Bad advertising

I am surprised to notice how bad the current Coldplay ad for Viva la Vida is…especially as it is attached to Apple iTunes. (Have a look at it here.) The Gamma ad for iPod, figures dancing in profile, with music from The Ting Tings is just about the best thing on TV at the moment. (See it here.)

It’s weird; all the same elements are more or less in place. But in one case, the ad captures us. In the other, it holds itself up to ridicule. One is interesting, the other faint hearted, dim witted, adolescent and posturing.

So what happened? Apple has a pretty good track record. One can only guess that it has something to do with “artistic control” from Coldplay. In the modular world of popular music, Coldplay substituted for Radiohead. They were prepared to be populist where Radiohead insisted on being arty. And I have a weakness for bands that have a weakness like this.

But, gore blimey, there is a difference between accessible and bad. And we can’t imagine Radiohead signing off on something like this? Never. No, indeed, it precisely because everything popular (even things as good as Gamma) look to Radiohead as bad as the Viva la Vida ad that they insist on going all arty so often and so earnestly.

If bands are brands, and I think for some purposes they are a wonderfully interesting test bed for same, the Viva la Vida ad is a stinker that will cost them dear.

7 thoughts on “Bad advertising

  1. Rick Liebling

    Ok, so it’s not just me. I can appreciate Coldplay on some level (a more accessible, less challenging Radiohead), but why should Apple play to the middle like this?

    The best iPod ads have been the ones WITHOUT the artists, where you had to put a little effort in (Who is that singing? What’s the name of that so ng?).

    Using the metaphor of the other major Apple campaign, PC would listen to Coldplay (and think he’s really hip); Mac would listen to Radiohead.

  2. Ray

    Most importantly,the Ting Ting song has a catchier tune than the Coldplay track, which makes it better suited for a commercial. As well, the 80s graphical elements seems more on point than fancy smoke CGI.

    But another point is that the Gamma ad is more aspirational than the Viva la Vida one. The former makes you want to get up and dance, and you can imagine yourself dancing in a similar way. Because the people are silhouettes, the viewer can more easily project herself into the ad, regardless of the fact that few would look that cool dancing. The Coldplay ad is more about posturing and grand special effects. Coldplay was never a posturing band, as opposed to U2 or The Jets, who were featured in more successful Apple ads. That you can sort of make out the band members also make the ads less about the viewer’s fantasy and more about the band.

    As you mention, Apple is generally the master at aspirational branding. And it would be have been interesting to be a fly on the wall, so to speak, to see how the Coldplay ad came into existence.

  3. Adrian3

    I think you missed the pretty obvious branding plan that Apple has for these commercials. If you look at all the silhouette ads you will see two different but related styles. One is the usual flat shaped one with a relatively unknown indie artist. These are really cool songs because they are handpicked by Apple and the ads are great as a result. These ads are meant to promote Apple, not the band. You will notice that the band name “Ting Tings” is not even mentioned in this ad.

    The other “style” of silhouette ad brings more detail into the silhouette so you can tell who the artist is. They did this with U2 and now Coldplay. They have done it with one female artist, but I can’t remember her name. These ads are to promote iTunes, specifically the exclusive music deal Apple has with this artist. The fact that Coldplay’s song doesn’t work in this format is debatable. If you don’t like the song, you won’t like the ad.

    To think Coldplay had any “creative control” on this ad is ridiculous, to say the least. They maybe had input on the song that was used, but even that is unlikely.

    To write off this ad as “bad advertising” is also a mistake because you missed the larger brand elements that this is a small part of. The design is strong. The branding is consistent and instantly memorable. Maybe the song sucks, but that’s about the only thing I can see wrong with it.

  4. jkh


    coldplay has always been officially mainstream. – in fact it is the only big ticket player the record label EMI has got now.

    that is why EMI had brian eno produce the album. that i why they are trying to reach every last soul on this planet.

    that is why.

  5. jkh

    and of course one can feel a lack of artistic direction in the apple viva ad.
    smells like sell out. – the resignation of someone who has successfulliy learnt that boy days are over and that you now are a big business factor with lots of responsibility – so better listen to the marketing department…

    you are right. a strange taste it has.

  6. peter spear

    Fundamentally agree with adrian3 on this one. if we’ve learned anything about apple over the last bunch of years is that they are never doing what we think they’re doing.

    it is pretty clear that the branding elements of the iTunes, while all paying off to the apple brand, are meant to support the relationship between the consumer and the band. the direct question in another post – why does apple have to be in the middle of this? – is that they have successfully disrupted the music industry and can. That’s what iTunes is.

    iPod, however, is different and demands an anonymity of personality within the ad to allow apple to garner all the equities, and an exaltant emotional experience to maintain the brands energy.

  7. Lucy

    You gotta kidding me? This is a fabulous ad. I never ever – listen to music like this — never owned a Coldplay song. It is this ad that drew me to find out more. I downloaded Viva la Vida as a result.

    I was Googling this ad to see what others were saying and I could hardly believe what you wrote. I’m still dumbfounded. This song will be a mega hit. Probably would have have been on it’s own based on what I read on YouTube, but the ad will push ever further.

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