Wednesday, May 23, 2007

It's all a blur.

Marketers Struggle to Get Folks to Stay Put for the Commercials - New York Times

"The whole goal here is to blur the line between content and advertising message,” said Hank Close, president for ad sales at MTV Networks."

Listening to a media-sales executive exult that his network’s goal is to completely blur the distinction between content and advertising is like listening to a tobacco-industry executive talking about how cigarettes are nothing more than an optimized nicotine-delivery system.

The difference is, the tobacco guys were talking behind closed doors. This guy’s Tourette’s-like outburst was freely directed at the press.

Every time the firewall between advertising and content is torn down, it ends in tears.
The GEICO cavemen kicked ass in commercials. Advance sneak peaks at the TV series suggest it won’t last 2 weeks. Ham-fisted product placement eventually made series like “The Apprentice” and “Queer Eye” unwatchable. Ad guy Brian Tierney’s takeover of the Philadelphia Enquirer is headed down the same dead-end street.

The same technology that empowers viewers to fastforward past crap commercials also lets them post the good ones on YouTube and leverage the client's media buy by orders of magnitude. The challenge, Mr. Close, is not to pollute content with badly disguised ad messaging, but to make ads that merit watching.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Citi: not so pretty.

Well, it had to happen I guess, but seeing the awful reality of it is almost too much to take. Citibank or Citicorp or Citi or whatever it is has junked its “Live Richly” campaign in favor of ….of….

“Let’s get it done.”

The red arch logo has been wrenched from its context as an umbrella (necessary with the divestiture of Travellers is my guess) and turned into a bridge. Because Citi is your bridge from dream to reality. From a sketch on a napkin to an IPO. From, let's see...from Dick Cheney on a carrier deck to Dick Cheney in a perp walk.

The inevitable anthem intro commercial rounds up all the usual suspects: the simple, repetitive Phillip Glass-like score; the hopeful children; the intense entrepreneurs; the retired couple on the dock; the proud college graduate. Citi’s dead-man-walking CEO Charlie Prince wanted to put his own stamp on the company’s image. In this derivative, clueless effort, he has succeeded wildly.

“Live Richly” had its detractors, and for sure a bank talking about money not being everything in life is an easy targets for cynics, but jeez, at least they took a shot. It avoided most financial-advertising clich├ęs, it appealed to people’s better nature, and it set them apart. In a category where 90% of what you can say is regulated by statute, that’s pretty good. When Sandy Weill comes back to rescue Citi from his own anointed successor, I’ll bet anything that “Let’s get it done” will be done as well.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Period abuse.

Forgot to mention in my last post that this new Travelers campaign ends with this somewhat opaque slogan:

Not sure what it means, but I'll let it go. It's planner BS they had to paste onto the work to put it "on brief". No, the thing I want to focus on is the period abuse. The. Way. An extra period. Is inserted. To make the line. Punchier.

Copywriters do this all the time. I know I have (Weight Watchers. Real food. Real life. Real results.). And there is a hilarious passage in Matthew Beaumont's book E in which the agency's hack Creative Director is ID'd by a former art director partner by the period abuse in his emails.

And no wonder. Maybe as a reaction to chronic period abuse by their writers, most art directors hate putting one period, let alone 2 or 3, in headlines or tag lines. Why mess up nicely kerned type with some random...dots?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Risky business.

I made my own advertising mash-up last night. In my head. No editing software necessary.

I was watching Heroes (itself a pretty good mash-up of comix, sci-fi and nerdy soap opera) and a spot came on with this sleazy character named Risk. Risk wears a cream-colored zoot suit and throws banana peels out there for you to slip on.

I think this spot was a :60. It was lonnnnnng. And, as is the fashion, it saved mention of the advertiser to the very end. Which gave my overly active imagination plenty of time to fill in the blanks. I’d been seeing a ton of new print ads from Marsh (aka Marsh & McClennan before the scandal) that looked like this:

So, naturally, I thought this new spot was the TV translation. Here he is--the Upside of Risk we've been looking for! Except what could be the Upside of a meddling douchebag who looked like Snidely Whiplash? Wow, I thought to myself, where was Marsh going with this?

And then a telltale red umbrella appeared, and the Travelers Insurance logo. And some drivel about how Risk never sleeps so your unsurance needs to keep up, which I assume means minimizing the downside and not finding the up. And, suddenly, my mash-up movie was over. But for 55 seconds, the commercial playing in my head was not the one on the TV.