Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Taking it to focus groups. That's the hard part.

You know that scene in “A League of Their Own” where Gina Davis decides to hang up her cleats after hubby Bill Pullman comes home from the war? Where she tells Tom Hanks that playing pro baseball was just too hard? Hanks looks at her in disgust and says “It’s supposed to be hard. If it was easy, everyone could do it.”

Well, I just took a look at the 5 final “consumer-generated” Doritos spots for the Superbowl, and you know what?

Apparently, everyone can do it. As George Parker pointed out, these are not bad spots. (Well, "Live the Flavor” is a pretty bad spot but the other 4 are pretty good.)

And as any number of people have pointed out (and others, including me, predicted), the people who created them are not exactly amateurs. They are art school students, aspiring filmmakers etc.

But as I watched the spots, I was struck by something else. These spots were not only pretty professional-looking, they all had the distinct feel of Superbowl spots…that sort of BBDO/DDB jokey-hyerbolic comedic style. The guy who duct-tapes his roommate to keep him away from the bag of Doritos. The rock climber who loses his grip because he’s clutching a bag of Doritos.

This is old school TV creative. Not bad. But not new. If you showed it to David Lubars he’d kick you out of his office. And this is the future of advertising? Having people who are trying to break into the business do work none of us would view as fresh?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Age and Advertising, Part Two

Literature is strewn with examples of writers creating and inhabiting characters totally unlike themselves. James Joyce’s Molly Bloom... Michael Haddon's autistic Christopher Boone... characters like these are so convincingly wrought, they stand as feats of pure imagination.

And then there’s advertising.

Walk around any creative department and it’s 1955. Women (and gay men) work on cosmetics. Men work on cars. Young men work on beer. Middle-aged creatives, what few there are, are in management or herded off to work on pharma.

Defenders of this caste system invoke the “Write about what you know” approach, saying (if not necessarily believing) that creatives whose age and gender mirror the target group will have better “insights” that “resonate” at a deeper level.

Excuse me, but how insightful do you have to be to introduce a new stuffed-crust pizza? And anyway, aren’t the “insights”--so hard-won in endless rounds of focus groups—already there on the brief?

Off the record, agency managers will tell you that client comfort has a lot to do with it too. I have a very good friend who lost her job working—of course—on a feminine hygiene product account when a new client decided she was too old.
Talk about double jeopardy!

Let’s suppose, just for a moment, that casting by age for different types of accounts makes sense. Let’s say you have the Red Bull business. Do you really want a 50+ creative working on it? Speaking personally, there’s no part of my life that requires knocking back a lethal shot of caffeine at 2 AM. None. The only thing that’s going to give me wings at this point is going to the Hereafter.

So fine: to work on a young person’s product it sometimes helps to be young. But now let’s turn the question around. To work on an older person’s product, does it help to be older?

This is where things get fucked up. Because the typecasting only runs in one direction. No one has a problem with a 28-year-old creative working on life insurance, cognac, luxury sedans or (women only please) wrinkle cream. But maybe they should.

Just as there are ads—I’m sorry, I mean branded consumer engagement content—that are totally five minutes ago for their 20-something target, there are also ads that are hilariously wrong for their 55-year-old customer.

Here’s a good rule of thumb:

If you are someone who still sees a role for Red Bull in your life, you have no insight into life insurance.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The plant tour

Yesterday I got on my client’s corporate jet and flew to Nebraska to take the plant tour, thereby violating Fenske’s Anti-Law #9.

What can I say? Private jets are fun, even when you’re going to a factory in Nebraska in January. It’s like my children, when they were little: they thought the coolest part of any trip, whether it was DisneyWorld or the Berkshires or LA, was room service.

Clients like creatives to take the plant tour because there’s the possibility they’ll see something there to inspire them creatively; also maybe because they secretly delight in seeing smartypants hipsters so far out of their comfort zones. But the truth is, beyond a certain point, additional knowledge about how a product is made isn’t usually helpful. It either bores people or tears away their illusions (e.g., hot dogs).

Still, spending a day with people who live outside the irony zone and care to an incredible degree about making the best product they can, can get a guy pretty motivated about making ads, so going on the plant tour accomplished its goal, if not in the way the client intended.