Monday, April 24, 2006

Hot Pants!

This is supposed to be a blog about the making of ads, but since Macs are the computer of choice for 99.99% of creatives, let me put this out there:

Mac laptops run hot. Fry-your-thighs hot.

Apple was supposed to address this issue with the new Intel-powered laptops but as the proud owner of one, let me tell you: mission not accomplished.

So here's a product idea for someone to implement. I claim no intellectual rights. Make a thin, portable pad with high insulating qualities I can put between my MacBook Pro and my parboiled legs. I'll love you for it and so, I suspect, will a lot of other copywriters.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Insert visual pun here.

I think it all started with Hush Puppies.

In the late '80s, Fallon McElligott (yes, boys and girls, it was not always just Fallon) created a great campaign for the hopelessly dorky shoe brand in which an appropriately-propped basset hound stood in for whichever style was being featured.

(For a nice article about the genesis of this campaign, click here.)

But this approach—the visual pun—has, in the succeeding two decades, spread over and overwhelmed the worldwide advertising landscape like conceptual kudzu.

Open any issue of Archive at random and you’ll see ad after ad featuring a visual pun riffing off the brand name or the product’s function. In the lower right hand corner (often cropped to bleed off the page) is a logo or pack shot, sometimes coupled with a numbingly self-evident line of copy like “Kills Bugs” or “Sexy Lingerie.”

Here’s a recent example from the current issue:

If you break this ad down, it is structurally exactly the same as the Hush Puppies ad. Portfolios coming out of the ad schools are just filled with layouts like this, no doubt because they tend to do well in the shows.

Many of the same young creatives who would gag and roll their eyes at 70s-era verbal puns (“A fresh approach to frozen peas”) think Photoshopping an insurance-company logo into the shape of a down comforter is kick-ass creative.

Puns, whether visual or verbal, are what they’ve always been: a lazy man’s way out. They require no understanding of the product or the people who might use it, substituting glibness for soul.


I can think of two good cases for exception. The first is when the pun lets you say something you can’t—or shouldn’t-- say straight up. The Hush Puppies work is a good example of this. Does anybody want see the literal version of ventilated shoes at work?

The second is when you’re not allowed to say anything. The long-running British Silk Cut campaign was a brilliant solution to this problem (it may actually pre-date the Hush Puppies work, and therefore be the Mother of All Visual Pun Campaigns).

These situations aside--and there aren’t that many of them, really—thinking of how your ad can be of some value in the world usually leads to better, more original work.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Slogans than don't suck (1)

Can we just all stop for a second and bow down to whoever wrote
“When banks compete, you win” for Lending Tree?

It is a small miracle of copywriting.

First of all, it boils down a complicated process—a reverse auction in which financial vendors review your online credit application and credit history and generate a loan offer—into five words.

In the same five words, it makes it clear what the benefit is to you.

It’s written in perfect iambic meter, the da DUM cadence rolling right into your brain.

And it’s pitch-perfect in tone, neither overselling or underselling.

Gems like this don’t get much recognition in awards shows, or in creative circles in general. Lines or slogans are increasingly viewed as hopelessly passé, an afterthought for the client.

But even in this post-literate age, a well-crafted line is a meme not be trifled with.

Copywriters: there is no shame in the writing of a good slogan, even if there is no glory.

Clients: when your line rocks, you win.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Apprentice Admakers

Am I the only one who thinks a suspiciously high number of the tasks on "The Apprentice" involves coming up with ads?

One week it was to shoot a tv commercial. Then it was a print ad. Then a large outdoor poster.
Donny Deutsch was a judge. Then Linda Kaplan Thaler. Then Donny again. Then some clients.

And the work! Crazy bad. A couple of weeks ago the task was to come up with an outdoor billboard for a new cereal. The winning "idea" was a woman in a track suit gulping cereal out of the box. Don't ask about the loser.

But what can you expect?

As I said in my last post, when clients think creating advertising requires no special skills and agencies do little to dissuade them, you get little apprentice admakers "concepting" for five minutes and some poor wretch in the bullpen at Deutsch comping it up for viewing.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Do it yourself. Not.

There was a campaign a couple of years back for Holiday Inn Express in which ordinary people do jobs for which they are supremely unqualified—brain surgery, nuclear reactor maintenance etc.—and perform perfectly, thanks solely to a good night’s sleep.

In the real world, of course, this doesn’t happen—just ask Michael Brown, late head of FEMA. But we tend to forgive the hyperbole because, well, it’s advertising.

Advertising conceived, written, filmed and edited by professionals.

All of which makes the current rage to hand over the responsibility for the creation of advertising to the people being advertised to, very weird indeed.

Some seriously big-time advertisers are doing it, like Mastercard and Chevy. The thinking, I guess, is: everyone (that is, everyone under 30) is comfortable with the technology of content creation, so let them have at it. Let consumers “define the brands on their own terms” as the planners would say.

I would say: not so fast.

First of all, there’s a big difference between creating content and creating ads. People make mixes and movies and FaceBook shrines because it’s all about them, and it’s fun. Who’s going to spend quality time, on their own dime, creating something that, if it came from anybody else, they’d try to avoid?

People who are trying to become ad professionals, that’s who.

Or people looking to game the process with snarky sendups. Just ask Chevrolet, whose DIY Tahoe campaign resulted in a deluge of “Tahoe Sucks” ad parodies posted for public viewing.

Then there’s the peculiar spectacle of ad agencies charging clients hefty creative fees for the idea that consumers should supply the creative. That is, if I may say so, totally meta. Agencies are having a hard enough time justifying their existence. Acting like ten percenters for unpaid consumer creative honchos doesn’t help.

Finally, there’s the uncomfortably undemocratic fact that most consumer-generated ads suck. Most consumer-generated content in general sucks, but when it’s the movie of your life, or your girlfriend’s, who cares? When it’s a spot for Maalox, and it’s on TV, it’s a different story.

In the early 90s, as interactive technology emerged, industry executives imagined a future where consumers decided the crucial plot turns and outcomes of their favorite shows.

That didn’t happen, and you know why? Because we didn’t want to write our own shows. We wanted to leave it to the pros.

One of two alternate realities about creating effective advertising is true:

1. This is a professional discipline requiring real skills worth paying for.
2. Anyone can do it, and should.

I have to believe it’s No.1. Running “Fill in the blank” ads encourages clients to believe it’s No.2.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

I'll have an ad. Straight up, please.

I don't know about you, but I like my ads served straight.

Not "under the radar."
Not pretending to be blog, chat, tv show
, editorial, video game, how-to manual or global positioning applet.

Are you advertising something to me? I want your name, your logo and your real web address.

When someone tells you something useful, or makes you laugh or helps you see things differently, don't you want to know that person's name?

What sends a lot of ads into Tivo oblivion isn't that they're ads but that they're boring and stupid. People don't need to be "disarmed" with unbranded ads masquerading as content. They just need a reason to care about the brand.