Posts Tagged ‘Clever’

Everything you wanted to know about Subtext (but were too afraid to ask)

October 9, 2012

When I was at film school, I had a teacher Bill Reilly who taught me to understand the importance of subtext as a director. I grew up in an acting family, so I knew about communicating subtext to actors, as Boris might say, “Love is not ‘I love you,’ love is chicken.” But I had never thought about how the subtext of a scene might relate to how you filmed the scene. If two characters are talking, but the subtext is their separateness, that’s a different shot then if the subtext is their desire to be together. Bill taught me that, and it’s been among the most important lessons I took away from NYU.

When I first saw this ad, I wondered if it was some Onion satire, it was so sharp and funny, a parody of a political ad. It’s like a nested doll, a parody of an ad, that’s an ad itself, there’s a certain post revisionist meta brilliance to it (deconstruct that phrase for a moment, I have no idea what it means, but I like it). It’s an actual ad, running on cable not in battlegrounds, but still airing on TV’s across the nation.

I think at face value the ad is pretty funny and does a good job at subverting Romney. Not just the message of he’s getting tough on Sesame street, but not wall street, though that’s important. No, it somehow make Romney seem small and petty, Big Bird, really? Come on, don’t we have bigger issues to take on?

That’s the surface, but I think the true value of the ad is the subtext of its message. To me, this ad says Obama gets it. It’s funny and a bit whimsical, likable and clever. An ad like this makes Obama seem more real to me, because he’s tapping into the current meme of the election. It’s politics and its serious, but he’s not above being a little silly in the face of the ridiculous.

Maybe put another way, the ad is on-message, but it’s also on-emotion, it reflects what some voters are already thinking and amplifies it. That’s a powerful tool.

I don’t know if they intended that to be the subtext of the ad, again as Boris used to say, “your work is on the screen,” so whether they intended it or not, once it’s in there, that’s purposeful enough.

Subtext is a powerful tool, in my mind more powerful than the surface text, because it operates on the viewer, often unconsciously. This ad works on both levels, but the subtext “he gets it” can also translate to “he’s one of us.” To my mind that’s really more useful in this election than a clever hit on Romney and Wall Street.

 

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-.

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.

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.

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.

Is affect effective?

December 1, 2009

It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve posted.  Usually that’s because I’m busy and there’s nothing really inspiring me to post.  Well, I’ve been busy between travel for work & Thanksgiving, but I actually have seen a lot of really interesting stuff that I’ve wanted to post about.

We’ll try a post a day for the rest of the week to make up for two weeks of silence.

I thought this ad was very clever.  After watching it, I couldn’t tell you how much Blount took from Big Oil, or exactly what the charges were, but in my mind I remember the oily footprints walking out the door or the oily hand print on the back of the constituent’s shirt.  So this is not only a clever ad, but an effective one.

Look, people like to point to the facts inside the ads, and those can be important, but what’s more important is the overall affect of the ad (btw, affect is one of my favorite words).  Here the facts are like a soundtrack in a movie, they’re background for the clever (there’s that word again) visuals that really drive the message.

Imagine this ad with more standard visuals:

A picture of Cong Bount, CG: XXXX from Big Oil.

A picture of a Oil well (or oil company logos), Blount, Voted against American Clean Energy & Security Act.

Look, I’ve made that ad, like 1000 times, it’s easy, it’s not going to offend a pollster or other sensibility, and it’ll get it’s point across with enough repetition or if it’s a view already moving through the political discourse.  But this ad, with these visuals is something different. I saw this ad once, and not the connection is locked in my mind Rep. Blount = Big Oil.  (Now, there are other factors, like the fact that I’m more inclined towards a pro-environment message and against big oil, but leave that aside for the moment.)

It’s maneuver theory at work (I’ll put this on the list of things to talk more about in the future).  It doesn’t go up against your opponent’s strength, but uses the necessary force to achieve it’s objective and no more.

Creating affect if done correctly is certainly effective.


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