In a previous post I wrote about my longtime reluctance to criticize new ad campaigns. Obviously, that misgiving does not apply when it comes to praising them. If I see something I like I’m delighted to write about it here.

And so I have. And so I will.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been captivated by the ad campaign promoting the FX network’s upcoming penultimate Simpsons’ marathon, where they will be running every Simpsons episode ever made, all 552 of them, from start to finish. Fittingly, the theme: Every. Simpsons. Ever.

Though all the campaign pieces are funny, without doubt the anthem commercial is the hero. It brilliantly imagines a world decimated by some unspecified apocalypse; each vignette beautifully depicting the ruins. The detail within these tableaus is stunning, as good as any you’ll find in a big budget genre feature. Better than many, actually. In each scene is also a cleverly situated television set and on that TV a classic bit from a Simpsons’ episode is playing. Oblivious to the spreadingdecay, someone (or thing) is watching. The takeaway: while the world may be ending who gives a crap there’s a Simpson’s marathon!

It’s just the kind of humor we have enjoyed from the show itself: biting, dark but somehow always joyful. (I won’t rhapsodize about the Simpsons here. Suffice to say it isn’t the longest running sitcom in television history for sucking.)

As in every Simpsons ever it is the details of this commercial that truly make it spectacular. When Mr. Burns utters, “Release the hounds!” we witness a group of feral dogs running up the street. Upon seeing Lisa’s crooked teeth for the first time her dentist screams “There is no God!” The transpiring Apocalypse backs him up. While Homer insanely yells for his burrito two deer idly graze outside the TV shop. Against a black screen a big yellow super comes up: “WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE.” Homer pops up emitting a prolonged girlish scream.

Hmmmm… awesome-y.

FX knows their target too well. For this is every fanboys’ wet dream of a TV commercial. Dystopia and The Simpsons. I can hear Comic Book Man now: “Best. Spot. Ever.”

Second commercial pretty stellar as well…


But you’re rich, bitch!

In keeping with the start of the NBA season a spate of new TV commercials just dropped featuring two of the sport’s biggest stars: Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat’s LeBron James. D-Rose shills for Adidas while King James is rocking the new Galaxy phone from Samsung.

From the talent to the products, these are glossy, high-end films in every sense of the word.

Yet, I don’t love them. It’s hard to put my finger on why. Yes, I’m not a particularly huge NBA fan (even if I grew up during the Jordan-era Bulls), nor am I between 18 and 34 years old. Goes without saying I’m not African American. But given I make ads for a living I doubt my opinion about these campaigns has anything to do with targeting and demographics. I’m mostly impervious to that.

What bugs me about these commercials is the tension I feel as both athletes wrestle with being real and ridiculously rich and famous at the same time.

Rose’s script literally is about that tension. He says: “You can take away the money, the cars, etc…” Because Rose is such a likable young man (soft spoken, team player, loves his city, his mom, etc) he almost pulls it off. But in the end the spot comes dangerously close to coming off as a humblebrag on his part. ‘Even though I’ve got all this stuff none of it matters.’ Easy for you to say, D. I get that he’s talking about the life. I just can’t relate. Moreover, I don’t want to.

The issue I have with LeBron’s work is more conspicuous because he’s more conspicuous. James is by far the biggest star in the NBA, delivering back-to-back championships for his team in South Beach. With more undoubtedly to come. In addition to his gaudy stats, he is also infamous for his hubris-laden “decision” regarding where he was “taking his talents” and where he was taking them from.

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The king does not relate with commoners…

For a lot of people, LeBron James is still an anti-hero, one of those people you love to hate. Those people should probably get a life. Still, there is something preternatural about LeBron’s aura. And he made it that way. Which is why I just don’t buy this dad-in-the-driveway act. Are we to believe LeBron has a hoop over his garage? Come on. You know as well as I do he has a whole goddam basketball court in his house. Maybe two. While playing a regular guy chilling with his family may bring smiles to LeBron’s PR machine, I’m not there.

Don’t get me wrong. I think LeBron James has an awesome TV presence. When he’s King James or the old school version of himself or any number of other tongue-in-cheek characters he’s played so effectively. But an Everyman?

No.

Certain stars are just too f—king big. We may adore them. We may aspire to be them. But we can’t relate to them as neighbors or drinking buddies or anything so mundane. Like Tom Brady, Bono or Lady GaGa some stars should just stay stars. When they act “as if” it kind of pisses me off. Just saying…


Talk to the hand…

Visualizing their age-old theme line, “The Midas Touch,” the Martin Agency has created a talking, disembodied hand to shill for the franchise auto repair shop, a mish mash of brand equities.

For some reason, the golden, floating hand is also a tad surly. Perhaps its creators were desperate to avoid comparisons to Hamburger Helper’s talking oven mitt. News flash. A talking hand is a talking hand, regardless of attitude and color. And for what it’s worth, Hamburger Helper was there first. In any event, choosing one isn’t exactly Sophie’s Choice. You can lock both these critters in the glove compartment. Then run the car off a cliff…

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“I was here first!”

I’m not against old-school advertising. Or even critters. For example, I’ve got a soft spot for the Pillsbury Doughboy. Creating memorable characters based on a brand’s attributes works. Unfortunately, it often doesn’t. Especially in the 21st century. I’m afraid the “Midas Touch” (or whatever they’re calling it/him) has short lifespan written all over. There’s only so much concept to work with.

In the two spots I’ve seen the hand dodges a few bad jokes (“high five” and “an arm and a leg”) while reminding some rube about “getting that Midas touch” down at the corner. Yikes, sounds like a creepy come on. Hand job, anyone?

Happily, the disembodied hand works better on the Midas website. Facing out, it kind of stops you in your tracks. There, helping hand puns set up the simple engagements one would expect from a car repair site. Appointments. Locations. Et-cetera. The site is crisp and clean and, well, the hand kind of works. So thumbs up. (Get it?)

Their Facebook is a push. When I visited it the top bit was a knock-knock joke setting up a view screen for the commercial. Um, I guess so. What else are you going to do with a disembodied hand… on Facebook? Needless to say, I did not adventure to Twitter. I just don’t feel the need to follow a car repair site, let alone some bored copywriters fronting for an advertising spokesthing.

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O’ spacious skies! Motorola goes all American…

Two huge consumer electronics brands have just launched advertising campaigns with patriotic themes, which makes a fitting topic for a post given the proximity to Independence Day. Alas, like a lot of jingoistic campaigns they both underwhelm.

What is far more surprising is who did them.

From Apple we get the clunky mantra “Designed by Apple in California.” Let me get this straight. An Apple commercial is telling me that Apple products are designed by Apple? Oh yeah, and in California. This from the company that told the world to “Think Different?”

Motorola attempts to rise from its cell phone grave by heralding an equally awkward, eerily similar refrain: “Designed by you. Assembled in the USA.” Honestly, words like “assembled” belong in an owner’s manual not the tag line. Besides, doesn’t “assembled” imply the parts came from somewhere else?

Clunkiness aside, this is also the first time either brand has ever relied on Americana to sell their wares.

Why now? Why period? To me it comes off as a cry for help. And maybe it is. Everyone is aware of both company’s troubles. Since the death of Steve Jobs Apple has gone nowhere fast. Samsung is eating them up and its share price is flagging. Could this limp wristed chest beating be in lieu of anything better to say? Motorola, on the other hand, could use all the help it can get. Still, I’m not wild about this use of red, white and blue. I think people want technology to be global. Giving tech a nationality makes it somehow feel smaller. A can of beer. Sure. A $500 smart phone I don’t think so.

Yet, Chiat (Apple) and Droga5 (Motorola) are both top-flight ad agencies, among the best in the world. Maybe they know something I don’t. (Frankly, I know they do!) So, what am I missing? Why are Apple and Motorola suddenly so patriotic?

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Ad = Baby

We were previewing numerous campaign ideas today at the agency, perhaps a dozen of them tacked up in the wall, comprised of the usual bits: potential tag lines, assorted copy, found images and various “ad-like objects.” Because this was the first internal round of discussion the work was still quite primitive. This meant the usual caveats (it’s not ready, it’s not right, we’re still working on it, etc.) had to be given to those seeing the work for the very first time. After all, we did not want anyone judging our earliest efforts as finished product. Though everyone in attendance was aware of the calendar, we were nevertheless compelled to stress that THIS WAS ONLY THE BEGINNING. Why? Because it is human nature to react to what you see in front of you. One would think it goes without saying but it never does. Regardless, invariably someone criticizes an ad like object as if it were an ad. Like I said: human nature. It can’t be helped.

This got me thinking about another old saw: that for creative people ideas are like babies. Painful to endure, the comparison is particularly apt when looking at incomplete work.

To avoid using clichés, a while back I prefaced another presentation of early ideas by telling my colleagues that the work was in it’s first trimester, barely more than a nucleus of an idea. The work = baby notion stuck. Think about it. A parent viewing a sonogram of his or her unborn baby isn’t going to comment on how handsome or pretty the thing is. It isn’t. The “creators” are only going to be concerned about the embryo’s validity. Is it legitimate? Is it growing properly? Will it soon turn into a normal human being? These criteria are what we want viewers of our work to consider when it, too, is in the first trimester.

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“But I can’t see the logo.”

The next time parents view a sonogram they begin to see the child for what it will become, it’s vital organs, the sex, and perhaps certain features. The same applies for the second round of creative. Though today’s compressed deadlines often require having more completed “babies” than in the second go around of a nine-month gestation process, it’s still a fair comparison. Here is when we can see if there are any abnormalities that require serious intervention or, forgive my frankness, termination.

If we are fortunate enough to have a third internal viewing, this is where our babies better be in good shape and ready for delivery. Like prepping a child’s room, now is when we begin building the presentation in earnest. All the accouterments are constructed and set up to best “show off” our proud creation.

The client presentation is where we deliver the babies. God willing, they adore them as much as we do. But even then we caveat our ideas. “Remember, it’s not the real ad yet. It still has to be shot.” What’s that other cliché? Oh yeah, it’ll be beautifully lit.

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