Posts Tagged ‘function’

Does interesting = Good?

June 15, 2012

I was just lamenting to a friend that it’s sometimes hard for me to blog because I feel like I’m saying the same things again, and again, and again. That’s because for the most part you see the same ads, again and again, and again. In my more down moments, I wonder if I have anything to add to what I’ve already said, and worry that it’s not enough to beat the drum, if you’re beating out the same rhythm (rhythm is a ridiculously hard word to spell by the way, I never get it right).

I cam across this ad in the Daily Kos’ election roundup, a pretty useful daily guide to election goings on, and a great way to see new ads. They have a pretty good sense of the subtext of ads, and said about this one:

“This ad from 25-year-old Republican Weston Wamp (notable only because his father, Zach Wamp, held this seat until a cycle ago) is just deeply… weird. I can’t summarize it at all—it’s a series of different images (John Wayne! moonshot! Bill Gates!) accompanied by a strange meditation on the meaning of freedom. I will say, though, that I was sure Wamp had hired some ridiculously deep-voiced announcer to narrate the ad. Instead, it turns out that the ridiculous deep voice is Wamp’s own. (He doesn’t sound that way when he’s not trying.) Overcompensating much?…:

It’s a little weird, and not really your standard political ad, and yet, there’s something about it I like. It puts a premium on emotion and theme over pure message and facts. I just finished reading Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failures, by Tim Harford. Harford talks about the need to experiment away from the harsh glare of success and failure, in fact he says explicitly that being able to experience in places where you can fail is critical to future successes. He calls these outposts Galapagos Islands — places outside the scrutiny of everyday business or the mainstream focus of action.

I thought a lot about the idea of Galapagos Islands in politics — the stakes are so high (win or go home) and so much money is spent, there’s not much room to experiment because the costs of failure are higher than almost any other industry save ones where life and death are actually on the line (Nuclear plants, airline pilots and the like). Shit, Coke can role out a whole new formula, turn on it’s heels and call it a mistake with little or no fallout, other than a cautionary tale. A politician can’t even change their opinion on an issue opening themselves up to a negative attack.

I’m getting a little off topic here, but the point is it’s hard to try out new things especially in political campaigns. Every candidate wants different, or so they say.  The various occasions they’re presented with different, the reaction is almost always the same, wow, that’s so different, can’t we do something you know more… (I wrote a post about this very fact some time back).

Back to this spot, it’s different, and sometimes that seems weird.  What I don’t know is if it’s authentic? Is the spot just spitting on the table (if I stood up and spit on the table in a meeting, you’d certainly remember it, but would it be the message I want to convey)? Look at those Pawlenty for President spots if you want to see spitting on the table in action. I don’t know if this spot fits people’s image of Wamp, is he seen as a daddy’s boy, and this spot seems strangely like he’s overcompensating (as Nir implies)? Why did they make his voice sound… so oddly deep? My guess after listening to him speak normally is that they put some kind of effect on it in post.  What will people think of that? Is he trying too hard (like Pawlenty) to be something he’s not?

I don’t know the answers to those questions.  But here’s the thing I do know, I actually find the spot kind of interesting, and think in this case the usually astute David Nir misses the mark.  There is something bigger going on here.  “We went to the moon and played Sinatra ’cause no one told us not to…” that line is odd, but also strangely compelling and memorable. Which is what I’d say about the spot.  I’m not willing to say it’s good, but it is interesting, and in a world filled with safe and normal, that’s a step in the right direction. Is it a failure? Well, if it is, then it’s a failure that moves us closer to a success, and in my book that’s something to be admired.

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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.

Form follows Emotion

January 10, 2012

I’m reading the Steve Jobs biography, and I came across this quote from his first designer, Hartmut Esslinger:

“Form follows emotion.”

The statement resonates with me particularly because I’m such a fan of form integrating with function, but of course in advertising function basically boils down to emotion.  The form should be connected intimately to the emotional frequency of the brand and message you’re trying to drive.

That leads me to a discussion of this ad:

This ad is surprisingly simple in form, but that simplicity is a strength in this case adding a verisimilitude to Huntsman.Using the debate clips without commentary is powerful, even the cutaways to Perry and Mitt looking flummoxed works and adds to the sense of reality.

Huntsman comes off as tough, honest, and eloquent. Talking about his kids in the navy serving a Democratic president is a nice touch.

While patriotism is a good quality in an of itself, it also serves as a macguffin — what Huntsman is really saying is he’s the principled one in the race. The contrast is obviously with Mitt, where Mitt is calculating and rising money, Huntsman is principled and committed to his values, even serving for a Democratic president because it was his duty. He’s not playing politics he’s serving his country, what more could you want in a President?

I think this is a very good ad for Huntsman, contrasting his strengths against his opponent’s weaknesses. It’s presents his best on-emotion argument for voting for him, in an authentic execution, the real question for him is this enough to propel his campaign forward? And, do Republicans care?

Is it what you say or how you say it?

November 15, 2011

I watched this ad yesterday, the latest salvo in the Massachusetts senate race, and I knew I wanted to comment about it.  Watching it again today, it’s amazing how much I forgot about it, ok I’ll get to that later.

What I responded to in this ad was the message, Warren is unapologetically saying she’s a crusader against Wall Street, and she’s going to fight for the 99%.  What’s interesting is that she does it (unlike me) deliberately without invoking the language of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Of course, you all remember Crossroads GPS just attacked her for her liberal extremism as the intellectual underpinnings of that protest movement.

What I think Warren does successfully here is embrace the message without embracing the messenger.  She doesn’t run from who she is or her record, she doesn’t defend herself “before you hear a bunch of ridiculous attack ads” (which of course have already started), but rather issues a forceful statement of principles and values.

Alright, that’s 130 or so words in praise of this ad. When I first started this blog, I broke my reviews up into a form grade and a function grade, while I found that format too constraining and not ultimately helpful, I think it’s instructive here.  The function of this ad would be an A-, the form, on the other hand, being generous would be a C.

What I remember from the ad was the message: Warren fights Wall Street, which is a pretty good summation, but loses all of the detail and texture of the message. I loved the archival pictures, so vivid, but the text is kind of flat and at times falls into political cliche. The taking on the powerful interests message was lost on me until I re-watched the ad, her story had drifted away.

For a candidate who has capture so much support and excitement of voters, her delivery is alright, but not especially compelling. Was a scripted ad read off a teleprompter the best way to go here? I’ve never heard her speak, but I can’t help but think an interview ad going over the same message points, but spoken spontaneously would capture more of the real Warren. Here, I feel like I’m watching a candidate speak, the ad is well executed for what it is, but it’s not compelling in the least.

Warren wants to tell us who she is, but I feel watching this ad that she’s hiding behind a teleprompter and words written by a political consultant. I want more from her than this ad gives.

Again, maybe that’s not fair, maybe she stinks in an interview, but what the ad gives in message is lost in authenticity. (Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t believe Warren, I just don’t connect to her.)

If you averaged my earlier form grade C with the function grade A-, you end up about a B, and that’s where I’d put the ad, B/B-. It’s not a bad opening ad, certainly serviceable, but this blog isn’t about serviceable ads.  I’ve only really read about Warren in the book “Confidence Men,” by Ron Suskind, but she comes off as a compelling and intriguing figure there.  I can understand the excitement about her campaign, because I felt it too just from the little she’s in the book, she seemed genuine and passionate.

I don’t get that feeling here, or maybe I do, but it’s diluted.  Am I less excited about Warren now, no, but I’m a believer after all, am I more excited, not really. At the end of the day, this isn’t a bad ad, it’s right where it needs to be message wise, but I just felt the pieces were there for a great ad.

Playing with and against your story

July 14, 2011

A couple of ads from the Republican primaries.

Ron Paul is up first, with a very stylistic ad heralding the coming of a new asteroid er, I mean a debt ceiling compromise.

To my mind, Paul’s story is staunch conservative, who holds views outside the mainstream, but doesn’t let that stop him. This ad plays along with that story, reinforcing what might be his strongest defining characteristic, that he’s true blue (or red), so to speak. He has principles where others lack it, he has conviction when others want to compromise.

I think this is a strong ad towards those ends. First of all, I love fake movie previews — even if this one is more of a MacGuffin, it works a the open.  It makes Paul appear strong and presidential without drifting into the crazy and dogmatic realm, that’s a tough balancing act. The shots at the ends are stills, yet they’re not static, they feel dynamic and powerful, he appears presidential, which is important to his candidacy — he can’t just be a wingnut, people have to see him as a potential president.

I think this ad also does a good job of raising the stakes on the debt limit, turning it into a battle between the forces of conviction and the forces of accommodation and appeasement — he turns compromise into an abdication of values. I really like the paper look they created, and I find it effective though I’m not sure why. This ad is a great example of the form of the ad (the stylistic elements, the music, the graphics) helping to drive the function (the message). Compare this ad to those early Pawlenty ads, they have a similar style, but in the Pawlenty ads it was all about style, there was no substance underneath.

Great opening ad that sets the frame for the Paul campaign.

On the other side of the coin is this ad from Michelle Bachmann. Bachmann’s story of course is similar to Paul’s except maybe throw in crazy.  I’m not as wild about this ad as the Paul ad, but I still think it might be an effective ad. This ad is short on style, but it’s function is clear, to counter the image of Bachmann as a raving lunatic unfit to be president. So, she talks very calmly if artificially about her record (a record that would appeal to Republican primary voters) and comes off as a little charming (hard to see the charm because her “performance” feels forced, but I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt) and somewhat boring.

I also question the opening shot, the time-lapse of Waterloo — not really compelling (maybe to folks in Waterloo), but later in the ad she has those nice archival pictures, why not throw some in of her own childhood?

I would also wonder if Bachmann can continue to run away from her narrative. While this ad does cast her as “serious” I wonder she can continue along this path, even as she bumps into her story — it just doesn’t feel authentic. Compare it to the Paul ad where he weaves what we know or might think about him into his message, and turns what might be a weakness into a strength. You can try to change your story, but it’s not easy, and you have to maintain the consistency so people really believe what you’re telling them.

Final Push Potpourri

November 1, 2010

First off, no idea that’s actually how you spelled potpourri, would not have guessed it in a million years.

A two minute closing ad from Rubio has some people thinking he’ll run for President.  I can see that from this ad, he’s good to camera, feels authentic and compelling, and the ad has an epic sweep, it’s not just about Florida, but about America, it’s not about issues, but about a philosophy.  Two minutes seems a bit indulgent, but when you’re up big in your campaign, you can take a 50,000 foot view of things.

I don’t talk about script all that often, but the strength of this ad is it’s script.  Yes, Rubio is very good, and a lesser candidate would flounder with the sweep and narrative, but this ad gives Rubio stature without making him appear overly ambitious or pompous. It has him stake a position without him being political.  It all starts on the page, and if it isn’t on the page, it won’t appear on the screen.  The more I watch this ad, the more I like it, simple and elegant, it’s form matches the function.

On the other side of the coin you have this line, “Harry Reid working for us, Sharron Angle pathological.” Can’t help but laugh even as I write it down.  This is exactly the kind of ad I really dislike (is hate too strong a word).  It’s jammed packed, the last line isn’t bad, but it’s so rushed it feels almost like a parody of a political ad.

Going back to script, do they really need the first seven seconds of this ad? Can’t they just say, a newspaper called her pathological, that she’s lying, blah, blah…. They don’t really connect running away from reporters its a macguffin that’s not particularly useful or satisfying. While I usually like using newspapers as validators, here it almost gets lost, the impact of that word “pathological” never gets to settle because the script is on to the next line.

I’m never a big fan of using your spouse or kids in an ad unless they really have something to ad.  Exhibit A is this ad from Rand Paul. Yes, he has a pretty wife, but of course she’s going to be shilling for him, she’s married to him.  I know the rationale for using her, it shows Paul in a softer light, it makes him seem human in the light of the Aqua Buddha stuff.

Still compare this ad to the Rubio ad, which one conveys a better sense of the person? Which one tells a better story, which one is more compelling both in philosophical terms and in the epic scope.  Yes, Rubio had more time to talk, but if you gave Mrs. Paul another minute and a half, don’t think it would make a huge difference as she feels contrived whether she actually is or not.

It’s drivel, it was probably drivel on the page, and it sounds like drivel on the screen.

Attack and Counter in Kentucky

October 18, 2010

In this race, Conway is down, but not an insurmountable amount, but time is running out.  They can go back and forth or they can try for the big play, swing for the fences, knock out blow, pick your favorite sports analogy here. Well, they sure went for it.

I have to appreciate the fact that they didn’t sugar coat, didn’t back down, didn’t try to hide behind a euphemism, but damned this is an ugly ad, for it’s look as much as it’s content. The ad is so extreme in it’s claim, that it’s hard for me to judge how effective it’ll be.

To me, it feels like it’s trying real hard, almost too hard.  Desperate might not be the right word…, I think the word I’m looking for is pandering. Hey Kentucky, you’re Christians, well Rand Paul he’s not or maybe he’s not, see don’t you hate him now, huh, please, right?  (Eyebrows making exaggerate pleas.)

There’s no formula to these things, but I believe that the harder and more outrageous the claim, the softer you ought to sell it. This ad is an 11 on the claim scale, and a 9 on the political negative cliche scale.

Josh Marshall said, “It registered for me as somewhere between a hokey Tea Party ad and an SNL spoof.” It’s never a good thing when your hard hitting negative looks like a spoof of an ad. In the whole form supporting function, it just doesn’t add to the credibility of the ad.

It’s one thing to make the decision to air the attack, but the manner it was aired makes it feel clumsy and desperate, a more refined ad, might have overcome that problem.

Paul countered with this ad stating, “He has Christ in his heart,” and that Conway is “[bearing] false witness” against him.

The response to Conway’s attack makes me wonder if Paul didn’t feel vulnerable to it. Seems like overkill to say you both have “Christ in your heart” and he’s bearing false witness again you, but I’m from Kentucky, and I’m not the one who’s had my christianity questioned.  Obviously that last line is a not too subtle attempt to invoke biblical language.  Again feels like pandering to me, “See Kentucky, I can say things like bear witness and smite, so I must be Christian….” Ok he doesn’t say “smite” but maybe he should have.

The response is pretty cliche (other than false witness which you don’t hear very often these days), dark grayed out shots of Conway, his lips flapping hard edged newpaper headlines to accentuate their point (though the script ads the line “gutter politics at its worse,” which isn’t a quote as far as I can tell).  This ad isn’t as over the top as the original ad, but if Boris were here he might say, “Rand,… check yourself…..”

So who wins this round? Both ads are pretty lame, so as far as form goes, it’s a draw.  The Conway ad feels a little cheaper, the Paul ad cleaner and slicker, but neither one distinguishes themselves.

So if it comes down to function, I’ll give the win to Conway on the technical point that they raised the issue, and it seems that’s what folks are talking about with two weeks left in the campaign.  Maybe it backfires, maybe it doesn’t work, but it’s not what Paul wants to be talking about that’s for sure.

Off-Target, Style over Substance

August 2, 2010

Target has gotten themselves in the crosshairs (you like that bit of word play) by donating $150,000 to the group that sponsored this ad in favor or Republican Governor candidate Tom Emmer.  It’s a can of worms that all corporations are going to have to face as/if they enter into the political fray.

Is the ad any good? Yeah, it uses kinetic typography, which is a style I really like and I’ve talked about a lot. I also really like the silhouette effect at the end, that’s way cool. Still, I think it’s a lot of effects, but I’m not sure what the point is?  The best I can figure they’re copying the Ford ad like old Rory Reid did (which I looked at here), even the voice is similar.

Otherwise, the effects are supporting what’s happening around it, they’re flashy, but not particularly helpful. I hate it when style trumps substance and form is given the upper hand to function.

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.

On Strategy

February 3, 2010

Found this interesting ad from Dish TV attacking Direct TV, another in the recent trend of consumer products going negative against their opponents.

For a high end ad, I think the design is poor.  Visually it’s not much better than your usual political ad, higher end maybe, but this is the best they can do?

In the martial art Aikido, your taught to use your opponent’s energy against them, their attack becomes your attack. It’s really quick clever, and minimizes differences in size and power.  That’s what this ad does.

It’s strategically brilliant, Dish Network is turning a weakness (lack of celebrity endorsements) into a strength, lower cost, and at the same time undercutting Direct TV’s endorsement strategy.  I think this message sticks because it makes sense, those celebrities must cost a lot, and they quote some stats saying how Direct TV costs more, there’s a pretty logical if A = B, and B = C, then C = A logic at work.  If they tried to link celebrity endorsements to let’s say the quality of the satellite signal, then it would be less authentic and less effective.

No I think this works and will stick, and it forces Direct TV to respond in some otherwise they risk people thinking about how expensive they are every time they roll out another celebrity endorsement.

On form this ad would score about a C-, but for function, I think it’s an A.

I had an Italian friend, and driving the streets of Rome, she would say, red lights are only suggestions.  There’s a general rule that you don’t repeat your opponent’s charges in your ad, Dish TV reminds us that rules like that are only suggestions, good as a general guide, but should be broken when breaking it give your side the advantage.


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