April 26, 2013
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.
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.
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.
July 13, 2012
I was thinking about the concept of love/hate. Not love (puppies, your children, etc) or hate (terrorists, traffic, etc) or even of loving to hate (Abba, Reality TV, etc) but love/hate, that odd state of experiencing both feelings more or less at the same time.
Staying on point with this blog, nothing in my view exemplifies love/hate like advertising. Everybody hates TV commercials but loves them, too. We can’t stand how commercialized our culture is but are fiercely patriotic about it. Don Draper is loathsome… but awesome!
I wrestle with it daily. The strap line for my blog is “We make you want what you don’t need.” Hell, I wrote a novel about it, The Happy Soul Industry. Advertising plays fast and loose with most all the Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony, Lust, Envy, Pride and so on. Coveting is bad juju. Materialism is pagan. Yet, these dark drivers steer us like go-carts, careening us into one another and ultimately ourselves. Outside of the Dalai Lama, I can’t think of anyone who is exempt from this conflict. And I even wonder about him…
“I love those Geico ads.”
What other thing inspires the majority in such a way? Politics? Maybe. Though when push comes to shove we generally take a side. We choose. And while it’s unlikely we ever love a candidate we certainly can and do hate the other.
There are variations of Love/Hate. We adore music but we abhor certain kinds of music. We crave food but loathe many dishes. I, myself, dig peanuts but despise peanut butter, which, of course, is another variation on this theme. And what about the laws that keep our society intact? Love those but hate lawyers. And yet what parent doesn’t want their kid to grow up to be one?
What’s unique about advertising is that we all most certainly would love a world without it yet at the same time would likely hate the world we live in without it. Paying to watch sports on TV? Times Square without neon? The Internet without banners… Okay, scratch that last one.
Ah, the Internet! That’s one isn’t it? In it’s pure state so free and unbridled by advertising. But what are the most popular domains? Amazon, Craig’s List, Ebay… That’s right. Basically all Advertising! OMG, it’s like brain freeze, which, by the way, I secretly love.
Today the water broke at gyro!
Ladies please forgive the comparison but we are in the process of birthing a new TV commercial, our first. And it is indeed a lot like delivering a child…metaphorically. And today we show the client the fruits of our labor: the rough cut. One big difference, unlike a child, the client is not obligated to love his commercial unconditionally. While I have ample reason to believe otherwise, he may loathe it.
The agency is a maternity ward, with expectant fathers pacing about, excited and nervous. The copywriter works the phones, preparing for his baby’s introduction into the world. The art director steals outside to smoke cigarettes. The account executive keeps asking all of us if there’s anything she can do, God bless her. And the client wants to see his goddam commercial. Right. F—king. Now!
And then there’s me: the most nervous and the most proud papa of them all. For it was only a few weeks ago the idea to make this spot was consummated. Until then, the scheme was but a glimmer in our agency president’s eye. He planted the unlikely seed with our client and they fertilized it with enthusiasm. But it was I who told my business partners and clients that yes we can do this thing; that it will be born on time, in budget, and most of all it will be fabulous! And so it will be me who presents this creation to our client, they who footed the bill, trusting us, trusting me, now anxiously awaiting a glimpse of their progeny: the rough cut!
At no time is the cliché about ads being “our babies” more apt than in the making of a TV commercial. For me, crafting a print ad or some graphic design is more like art. More intimate. Less frantic. Waiting to see a piece of film, with living breathing characters, acting in a story, is as amazing as it is precarious. The stakes (emotionally and financially) are massive. Even in the Internet age the average broadcast commercial costs several hundred thousand dollars to produce. Ours was no exception.
And they liked it! God willing, so will you…