Understanding meaning without understanding words…

Tim Nudd of Adweek asks if Beats by Dre “just out-Nike-d Nike” with a new five minute film celebrating the World Cup, which begins shortly in Rio. The answer is yes and the reason isn’t the game’s featured stars’ prowess on the pitch but rather what these athletes do before the games. Hence the film’s title, The Game Before the Game. The rituals, the cultural details, the family involvement. These are the things that make this film shine.

In particular, the riveting opening scene featuring Brazil’s Neymar Jr. engaging his father in a quiet but intense telephone conversation -apparently a pregame ritual. What I especially love about this scene is the use of sub titles. The intimacy of the words is made even more poignant by seeing them.

Not too long ago, in my previous agency, we proposed a concept featuring an Italian mother speaking to her child before sitting down to a bowl of our client’s pasta, which was a huge Italian brand. While the commercial was intended for an American audience, we wanted to highlight the client’s authentic Italian heritage by filming the dialog in Italian and using sub titles. We were filming in Italy with an Italian cast for that very reason: to be authentic.

The client vetoed the idea. In fact, they were vehemently opposed to it. The reason cited was that American audiences would be frustrated by having to read. Instead they preferred we find an Italian cast that spoke English well enough to deliver the lines.

What a fail that was.

In my opinion it is the use of sub titles that drew me in to the Beats’ commercial. Hearing the men speak in a very personal way, in their native tongue, is what establishes the films high level of integrity and authenticity. The filmmakers could have chosen another way to open the spot making it “easier” on foreign audiences. But they didn’t. They could have tried getting the two men to recite their lines in English. But they didn’t.

Conversely, what my provincial client failed to grasp is that we live in a global world. Hearing other languages is a part of our everyday lives, regardless of where we live. Why should commercials be any different?

To this argument, our client said their Middle-American target was not sophisticated enough to appreciate a commercial in another language. Bullshit. While I partially agree the average American may not have patience for a movie with sub-titles they certainly could tolerate a 30 second commercial. Plus, and this is key, the fact that the characters were speaking Italian would say a lot more about the pasta’s authenticity than the inane lines we had scripted. Our pleas fell on deaf ears, pun intended.

In 2014, l like to think most advertiser’s are “progressive” enough to get that American audiences can handle a foreign language being spoken in a TV commercial as well as the sub-titles (if necessary). Ironically, in other countries other languages (particularly English) are a part of modern advertising. Granted, English is the default language of the world.

Whatever. Are we still asking if “it’ll play in Peoria?” Are we that provincial? Are we that stupid?

Special update: super similar story via AdAge:http://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/world-cup-marketers-air-subtitled-spots/293973/?utm_source=daily_email&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_campaign=adage&ttl=1404854361

Adweek: Under New Management.

They still post an occasional story about ads, under the category of “Agency.” They still have that little rascal, Ad Freak, God bless him.

But mostly Adweek is no longer about advertising. According to the new man in charge, Michael Wolff, it’s all about media. In his words, the media industry is “undergoing one of the greatest examples of modern industrial transformation… This is the opportunity we have (with Adweek) to not only be great for the media business, (but also) put ourselves in the sweet spot of what we’re covering.”

And so the edgy alternative to Advertising Age has now become an online magazine primarily serving the media. That means stories about “up-fronts” and “cable contracts;” companies like Viacom and Comcast; people like Glenn Beck and Rupert Murdoch.

It also means I will no longer be reading it. And I suspect most of you won’t be either. The fact of the matter is I just don’t care about that stuff. And neither do you.

Wolff’s no idiot, however. He’s not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. He’s just putting Advertising in its place, which is somewhere in the corner, ironically where media used to be. Wolff’s as aware of the all the “death of advertising” talk as we are. And he’s acting on it. Of course I hope he’s wrong. It’s certainly possible. After all the name of the show is Mad Men not Media Men. Yet, we already know his rebuttal: Mad Men is about then. This is about now.

It’s not like Adweek never covered the media. Back when the magazine was made of paper they ran a story or two about new TV shows and rating points. But we never read them. We looked for news about agencies and ad campaigns. We wondered what Barbara Lippert had in store. My favorite items were those dealing with agency pitches, often detailed like a sporting page, with favorites and dark horses. I loved that. Many of us rifled through the pages looking (hopefully and fearfully) for coverage about our agency and our work. If something we did was written about that meant something for the scrapbooks, something to send to Mom. It also meant our stars were rising or, God forbid, falling. Either way, Adweek was a must-read, one of the first things we did upon entering our offices on Monday morning.

But like the ‘agency memo’ or TV reels and BETA, it’s now history. For advertising news, we scroll through our favorite blogs, check Tweetdeck or Facebook. Maybe some of us don’t even bother at all.

There is still the venerable Advertising Age. One assumes Wolff’s vision of Adweek brings tears of joy to the editors of AdAge. But also apprehension. Any good editor will tell you a competitive publication is good for both parties. But then that’s J-school talk and last I checked newspapers were getting thinner and thinner, with even online versions struggling in the face of social media. Most schools don’t even call it Journalism anymore, favoring terms like “Integrated Media Training.” A fitting way to end this story, eh?


A legit men’s magazine (Esquire maybe?) has a fun feature where they ask readers to guess whether a close up photograph is a porn star achieving orgasm or a normal person enjoying something else i.e. sports, food, etc…

Out of context, it’s hard to tell the difference. Funny the faces of arousal.

It appears the makers of Davidoff Cigars are in on the joke. I found this new campaign on Adfreak and was smitten by it as well as grossed out. The campaign features men in the throes of cigar-induced ecstasy or something like it. Maybe they’re experiencing smoke inhalation. It’s hard to hell. They could be sighing or dying. The line of copy reads, “Every man has a D-spot.” Is that “D” as in death? I read somewhere the French call orgasm the “little death.” These ads seem to offer the same thing, which, I suppose, makes it good advertising. You’ve got to hand it to the photographer; they are compelling portraits. Made me look.

The saucy blogger, Jezebel calls the campaign “the dirtiest smokes since the Clinton administration” and I’m inclined to agree with her. On the other hand, as Freud once said, sometimes a cigar is just cigar.

A bit of intrigue: In Jezebel’s post, she credits photographer, Robbie Cooper. Ads of the World claims Ted Sabarese. So, who’s the shooter? Maybe someone reading can ‘clear the air.’

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Three scam ads, conspicuously void of copy.

In the still-breaking wake of the Brazilian scam-ad fiasco I detect a story that is bound to amuse half the population of the creative department and enrage the other.

When it comes to making scam ads I think art directors are guiltier than copywriters. Easy for a copywriter to say, I know. But let’s look at the evidence, which while circumstantial, is still pretty damning. We need only go as far as the nefarious 9/11 ad.

Evil scam in more ways than one

The art direction is stunning while the concept and copy are not. These truths are self-evident: the photograph, the retouching. Even the work’s many, many detractors agree: the ad looks great.

But it’s the ad’s contempt for copy, branding and readability that make it so incriminating to the art department. You can’t read the copy and when you do it’s bad. The tiny WWF logo is about the only thing linking the work to its benefactor. In this case a mercy but the general point remains: the copy has been marginalized to the point of being virtually irrelevant.

As a copywriter, creative director, awards show judge… I see this over and over and over again. And while everyone associated with the ad is culpable, in the end the art director owns the crime.

Is this a gross generalization? Of course. But when you look at the vast majority of award-winning scam ads (and I’ve seen hundreds) they are almost all strong visually. Unless the concept is copy driven, a so-called “headline campaign,” the text (usually one sentence) is down or up and away in the ad, often set in unreadable 8 or 10-point type.

Why? You’ve heard the reasons: 1) nobody reads copy 2) copy makes work “adsy” 3) award-show judges deduct points for work that’s “adsy.” You can refute or debate these reasons but you cannot deny they aren’t real. Even if it’s subconscious, art directors feel their creation is violated by copy.

A majority of art directors study fine art, be it painting, design, photography or filmmaking. Then maybe they go to ad school. By the time an AD gets real work, he possesses an artistic sensibility. Deep down the commercialization of his ideas will always frustrate him.

While many copywriters study literature, they are less inclined to carry its ideals with them into our profession. Copywriting is more clearly a vocation than art direction. We are more comfortable calling ourselves salesmen than art directors. That’s my opinion.

What might be less obvious is the hidden power art directors have in the creation of work. Copywriters are often given credit for an ad’s conception but the art directors deliver the baby. They are the last person to touch the work. Like no one else, they control how an ad enters the world. And how it enters awards shows.

Art directors shrink the type. Art directors make the logo smaller. Art directors accept copy like the mandatory it is. They are bred to make ads beautiful. The temptation to “clean and polish” an ad before submitting it to any given award show gets the better of them. Scam ads happen.

Readers- Take above with a grain of salt. This isn’t the Mitchell Report. I was merely looking for a provocative and fresh angle in which to talk about our industry. Besides, I’ve got nothing against art directors. Some of my best friends are art directors.

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How could they?

For obvious reasons, this mind-bogglingly crass “ad” for the World Wildlife Federation is getting a ton of play. The trades gave it Crispin Porter like attention, as are we in the blogosphere.

That this piece is so clearly a scam ad is beside the point. In five minutes I could pull up a hundred more just as fake. We all could. Scam ads have become the dandelions of our industry. We almost put up with them. Indeed, some of us even adore them. How else do you explain the awards they invariably get, year after year, show after show?

But not this one. This particular artifact, allegedly from DDB Brazil, has too terrible a subject matter for most of us to bear. Using blatant imagery from 9/11 is wildly inappropriate and probably (hopefully) won’t be for decades, if ever. Only the Holocaust compares.

However, I suspect it is not merely the content that riles and disturbs us but rather the way in which it was used. Nature, for all her power is not, and never will be, a murderer. Comparing the arbitrary horror of a tsunami with the man made malevolence of September 11, 2001 is…

Horrendous? Ridiculous? Absurd?

All I can say is what were they thinking? I came up with a startling conclusion: this “ad” was not created to win awards any more than it was made to build awareness for the WWF. I believe the creators made this thing to get attention. For who and why I’m not sure. But they knew it would blow up. And they knew it would blow up in September. They knew.

And for that the perpetrators are guilty of far more than scamming.

Hold on… terrorists? No, not quite. More like hate criminals.

Having proposed this theory, I don’t believe DDB (or any real agency) was responsible for condoning something like this. I’m guessing a handful of morons did it –maybe even just one or two, “acting alone,” as they say.

Of course the perpetrators will be fired…that is if they even have jobs in the first place. I suspect they don’t. Perhaps they were trying to get back at the agency for harms done to them.

So, was this scam ad a hoax? The only other explanation would be to attribute complete ignorance on the part of the creators, which, all cynicism aside, I’m having trouble accepting.

Either way, the “ad” made Keith Olbermann’s “Worst persons in the World” list, in which he actually names numerous creative staff from the agency.

\"Worst persons in the World\"

Update: Adfreak has a post featuring a series of vague explanations and partial apologies, which seem to render both agency and client culpable. I still think it was mad men acting alone!

Adfreak post: Mea culpa or mystery?

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