“Supar Tool”

These films for Old Navy by my former colleague, Jamie King and his creative partner, Roger Camp came out of nowhere. I didn’t even know Jamie and Roger had a thing going with Old Navy. When they started their new agency, Camp + King in San Francisco I assumed they’d have to start small and go from there. Old Navy is a lot of things but it ain’t small.

And neither is this startling campaign, which makes uproarious parody of fashion advertising, suggesting it’s time to “dress like a man…not that guy.”

In one film, “that guy” is an ass-clown in pleated khakis, ill-fitting polo shirt and a fetish for his smart phone. In other words, like every other guy you see at the airport. How are men like this ever let out of the house dressed like that? You’d think their wives would intervene. Being a guy myself, I mostly don’t give a shit. Regardless, it’s an ingenious send up of suburban males and their hopelessly outré wardrobes.

A second film, “Supar Tool” goes the other way, in a more expected (but no less entertaining) parody of those smarmy, effeminate fashion campaigns that play more like soft core porn than clothes advertising. Yes, we’ve seen these sorts of parodies before. Years ago, Saturday Night Live famously did one that still resonates. But so what? Adland has been copping ideas from SNL as long as I can remember. In my view, being derivative is only a sin if you do it poorly.

These spots, by Epoch Films’ director Greg Bell are wonderfully produced, delivering the concept in spades. Though made for the Web the films look like a million bucks, proving that making cheap video for the Internet is a decision not a mandatory.

Say what you will about Old Navy they always push the envelope. They are fearless. And while I didn’t like many of their previous campaigns from Crispin Porter & Bogusky, I respected the hell out of them. Rarely if ever have they resorted to posing models in contrived locations. In this latest effort they literally make fun of the convention. I don’t know if Old Navy can ever be a real man’s store but this is a hell of a way to find out.

The “comfortable” agency? More like comfortably ahead.

You’ve got to hand it to agency McGarry Bowen. They just keep winning business. After reeling in a big piece of the Sears account a couple weeks ago they followed it up this week by catching all of Burger King.

Not to kill the fishing metaphor but this monstrous haul is no fluke. McGarry Bowen has been on a winning streak for years. Maybe even since their inception in 2002. According to Wikipedia, in 2008 MB was the largest independent advertising agency in New York. Clearly, those numbers will have to be revised.

The paint was hardly dry in its Chicago office (2007), when they began pulling in account after account, namely from Kraft Foods and often at the expense neighboring agencies, including mine. It seemed they were winning new business every week, and this during the height of the recession.

What gives? Was this seemingly innocuous babe born of the devil? Not likely. Lord knows there’s nothing naughty about their work. Even their relatively edgy “Don’t be Mayo” campaign for Miracle Whip was pretty straightforward when you got right down to it: vignettes, music, supers. Old school.

And indeed principals, John McGarry (Chief Executive Officer), Gordon Bowen, (Chief Creative Officer) and Stewart Owen (Chief Strategic Officer) are as old school as they come: Y & R guys from New York. In addition, many on the management team in Chicago grew up where I did, at Leo Burnett. All these guys are old enough to remember The Brady Bunch and the ads than ran on it. Who said advertising is a young man’s game?

John McGarry: “Dag Nabbit, I’m good!”

So, what’s their secret? I know CEO’s from every agency in America are dying to find out. I’ve heard some theories, one being that the founders are totally committed to relationship and brand building, notions that most every other firm considers antiquated and even trite. Are they? Here’s what the inimitable George Parker had to say about it on his controversial and popular blog, Adscam/The Horror:

“Perhaps all the fucktards out there (aka Big Dumb Agencies) pontificating about how they are social douchnozzeling and friending, tweeting, liking, whatever, should wake up and realize that having gone around the track a few times on all this communicator – conversationnozzle – shit… What they (clients) really need is a fucking ADVERTISING AGENCY!”

For the entire new century the hippest agency on earth has been Crispin, Porter & Bogusky. And rightly so. Their winning streak of both business and creative awards was unsurpassed. (I even called them the Doyle Dane Bernbach of our time.) Until now. Whether I was right or wrong, CP&B lost the Burger King account to McGarry Bowen.

Does this signify a changing of the guard? If ever two agencies were polar opposites it’s these two. Avi Dan, in a piece for Forbes, stated,

“maybe post-recession clients are not in a gambling mood. McGarryBowen is the ultimate safe choice. Sort of the advertising version of “Nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM.”

I’m not going to editorialize; I admire both agencies. But I’m pretty sure only one of them is hiring right now. My take: MB and CP&B balance each other out. Like yin and yang. Maybe shops versed in both schools are where it’s at, places like Goodby and Wieden.

Making fun of monks may not be very zen but it is intrusive.

We’ve all seen the commercial, the one where Tim Hutton has dinner at Tibet’s expense. If you didn’t catch it on the Super Bowl (all three of you) then you most certainly read about it EVERYWHERE. The damn thing made the front page in all the papers. Conan did a skit. Bloggers went bonkers. Children cried! And now even I am putting in my two cents.

My opinion: Yes, it was crass. But crassness is why it was so intrusive. And intrusive is something advertisers want to be, especially those seeking marketing communications from a certain shop in Boulder Colorado. CP&B promises fame for its clients. Period. And fame is what they delivered.

Groupon is now covering its tracks claiming that consumers didn’t see the big picture; that, in fact, they are a socially aware company. That the causes they make fun of are actually near and dear to their hearts. That if one looks on their website one will find links to charities sponsoring the very causes they poke fun at. This morning, I read they are also “tweaking” the commercials so that all this ‘goodness’ becomes clearer to the consumer. Then I read they are pulling some or all of the work from air. What next: A mea culpa from the CEO?

Too late. The spot ran on the Super Bowl and that means it is part of history. Better said, it made history. Therefore, it did what it was supposed to do. Agency CP&B made yet another client more famous than they were before contracting them. No easy feat if you’re Groupon.

And it wasn’t the first time they’ve done so using shock and awe. Remember Crispin’s campaign for VW, which horrifyingly dramatized car crashes? Or when they gave Whoppers to poor people in third world countries? CP&B pushes buttons other agencies (and their clients) don’t, won’t and can’t. It’s their M.O. And they fearlessly stick to it.

And Groupon knew it. Why else would they have contacted them? They wanted dynamite and they got it. In my opinion, for them to pretend the collateral damage was wholly unintended is more offensive than the commercials.

And while King Consumer can react to the work as he or she pleases, we in Adland should think hard before throwing stones. Emulating CP&B has long been a silent mandate in many creative departments. This could be one of those teachable moments for all of us. Knock it off or lighten up. But before taking sides, take stock.

Something else. Alex Bogusky left his namesake agency for personal reasons. Once, he was their creative leader and conscience but that same conscience directed him elsewhere. A higher calling, if you will. He is now fronting a socially aware brand of capitalism called “Common.” Could it be Alex wearied of creating drama reckless of his moral compass? I would love his take on the Groupon campaign. Wouldn’t you?

Update: I had the spot posted above but it was yanked from You Tube, ergo the Tibetan flag…

The Shack wraps on Christmas

My opinion, the best TV holiday ad campaign (linked below) this year is for Radio Shack, by Butler Shine Stern & Partners. The idea is simple. Giving the right gifts can make you a superhero. My favorite executions depict various Christmas morning scenarios, whereby gift givers are transformed into mostly ridiculous super heroes, from a transformer-like robot to a flexing wolf boy. The family dog setting the Yule log ablaze via laser eyes is one of many comedic high points.

It’s not the strategy that impresses; we’ve seen it before, many times. For me it’s the execution of these spots that I appreciate. Like the DirecTV NFL Ticket campaign from Deutsch, the work achieves perfection via simple vignettes, attention to detail, good music and winning characters.

Inspired by popular films like Kickass and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, the superheroes are, as said, ridiculous. They are low on muscles but high on charm. They are laughable caricatures, which makes them and the spots loveable and not just for young hipsters but everyone. No easy feat. Being all-inclusive and funny is almost an oxymoron in today’s bifurcated pop culture. Old and young, gay or straight, minorities; everyone can appreciate these silly personalities.

Better yet, the scheme totally fits the brand image Radio Shack is trying to convey: a simple, small & fun electronics store. Competing with big box retailers like Best Buy and Walmart (let alone Amazon, ABT and others) has to be brutal. Frankly, I’m surprised Radio Shack is still around at all. But I’m glad they are. Not only is the creative entertaining, it also leads me to believe Radio Shack is a viable alternative to the crowded, chaotic and complicated experience of buying electronics anywhere else. Nice job.

View the Radio Shack campaign, courtesy of Adfreak.

The glossy new 60-second TV commercial for the Window’s Phone is a gorgeous piece of filmmaking. Great acting. Great directing. Great pacing. Great music. The copy sounds great, too: “It’s time for a phone to save us from our phones. New Windows Phone. Designed to get you in and out and back to life.”

Numerous vignettes depict painfully true scenarios of people staring into their Blackberries and Iphones while ignoring real life. My favorite (and there are many good ones) is of a bride texting at her very own wedding as her father walks her down the aisle. In all, the campaign is a very revealing portrait of our mobile culture. We multi-task therefore we miss out on “ real life.”

Unfortunately, the reasoning has a fatal flaw. A new piece of hardware or sizzling software isn’t going to change people’s behavior one iota. If anything, the Windows Phone will only make it worse. The fact that you can now get to your apps faster does not mean you will get done with them faster. That’s not what will happen and you know it. Instead of getting you somewhere quicker, a faster car on a faster track means you’ll only try and go farther.

The strategy for this lovely film is flawed because it doesn’t take into account the real motivation behind our obsession with smart phones. We want to be on them. We prefer being on them. Even when Sally’s so-called “real life” gets interesting (a date for example), it’s already happening to her. That fish is in the boat. Therefore, she needs to be working on the next date or checking in with her GF’s at the party. And so on. Right or wrong, that’s what people do.

Bottom line: If we spend too much time on our devices, the solution is not another device. For me selling the Window’s Phone this way is, at best, wishful thinking. However, it might not even matter, for any significant change or upgrade in technology will result in new sales, regardless of how it’s advertised. Just as likely is the chance Windows Phone is only feigning empathy for “quality time,” a rope-a-dope advertisers have been employing for years.

Within minutes of posting, I got a tweet from blogger, Marc Sherman about a piece he wrote saying the same damn thing as me! And another from Jason Fox. Holy Crap!


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