San Francisco is the land of tech. This is where all those companies that advertise in airports live. You know whom I’m talking about. But do you know what they’re talking about? Sometimes it’s hard to tell from their ads. Even their names are an enigma. With all those “Q’s” and “X’s” and “Z’s.” And what funny logos they have, those swishes and swirls and crazy colors!
Many are important, big companies. Billion dollar companies. Fact is the modern world could not exist without them. We recognize a few, especially the ones that make hardware and, of course, that one with the cute Apple.
But the other ones.
Mostly makers of software, they represent the lion’s share of companies in Silicon Valley. No surprise some of them are my clients. Or will be, God willing. Hi guys. What’s up?
Do these creators of the hidden wow intimidate me? A little. I did not take computer science in college. The only code I know is the one I punch in the alarm system at home. But it’s not the technology that worries me. It’s the jargon. Especially when it comes to advertising messages. I do not use the word “solution” in every sentence. Or “optimize.” Or “data.” Must they?
In terms of tired imagery, technology has its pets, in particular the ‘Man and his Server.’ Like every cliché this one might have been cool the first 100 times. Now, it’s practically invisible.
I realize these businesses are not “consumer facing.” (Eek, there’s a phrase.) But that does not mean they have to talk to one another in code. It’s an ad for cool-ass software not a service manual.
No offense Beyonce but your DirecTV spot has managed to make even you hard to look at. Yes, you’re smoking hot. Yes, you’re talented. Yes, you’re a big time celebrity. But with the “Upgrade U” commercial, you’re flirting with becoming almost as reviled as Toyota’s “Saved by Zero.” Ouch.
Is it the jingle? Not being a fan (sorry, babe), I didn’t even know “Upgrade U” was a song from your catalog. The MTV-like credits superimposed at the commercial’s front implied as much. Either way, it’s annoying. Besides, wasn’t “Upgrade U” a DirecTV campaign last year? Enough already.
But the most troubling aspect of this spot is its fetish with gold and glitz. There’s more bling in this commercial than in the Scarface Special Edition DVD. Mired in a recession as we are, is it really appropriate for you, a rich celebrity, to be rolling around on a pile of gold jewelry? Is getting a better deal on cable really all that?
Yet, the reason I’m questioning this spot so much is because I’ve got a hunch it’s been hugely successful. Why else would DirecTV be rerunning it… and so much? Assuming the Beyonce campaign is delivering customers for its client, we are left with the highly subjective matter of opinion. Do people like this commercial? Does the agency. Do the clients?
The two criteria we use for evaluating creative at my shop are 1) pride of ownership (by agency & client) and 2) results. By that measure, the spot scores with sales results but falters on its lack of…what -Class? Integrity?
I’m sure the agency and its clients love this commercial. Or, more to the point, they adore Beyonce. I can just imagine the creative team, and a drunken suit, backstage at her show in Hollywood. What’s not to like, right? Well, for starters, this commercial. It’s stupid. Or should I say, in the parlance of hip-hop: stoopid.
November 19, 2008
Writing about horror movies has me thinking about the various genres one finds in advertising films: comedy, drama, suspense, documentary, testimonial…
But where’s horror? For the life of me I can’t think of one intentionally frightening TV commercial. Certainly, there have been scary spots. Crispin’s infamous car crash commercials for VW shocked us all. (By the way, several years before the Crispin campaign, Leo Burnett did the exact same thing for the Seatbelts Commission. Though produced, I don’t think the commercials ever ran. Management found them too harsh. Fools.)
Anyway, scary as VW’s commercials were, one would be hard pressed to label them as horror. By definition (“inspiring repugnance and dread”) they fit the term but one can’t categorize these films that way. Horror usually has a supernatural element, something outside the bounds of human reality. Demons. Ghouls. Ghosts. Creatures of malevolence. The undead. Filming a car crash –no matter how horrifying- does not make a horror film.
And the countless commercial parodies of famous monsters (Frankenstein, Dracula, etc) absolutely are not horror films. Most are scary bad. “What’s in your wallet?” The mad doctor asks his hunchbacked assistant in Capital One’s evermore-grating campaign. Horrid but it’s not horror.
Public service often uses brutal imagery to make its point. Limbless people, wasted away drug addicts, and so on. But again, these are not horror films. More like documentaries or testimonials.
Several years ago my team on Altoids set out to be the first to create true horror films. Given Altoids’ “curiously strong” mantra the goal seemed appropriate. The campaign’s rich history of creative innovation made us even hungrier for the challenge. My two able lieutenants, Noel Haan and Andrew Meyer fabricated several marvelous scenarios, which we sold to the client. Even after years of successfully breaking the rules, our client was nervous (somewhat understandably) about making true horror pictures. “We don’t want to scare consumers, Steffan,” they argued. “Not really.”
We were determined. The execution I was most passionate about featured an unholy child, alone with her music box (reminiscent of an Altoids tin), sitting cross-legged on the floor in an attic. Bent over it, she slowly winds the creepy toy, causing it to emit a painful and cryptic sound, each note building more and more tension. The fear becomes palpable. Right before the ungodly toy springs open we cut to black. Super: Altoids. The Curiously Strong Mints.
Had Pandora’s box (the Altoids tin) been truly opened? What Hell hath the girl unleashed? As any true aficionado of the genre will tell you, the true horror is in never knowing for sure.
In pre production, I recall discussing the spots with none other than director, Wes Craven. We were that serious, that hell-bent on creating horror. Alas, Wes had another film to make and we had to move on. Never the less, we made our commercials. So far, I cannot locate my favorite but “Circus Freaks” is on Fire Brands. It’s a nifty film, but it’s not scary. Is it horror?
In the end, I doubt true horror can ever be captured in a TV spot. Instead, we’ll just have to settle for “ghost ads” at Cannes.