Tag Archives: ads

How to make a good ad

There are two DNA ads running at the moment. They illuminate the art of advertising today.

The first is called Testimonial: Livie and it’s for AncestryDNA.com. This is perfect serviceable. And that’s a problem.

This gives us a woman, Livie, living a safe, tidy life. Her DNA results come as a revelation. It turns out she is, as she puts it, “everything.” She now checks “other.”

An entire world opens up, and, and, and Livie checks a new box. God lord.

This is identity as ornament. This is that girl who cornered you at a party in college to say she is 1/32 Choctaw. This is identity as a cocktail chatter, a party favor, a way of showing how absolutely fascinating you are.

And never mind the hair raising assumptions being made about the difference genetic origins make to who we are. (We love to think they do, but the science is of course stubbornly unromantic on this score. We are made by our upbringing and the culture in place. That “Choctaw difference” makes no identity difference.)

Ok, now have a look at %100 Nicole.

The music! So splendidly wrong and antique and odd. Perfect. This is how we make some of the best culture now. We run things together that don’t go together…until they do…sort of, but not quite.  These culture meanings deliberately act as what Weinberger might call, to borrow the title of his book, “small pieces loosely joined.”

The sunglasses and helmet of the second scene. So completely “what?” Here too the ad maker (in this case Diego Contreras of [or for] Venables Bell and Partners LA) is asking us to pay attention. This is not culture served up according to genre. This is culture flushed out of its conventional categories. We are driven up out of our couch potato stupor to ask the ancient’s immortal question “huh?”

In the place of Livie’s perfect sitting room, we have Nicole plunged into the world, seizing her DNA connections has an occasion to engage with the world. (Here too, sitting in the background there are troubling assumptions. We hope we are not being asked to assume that Nicole has some essential connection to East Asia or West Africa. Right?) In a more perfect world, we would all travel often and with Nicole’s joy to countries and cultures to which we have no DNA “connection.” Right?

So many details are arresting. The joy of that dance. The shock of that fiord. The delicacy of soccer. The animation of this actress.

Livie ticks boxes. Nicole embraces life. Livie looks for identity in the old fashioned way, by adding badges to her sleeve. Nicole finds it by taking the world by storm.

Hat’s off to the agency in question:

CLIENT
23 and Me
AGENCY
Venables Bell and Partners
LOCATION
Los Angeles
DIRECTOR
Diego Contreras
EDITOR
Martin Leroy

 

More thoughts on advertising’s “magic moment”

rboyko

(with thanks for Rick Boyko, pictured, for the conversation from which the idea for this blog post sprang.)

Last week Bob Scarpelli and I offered some thoughts on the “magic moment” in advertising.  The magic moment is the small detail that helps bring an ad suddenly, unexpectedly to life.  Here’s the original post.

We can’t quite say how the magic moment works.  What’s worse, we can’t plan for the magic moment or even anticipate it.  It just happens.

It is this unpredictable quality that prompts some people in the ad biz to insist that the magic moment is off limits.  It cannot be part of the industry’s value proposition, or the way any particular agency sells its ware.  After all, if the magic moment is pure serendipity, it can’t be created, managed, predicted, or, least of all, promised.  It is a gift from the gods and the gods pretty much do what they want.

Even if a client hires the best agency, with the most robust planners, strategists and creatives, there is just no telling whether a magic moment will manifest itself.

I admire how scrupulous this is.  I admire an industry that will not promise what it cannot deliver.  But there is another way to make the argument.

Yes, magic moments are serendipitous, but that does not mean they are beyond our grasp.   We can increase our chances of summoning the magic moment.  We can call it out of the heavens.  There are no absolute assurances.  But we can increase the odds.

And this is precisely why those who hope for magic moments will spend the time and money to hire the right agency, director of photography, casting director, and actors.  These people cannot deliver magic moments but they will act like one of those “listening arrays” with which we scrutinize the heavens.

science outer space nasa astronomy astronauts radio telescope_www_wallpaperhi_com_71

It turns out magic moments are not truly random.  They don’t happen to stupid, talentless hacks.  And this means talent does play a role.  And this means, at the very least, are chances of a magic moment go up when we are dealing with people with the talent, imagination and intelligence.  (And that’s what we pay them for.)

There is some connection.  Somehow, talent plays nursery to genius.  Agencies and creatives matter.  We can summon magic, even when we cannot promise it.   In that famous phrase, the gods favor the well prepared.

We may have merely increased the chances of a magic moment by, say, 40%.  For the creative community, this looks meager and nothing like a sales pitch.  They can’t imagine ever selling anything this way.  But for the statistically gifted brand manager, 40% is an opportunity to assess the risk and  justify the expenditure.  Believe me, what the brand manager does not want to hear is, “Oh, this is completely mysterious.  We have no idea how it happens.  Just pay us.”  But we are wrong to think that “40%.  Our chances go up 40%” means little more.  Forty percent is something to reckon with.

My conclusion: the ad agency should be selling itself with the magic moment.  This should be a way to discriminate agencies from no agencies and good agencies from bad agencies.  And it should be the grounds on which agencies justify their fees and the fees attached to recruiting the best talent.  We are not guaranteeing magic moments.  But we are increasingly their likelihood.

Brands Being Human

Subaru is doing great work for the SyFy’s  Being Human.  Here’s one example:

This is an insider ad.  You have to know the show to get what’s happening.  These are werewolves.  They’ve gone into the woods to “turn.”  The brand has found the spirit of the show and “had a little fun with it.”  Romantic feeling is imposed on something that will shortly turn nasty and violent.  Clever.  And this is absolutely in the spirit of Being Human which plays with genre expectation constantly and well.

Here is Being Human in action.  In this scene, Sally, the ghost, discovers that her house is up for sale and she decides to discourage home buyers with a ghostly trick.  Ooooooooooo!  In this scene, remember, she is invisible.

Generally speaking, Subaru has done a great job claiming a nest of companionable, cozy, domestic meanings for the brand.  It has attached itself to “family” as well as any brand in the biz.  (And that’s saying something, considering that so many brands are trying to make this connection.) Recall the Subaru ads that feature dogs aging and kids practicing for their driver’s license.  This is great work but it may leave the Subaru brand defined as something perhaps a little too domestic and of-this-world.

The Being Human work manages this problem beautifully.  A brand that verges on the humble and everyday becomes suddenly exotic and even daring.  The Subaru meanings expand wonderfully.

Notice how elegantly this is accomplished.  The Being Human work is site-specific and exists, in effect, only for the Being Human audience.  There is no danger  that the broader Subaru market will see this work and no danger that it will transform their “cosy” associations with the brand.  This is brand surgery.

Another thing I like about this approach is that it is the opposite of product placement.  Instead of jamming the product into the show, the show is allowed to find its way into the “brandscape,” to use John Sherry’s term.  And both the show and the brand profit.

Product placement is often an absolute tax on a show.  You know that moment when the appearance of the product suspends your suspension of disbelief.  You might as well stop watching and thousands no doubt do.  I don’t care how much the show makes from product placement.  In many cases, the artistic price is too high.  Plus, as a strategy, this is just plain dumb.  It says in effect, “People aren’t watching our ads! Ok, so let’s force them to look at the product!  We’ll make them watch us!”  You’ll make them watch you?  This is your idea of persuasion.  This is your idea of managing meanings? Really?

There’s another Subaru ad for Being Human that feels, to me, less successful.  It shows three actors acting like characters from the show.  See it here:

This execution feels wrong to me and it serves I think as a useful test of where this strategy can work and where it fails.  When the ad is merely leveraging the creative original, it feels like a pale imitation and it provokes, I think, a relative loss of value.  By which I mean, more is taken from the show than is returned to it.  The brand is merely exploiting the dramatic riches of Being Human and not taking possession of them for larger creative play.  In the immortal words of T.S. Eliot, “bad poets borrow, good poets steal.” This spot borrows where the first one steals.  This is not as bad as product placement but it isn’t a lot better.

Carmichael Lynch, the agency in question, has done great things for Subaru.  There is a cultural sensitivity at work here that really is exceptional.  And our opening “werewolf” ad breaks new ground.  Letting the brand out to play in an ad, in this way, is to let the brand out to play in the world.  And this is one of those cases, where brand and ad are working together, borrowing meanings from one another, to their mutual benefit.   Both brand and show get bigger, richer, and more interesting.

But what might be more remarkable is the fact that the Carmichael Lynch work takes Subaru almost no other automotive brand is prepared to go.  This is daring.  It is clever.  It participates in popular culture.  It makes the brand a living, breathing presence in the life of the consumer and our culture.  It takes the brand a little closer to being human.

Acknowledgments

Dean Evans, CMO, Subaru

I am hoping Carmichael Lynch will send me names of the creative team so that I can give them a mention for this really exemplary work.  Watch this space.

the most interesting men in the world

He wouldn’t be afraid to show his feminine side, if he had one.

His mother has a tattoo that reads “son”

At museums, he’s allowed to touch the art

He is the most interesting man in the world!

We have 3 campaigns that feature a certain kind of man.  I refer to the most interesting man in the world.  Sorry, I mean of course, the most interesting man in the world!

This Dos Equis ad.  

The Old Spice ad featuring Bruce Campbell.  

The more recent Old Spice ad.  

And most recently, the DQ ad in which a guy says “I’m not just playing a guitar, I’m playing a guitar that sounds like dolphins.”  

The men in these ads appear to have somethings in common.  They suffer from overweening self regard and total self possession.  These are the people for whom the term “supercilious” was invented.

We have noticed hyperbolic males here before.  Charlie and Barnie, characters in Two and a Half Men and How I Met Your Mother, respectively, as played by Charlie Sheen and Neil Patrick Harris, respectively, are self-regarding males.  But what marks them as males is not just the fact that they are self self aggrandizing, but a still deeper cynicism.  

The DosEquis,OldSpice,DQ man is much too vain to entertain cynicism. Cynicism requires a knowledge of the world outside yourself.  DEOSDQ man does not know about the world outside himself.  

So where is this guy from, why are we using him, and why is he, in the Old Spice case, so spectacularly successful as a cultural artifact?

The good news is that our culture used to produce these males, on screen and in the world, without a hint of ridicule.  James Bond and other spies were all about “touching the art,” that is to say, claiming special privileges that came to them because of their special status. (License to kill!)  

And this is what make these guys funny.  We are not laughing with them, we are laughing at them.  But there are lots of ridiculous artifacts that can be retrieved from the backwash of our culture.  

Why this guy now?