Posts Tagged ‘book recommendation’

What is a successful ad?

February 12, 2014

I read a great book last year called “Hannibal and Me.”  In a nutshell, the book talked about the writer’s obsession with the great Carthaginian General Hannibal. In examining his life, he makes a larger point about success and failure. Rome never defeated Hannibal in battle. At one point he killed something like 1/5 of all Romans who were eligible to serve in the army. Was Hannibal a success or failure?

Sixteen years always fighting the much larger Roman army on their home turf never defeated, and ultimately never victorious… Hannibal never took Rome, never brought Rome to its knees. He was defeated by a Roman General named Fabius. Fabius’ strategy, constant retreat, he never won a battle.

How we define success and failure is often overlooked, but it is critical to remember what your ultimate goals are.

Which brings us to these ads:

I think these are both terrific ads, great copy, well filmed with compelling visuals (wait for it, here it comes….). But I have to wonder if the build up matches the payoff.

After all that does an apron really equal progressive? Is that what Progressive is about? Is it about hard work, about the people who show up everyday without a hint of glory? That’s not what I think of as Progressive Insurance, they’re the ones with Flo and low rates, maybe.

And the second ad, is beautiful. Its how anyone in love feels when they look at the person they love, it captures a truth, and in doing so it says we get it, we understand you. I was with the ad, in with the payoff (how long did it take for those flowers to sprout) that was a little sappy. But its selling what? Hair care products, what? How are they involved in love? I mean the woman had great hair, but what? Now maybe that brand has some affiliation with that message, but still I felt cheated at the end.

So are these good ads? Yes. Are they successful ads? I don’t think so…. Which brings me back to my first question: Are these good ads? Can an ad that doesn’t succeed in pushing its message, that doesn’t change the image of a brand or build upon its existing image be a good ad?

I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think it can.

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.

Negative Ad Trifecta

September 17, 2010

There’s a chapter in the fabulous parenting book, “Nurture Shock,” that talks about bullying. Contrary to the stereotype, most bullies are not the anti-social loners of Columbine myth (if you’re interested, you should read the gripping and thoughtful account, “Columbine”), but rather they’re usually at those at the top of the social food chain. Why? The reason is pretty simple actually, if you’re socially intelligent enough to climb to the top of the social ladder, you’re probably able to read people enough to know there weak points. In other words, bullies tend to be high in emotional intelligence, social intelligence, whatever you want to call it.

Ok, now you’re wondering what this has to do with political ad making?  I think good negative ads are a lot like those real bullies at the top of the social food chain. Anyone can make a negative ad.  Negative ads are both hard and easy: Easy because there’s almost no bigger cliche in politics than the negative ad — dark grainy picture, somber music, the picture of your opponent next to some CG like, “Stood with X [pick the symbol of the other side, over the years, it’s been Gingrich, Clinton, Bush, Kerry, these days it’s Obama & Pelosi] to do Y [pass health care, give a big tax break to the wealthy, run up deficits, cut social security…].”

Negative ads are hard though, hard to get right, hard to find the right balance, between information (which is really a MacGuffin) and emotion, between framing your opponent in the way that you want and letting the viewer get to that place on their own (so they feel like it was their own idea).  Between making the viewer not like your opponent, but not hate you too much. So many fine lines are there.  It’s easy to make a hammer, though often what’s needed is a scalpel.

A lot like the bullies of “Nurtureshock,” its not about punches and physical attack, but more about emotional and intellectual manipulation. You need to have a feel for it, otherwise you’re apt to make an ad like this one:

This ad feels like amateur hour.  Buck feels stiff and is obviously reading (uncomfortably) off a prompter. Compare this ad with the one from the other day with the horse racing.  Which one would you rather watch? Which one makes it’s point?  Heck, even the North Carolina rocking chair ad shows a certain negative IQ so to speak, here’s another ad that just feels a negative tone deaf to me:

Or this one from Jack Conway against Rand Paul.

I like how he uses Paul’s quote, that’s a nice way to validate your statement with the view, but at the end of the day, I just don’t believe it, in spite of the quote.

Knowing how far to push and when to draw the line in an attack is as important as knowing which attack to make.  This ad seems to go over both lines.

Book Club “Starting with Why”

May 17, 2010

My real work kept me from blogging last week.  But I wanted to write  a quick post about a new book I’m reading, “Staring with Why.”

If you’ve read “Good to Great” or even “Its not what you sell, it’s what you stand for…” then you probably don’t need this book.  Having looked at those books, I find “Starting with Why” much more approachable, at least for me.

The book basically posits that while most companies focus on the “What” they do (air travel, build computers, make cars) or occasionally the “How,” what really motivates and inspires people to buy your product or service or even vote for your candidate is the “Why.”   “Why” talks about the purpose in what you do, “Why” is your values or principles.  “Why” is about authenticity and connection not manipulation.

The idea of “why” is something I think about both in my own company, but also on the campaigns I work for. “Why” is what makes companies like Apple or Southwest successful, “Why” is what underlies the appeal of the Obama campaign and the failure of John Kerry.

The book isn’t very research heavy, but is very readable, and without a doubt work a look.

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.

#6

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.

#5

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.

#4

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.

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.

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.

Library Day

June 12, 2009

Maybe Library Day will become a weekly feature.

Oh, what is Library Day?  Well, it’s the day when I recommend a book I think is interesting or helpful in creating great political advertising.

The first book I’m going to recommend is, “Hey Whipple Squeeze This.”

There are a lot of books that litter the bookshelf closest to where I work.  Those are the special books, the books that regardless of topics, I go back to again and again. Sometimes a books come and go off the shelf depending on what I’m interested in at the time, but there are a core that stay right there: “Hey Whipple” is one of those books. (For those of you paying attention, I’ve already quoted from it at least twice on this blog.)

Its subtitled “A Guide to Creating Great Ads,” and that’s exactly what it is.  Filled with observations, tips, stories and examples, it really is the one book on advertising that anyone interested in the craft should read.    What I really like is that Sullivan writes in an engaging tone, and he offers advice that gives you a good theoretical grounding (“Rule #1 in producing a great TV commercial. First you must write one”) while also being eminently practical (“Write sparely,” which is particularly good advice to political ad makers who tend to cram as much copy into “30” second spots as they can; you’ve never seen a grown man cry till you try to get a voice talent read 36 seconds of copy in 30).

The book breaks down advertising into print, TV and radio, then ends with some trouble shooting stories and advice (“Peck to death by ducks”).

And the title? It refers to the Charmin ads which dominated the 70’s.  For those of you too young to remember, Mr Whipple was the cranky grocery store clerk who admonished buyers, “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin,” while himself fighting his own squeezing demons.  Mr. Whipple had the distinction of being both the most remembered character on tv and the most reviled.  Sullivan points to the campaign as a cautionary tale of overwhelming the airwaves with ads that aren’t very good can produce results, but, well I’ll let him speak for himself, “What troubles me about Whipple is that he isn’t good. As an idea, Whipple isn’t good….To those who defend the campaign based on sales, I ask would you also spit on the table to get my attention? ”

Ultimately the book is a call to smart,  elegant, and creative advertising because spitting on the table demeans not only those doing the spitting (the consultants or ad execs) but those who they’re spitting for (the business or candidates).  Even if you win, you don’t win.

For that message alone, the book is a perfect choice for my first library day.

Welcome to Ad Nauseum

April 16, 2009

Welcome to Ad Nauseum. For a blog about political video and ads, that’s not such a creative welcome. Hopefully it’ll get better from here.

The story how this blog was inspired goes something like this: I was having lunch with a friend of mine last week discussing my new company, Rabin Strasberg Media, and what I thought we could add to the glut of political media.  In the course of our conversation, discussing videos and ads we liked and disliked, he said something like, “You know, you should write a blog about this stuff.”

My first reaction was, who would read a blog that I wrote?  Well, my mom — except she doesn’t even know that the internet is a series of tubes.  So I put that aside for a moment.

Then I thought, what would I say? Well, that part was a lot easier; I always have something to say about what I see out there — the good, the bad, and the ugly — and there’s a lot of ugly out there these days.

A last note: I’m not here to rip on people or their work, though I will certainly give an honest critique. Frankly, I want to be inspired, I want to be moved by what I see, but all too often I’m left either empty or shaking my head. Maybe this is my attempt to raise the craft of political media, to make ads everyone can be proud of.

I read this quote in the wonderful book on advertising, “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This.” Steve Hayden, who wrote the Apple 1984 ad, said, “If you want to be a well paid copywriter, please your client. If you want to be an award winning copywriter, please yourself. If you want to be a great copywriter, please your reader.”

Greatness is something we can all aspire to.


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