Ads that live, ads that die

Some ads live, some ads die. 

Some ads get more interesting in rotation.  Other ads wither, and before long they're an agony.  Without the blessing of TIVO, we're obliged to watch them like someone out of Clockwork Orange.

ATT 2 Take the case of "What if delivery people run the world."  This is an ad for the Blackberry Curve 8350i with Sprint Nextconnect.  (See the ad on YouTube here.)

There is nothing egregiously wrong with this ad, but once we've seen it twice it becomes 30 seconds of tedium.  The only thing that lives is the kid stuck in the locker.

ATT yard sale Now consider the case of "Yard Sale," the AT&T FamilyTalk Rollover Minutes.  (See the ad on YouTube here.)  This ad is a joy.  We have seen this campaign a lot in the last few months.  So the pretext, the son who wants to jetison roll over minutes and the mother who wants to keep them, is familiar.

There is lots to love here.  The son's reference to the AT&T minutes he's trying to give away as "antiques."  The neighborhood women who looks on in astonishment as the argument between mother and son rages.  The neighborhood kid told to "beat it, kid." 

ATT3 And the best moment, is the look the neighborhood women gives the neighborhood kid, as if to say, "these people are cracked."

The neighborhood lady does a little eyebrow flash that sums up her attitude, as if to say "this situation is completely unfair, what are you going to do." (I can't capture it with Snagit.  Above, to the right, is the look of solidarity between the Lady and the Kid.)

Good idea, good execution, good acting in the first case, great acting in the second.  But it's hard to say why one ad should reward reviewing and the other should feel like a punishment. 

I think it comes down to very tiny details that we don't see at first.  That eyebrow flash is minute but I have grown to love it.  The trouble with the Blackberry/Sprint ad is that the moment you get the theme, the ad reveals itself too fully.  It's old before it's over.  The good thing about the AT&T is that it doesn't play to form.

But I don't doubt that we could do a better job than this figuring out why some ads live and others die.  See Alan's brilliant comment below illuminating why this ad works so well.

In a TIVO era, with the very business model of the advertising agency now in jeopardy, this feels like a compelling opportunity for urgent anthropology, or, as I was typoed it in a grant application, argent anthropology.  Email me, if you are interested in pursuing this theme. 


Many thanks to Roy Elvove, Director, Corporate Communications, BBDO North America and Worldwide.  Here are the details on the creative team at BBDO.

Agency: BBDO New York and BBDO Atlanta

Chief Creative Officers: David Lubars and Bill Bruce

Exec Creative Director: Susan Credle

Creative Directors: David Skinner and Darren Wright

Copywriter: Peter Alsante

Producer: Julie Andariese

Production Co: Smuggler

Director: Chris Smith

Editorial Company: Beast (New York)

Editor: Jim Ulbrich

Visual Effects: Spontaneous (New York)


Fox, Jason.  2009.  Who Does AT&T think they are?  Holiday Inn.  The Adhole, February 23, 2009. here.  [By an astounding coincidence, Jason and I both wrote about the AT&T campaign yesterday.  His focus was the "Milky minutes."]

7 thoughts on “Ads that live, ads that die

  1. dl

    It is the core of what we are doing at my “federation” so to speak. It’s what is at the core of monetization for all the “transmedia story architecture” stuff we are looking at. Advertising has to be entertainment…interaction has to be entertainment… not just to market…but to click and purchase.

    This is a very very fun subject. Not to let the product lead you so much into creating content… but let the original content help you pick product which leads you to create content interactivity based on that product placement…..and maybe content based on ENTERTAINING through that interactivity (which in our model always attempts to lead to purchase activation) Ya’ know?

  2. Alan

    Okay, Grant, I’ll bite at your bait. Of course, if anthropology is to be in service to marketing then it must be called on to distinguish between commercials like the two you have posted. Hmmmmmm … Could it be that the AT&T commercial is rich in reality, replete with real life? Even the editing draws us into this episode, as if we, the viewer, looks on over the shoulder of the “lady.” The viewer is, in essence, the neighborhood kid before he enters the scene. Watch that simple progression from wide shot of the yard sale to medium shot to close-up over “What are these?” And then the commercial just takes off. The viewer as bystander gets to watch over and over and smile with recognition of characters we all know: the eager son, not just selling his Mom’s antiques but pocketing the change; the haggard Mom (perfect hair, by the way) who is so much in charge of every detail of the yard sale; the curious customers picking over the merchandise. It is rich in the kind of reality that spawns story-telling. As a bystander, it is the very kind of episode we would re-tell to friends, in small talk, etc. Few of us would tell the story as effectively as this commercial tells it. Finally, the AT&T spot is contained, not only in its setting, and therefore within its slice of reality, but in its acting, camera work and editing. By contrast the Blackberry spot over-tells its skit or sketch. It is over-invented. It has touches added like the kid in the locker. Even the camera angles selected (the angled shot from below the supervisor) lend to the fussiness of the commercial. And the cut-aways to gymnasium, delivery driver, street, etc. are just plot devices. We never get to get to know the kid who is walking down the street. I would like to know where he would rather be. The Blackberry spot lacks the richness of reality that the AT&T spot shines with. So who needs reality right now when so much news is so, so, so bad? We all do. Because it is the inter-personal richness of our lives (dare I write anthropological richness?) that lets us life in the face of necessity or cry. It is purely coincidental, but a lot of people can identify with the frugal necessity of holding yard sales these days. So how’s that? Nice choice of spots, Grant. Thanks for the fun!

  3. Scott Ellington

    The rollover-minutes video has been removed from YouTube, possibly because of controversial racist overtones.

  4. griche

    For me the key to this wonderful AT&T spot is the humor when the lady raises her eyebrow. And that, it seems to me, is just plain old good acting. It’s difficult to imagine the director asking her to do raise her eyebrow. Maybe the director asked her to look at the kid, but I’d bet the detail of the moment was hers. It made her a fuller person — she’s curious and skeptical and wishes to connect with a stranger. That’s a lot to communicate in her few seconds on screen. I suppose some credit goes to the director, too, for creating the mood of the shoot where she could actually act…. I think the weak link in the spot is the mother, who, despite her great hair, is the least believable character. She is, of course, the character who delivers the key point of the spot, and perhaps that responsibility got in the way of her acting…. Thanks for pointing out this spot. I saw it the other night and enjoyed it…. P.S. to Alan: thanks for the very thoughtful analysis.

  5. Mary Schmidt

    “Urgent anthropology” – I’ll have to remember that one! It takes more than shiny objects to get and keep customers’ attention these days. I’m with you on the yard sale ad…but I can’t for the life of me see anything racist about it.

    (P.S. You’ve got some comment spam up there.)

  6. Rick Liebling

    Grant, Dead on, I’ve been thinking the same thing about both ads. The eyebrow raise is absolutely the key to that ad. And the mom, who I normally love, does turn in her weakest performance – she was extremely strong in other iterations.

    Great insight from Alan as well, thank you.

    Grant, you’ve been extremely hot this week, great stuff.

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