangerous force.  This ad tells me they still haven’t figured that out yet, which is good those of us who love this country.

It reminds me a little of the story of the Scorpion and the Frog.

Another theme is that the Tea Party is trying to own the symbolism of the American Revolution. Again, I feel like this ad is so on the nose in that attempt.

Marc Ambinder recently wrote an article titled, “Has the Tea Party done anything good for the GOP?”

The GOP hoped to channel all that anger into their party structure, but like the frog, they lost site of one key fact — the they are scorpions after all.

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.

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