Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Is that a Na'vi in your Happy Meal?

A few days ago I saw "Avatar", which is the best argument in recent years for the continued existence of movie theaters. The visual experience is overwhelming, and the old-fashioned good-triumphs-over-evil storyline prompts communal feelings of joy and triumph.

The very next day I saw a McDonalds promotional spot that, in the way these spots do, mashed together bite-and-smile shots with clips from "Avatar". I don't blame McDonalds for jumping on the "Avatar" bus, and I certainly don't fault James Cameron and his bankers for laying off a chunk of their $350 million bet. The co-promotion itself is pretty ambitious, with scannable code on McDonalds packaging that you show to your computer's webcam to unlock proprietary "Avatar" content online.

But the :30 spot is a horror. I've worked on fast food, so I know the promo spots go to the B-team. It just kills me to see images from this beautiful movie flattened, shrunk and dunked in ketchup. How much better it would have been to have 2 dudes shoving fries in their face talking about the movie:

"Didja see Avatar yet?"
"No--how was it?"
"Can't really describe it, man. You gotta see it. Don't eat that last fry."
"Just tell me about that blue chick."
"You gotta see it. Talking about it just ruins it."

etc etc

Sampling laundry detergent or cookies works. Sampling art: not so much. Here it would have been better to suggest, conceal and tease.

Monday, December 21, 2009

How to sell buying less.

One of the nicest sentiments I’ve seen expressed in any, er, branded content this holiday season isn’t even a holiday ad.

It’s eBay’s new campaign, an example of which you see above. If you can't read the headline, it says "Last year's music player at half price still plays this year's music at full volume."

The urge to get and have will always be with us, but eBay’s message that gently used things can still have meaning and value is a good one, and in sync with the 2009 zeitgeist without being manipulative.

Spending $150 for last year’s model instead of $300 for this year’s doesn’t automatically mean $150 left over for charitable giving. Or debt reduction. Or savings for college. But it at least opens the door of possibility, and gets you thinking.

Not to mention, it’s a very smart, insightful way to get people to think differently about eBay, and it isn’t even the first. Goodby’s “People are good” campaign of a few years back, when people still feared internet commerce with strangers, was crazy good too.

The only off-note is the stupid endline “Come to think of it”, which has been used on everything from cigarettes to cars to food—usually by brands that are on the brink of extinction because no on thinks about them anymore.

The best endline would have been no endline. But that doesn’t take away from a singular achievement: a campaign that sells its product hard at the same time it encourages you to be a better person.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

It took a lying evil behemoth to get me to blog again.

It’s no blinding insight that advertising often resorts to, ahem, a selective presentation of facts to make its case. So do we all, every day, in our dealings with others. Freshly blown-out hair and artful make-up are a selective presentation of the facts. Your resume is a selective presentation of the facts. That guy’s picture on is a selective presentation of the facts.

We live in a world of truthiness. We know our mileage may vary. We know prescription drugs have all sorts of side-effects. We get it. But there are instances in advertising, as in life, where the presentation is so utterly, fantastically deceitful, so at odds with “the facts on the ground” as the generals say, that even a lard-ass, narcoleptic failed blogger is roused to protest.

Seen this ad?

You can’t have missed it. AT&T, which was seeing big share gains against Verizon Wireless purely because of its exclusive iPhone offering, was knocked on its ass when Verizon Wireless started its “We have a map for that” counter-terrorism surge. “We have a map” isn’t going to win anything at Cannes this year, but it’s tearing a new one for AT&T by reminding everyone of a simple truth: AT&T’s coverage sucks. That they appropriate and pervert Apple’s “We have an app for that” to deliver the message just makes it nastier and more memorable. And the visual comparison of Verizon’s coverage, blotting out the entire map of the United States except that place in Idaho where the Unabomber lived, to the hollowed-out emptiness that is AT&T’s coverage, is incredibly powerful.

So how did that anemic coverage schematic grow into the vast orange, sea-to-shining-sea coverage map in AT&T’s ad?

They lied. Not in the “We can grow your penis overnight” way of low-life, unregulated advertisers. Because AT&T isn’t a corner hustler. It’s a big company, with a big legal department. So they did it the old-fashioned way: in the fine print.

As a service to readers in their baby-boom years, and to young ‘uns who read digital newspapers, let me bump it up a few point sizes, make it nice and big so you can read it:

“Map depicts an approximation of outdoor coverage. Map may include areas served by unaffiliated carriers, and may depict their licensed area rather than an approximation of their coverage. Actual coverage area may differ substantially from map graphics.”

“Actual coverage may differ substantially from map graphics.” This is not “Your mileage may vary,” brothers and sisters. This isn’t even Glen Beck on a bad day. This is lying, corporate style. For shame.