The new ELR. I got mine.

The loud guffaw over Cadillac’s new anthem TV commercial, which like many of you I at first hated, has prompted me to reconsider my position… or at least modify it somewhat.

Critics deemed the TVC elitist and arrogant. And it sort of is. A douche-y, type-A yuppie parades us through his McMansion on route to his new Caddly ELR in the ample driveway, all the while boasting about his just reward for busting ass in a tough world. He’s a go-getter straight out of the eighties and he makes no apologies for his material success. On the contrary, he’s damn proud of his many achievements, his car being one of them. “It’s simple,” he says. “You work hard. You make your own luck. And you’ve got to believe anything is possible.”

As I’ve indicated, many people found the commercial arrogant or at least wanting. Their criticisms are not without merit. The man is not likeable. Nor is his rant on earned privileges. The man also states, “Other countries don’t work so hard.” Ouch.

On the other side of things, the commercial’s defenders are having a tea party. They see the spot as an about-time ode to what makes America great. It is, they argue, the Horatio Alger story of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps and “getting stuff done.” Which, if I’m not mistaken, is what Cadillac used to stand for back during, you know, the Greatest Generation.

And so the debate rages on. This story in AdAge gives you a sense of the uproar the spot caused and continues to cause.

Regardless of your take, you’ve got to give Cadillac credit for at least having the balls to strike this politically incorrect chord. It is not middling in its POV. It is not just another smarmy ode to luxury. In addition, the added publicity (positive and negative) has to be viewed as a good thing in terms of getting the brand noticed and talked about. The new school teaches us that great marketing must do more than just get noticed it must enter into the proverbial “conversation.” This commercial does so in spades.

You can’t hate me. I’m the American Dream!

Final note: Whatever gets said here, in AdAge or anywhere else: Please Cadillac, do not apologize for your commercial. For any of it. F—k ‘em. Make another. To thine own self be true. I’m so sick of our “sorry for everything” culture. Aren’t you? What is more insincere than “I’m sorry if I offended anyone?” Precious little. Frankly, I believe it is not in our nature to be politically correct. We merely pretend in order to keep our jobs and get invited to brunch.

Wendy’s sanitized hipsters… so painful

Watching football games on TV this weekend we saw an inordinate amount of commercials for fast food. In one quarter of the 49’rs game there were spots for Burger King, Wendy’s and Jack-in-the Box. Oddly, I don’t recall seeing anything from McDonald’s. More likely I just don’t remember seeing them. Like beer and cars, birds of a feather tend to flock together.

What I also don’t remember is the last time I paid attention to fast food (QSR in the parlance of marketing) as a category. Not to come off as a food snob but I haven’t eaten at any of these places in years, maybe even a decade. Can that be possible? Fast food is ubiquitous to the American experience. You’d think I’d have indulged at one time or another: at an airport, on a road trip or just because of a craving.

But no, I don’t think so. Not even for a bag of fries, which has always been a weakness of mine. Clearly, I am not the target anymore. Like booze, which I gave up ten years ago, I don’t even think about fast food anymore. No doubt I am better off but it still makes me wonder. When did I stop? Was my abstinence a conscious decision?

In any event, there’s zero chance any of the commercials I saw were going to change my mind. It’s not that they were terrible (we’ve seen worse) but they were just… there.

What the hell is going on here?

Even the Jack-in-the-Box spot (from a campaign I admire) felt busy and convoluted, something about a zany director making a commercial about two kinds of gigantic sandwiches. Like the food itself the spot was colorful, in your face and full of cuts. Kind of ugh.

But anything is better than Wendy’s “adorkable” red head and her relentless shilling. I get it. Let’s create a sanitized, hipster version of the brand’s namesake, Wendy. It’s an obvious play and I can’t begrudge them for making it. Still, this chick grates on me and has done so since she first replaced the old man, who up until his death was Wendy’s spokesperson from before the Internet. Red, or whatever they call her, is like, well, the red headed stepchild of Progessive’s Flo, whom I also loathe.

Kill two birds with one stone… please!

And what can I say about Burger King, where “Taste is King?” Not much I’m afraid. I recall pictures of food, a smiling woman in the restaurant, more pictures of food. Yawn.

Not long ago I wrote that fast food, as a category, hasn’t moved the needle from a cultural standpoint in decades. Yes, they added salads. Made more of their coffees. But popular culture just kind of passed them by. I’m not stupid enough to think millions of people aren’t clogging their arteries on such fare but with chefs being celebrities now, and everyone posting pictures of their dinner on Instagram, who really gives a shit about the latest bacon cheeseburger?

I don’t. Do any of you?

God forgive me…for this commercial.

What’s more unsettling? That a car commercial for Hyundai makes a commercial extolling clean emissions by depicting a botched suicide or that it is only the latest car company to be attached to such grim fare? By now you’ve seen the spot. Likely only once. For who would want to watch it again?

More than advertising technology, it seems this morbid story is telling us something about ourselves. Something sad. Trying for adult wit -I suppose- what I take away from watching these films is no less than the death of hope. The undertow of despair is unavoidable. Regret permeates. In particular, in the Hyundai commercial, where a man, having survived an attempted suicide, forlornly walks back into his tidy suburban home, shoulders slumped, wearily accepting another day of existence. Maybe he is in a loveless marriage. Perhaps he has lost his job. Was he chronically depressed?

Honestly, it’s not the lack of sensitivity I question. The Hyundai film is quite sensitive. To a fault. By going for complete realism it achieves melancholy resembling an Ingmar Bergman film. And that’s the problem. We are left pondering the human condition. Not the nifty car.

I appreciate, sometimes even adore, dark humor in films and TV. But in advertising? Here it seems, well, just plain wrong. Ultimately, advertising should leave the viewer feeling something positive about what it’s selling. Emphasizing a negative about life is perfectly acceptable when the advertisement provides the solution. Dramatizing a fire to sell insurance for example. But in these spots the solution is unintended, bittersweet at best. Misguided to a fault.

Besides, aren’t cars supposed to bring joy and freedom to Everyman? Not so for these blokes. By choosing their automobiles for coffins these sad sacks have unwittingly made them symbols for all that has gone wrong in their lives.

I have to wonder: After coming up with the concept and its clever irony (forgiven) didn’t the copywriters then realize this deeper, sadder one? We think about our work, don’t we? If not the authors, the wise creative director or planner or account executive (let alone the client) is supposed to. Creative license like this is unacceptable.

I’m not saying death is off limits in a commercial. Or that it can’t be funny. Below is one of the most famous TV commercials of all time. It’s about a car. It’s about death. Yet, it handles both with life-affirming joy. Failing to kill oneself in a car because it has clean emissions does neither.

My perspective on Cisco’s new ad campaign. I’ll be blunt. It’s not a commercial yet. It’s what we call a “rip-o-matic.”  As such, it’s nicely done. But still.

For those unaware (or is it unawares?), a “rip” is a video put together by an agency to sell the “big idea” to a client. Often referred to as a manifesto or mantra, they are considered du rigueur in pitches and in the delivery of new campaigns. I have made dozens in my career. We all have.  Anthem videos are a great tool and I won’t sell them short. However, they are not commercials. They are more like commercials for commercials.  In a presentation we might use such a video to explain our strategy or set the stage for a new tagline.

Speaking of taglines that is another reason I’m nonplussed. Theirs: Tomorrow starts here. Gee whiz, I was wondering about that. Aren’t you weary of companies stating the future is right here right now? Trying to own the future is like saying you’re cool.  Show me. Which is what the creative should have done in lieu of a pedantic anthem.

Allow me a tangent. Certain random pieces of copy drive me bonkers. Not because they are loathsome clichés or shilling too hard but, oddly enough, because they are precious and unique. To a fault. Like when millennial hipster John Krasinski applies the made up word “coolish” in an Esurance commercial. Here it’s the phrase “The Internet of Everything.” I think they’re going for childlike wonder but it makes me cringe. In both cases I suddenly become aware of the copywriter and that bothers me. Maybe I’m alone in this. Maybe “The Internet of Everything” is coolish.

So, I’m wondering why Cisco and its famous ad agency opted for a piece of Wikipedia-like show and tell instead of good stories and remarkable feats. Perhaps the brand team fell in love with their baby too soon and birthed it prematurely? Lord knows it’s hard denying a client who loves something even if it isn’t cooked yet.

My guess is the real advertising will come soon enough.  Maybe tomorrow, which I’m told starts here.

Shiny happy people waiting to inhabit your ad…

One of my favorite (read least favorite) clichés in all of advertising is the usage of random portraits in lieu of images possessing actual conceptual value. You know what I’m talking about: a person, usually the alleged service provider or user, almost always standing and looking at you. For “variety” the subject sometimes has his or her arms folded. Other times he or she is holding a clipboard or a tablet suggesting business is taking place. If a uniform is appropriate (nurse, doctor, foreman, technician, etc.) then we typically see that as well. Of course, these folks are smiling. Smiling people are good for business.

Often these portraits have been pulled from a huge database of shiny, happy people. From numerous stock emporiums one need only search sex, age, race and occupation and up they pop: hundreds if not thousands of generic humans ready for your crappy ad.

And make no mistake the ad will be crappy or, at best, passably acceptable. For how could it be otherwise? In the same way a processed pastry is passably acceptable to one made from scratch so are factory made ads.

He has a stethoscope! She has a clipboard!

Like rack bought pastry the reason for them is almost always budget, or lack thereof. In comparison, producing ads from raw material is costly. Many clients don’t wish to spend money on custom made advertisements. Times are tough, right? Yet, even during a flush economy these same advertisers balk at spending real money on making ads. Marketing is typically viewed as a necessary evil and one of the first areas in a business plan to be compromised. Sadly and ironically, these same advertisers spend unimpeded monies for researching their ads, shelling out oodles of money on focus groups and the like. For some reason, this costly component of marketing is never compromised. Clients and research vendors righteously claim that understanding the consumer is critical to any marketing plan.

What they fail to grasp is that the consumer, as David Ogilvy famously pointed out, “is your wife.” And if one doesn’t think his wife hasn’t grown weary of generic images smiling at her from a bazillion ads then one is either an idiot or slightly misogynistic.

Should anyone think digital platforms have diminished this cliche’ think again. if anything, the habit is growing. Given tablets and mobile devices, what else are we going to put into such tiny squares but head shots and more head shots? It’s one key reason why monetizing Facebook via advertising is so difficult: the ads invariably blow. And they blow because millions of pocket-sized smiling faces make for a sad, sad world.


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