February 09, 2010

Super Bored with Babies and Puppies

This hilarious Stop Babies and Puppies campaign from the AICP (Association of Independent Commercial Producers) comes just in time for the post-Super Bowl ad hangover. In it, they implore marketers to stop resorting to trite cliches in the name of pushing product. The site is packed full of goodies, including a Cliche Ad Machine that lets you create your own spot using stock footage of blankets-swaddled babies,  puppies frolicking in meadows and the like.

And make no mistake about it - while babies and puppies are singled out as the  scapegoat here, screaming zoo animals, frat boy beer humor and random hot chicks in bathtubs are just as guilty.  But let's switch gears and call out a few spots that didn't put me in the mood to break some bottles (your beer sucks anyway Budweiser), stomp a chicken (I wouldn't eat a Dennys Grand Slam even if they paid me) or boycott the sponsor once and for all (good thing you're so cheap, GoDaddy). 

Dodge Charger - good. Google - very good. But my favorite spot of all came from a most unlikely source, the video game Dante's Inferno. I saw nary a mention of this little gem in all the post-game coverage, but its surprising union of brilliant, fiery graphics with a soulful Bill Withers classic made it rise above all the clucking, roaring competition that surrounded it. Just like that 3rd quarter onside kick, it's an excellent example of how beautiful (and successful) an unexpected move can be.

July 30, 2009

I've Gone Mad

Well, I went and Mad Men'd myself. Shameless Draper-hag that I am, I couldn't resist the opportunity to inhabit that whiskey-soaked world, if only virtually. Alas, it wasn't nearly as much fun as I thought it would be. They do a good enough job referencing the show and the period: the background music, costume choices and Dyna Moe's now famous illustrations are dead on. But for the time it takes to complete the process, I wish that my martini-swilling avatar got to have a little more fun. I was hoping for a Jib-Jab style vignette, starring Mad Me tearing up the town with Joan, horseback riding with Betty, climbing corporate ladders with Peggy then pantsing smug little Pete in front of the whole S-C crew...right before riding off into the sunset, smoking cigarettes from the shotgun seat of Don's big Cadillac.  

Alas, what I got was this downloadable image (you get the choice of this full body shot, a headshot only or a wallpaper featuring you in the scene of your choice), and even she looks a bit perplexed by the whole thing. 


Oh well. All in all, the site is just one part of a robust social media push for Mad Men and 8 o'clock coffee. I applaud the breadth of the campaign, and look forward to taking the "Which Mad Men Character Are You?" quiz when that releases...I fancy myself a Joan but suspect reality will peg me as a Peggy.

June 05, 2009

The agency is thy shepherd.

Now that Current TV is inviting viewers to create commercials (VCAMS) for big name brand partners, Ad Week has called for traditional agencies to rethink their role: “from serving as creative drivers to brokers and brand shepherds.” In a sense, this is what we do already. Agencies don’t simply churn out creative in a vacuum. We work in partnership with the client to develop campaigns that define, promote and protect the brand. What’s changed is the number of different platforms on which to execute these campaigns.

With sophisticated creative and production tools now readily available to anyone who wants it, agencies aren’t the only ones putting material out there anymore. We’re not even the only ones putting out good material. The winning VCAMS look 100% professional and polished—and they cost peanuts compared to typical agency fees.

So, agencies can feel threatened by the loss of control or get excited by the opportunities it presents.

This creative explosion is less about Joe Public usurping the role of professional agencies and more about, as the folks at Digg put it,  “teaching brands to borrow from the grammar of the experience.” (Case in point: Digg's new advertising model will allow viewers to Digg up ads, thus controlling impressions and CPC the same way they determine news readership.)

On a network built around viewer generated content like Current TV, why wouldn't advertisers  communicate via viewer generated commercials? But whatever “grammar” you’re using, everyone must still speak the language of the brand. And that’s where an agency comes in. Someone still needs to write the language. But instead of doing all the talking ourselves we have to find ways to teach the language to others. And get them excited about speaking it. And in the end, be open to all of their translations.

Of course, the other alternative is to invent the platform. That way, you're guaranteed control of the creative that lives on it. At least until it catches on. 

April 15, 2009

And now a word from our sponsors (via our characters)

Every week on the Biggest Loser (I'm officially addicted and I'm not ashamed to admit it), they do an awkward little product placement segment. It usually starts with one of the players wondering aloud in an empty room: "I know I have to work out soon, but I'm a little hungry. Is there anything I can snack on that won't ruin my workout?" or "I'm really craving something sweet but I don't want to blow my calories for the day. What to do?"

At that point, Jillian enters bearing a box of Fiber One bars, hands one to the confounded contestant, and begins rattling off the benefits while the player nods and says "mmmm...can't believe how good this is" in between chews. 

Now, It is a show about dieting (or as my brother-in-law put it in a fruitless attempt to shame me, "a waste of two hours a week watching other people lose weight"). So it makes sense to talk about "sweet AND sensible" Extra sugar free gum or Jennie-O "just as good as pork and better for you" turkey sausage. I don't really mind the patent idiocy of these segments. But when Bob walked into the den to get the group pumped about the upcoming DVD release of Marley and Me - which they were getting early and here it is! - well, that annoyed me.

As both an ad person and a DVR addict, I realize that product placement is a necessary evil. But really. Can't marketers/producer try just a little harder? With a little effort, product placement can go from being intrusive to being interesting, relevant, even, I daresay, a welcome addition to the show.  Don't believe me? Just look to the masters: 30 Rock. A few weeks ago, they constructed an entire story arc around  Wikipedia abuse. Last week, when Jack Donaghey ended the episode by saying he "had to get Showtime," you agreed. Sure, there's a deliberate wink in the delivery, but in their hands, product placement becomes a seamless part of the entertainment. Granted, "reality" TV doesn't have the luxury of such brilliant scriptwriting (or does it?). But they do have the option - the responsibility, in my opinion - to choose products that make sense in their context. Putting all the players in the family room is not a strategy.

In this day and age, we're all used to ads. We know they're out there. We know they want our attention. We know there's all this stuff in the world and that stuff needs to be sold. And I don't think we really mind being sold to anymore. As long as the seller is smart, or entertaining, or funny, or relevant, or otherwise worth paying attention to.