Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Coincidence or rip-off?

These two ads were 50 feet apart in the 68th Street station on the #6 subway station. Besides both being tagged by a certain Mr. "Tasty," they share the use of overlapping color layers containing reversed-out white type. The layers themselves are similar organic, rounded semi-blobs. The resemblance, at least to people who ponder art direction in public places, is startling.

And for clients, vexing. Like furious socialites at a charity event who show up rocking the same expensive couture frock as a competitor, at least one if not two CMOs are asking their agency WTF?

Well, WTF usually has one of four possible answers. Here they are:

1. Parallel evolution. Subject different designs to the same evolutionary forces and demands, and they will evolve similar solutions. The classic example used to illustrate this phenomenon is the similar shape of sharks, dolphins and F-15 fighter planes. Fish, mammal, machine, all evolved to be able to hunt, track and kill moving at high speed through a resistant medium.

In the advertising world, parallel evolution means: give reasonably competent creative teams working on different brands the same brief, stuffed with the same "insights" from asking the same questions to the same focus groups in Paramus, subject their work to the same testing methodology, and you will get more or less the same results, arrived at independently, no copying involved.

That's why you typically see this type of imitation in work within the same category, and usually in a category where there's a lot of research and testing. It's why you'll see four different campaigns for diabetes products, all of which have people in the ads saying "I took control." Listen to enough patients suffering from diabetes say "I don't feel in control of my life" and that's what happens.

2. Agency-driven imitation. This is an ugly subject but ripoffs happen.Walk down the halls of any large agency creative department and you will see someone feverishly flipping through recent One Show and CA annuals looking for "inspiration." The thinking usually runs along the line of, Well this ad won an award for a mountain bike brand. If I use it for my small regional BtoB office supply account, what's the harm?
Besides which, we changed the original Franklin Gothic to Meta Bold!

This is not good, but it has its evil counterpart in reason number three:

3. Client-driven imitation. If you haven't been in a situation where a client has said to you, "Give me something just like that Old Spice guy on the horse," you haven't been in the business long enough. Rough-around-the-edges clients who didn't go to corporate finishing school or who are so senior or so rich they don't give a shit, will tell it to you that blatantly. The MBA types are a little more subtle: they'll send you a link or a clip of ad they like. They'll causally drop a reference to the fact that their boss, or their boss's boss, thinks the new Snickers campaign is great, and if the next round of work doesn't show the product logo being used in a playful, iconic way, they'' drop another hint. Eventually, someone in agency management will dope-slap the creative team and the imitative campaign will be dutifully presented...and bought.

4. Something in the water. The last reason similar ads, or similar approaches to graphic design problems crop up has nothing to do with anything as obvious as the desire to copy or moving with the herd. It is something more mysterious, more ineffable and--because it doesn't just affect advertising but also fashion, art and science, much more interesting. Interesting enough to deserve its own post, which hopefully will appear soon.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I heard you the first time.

In the first commercial break after start of play in last night's Giants-Vikings game, a new commercial from Chrysler was shown in 3 of the 6 slots.

Is that the "no matter how long your piss break is, you're gonna see this spot" media strategy? Kind of like a roadblock buy, but a urethra-block instead?

Jesus, people, do your homework: viewers don't leave a game until the 4th quarter or unless it's a blowout. They'll see your spot! And if you have that much money to burn on the buy, do all the agency creatives, producers, gaffers, grips and post houses a favor: shoot a 2nd spot.

Friday, December 10, 2010

It's not the assignment. It's what you do with it.

I was going to post about the unbelievably annoying Quiznos spot, but that would just be spreading garbage around, not confining or destroying it as it warrants.

Instead, a shout-out to a little bit of loveliness:

While creatives whinge about the confines put upon them for their next million-dollar campaign, someone—maybe a package designer, maybe a freelancer, maybe a waiter at Redhead—saw a way to take the humble “Use by…” freshness-dating requirement and turn it into a totally unexpected delight.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Of time, salt, and the power of randomness.

I read foodie magazines and this month they all have ads for Morton Mediterranean Sea Salt, the Morton people being no fools and also readers of the same titles they advertise in. So they’re getting with the program, keeping their brand on trend, etc. etc.

The ads are neither good nor bad, just workman-like expressions of the carefully calculated marketing strategy that informed them. They carry a whiff of focus groups reacting to mood boards full of Tuscan revelry, picnics in the vineyards, whitewashed seaside villas, figs and olives.

One thing they never could have focus-grouped their way to, however, was the Morton icon, the 100-year old little girl in the rain with her umbrella and her freely-flowing salt.

When it rains it pours. That sounds so lovely, doesn’t it? Like Emily Dickinson meets Peggy Olson.

The parallel “it”s, the riff on an old saying (old even in 1890), the succinct expression of product difference (Morton invented the process to keep table salt from caking in humid weather). It’s so…good.

But if the Morton girl and her tagline were not an accident of history, beloved and beyond harm from change-agent CMOs and the Peter Arnells of the world, could she be created now? What brief could lead a creative team to this girl, too young to be the purchaser, outside in the rain away from kitchen and cupboard, carelessly wasting the product as she walks?

This, I believe, is what Mark Fenske meant when he wrote “Nobody ever did a good ad by writing to the strategy.” Strategies are rational; focus groups, absurdly so. The little girl, carrying her mother’s purchase home upside down as little girls do (or did, when the store was down the block instead of at the mall, and children were still allowed to go do errands without an adult riding shotgun), splashing happily in the rain: she is not the product of rational process. She and the other random happy hand-me-downs of brand history are a precious gift.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

That rarest of things: a good banner ad

Instead of a takeover, a dripover. Much more interesting, much less intrusive.

Monday, November 01, 2010

10 Ads I don't want to see in #-D

With 3-D TVs already in stores at prices that are hurtling down towards the magic $1000 level, it's time to think about the implications for advertising. 3-D opens up new vistas for product demos, sexual come-ons and intrusive spokespeople you didn't want in your living room even when they were flat. Here, for example, are 10 spots I'm glad were made in the pre-3-D era and which I hope never return dimensionally enhanced:

1. Calvin Klein underwear. TMI times 3.

2. Olive Garden. Looks disgusting already.

3. Mohegan Sun. At least now I can look away.

4. Cialis. Ew.

5. Charmin. Too close for comfort.

6. Carl Paladino for Governor. Don't tase me, bro!

7. Carnival Cruise Lines. No escape.

8. Mucinex. The stuff of nightmares.

9. Lysol Toilet Bowl Cleaner. Not going down that hole.

10. Progressive Insurance. Surround-Flo would be overwhelming.

"So that's what occasional irregularity looks like."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Adventures in ad placement, cont'd.

Seen in the Scottish Highlands. Maybe not the best place to advertise a thrilling adventure ride in a tricked-out Land Rover, laddies.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Please familiarize yourself with the safety information in the following commercial.

The new Delta campaign from Weiden & Kennedy is shot in docu-black and white, so you know it’s serious.

Serious as a heart attack, actually. I don’t have a transcript of the actual copy, but here’s what I remember: after posing the rhetorical question “What does it take to fly?” (violating Feinberg’s rule of never starting a conversation with a disinterested party by asking a fake question), the VO goes on to say something like you have to head into the wind, or you won’t be able to generate enough lift to take off. And we see someone who’s clearly a flight instructor making the point to a nervous-looking newbie pilot.

Now, being a writer of copy, I know this whole thing is just a big, winged metaphor for the newly-merged Delta/Northwest entity fearlessly facing stiff economic headwinds and embracing change. I get it, I get it. I don’t care, but I get it.

Still. I was on a plane going to Scotland from JFK last week, waiting our turn to take off, and all I could think was, Are we facing into the wind? What if we’re not? Did I pack too much shit in my duffle? Is my life insurance paid up? How cold is Jamaica Bay this time of year?

This is not what you want your flying public thinking about with your, um, launch spot. And the theme line—“Keep climbing.” Sweet Jesus! Who wants to hear that snatch of cockpit chatter?

Climb! Climb, dammit!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My life in pictures

Two campaigns I'm intimately involved with, one now and one back in the day, cohabiting the same transit billboard.

To the reasonable question, "Can't you do anything that doesn't have a blue background and big headline-as-art?" the answer is yes, but I agree you wouldn't know it from this, er, mini-portfolio.

Thanks to Peter Hubbel for noticing and capturing.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Dispatch from Social-Media Loserville.

What happens when you join Facebook and get alternately creeped out and annoyed by it so you have no "Friends"?

You get publicly humiliated.

My daughter was kind/cruel enough to show me what popped up on her Facebook homepage last week:

I have no idea how many other zillions of people saw this. And please, no mercy friendings. I don't want your digital pity.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Accidental truth in advertising.

Some advertisers get so twisted up in their own lies and are so tone-deaf that they wind up inadvertently speaking the truth.

Consider if you will the new campaign from United Healthcare. The theme line is “Health in numbers.”

Why would a managed-care organization ever say something like that? Are they insane? Did a bitter proof-reader or disgruntled studio person remove the words “is not” between “Health” and “in” after one too many denied claims?

Numbers, after all, are not the solution, at least not to the average person. Numbers are the f****** problem. Policy numbers, claim numbers, phone numbers, reason for denial numbers, annual cap on benefits numbers, and the ever-rising number you see on your paycheck every 2 weeks that gets paid out to maintain your coverage.

So did United Healthcare and its agency have a massive wave of contrition, and decide to confess the truth—that healthcare insurance has been reduced to a dehumanized, soulless algorithm?

I’m guessing no. I’m guessing they got clever. They decided to cleverly turn a liability into an asset in the grand tradition of Volkswagen and Benson &Hedges, and make “numbers” mean something good.
If you can choke back the bile long enough to dig into the advertising, you’ll see what I mean: numbers=size=leverage=data=more benefits for more people.

And just to make sure you hate not just the words but the pictures, they plaster numbers all over people’s bodies and foreheads, conjuring up everything from concentration-camp tattoos to UPC codes to some grim near-future dystopia where we truly are nothing but numbers.

But why quibble? Once they used the word “numbers” in the same sentence as the word “health”, they were screwed. Too clever by half, they went 180º from the truth and wound up being honest entirely by accident.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Santa or else.


The haze of liquor and cigarette smoke that hangs langorously over Mad Men doesn’t obscure the piercing truths about our business that still have the capacity to hurt.

Last week’s episode, when the Lucky Strike client Lee Garner, a good ol’ boy and closeted homosexual (he had Sal fired in Season 3 when his advances were rebuffed) forced Roger to put on the Santa suit at the office Christmas party, it tore at my heart.

In a beauifully nuanced escalation, the client went from jovial “suggestion” to more insistent request to a chilling command. And it was made all the worse by playing out in front of the entire staff.

And by the fact that it was Roger.

Choosing Pete would have meant nothing. Steeped in self-loathing, Pete would have seen donning the Santa suit as an escape from himself, not to mention a career-enhancer.

Don? Wasn’t gonna happen. And Lee knew it.

Burt Cooper? He already plays the jovial fool. exert maximum authority and to inflict maximum pain, the client chose Roger...elegant, patrician, unflappable Roger. Roger, whose ties to American Tobacco go back a generation on either side. Roger, whose inherited relationship occasionally lulls him into believing he is something other than a vendor.

Put on the suit, Roger. Put it on so I can remind you of exactly where you stand in the order of things. Put it on for your wife, your partners and all the employees with their stricken expressions to see.

As I sat there and watched in sick fascination, my wife turned to me and asked if anything like that ever happened to me and my partners.

A highlight reel of slights and humiliations, verbal cuffings and inappropriate demands unspooled through my head.

Not that overtly, I said. But do some clients look for and exploit opportunities to make us choose between our dignity and our paycheck? Yes.

We may just have to put on the beard, or carry the sack, or bellow “Ho, ho, ho,” but it’s putting on the Santa suit, it’s still uncomfortable, and the alternative, the unspoken “or else” is still terrifying in its unknowability.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Spies like us.

With the ten Russian deep-cover spies safely in the hands of the KGB (and wishing they were back waiting in the checkout line at Costco), it got me thinking what good advertising creatives they’d be.

Great creatives are natural snoops and voyeurs. They are not Joe Sixpack, but they need to create beer ads for him. They are not Soccer Moms (well, most aren’t) but they need to sell them cookies, hand sanitizer, minivans and back-to-school supplies. They are not Seniors but they need to sympathize with their aches and pains and need for financial security. Most agency creatives are urban hipsters, frat boys, geeks, emos or some other strain of boho.

So what you have are these well-educated aesthetes living undercover...listening, observing, furtively turning on Fox, scooting in and out of Wal-Mart on the DL, trying to understand regular Americans and, via the ads they make, trying to become one with them.

Every Tide commercial you ever saw, every redneck ad about huntin’, fishin’ and racin’, was an act of subterfuge, carefully concocted by people who have spied on these worlds, but who are Other.

So when the Kremlin gets done “debriefing” you, you clever moles, you may want to think about putting together your books. Anyone who can put together that convincing a facade of American strip-mall consumerism is someone who can sell anything.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Alex Bogusky's gone. I'm not.

From what I gather, Alex Bogusky's been getting out of advertising for a while..first the diet books, then the Dilbert-worthy move to "Chief Disruption Officer" at holding company MDC, and now peacing out for good.

What causes one of the best-known and most successful creative directors of the last 10 years to hang it up at the age of 47?
Is it boredom? After you've collected your 20th Gold Pencil and enough Lions to devour Siegfried & Roy, does the job of creative director seem pointless? What happened to the "My best work is ahead of me" mindset?

Lots of creative directors go onto 2nd lives that are more lucrative and maybe more fulfilling than their first ones. Look at Jim Patterson or Andy Spade or (heaven forbid) Donny Deutsch. But these guys never kicked ass creatively to the degree that Bogusky did, so it's easy to imagine their needing to scratch the itch a different way.

Then there's the whole sub-category of advertising copywriters who made the switch to commercially successful writers--Peter Mayle, Augusten Burroughs, Robert Goolrick. I don't know about Mayle, but the last two worked for me at different times, and though very different people, have in common a healthy disdain for advertising, copywriting, and everything and everyone associated with the occupation.

They're all gone, out of the business. Part of me thinks I should at least be curious about joining them.

But I'm not.

I want to keep doing this while I still have my wits about me. I like making ads. I like learning new ways to make ads. I like working with artisans--photographers, directors, editors, musicians--to make ads real. I get a ridiculous child-like thrill seeing my work, or the work of people I manage, go out into the world.

You'll get my keyboard when you pry it from my stiff cold fingers.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Because "very small" didn't sound right.

John Lennon's handwritten lyrics. These are the "finished" words. The other side of the page has even more scratch-outs.

Sold at Sotheby's on Friday for $1.2 million.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

All out of proportion

Live sports, broadcast in HD, seen on a properly configured HD TV, is a visual treat. Watching commercials dropped into that broadcast: much less so. Last night watching the Yankees game I saw, in one commercial pod, the following:

--a spot letterboxed vertically and horizontally

--a spot stretched to fit 16:9

--a spot in 4:3 with vertical letterboxing

While TV manufacturers are busy hawking the next technology--3D--advertisers and their agencies and production partners are still coping with HD and widescreen.

Like Afghanistan, there are no good options, only bad and more bad. Consider: if you finish your spot in cinema (widescreen) 16:9, viewers with regular (4:3) TVs will see it horizontally letterboxed. If you finish it 4:3, viewers with widescreen TVs will either see it vertically letterboxed or stretched like Super Putty to fit the screen.

Wait, you say. Widescreen is here to stay, and so is HD. Maybe, but remember: that big beautiful 1080p screen needs to be properly configured and provided with HD signal. The first is beyond most people's capability and the second is rarer than you think. Why do you suppose all those TVs in bars, gyms, banks and lobbies have their Fox talking heads all looking unnaturally wide (and Rush even more so)? Because no one set the controls. And all those Law & Order episodes cha-chunging away till for the rest of time? Low-def, baby.

The interesting thing (to me at least) is: no one outside the business even notices. First, because it's a commercial break and who cares, and second, because in a world of Flips, grainy videos and 2-inch screens, production issues don't matter much.

But take it from me: if you're selling a weight-loss product, you do not want your client seeing her commercial with everyone in it looking like a double-wide trailer because it's been stretched to fit the screen.

Monday, June 07, 2010

No thanks, I’d rather watch grainy video of oil gushing into the Gulf all day long.

I thought my last post would also be my last word on BP’s benighted ad campaign, because it’s hard to have an original take on something that every last man, woman and child on earth think is stupid.

So instead, to take my mind off all the unpleasantness, I YouTubed up an instructional video on fly tying. I’d be walled off from all the noise, in my own fly fishing geekdom, and I’d be safe.

And then I saw this:

Never mind how frikkin' ridiculous this is. If I wanted to watch BP CEO Tony Hayward lying through his teeth, I don't need to go on BP's YouTube site. I can watch the same clip, with better commentary, on Jon Stewart.

No, my question is: How did they find me? And why? It’s like one their tar balls washing up in an Indiana cornfield instead of a Gulf Coast beach. Does BP have so much money to throw at this ad campaign that they can afford to target the most obscure reaches of the internet? Is this ad also appearing on sex dungeon sites? Or Elvis impersonator sites?

BP: go aggregate Liz Cheney’s eyeballs. Leave mine alone!

Thursday, June 03, 2010

I hate BP. But I hate myself more.

In an early post on this blog, I expressed some qualified admiration for the nuanced way BP approached the energy/environment discussion when its corporate campaign launched around 4 years ago.

Reading that post now, with BP trying to suppress pictures of dead animals and denying the sub-surface plumes clearly visible from space, I want to throw up.

But it's not about me and my gullibility, is it? Let's shift the discussion and think about someone with much bigger problems than mine. Let's think about the person who has to write the ads running now.

Let's imagine that it's a guy (for no good reason other than to pick a pronoun).

He's in his mid-30s, a Group Creative Director somewhere (they wouldn't give this to a junior creative). He lives in Park Slope. He and his wife belong to a food cooperative. The only car in his life is a hybrid and has a Zip logo on it.

He thinks BP is a bunch of lying, Earth-despoiling wankers. But he needs this job.

Painfully, letter by gut-wrenching letter, he types out the words

We will get it done. We will make this right.

He stares at what he's written. He looks at his fingers, at the keyboard. He is a marionette. He is a cockroach. He is only following orders.

His art director pops his head in. "Make sure it fits on 2 lines" he says.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Same shit, different accent.

I’m back from two weeks in Scotland and I’ve watched a good bit of British television waiting for the sun to set sometime after 11 PM so I could go to sleep. And that meant the chance to watch a lot of UK advertising.

I’m here to report that it’s fookin’ rubbish, as the Scots would say. Just as we Americans generally mistake an English accent for a sign of intelligence, we hear those same plummy tones in their spots and give terrible English advertising a free pass.

What’s remarkable is how the advertising in each category tends to suck more or less exactly as much as its counterpart in the States. Royal Bank of Scotland, which imploded more thoroughly than Citi or Wachovia and is now owned by the taxpayers, is running “real people” testimonials with the line “Here for you.” Sound familiar?

Jaguars and BMWs veer around hairpin turns in cool, desaturated, misty worlds devoid of oncoming vehicles to a trendy music track. Sound familiar?

An analgesic...can’t remember which one...was a cheesy problem/solution POS with a graphic demo showing the wonder ingredient rushing to “the site of the pain.”

Fairy Liquid (P&G’s UK version of Dawn) is doing a down-through-the-generations-mums-have-always-trusted-Fairy spot. Sepia to black and white to Kodachrome to today. Classic Procter twaddle.

Speaking of Procter & Gamble, they started this “If it works here, it’ll work there” business years ago. They even had a name for it: Search and Re-apply. Really. I know firsthand because I was always being asked to try the campaign that worked in Yemen or Uruguay or Chechnia back when I worked on P&G business.

And of course, depressingly, they were right, as they are about most things having to do with marketing. People are all the same. Blood pudding at breakfast instead of bacon doesn’t make for a different insight. It’s just a different part of the pig. The only reason for a global brand to do different advertising in each country is politics...keep the locals feeling empowered.

That’s why I want to laugh when I hear clients at focus groups in New Jersey (the world capital of focus groups) say that perhaps they should do more groups in Minneapolis or San Diego or wherever to get a more varied perspective.

Are you kidding? You can go to fookin’ Scotland an’ ye’ll hear the same bollocks, mate!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Look both ways before you name that thing.

So I was driving along this weekend listening to NPR and I heard the following:

"This program was made possible by Barnes & Noble, makers of the Nookie reader."

Christ, I thought, aren't there enough compendia of nookie in the world already?

Two minutes online set me straight: Nook® E-Reader.

A suggestion to anyone in the business of naming stuff, especially stuff whose modifier or descriptor ("E-reader") is not common parlance yet:

Put it in a sentence. Read it out loud. Sometimes the word right in front or right in back of your brand name can combine in unpleasant and unexpected ways.

Friday, April 09, 2010

What Nike and the Catholic Church have in common.

Well, for one thing they both exploit children.

For another, they are both so hermetically sealed off from the world of their constituents that it can lead them to say and do stupid and hateful things.

The Nike Tiger spot: mea culpa? Teachable moment? B-roll of a news item no longer news? Orville Deadenbacher II?

Who cares? It's the fact that Nike thought it was OK to leverage this miserable behavior in any way that's so galling.

You have to actually believe that preserving the millions of dollar of equity Nike built up through Tiger trumps simple human decency, in order to do an ad like this.

Sort of like you have to think the reputation of the organization is more important than the sufferings of individuals in order to compare criticism by its victims to anti-Semitism.

As the Semites would say, it's a shonda.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Footlong, I wish I knew how to quit you.

Three posts in a row about Subway advertising? That's the meme talking.

But obsession spun into revulsion yesterday. During one of the car/fast food/cellphone/car/fast food commercial breaks interrupted on occasion by the NCAA tournament, a new Subway spot appeared featuring two guys and footlong meatball subs.

Their shared passion for...meatballs and footlongs...sends them off into a homoerotic reverie. When they snap back to the here and now, awkwardness and overcompensating bro-ness ensues.

Ugh. Didn't Snickers try this bullshit on the Super Bowl last year, playing homophobia for cheap laughs with the frat boy set? Just because Subway is (quite rightly) perceived as skewing towards women with their emphasis on healthy eating and weight loss doesn't justify this stupidity.

"I think I'll just stick with the turkey wrap."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

$5 foot longs are f---ing fabulous!

Vice President Biden caught on mic; calls health care bill a 'big f---ing deal'

How long before the F-bomb is dropped into advertising? It's going to be in my lifetime, I'm pretty sure of that. And maybe even while I'm still sentient.

Why am I so sure? Because I hear it every night on teevee, and every day seeping through someone's ear buds on the subway or the elevator. Advertising lags popular culture and mores, but only by about 5 years. By the time the generation of marketers raised on Jay-Z and The Sopranos makes it to the C-suite, you're gonna hear advertising that sounds just like open-mike night at the White House.

By the way, not to carp or anything, but "big f---ing deal" usually means it's not a big f---ing deal at all. What the Vice President meant to say was "...f---ing big deal" as in "That $5 foot long is f---ing fabulous!"

Friday, March 19, 2010

They're ambulance-chasing scum, but they can write a mean headline.

Law firms are right up there with dermatologists and local real estate agents for horrendous ads. They all seem to think that a wildly grinning shot of the boss, combined with Microsoft Word clip art and garish typography, are the ticket. For New York subway riders, Dr. Zizmor's oeuvre is the apotheosis of the genre.

But a few days ago, on the back of a city bus, I saw a simply art-directed ad for a slip-and-fall law firm (whose name I forget, unfortunately) with a picture of a hand gripping a cane and this headline:

We've never seen a cane strong enough to support a whole family.

Whoever wrote that, if handing out business cards in the ER doesn't work out for you, give me a call.

Friday, March 12, 2010

And the winner for Next Bit of Hip Jargon Destined to Wind Up in an Ad for a Tired,Dated Brand is...

..."I'd hit that."

The critical moment may have been when Gabourey Sidibe said it about Gerald Butler on the Oscar red carpet show.

You watch. "I'd hit that" will wind up being the new theme for Pepsi or Bud Light or KFC in, oh, 12-18 months. That's the usual time lag.

The ur-moment for this type of thing was when Buick--Buick!--appropriated "It's all good" for a while in the early 2000s. Although I guess car companies would shy away from this one. "I'd hit that" and unintended acceleration problems don't mix, even in adland.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The perfect killer meme.

Admit it. "Five Dollar foot long" is the last thing you hear in your head before you go to sleep and the first thing you think when you wake up.

It's OK. You've been attacked and overwhelmed by a perfect storm of a meme, as has everyone else. We're just mindless bots in Subway's world, and if you don't believe it, check the numbers. $3.8 billion in footlongs is a frikkin' pandemic of footlong consumption.

Who came up with this killer mental tapeworm? Hint: not corporate, not the ad agency and it wasn't heard first in a focus group room. A franchisee in Miami did it because he likes round numbers and it's easier giving change on a $5 item than it is on a $10.

So much for the consumer engagement strategy.

So why, why, is "$5 foot long" so mercilessly effective? Let's break it down.

First, it's a jingle. The biggest dirty secret of advertising is that jingles work. No creative under the age of 60 wants to do them, the great jingle houses are all gone, but jingles are what everyone remembers.

Second, "Five dollar foot long" is an incredibly felicitous combination of sounds. It rolls off the tongue like it was coated with mayo, and the alliterative repetition of F sounds gives it that final touch.

Third, it's amazingly and incontestably dirty, yet manages not to offend those whose minds don't go that way...whoever they are. I mean, it's a full 12 inches long! And only $5! That's a lot of...value.

As Jessica Simpson said, in reference to full 1080p HD television, "I don't know what it is, but I want it."

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Taking down the wall.

Now roll them cases out and lift them amps
Haul them trusses down and get'em up them ramps...

But when that last guitar's been packed away
You know that I still want to play
So just make sure you got it all set to go
Before you come for my piano

I haven't posted for 2 weeks because I haven't done anything for 2 weeks except wrangle a huge, complicated new-business pitch into shape. The presentation was yesterday, it was kick-ass and now we wait.

And now I take down the wall.

The wall is covered in cork tile, and I've had one everywhere I've worked since I became responsible for other people's work.

The wall is the only way I know where I am on a project. It starts with a brief, pinned up on the extreme upper left, and then blankness. Slowly, thoughts, questions, to-dos, swipe, scrawled end-lines fill the wall. These, in turn, are replaced by layouts, scripts and key frames, and then comps, storyboards and ominous patches of bare brown cork representing stuff that still needs doing.

Eventually the wall gets filled, and its next role comes into play. The pieces get rearranged, clumped into buckets, put into order...and some get tossed. At this point, the wall is not a chalkboard, it's a scoreboard. And since my office door is open 99% of the time, everyone comes by to check the score.

It's all very low-tech and also, especially at the end, very 30,000 feet, which makes it easy to forget how every piece of paper that went up on that wall was turned into something actual and beautiful by incredibly dedicated, hardworking people working crazy stupid hours.

From the elegant "place mats" that greeted clients as they took their seats to the rocking goodie-bags they got on the way out; from the perfectly edited video clips to the carefully recreated retail shelf environment they assembled in the presentation room; from the hours of taping and transcribing interviews to the wee hours of proofreading and revising, here's to Meredith, Matt D, Kim M, Jess, Anthony, Katie and Liz.

And now the wall comes down...easy as pulling out a tack. Five minutes, and the wall is bare again. This afternoon, the first casting selects from an upcoming shoot go up.

But the band's on the bus
And they're waiting to go
We've got to drive all night and do a show in Chicago
or Detroit, I don't know
We do so many shows in a row
And these towns all look the same
We just pass the time in our hotel rooms
And wander 'round backstage
Till those lights come up and we hear that crowd
And we remember why we came

--Jackson Browne, from "The Load-out"

Friday, February 19, 2010

Here's your hoop. Now jump.

I'm in the middle of a big (for us) new-business pitch, and I'm also just wrapping up reading Game Change by Mark Helperin and John Heileman, an unbelievably fascinating inside look at the 2008 Presidential race.

A pitch, in theory at list, allows a prospective buyer (the client) to sample the actual wares of different sellers (i.e., agencies) under controlled circumstances. You can't just stand up and yammer for 2 hours and win a pitch. You have to analyze a problem, figure out a strategy, come up with novel ideas about how to execute, and throw in a few tiebreakers...a research video, a store mockup, or some other kind of meeting theater.

Maybe we should consider doing something like that for major political contests. Instead of watching candidates debate, posture, speechify and trash one another and then have to commit to one of them for at least 4 years, maybe we give them all the same brief and tell them to come back in 6 weeks with a presentation.

I'd rather watch a mood ripomatic than a political attack ad any day, and watching vendors jump through hoops is much more fun than listening to them bullshit.

Just leave the search consultants out of it.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Football, life and everything else.

My PC friends aren’t going to like this, but I saw nothing wrong with the Tim Tebow commercial. I vehemently disagree with the anti-abortion position it espouses, but this spot made its point simply, inoffensively, and pretty effectively.

In fact, the strongest emotion it evoked in me was frustration. Frustration with Planned Parenthood, NOW and other pro-choice groups who have let themselves and their cause get outmaneuvered and out-communicated. “Pro-choice” would describe 90% of Hollywood and Madison Avenue, but none of the talent there is being utilized.

I have this nagging feeling that pro-choice groups feel they are morally above something as unseemly as communication strategy or advertising...that these are activities only the Dark Side indulges in. Part of that whole “I’d rather be pure and lose than compromised and win” mind-set that cripples the Left.

I say: Shut the F up and go out and find your own upstanding mother and children. Film her talking about how she made an incredibly difficult and painful decision years earlier, when her circumstances would have condemned a child to abandonment or worse. Let her show her love and pride in her children. Put it on the Super Bowl and pass the nachos.

You’ll have something to cheer for and you’ll be doing your own daughters a big favor.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What's become of the baby?

Why is there a new baby on E-Trade commercials? Why does he have a new voice? Why is he less funny?

Don’t ask E-Trade. They’re pretending it’s the same kid, with the headline on their landing page announcing “The E-Trade Baby is back!”

Here are some possible explanations:

1) They didn’t shoot enough footage of the original baby before he turned big and uncute.

2) E-Trade got a new CMO who wanted a baby who was “on his team.”

3) The original copywriter left Grey and is now an ECD somewhere.

4) The original copywriter was also the original baby voice.

5) Somebody thought it would be a good idea to “optimize” the campaign as it headed into its second year.

My guess is the answer is some mix of all of the above. Really wonderful ad campaigns truly are lightning in a bottle, much more so than anyone associated with them would ever admit. Change even one element of the mix, and the spark is gone.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The speech is free. The media buy's gonna cost you.

I get paid to turn the business priorities of large companies into messages that influence how people think.

It puts bread on the table, children through college, and the occasional smile on my face.

So you’d think, when the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 this week that corporations were entitled to the same First Amendment rights as individual citizens, that I’d be as happy as Newt Gingrich.

I’m not.

For Justices Kennedy, Alito, Roberts, Scalia and Thomas, let me point out some differences between people and corporations.

People have feelings, beliefs, hopes and fears. Corporations do not.

People have families. Corporations do not.

People have morals. Corporations do not.

People are mortal. Corporations, properly managed, can live forever.

People speak their minds in barber shop or blogs. Corporations buy TV commercials.

Do you really want to give an entity that has no obligation to do anything in this world except make money the right of free speech?

When I write an ad, I can’t lie. I can’t say using the competitor’s calling plan leads to genital herpes. Why? Not because it’s not true. Not because my client company doesn’t like telling fibs. The reason I can’t make stuff up is because my client can get sued and lose a boatload of money. Corporations don’t like getting sued.

But now any company or trade group with the money can pour millions of dollars into baseless lies about “issues” and candidates with no fear of legal or financial exposure.
Nice job, Supremes. Nice job.