Elephant, Residence Inn
Giraffe, Residence Inn
Call me champion of the unappreciated or call me a chump but I genuinely enjoy praising advertising that is usually overlooked, often unfairly.
This new campaign for Residence Inn by mcgarrybowen (the agency the hipsters love to hate) is a perfect example. Both agency and client represent a brand of thinking that bucks trends and invites criticism. So be it. But this new advertising has a lot going for it…
First and foremost, we have a beauty of a tagline: It’s not a room. It’s a Residence. Genius. Not only does it take the ubiquitous hotel-word “room” and deposition it as a compromise but the line also makes the brand name a hero while working its double meaning. It shares many of the same qualities as my all-time favorite strap line: “Nothing runs like a Deere” for John Deere.
Then there’s the wonderfully old school “demo” featuring animals known for their bigness (a giraffe, an elephant) freely gallivanting about their “residences” with plenty of room to spare. As far as I can tell these demonstrations are totally legit, in other words no CGI or modified stage sets. Just big animals in big, beautiful hotel rooms… I mean residences. And I have to admit these residences do look pretty nice.
I’ve never been a fan of “animal commercials.” They ‘re typically too cheesy, predictable or even creepy. FYI: I never liked stupid pet tricks. It’s my opinion these spots work because the animals serve a ‘bigger’ concept and are not just there for laughs. One could argue animals and hotel rooms don’t mix and I don’t dispute this might be a turnoff for some. But I doubt it.
Finally, the film is pretty and the writing is surprisingly witty. What can I say: it ain’t bad.
I’m betting this is not a real ad. I got it from Psychographism, a website trafficking in ad-like objects, some real and some not. I’m guessing this clever piece of outdoor propaganda belongs in the latter camp. Frankly, I’m hoping it does. Call me crazy but linking coffee to New York’s sewer system seems like a very bad idea. Especially for such a well known brand as Folgers. They would never do something this down and dirty. Not in a million years.
Zealous students of Adland (the likely makers of this work) are increasingly in the habit of creating risqué advertising, regardless of good sense. Their hearts are more or less in the right place but they are not thinking. Clearly.
Clever as this execution is, it suggests the product tastes like something steaming from below a sewer. In my book that’s a deal breaker.
Where do these ideas come from? My fear is that certain portfolio schools are partly responsible. Teachers and students alike want so much to get noticed that they abandon reason to achieve notoriety. They see fame factories like Crispin Porter & Bogusky making shock and awe and they assume they can and should as well. They see ever more crazy shit on You Tube and they assume stunts and badass behavior constitute the new standard for modern advertising. They saw famous actresses crapping in the streets in the Oscar-nominated Bridesmaids and, well, it and they were nominated for Academy awards!
Therefore, they think: Who cares if it’s a sewer? It’s shaped like a cup of coffee and steam comes out of it. That would make a great ad for Folgers!
True story. A long time ago I was working on a beer account, either Miller or Bud, I forget. (I’ve worked on both.) Anyway, we were in the middle of a big creative presentation and this team presents a commercial set in the bathroom of a bar. It was clever and it got a lot of laughs. But it was also killed. Promptly. The Creative Director pointed out that while beer drinkers do take lots of pisses the brewery would never tolerate their golden liquid being associated with that golden liquid. Or as my amigo, Joe Dapier reminds: “The reason this ambient doesn’t work is the same reason people don’t advertise on urinal cakes.”
Has advertising “evolved” is such a way that prudent creative direction no longer holds water?
Something rubs me the wrong way about Budweiser’s lavish “End of Prohibition” commercial, which first ran on the Superbowl. Not the idea, which I like. But the tone. Beer did not save America from sadness. It’s a libation. Not a cure.
The idea is based on a true story, which the commercial tells us via title card. I believe it’s the bit where the iconic Budweiser Cleisdales deliver a shit-ton of beer to a just re-opened bar. Cool. Like I said, a good idea.
Where the commercial goes awry (in my opinion) is in tone and manner. Its swaggering demeanor comes off as hokey and forced, further dramatized by a blatantly heroic musical score. None of this surprises me. The agency and client undoubtedly went for a War Horse look and feel. And why not? Both stories are period pieces. Both stories feature horses.
But the ball, albeit well hit, goes foul of the pole. Consider these images: The dusty can-opener lifted off an unused bar. The guy in mid-shave forgetting to towel off. A newsboy rushing through the street shouting at the top of his lungs: “It’s over! It’s over!” Chill out Phidippides.
Even the super rankles: “Prohibition denied Americans BUDWEISER for 13 years.” The biggest word in the sentence is the client’s name. Hmmm. The other nouns seem like they should be more important. And couldn’t AB get off their high horse and state the fact that it was alcohol prohibited to Americans, not just Budweiser?
Beer is good. And this is a good story. But this commercial is a might drunk on its own hubris.
While I enjoyed parts of it, Super 8 bugged the crap out of me. The same way a lot of movies do, particularly big budget sci/fi and horror pictures. There’s too much melodrama. Why on earth does a movie about an alien life form trapped by the air force and freed by a rogue scientist have to have a subplot about a motherless kid and his struggle with dad? I get that this links to the alien’s desire to “go home” but do the filmmakers have to pummel us over the head with it? Besides, producer Steven Spielberg already turned this trick with ET. His remake of War of the Worlds got bogged down over a father and son relationship as well. It’s shameless in Super 8.
Yet, you keep on responding to it. All three films are blockbusters. Would they not be big hits without treacle-laden lessons in paternity? It’s a good question. I concede that ET was a game-changing masterpiece. But a nastier War of the Worlds and a scarier Super 8 would have made me happier.
That’s right: happier. I firmly believe forcing modern family dysfunction into horror movies to make them contemporary is a cheap trick gone way too far. The original War of the Worlds was scarier precisely because we were not distracted by a father trying to hold his family together, let alone Tom Cruise.
Night of the Living Dead, arguably the scariest movie ever made (and most certainly a game-changer) created a completely dysfunctional family out of disparate characters trying to survive. The bonds made and severed (literally) while trying to survive an undead outbreak were far more contemporary than if we were worrying about, and in turn, fairly certain about the family unit remaining intact in the end. Spoiler alert: Most everyone dies. Some are lucky and they don’t get back up again.
I’m not railing against happy endings…or am I? I’m just weary of treacle where it isn’t needed. A father and son against all odds is great fodder for a story (pun intended). It can even work in horror. Anyone read or see The Road?
In Children of Men when the world’s lone baby is revealed I choked up too. It’s a great and necessary scene. The key is that it served the story, slamming home the horror. Not the other way around. In my opinion, putting an alien in a movie about a father and son (Super 8) is ass-backwards.
And don’t tell me filmmakers need the hugs and kisses to attract women. In Alien (another masterpiece), Sigourney Weaver’s character is not validated by the love of a good man or child. Her Momness does not require a crying, scared child. The female Alien “bitch” was ample stimulus.
Sometimes I think it’s me. Product of an early divorce, fiercely independent, I am repelled by melodrama. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate good drama. The Shawshank Redemption, Terms of Endearment, Heartburn, Ordinary People…all excellent dramas. And that’s where you find them: under “drama.” When it’s crammed into a good thriller I get sad for all the wrong reasons.
It only ran once, for Hallmark
In terms of advertising, I adore good drama because it usually means there’s actually a story attached. Hallmark Cards typically excels at delivering drama. United Airlines used to. Certainly there are others. But like most of you, I bristle at smarmy vignettes that attempt to capture drama with cliches. Fortunately, for us, the vignette is very passe. Right now, the It Gets Better Project is a fine example of appropriate use of drama.
I wrote this on location, at Sunset & Hyperion in Silver Lake, California, which is sort of like being on the corner of Hipster and Skiddly. Silver Lake is the epicenter of cool, LA’s version of the Village in New York. We’re filming a spot on behalf of the University of Southern California. You know the commercials you see during half time of college football games? It’s one of those. Chris Anthony is directing out of Dark Light Pictures.
While I won’t get into the campaign concept, I can tell you it’s pretty unorthodox for the genre. In other words, no leaping football players or lab-coated professors holding up test tubes. We wanted to provide real reasons for young people to come to USC. Given the school’s location and pedigree there are plenty of them. This will not be your father’s University commercial…
Midday and it’s hotter than the proverbial match head. But I’m under a makeshift tent and there’s a nice breeze. The crew and cast broke for lunch and are forming a line in front of the Dogzilla food truck (“Not your typical wiener”). We are using the food truck in some of our scenes, killing two birds (and a bunch of diets) at one time…
Production is a hierarchal community, sort of like an ant colony or beehive. At the center of it all is the director. Next to him is the director of photography (DP), a producer and key crew. Radiating out from that nucleus you’ll find assistant producers on the phone and production assistants getting shit done. Like social insects, none of them question their role or position.
Clients are curious members of this traveling circus. No matter how agreeable and pleasant (or not) a client is, they are still outsiders looking in. Yes, they are underwriting the entire production. But that does not translate to anything useful on a live set. Therefore, clients are “handled” by someone who will give them food and drink, show them location photos and wardrobe and all the rest. In other words they are kept out of the director’s way. If a client has issues, he or she presents them to a producer who then presents them to the director. A client may go to the agency suit or a member of the creative team instead. Either way, there is a chain.
On day 1 we had no clients. It’s just Noel, the Dark Light team and yours truly. Yet, in a very real way, Noel and I are the clients…whether we like it or not. Over the years I’ve seen countless agency creatives try to assimilate into the director’s hip orbit. Hey, we’re artists, too! Look at our tats! It seldom works. To the crew we are clients. I learned to just go with it. Besides, sometimes it’s fun being handled!
To end on a surreal note, the last shot of the day featured most of USC’s marching band performing on Venice Beach. Now that’s something you don’t see everyday…even at a place like Venice Beach, which has seen it all.
When the spot is finished, and with USC’s blessing, I’ll upload it to this blog. As usual, I thank you for your readership!