Category Archives: Advertising Watch

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 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. Good 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:

23 and Me
Venables Bell and Partners
Los Angeles
Diego Contreras
Martin Leroy


New media fundamentalists, how will they react to the revolution in TV?

Maurice_Levy_2008I read with interest  remarks by Maurice Levy (pictured) on how he thinks about life after the failure of the Omnicom -Publicis merger.

“We have a strategy, and we will accelerate that strategy. It calls for strengthening our digital operations to reach 50% of our revenue [from 40% currently], and investing in big data and accelerating the capabilities we have in integration.”

Levy knows much more about the industry and about Publicis than I ever will and I defer to his greater knowledge.  But I have to say these remarks sent a chill through me.

There’s no question that the digital revolution continues and that it will change everything we know about marketing, advertising and communications.

It is also true, as I have been laboring to show the last couple of days, that there is a revolution taking place in old media as well.  TV is changing at light speed.  (See posts here, here, and here.)

It looks as if Levy is concentrating more on the digital revolution than the TV revolution.  To be sure, this is a bias that has swept through the advertising business.  A new generation came up, insisting that it was now going to be all digital advertising all the time, that the 30 second spot was done for, and that TV was now just another victim of the technological revolution. New media fundamentalists scorn old media and especially TV.

(Just to be clear, I am no old media apologist.  My book Culturematic assumes new media.  No culturematic is possible without new media as a means and an end.)

The trouble with new media fundamentalism is that it misses what is perhaps the single biggest story concerning popular culture in the last 10 years.  Against the odds, and in the teeth of the hostility of the chattering classes, TV got better.

And this revolution means several things.  That consumers as viewers are getting steadily smarter.  That they are now accustomed to and expectant of a new order of story telling.  I think it’s far to say that old media is still better at telling stories than new media.  This is another way of saying that old media (both TV and advertising) may have been trailing new media…but that they suddenly caught up.

I know some readers are going to take this as the voice of reaction, an attempt to return the old order to former glory.  So just to be clear.  I’m NOT saying that old media is better than new media.  What I am saying is that those who now diminish old media because of the rise and great success of new media are missing something.  And just to be really clear: as cultural creatives, as content creators, whether they like it or not, new media fundamentalists can’t afford to make this error.  They are after all in the business of NOT MISSING THINGS, ESPECIALLY THINGS AS BIG AS THIS.  Sorry for shouting, but there is a new media orthodoxy in place and shouting is sometimes called for.

And no, this is not an argument that says advertising was perfect just the way it was.  There is work to be done in the world of old media, lots of work.  Remember when the ads on a show were often better than the show? These days have mostly passed.  Now the ad surrounded a show looks shouty, simple minded and a little clueless. Like it doesn’t know what is going on around it.  Like a revolution took place and the brand and the advertiser didn’t notice.  Oh, if there is something that is NOT ALLOWED in the branding and advertising business, it’s not noticing.  

So it’s not as if anyone wants us to go back to old media circa Mad Men and the 1950s.  Old media must now evolute as ferociously as new media.  To catch up.  To keep up.  That revolution on TV tells us that our culture is changing in ways no one anticipated at speeds no one thought possible.  And anyone in the communications game (using old media or new media) is going to have evolve in something like real time.

Our culture is becoming a hot house.  Those who want to contribute will have to flourish to do so.  It makes me think of that Wieden and Kennedy moment after a recent SuperBowl.  W+K had floated that Old Spice ad and as they looked at the tidal wave of online content they have provoked, they thought, “Damn.  Better get on this.”

A group of them retired to a building somewhere and just started turning stuff out.  Call and response.  Call and response.  Real time marketing.

This may be where we are headed.  There are so many things in play, and they are moving at such speed, concatenating in ways we can’t anticipated, this is perhaps not the time to up your digital bet, Mr. Levy.  In this very dynamic world, we want to use all our media all the time.

Making ads speak

DSC00079 Yesterday, I talked about the reinvention of the photograph.  A couple of days ago, I found myself reading a charming essay on how we might reinvent the Google ad.  

Hal Roberts points out in the early days of advertising, it was customary to include jingles in printed copy.  As Roberts puts it, 

"The idea of advertising as poetry seems quaint today, but actually more possible in the age of the text only AdWords format. It’s striking that AdWords today consists only of straightforward sells."

Striking indeed and a little depressing.  Anthropologically, the interesting thing about ads is that they are constantly inhaling and exhaling culture meanings.  Good ads are simple acts of Aristotelian metaphor.  They take meaning from the world and invest it in the product, brand or service.  Clearly, this "respiration" doesn't happen at all when the copy writer is restricted to copy.  

Naturally some people will say that cutting advertising off at the knees as Adsense does is a good thing.  After all, advertising is a bad thing.  So speaks Barber, Ewen, Galbraith, Klein and Riesman.  But in fact I think advertising has been a very interesting way for our culture to rehearse its option, canvass its possibilities, and rebuild and various buff and polish as it seeks to stay in touch with its own dynamism.  So speak Brantlinger, Cowen, Docker, Dickstein, Pells and Susman. 

What to do about Google ads?  Roberts charming idea is that we should resusitate jingles. Splendid.  How about some images while we're ad it.  I am not saying 4 color, 2 page layouts or anything.  Just a little something more than a handful of words..  I'm saying let's open up the door to meaning that it might flourish even here.  


Roberts, Hal.  2008.  Watching Technology from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. November 12, 2008here.    

Barber, Benjamin R. 1995. Jihad Vs. McWorld.New York: Time Books/Random House.  

Brantlinger, Patrick. 1983. Bread and Circuses: Theories of Mass Culture as Social Decay.Ithaca:Cornell University Press.  

Cowen,Tyler  1998.  In Praise of Commercial Culture. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.  

Docker, John. 1994. Postmodernism and popular culture: a cultural historyNew York: Cambridge University Press. 

Dickstein, Morris. 1999. Leopards in the Temple: The transformation of American Fiction, 1945-1970. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.  

Ewen, Stuart. 1976. Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer CultureNew York: McGraw-Hill.  

Galbraith, John Kenneth. 1958. The Affluent SocietyBoston : Houghton Mifflin.  

Klein, Naomi. 2000. No logo: no space, no choice, no jobs taking aim at the brand bullies. Toronto : A.A. Knopf .  

Pells, Richard H. 1989. The liberal mind in a conservative age: American intellectuals in the 1940s and 1950sMiddletown : Wesleyan University Press.  

Riesman, David. 1964. Abundance for what?  Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday.  

Susman, Warren I. 1984. Introduction: Toward a history of the culture of abundance: some hypotheses.  Culture as History: The transformation of American society in the Twentieth century. Pp. xix-xxx. New York: Pantheon Books.

Post script:

My apologies for the mixing of typefaces.  Google's chrome and Typepad continue to play together only under supervision and even then too often it ends in tears.  

Agencies and intellectual capital: enough of the Flava Flav routine

Flava_flav I have three questions:

1. when do clients require agencies to be genuinely full service?

2. when do agencies begin to leverage, and, gasp, brand their intellectual capital?

3.  when does the advertising world take a leaf from the world of management consulting?

I had lunch with Mark X last week.  We were talking about how noisy is the intellectual air space of the agency world. 

You would think that the big ideas of the ad world would be clearer.  At the very least, it should be possible to reverse engineer the great ads of the last 100 years and reach some simple, lasting, potent conclusions. 

But no.  The ad world is filled with a million quirks and inclinations.  It churns with notice of exciting trends.  It buzzes with the titles of the latest books from the business press (good to great!, made to stick!).  What is missing is a calm sense of the verities of the biz, the things we know for certain. 

Now, of course, advertising creative is often an unpredictable, largely inscrutable thing.  Inspiration descends from the heavens.  Agencies compete for the people most likely to be struck  by this lightning.  Creative directors are conduits of great value, and we should probably worship them.  But this doesn’t mean we will ever get a clear rendering of how they do what they do.  This will forever remain a matter of a "I don’t know, it just came to me" mystery.

But research and strategy, that should be another matter altogether.    Surely, these people should have a very good idea of what advertising is, and how it creates value for a client and their brands.  Surely, they should be able to roll out simple propositions of great power.  And surely we should judge them by what these propositions are.

Too often what we get is snake oil enthusiasm and not much else.  In fact, listening to certain people with strategic pretensions is like listening to someone afflicted with a spontaneous, naturally occurring affliction of buzzword bingo.  They just string all the current lingo together often with scant regard for the syntax. 

It’s kinda like they are wearing a great big Flava Flav button that reads "talk."  Clients have a question?  Push the Talk button!  And bang, out it comes: creative synergy, brand DNA, authentic this and networked that.  It’s like someone sold them a BFI R Us franchise and this is what they think they are supposed to do.  Hurl lingo bingo at the problem until no one can quite remember what the question was.

I am not speaking out against lingo.  I treasure these compact terms for their ability to telegraph complicated ideas in tiny bursts of speech.  But when all we are doing is broadcasting the buzz words, then the client is not served.  The world of discourse that is strategy ends up being an intellectual ghetto, a place where stupid people have a place to hide and talent cannot rise. And there is lots of talent out there. 

You would think that the marketplace would impose its famous discipline.  You would think that clients would say, "I’m sorry, that was almost completely incoherent," and keep saying this until agency raises their ability to offer clear, clean statements of how the agency creates value for the brand, and, more specifically, how it is earns the princely sums it demands from the client.

This brings us to the first question:

1. when do clients require agencies to be genuinely full service?

Clients are paying for good, clear ideas.  When do they start demanding them?   When do they begin to scorn the "pressure of speech" lingo bingo approach to explanation, and demand something very simple and very clear. Less Flava.  More nutrition. 

2.  when do agencies begin to leverage, and, gasp, brand their intellectual capital? 

Whether or not clients make new demands, we might expect that some agencies would step up and make intellectual power and clarity their strategic difference.  There are lots of smart people in the agency and consulting world.  But I am not sure the agency ever leads with them.  The agency might trumpet the fact that it possesses God’s new gift to creativity.  But the strategic people not so much.  I guess this will start to happen in a big way the moment a P&G says, "well, we decided to go with Agency x because, frankly, they have got the intellectual firepower.  Our existing agency, we began to feel they couldn’t think their way out of a wet paper bag.   I mean have you heard those guys talk?"

3.  when does the advertising world take a leaf from the world of management consulting?

This approach has been going on in the world of management consulting for a very long time.  McKinsey, Bain, Boston Consulting, Accenture, these firms justify their existence and their fees on the grounds that they hire smart people and they treasure and reward these people for the intellectual capital they create for the firm and its clients.  I am thinking here of people like Thomas Davenport, Philip Evans, Thomas Wurster, John Beck, Stanley Davis, Richard Forster, and Sarah Kaplan.

It’s time for things to change.

Straight out of Aristotle

Img_0082 Metro North is not the same as True North, or even Magnetic North. Metro North veers quite distinctly to the east and it is marked by a railroad track that runs from NYC to New Haven and beyond.

There are stations and the stations have ads and that ads are, well, a little amateurish and darn good fun for this anthropologist and all the other marketing types who use this track to get to and from Madison Ave. Indeed, Metro North is to marketing what Australia is to evolution: the place were weird stuff happens…and that’s ok. 

Take the ad I have photographed here.  Accountant as super hero.  Really?  I mean, really?  If there is a creature in the universe less like a super hero, it’s an accountant.  Or so the stereotypes tell us.  Totally unfair, of course. And for all we know some accountants live lives of real adventure. Enron accountants, do you think?

So it’s wrong to generalize this way, but it is also probably wrong to advertise…this way.  Part of the problem is that this ad is trying too hard. A good ad is an act of metaphor. It transfer meaning from a world we know to a world we don’t.  In this case, it invites us to transfer what we know about superheroes to what we know about accountants.  (This is straight out of Aristotle.)  But some acts of transfer are more possible than others.

But perhaps I am missing the "premise."  In the strange world that is Metro North, a new physics may apply.  In this world, superheros are just little less heroic.  Accountants a lot more grand. And the two are close enough, transfer is possible. 

I am on the West coast and running out of time.  So this investigation of the cultural properties of alternate realities are going to have to wait for another occasion.

Celebrity gridlock

Russell_simmons "The Magic of Macy’s" features celebrities decorating for the holidays.  We see Usher, Jessica Simpson, Donald Trump, Martha Stewart, P Diddy, Tommy Hilfiger, Kenneth Cole, and Russell Simmons (pictured).

This is the "stack and rack ’em" approach to celebrity endorsement.  If one star is good, eight is better.  It gives coverage.  Chances are, someone in this gang of eight will speak to the consumer.

So it’s good for Macy’s, perhaps.  What about the celebrities?  What does it mean for Usher to be seen with Hilfiger?  What about Donald Trump and P Diddy? 

Without research, we can’t know for certain.  On balance, it’s probably good for Martha Stewart.  It takes her out of that sui generis bubble into the world.  On balance, it’s bad for Kenneth Cole.  Here’s a guy who helped pioneer social marketing and now he shares the screen with that monster of self-regard, Donald Trump. 

The agency must answer for giving us Jessica Simpson as an airhead. Could they not have cast her against type?  The "ditzy blonde" used to charm us.  Now she is an embarrassment, an actual "retard."  Jessica Simpson may wish to dismantle the women’s movement.  Macy’s shouldn’t help. 

And why does Tommy Hilfiger say "Santa, you’re really working that red velvet thing."  I mean, really.  It sounds like he’s flirting with Santa.  This just seems wrong.  Surely what happens at Macy’s stays at Macy’s. 

On balance, it feels like everyone looses.  Even Macy’s.  It is interesting to "crash" stars together in this way.  This sort of thing can be good for a brand.  But these celebrities in this treatment end up something less than the sum of their parts.  It’s as if we have stumbled into a dystopia where stars gather for a close up only to discover that they must share the camera with some one else. 


See the ad for Macy’s on YouTube here

Sir John Boots It Badly

Hegarty There is a video of Sir John Hegarty on line that shows the master commit himself to misapprehensions so unpardonable that it is clear he should be relieved of his knighthood and sent to the tower for an indeterminate period of time and at least till he comes to his senses.

Sir John on good creative, marketing and taste.  Click here.

Sir John tells us that, finally, creative decisions come down to taste.  Do we like the  creative in question, or do we not? Advertising, he says, is about creating desire.  We must make people want the product.  In the old days, we did this be insisting on a point of difference, a special ingredient.  Now, it’s the way we communicate with the consumer.  And that’s about taste.  We are increasingly living in a fashion world.  We are dominated by it.  Taste is important and you can’t teach it. 

There are several things wrong with this argument, but I want to point out the most obvious: that one of the most powerful people in the world of British advertising has just declared intellectual bankruptcy. 

All the world is persuaded that there is something wrong with advertising.  The New Media people claim that TV ads are dead.  Clients have always nurtured their suspicions and now they are in full out revolt.  The academics cannot figure out what makes this bumble bee capable of flight.  The "critical" theories have no such difficulty, and routinely find advertising to be the chief culprit in the creation of false consciousness, consumer manipulation and every ill that ails us.  The consumer is happily TIVOing ads out of existence.  The agency world is in disarray.  The world of marketing is the throes of crisis.

This might have been the moment from something oracular.  As one of the senior members of the profession, Sir John might have stepped forward and poured oil upon the water.  He might have recited verities to reassure us.  Or he might have broken new ground and issued a new model for understanding what advertising is. 

Not a chance.  No, Sir John choose this moment to tell us that advertising is effectively mysterious, inscrutable and unteachable. Bravo, sir.  That’s leadership! 

With this declaration, we are back in the black box that advertising created after World War II.  Advertising, agencies told the client, was a thoroughly creative process.  Only the agency could do it.  Only the agency could evaluate it.  Only the agency could be trusted to invent it.  The client was obliged to keep her distance…and pay the bills.  The quid pro quo was clear.  We, the agency, give you ads.  You, the client, pay us hard-stopping amounts of money.  Oh, and one more thing: go away.

In the old days, this black box approach to advertising was not a bad idea.  It kept the least talented cooks out of the creative kitchen. It left the agency free to do its best work.  But now that clients have got smarter, now that the agency world is in crisis, now that advertising is effectively being taken away from the agency world, this might not be the best time to retreat into a naive obscurantism, and the pretense that advertising is, well, imponderable. 

Unless, shudder, it’s true.  Could it be that one of the most powerful men in British advertising has no idea how advertising works?  Could he really believe that it’s just taste?  That it’s all about fashion. That there is no meaning manufacture here to be understood, refined, build upon, taken forward.  No bold new thinking that shows how the challenge of new media can be turned to advantage?

Don’t tell me this is the best you can do, Sir John.  You spent a life time managing the creative process, and your epiphany is that it’s all about taste and fashion?  Maybe the world of advertising is beyond all hope.  Perhaps we should read this declaration of intellectual bankruptcy as a requiem for the field.   


McCracken, Grant.  2005.  Minstrel Marketing and the Hegarty Trade-off.  This Blog Sits At the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics.  June 24, 2005. here.
(For a kinder view of Sir John’s significance)


With thanks to the following for bringing the video to our attention:

Serendipity Book here.

PSFK here.

The Gatorade Propel Ad

Leviathan Gatorade’s Propel introduced a new ad on Monday during 24.  It shows a giant running through the streets of San Francisco.  The giant is a loose assembly of  traffic signs, post-it notes, taxi cabs, jack hammers, phones ringing, TVs on loud, people shouting, a baby screaming, a boss exploding.

Eventually the giant begins to break apart and things fall away, until finally he is an ordinary man running in a singlet and shorts.  He pauses, finally, drinks deeply of the Propel bottle and a voice-over says,

Fit has a feeling and a water.  Propel, the fitness water.

Propel, and the agency Element 79 Partners, calls this spot the "stress monster."

It’s easy enough to "reverse engineer" the marketing here.  Stress Monster is dedicated the simple proposition that exercise makes stress go away.  This is well established as an understanding in our culture. It’s well established as a reality in the lives of millions of Americans.   

Meaning management sometimes goes like this.  The idea is not to find a new meaning for the brand.  The idea is go after an existing meaning with new vigor and skill.  In the language of marketing, the idea is to "own" an idea that is already out there. 

When we say we "own" a meaning, we mean we have discovered it’s most essential, powerful properties and made these as our own.  This is hard to do well, but when it works the brand (Propel) and the meaning (stress reduction) are mutually presupposing.  When they’re done really, really well, it is now impossible to think about one without thinking about the other. 

And that’s the way, I think, to think about Stress Monster.  It is part of Propel’s effort to own stress reduction.  Does this ad succeed? I have to say they made a pretty good run at it.  (No pun intended.)  Pam and I were dozing when it came on, and we looked at one another and just laughed with wonder and admiration.  Look what just charged through the living room!

If I have a complaint, it’s that the ad insists on a certain literalism.  The stress is represented by showing things that cause stress.  And running is shown quite literally to make these fall away.  And the man takes a drink just as the voice over claims glory for the brand.  And the song we hear is the Queen and David Bowie version of Under Pressure. ("Pressure, pressing down on me, pressing down on you.") 

I shouldn’t complain.  Because all the pieces, and especially the song, work to perfection.  We might just as well say that these simple devices are good bones, and the stuff of a marketing clarity. Or, to put this another way, this literalism adds up to so much more than the sum of its parts, that we have no real grounds for complaint.

Someone who was trained in the anthropology of James George Frazer, and his great work, The Golden Bough, might want to point out that the composite man evokes several folkloric creatures, the Leviathan, the Golem, the Chimera, all of them, as he is, desperate, haunted figures, cursed by their complication, feverishly in need of release from same.  But then I am not trained in the anthropology of James George Frazer, so never mind. 

As I have tried to argue here before, we are compilations of influence, contacts, ideas, loosely assembled and not always well organized or articulated.   Stress Monster is the unhappiest face of this new form.   


Lazare, Lewis.  2007.  Element 79 waters down ad monster.  Chicago Sun-Times.  March 15, 2007. here.

There is one version of the ad from Propel itself.  Click on "Stress Monster" once you’ve gone here

There is a much clearer reproduction at ‘boards.  here.

Hats off the team responsible for Stress Monster:

Agency: Element 79 Partners
Producer: Tom Cronin
Creative Director: Doug Behm/Jon Flannery
Writer: Ron D’Innocenzo
Art Director: Doug Behm/Jon Flannery
Production Company: Harvest Films
Director: Baker Smith
Editorial Company: Lost Planet LA
Executive Producer: Betsy Beale
Producer: Romi Laine/Wade Weliever
Editor: Paul Martinez
Assistant Editor: Ryan Dahlman
Colorist: Stephan Stefan Sonnenfeld, Company 3 LA
VFX: Asylum
VFX Executive Producer: Michael Pardee       
VFX Supervisor: Mitch Drain             
Senior VFX Producer: Stepahanie Gilgar      
CG supervisor: Sean Faden               
Lead 3d Animator: Matt Hackett         
Online Artist: Robert John Moggach
Mixer: Loren Silber, Lime Studios
Sound Design: 740 Sound Design, Exec Producer Scott Ganary

Super Bowl XLI: ads evaluated

Tony_dungy_ii I watched the Super Bowl yesterday, resolving to grade the ads even as I watched the game.  Chicago’s early promise and eventual collapse made it hard to concentrate so it wasn’t until this morning that I went through the ads carefully.   I used 5 categories: 5 (best) to 1 (appalling). 

The question is whether anyone in America is now making ads the way Tony Dungy makes football teams.  Well, yes, the Super Bowl ads showed a few moments of class 5 genius.  And there was work that ranged from the capable (4) to the competent (3).  But there was also quite a lot of bad work (2), proving yet again that the agency world cannot protect itself (or the client) from rank incompetence.  And yesterday, there were a couple of absolute stinkers (1), demonstrating that some agencies are still able to persuade the client to  fund the public destruction of their brand equity.

That there should be good work should not surprise us.  The agency world has always been skilled at the task the corporation is only now attempting to master: how to get everything out of the way of a great idea and then how to get everything out of the way of a great execution of that idea. 

This is spectacularly difficult process at the best of times, but now the agency is tormented by the idea that they must include the consumer in the process, to allow for a process of cocreation of brand meaning and equity.  The secret of agency genius has always been to keep consumers, the corporation and other civilians out of the brainstorm.  Now the question is how to let them in…and still engage in good meaning manufacture.   Yesterday’s experiments prove how tough this is going to be.

That’s the internal challenge.  The external challenge is how to hold one’s own against the proliferation of new media: the internet, social networks, product placement, video in-game advertising, guerrilla marketing, cell phone ads, Google line ads.  But all of this is all little advertising, frequently concept and creativity free.  The Super Bowl, then, comes as an opportunity for an industry to reassert its primacy, to showcase the state of the art, and to stun the competitors into silence.  On the whole, I don’t think yesterday’s effort will have that effect.   

Ok, here are my ratings.   I arrived at them using an incredibly complicated algorithm that weighed spectacle, intelligience, creativity, wit, strategy, execution, theme, and vivacity.  (All of this in my head!!!)  If there is a bias here, and of course there is a bias here, it is an anthropological one.  My real question: with what imagination, intelligence, and economy did the agency use the cultural materials at its disposal.  More precisely, how well did the agency make brand meaning out of cultural meaning?

5 stars (best)

E*TRADE –  One Finger
BBDO New York
for the adcritic replay of this ad, click here

BBDO New York
Chief Creative Officers:
David Lubars, Bill Bruce
Paul Middleditch, HSI Productions / Plaza Films
Production Company:
HSI Productions / Plaza Films
Editorial Company:

Coca-Cola – Happiness Factory
Wieden & Kennedy/Amsterdam

Wieden & Kennedy/Amsterdam
Executive Creative Director:
Al Moseley,
John Norman
Creative Director:
Rick Condos,
Hunter Hindman
Agency Executive Producer:
Tom Dunlap
Agency Producer:
Darryl Hagans
Production Company:
Kylie Matulick,
Todd Mueller
Director of Photography:
Ray Coates
Executive Producer:
Matt Buels,
Tim Nunn
Boo Wong
Sound Design:
Amber Music
Sound Designer:
Bill Chesley
Music Company:
Live Action Production Company:
Hungry Man/NY
Live Action Director:
Peter Lydon
Mix Engineer:
Hillary Kew
Executive Producer (Design):
Justin Booth-Clibborn

Sierra Mist – Karate
BBDO New York

BBDO New York
Chief Creative Officer:
David Lubars
Jim LeMaitre
Executive Producer:
Hyatt Choate
Senior Producer:
Amy Wertheimer
Executive Music Producer:
Loren Parkins
Production Company:
Hungry Man – New York
Hank Perlman
Director of Photography:
Joe DiSalvo
Editorial Company:
Nomad Editing Company, Inc
Tom Muldoon
The Mill
Alexander Lasarenko / Tonal

4 stars (better)

E*Trade – Robbery
BBDO New York

NFL – Hard to say goodbye

Bud Select – Just a Game

Nationwide – Rolling’ VIP
T:M Advertising

Toyota – See – Saw
Saatchi & Saatchi LA

Toyota – Ramp
Saatchi & Saatchi LA

Coca-Cola – Especially Today
Widen Kennedy Portland

Bud Light – Fist Bump
DDB Chicago

Budweiser – Clydesdale Spot
DDB Chicago

Coca-Cola – Videogame
Wieden Kennedy/Portland

Bud Light – But He’s Got Bud Light
DDB Chicago

3 stars (good)

GM – Robot
Deutsch/Los Angeles

Chevrolet – Ain’t We Got Love

Taco Bell – Big Game
Draft FCB/Irvine

T-Mobile – Icon
Publicis West – Seattle

Emerald Nuts – Boogeyman
Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

Hewlett-Packard – Orange County Choppers
Goodby, Silverstein & Partners – San Francisco

IZOD – In the Snow

Honda Slalom
RPA – Darts
Cramer-Krasselt – Promotion Pit

Bud Light – Great Apes

Spring – Connectile Dysfunction
Publicis Hal Riney

Doritos – Checkout Girl
Kristin Dehnert

Sierre Mist – Combover
BBDO New York

Pizza Hut – Poparazzi
BBDO New York

2 stars (not so good)

Bud Light – Rock, Papre, Scissors
DDB Chicago

Blockbuster – Mouse Click-Click Away

Bud Light – Classroom
LatinWorks Marketing

King Pharmaceuticals and American Heart Association – Heart Attack

Bud Light – Reception
DDB Chicago

FedEx – Moon office
BBDO New York

Van Heusen – A Man’s Walk

FedEx – Not What It Seems
BBDO New York

Flomax – Biking
Grey Worldwide – Performance Evaluation

Snapple -Wise Man
Cliff Freeman and Partnrs/NY

Honda -Elvis

Budweiser -King Crab
DDB Chicago

FedEx – Not what it seems
BBDO New York

Chevrolet – Car Wash
Campbell-Ewald (consumer created)

GoDaddycom – The office -Marketing

Doritos – Chip Lover’s Dream
Jared Cicon, consumer created

Doritos -Duct Tape
Joe Herbert (consumer created)

Doritos – Live the Flavor
Dale Backus (consumer created)

Pizza Hut – Herd
BBDO New York

1 star (please)

Garmin – Maposaurus

Snickers – Mechanics
TBWAChiatDay New York – Pierce-Bostt
Vinod Gupta

Doritos – Mouse Trap
Billy Federight (consumer created)


Thanks to for the picture of Tony Dungy.

Thanks to and for coverage of the Superbowl ads.

My “top 10” ads for 2006

I don’t say these are the best ads of 2006.  They’re the ones that impressed me as great pieces of marketing. 

There is a good deal of chatter about the "revolution" taking place in advertising as a result of new media and new messaging.  But I believe we have yet to understand the cultural content and power of the more traditional venues, and especially the 30 second TV spot. 

Here’s my salute to my favorites.

ad:                          RosieRosie_in_volvo_ad_2
client:                  Volvo
agency:               Euro RSCG Worldwide
for more details:
Meet Rosie, scourge of the new advertising (here).

ad:               Light It Up           
client:      The Coca-Cola Company
agency:    Foote Cone & Belding New York
for more details:
Lighting it up at the Coca-Cola Company (here).Lebron_james_as_jpeg_2

ads:                    The LeBrons
client:              Nike
agency:           Weiden + Kennedy
for more details:
The LeBrons (here).

ad(s):                  All the Geico spots running in 2006
agency:              The Martin Agency
for more details:
Craig Ferguson (brand exemplar?) (here).

ad:                    Working Wealth
client:            Smith Barney
agency:         Hill Holliday, New York
for more details:
Parsing the symbolic language of the Smith Barney ad (here).

ad:                    Where the bloody hell are you?
client:            AustraliaAustralia_ii
agency:         M&C Saatchi, Sydney
for more details:
Marketing Nations: Good News From Australia (here).

ad:                     Intel chips inside
client:            Apple
agency:         TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles
for more details:
Branding Brilliance from Apple (here).

ad:                      Peyton Manning as a fan
client:              Mastercard
agency:           McCann-Erickson New York
for more details:
Peyton Manning: The man and the brand (here).

ad:                   My Life, My Card: M. Night ShyamalanAm_ex_shyamalan_1_1
client:           AmEx
agency:        Ogilvy         
for more details:
Branding, Cocreation and Amex Theater (here).
Oscar advertising (here).

ad:                        Chevy Cocreation website
client:                Chevrolet/General Motors
agency:             Campbell Ewald
for more details:
Chevy cocreation (here). 

Meet Rosie, scourge of the new advertising

Rosie_in_volvo_ad_1 Volvo and Nissan both have ads on TV at the moment.  One recalls the greatness that was advertising, the other gives us advertising’s dismal present. 

The Nissan ad is called "Seven Days in a Sentra" and it features a young man spending a week in his car. At the end of the first spot, Marc Horowitz looks into the camera and says, "this could get interesting." 

But it never does. There was a time, 10 years ago, when this idea was fresh and funny.  Now it is an exercise in the obvious, right down to Marc’s garden gnome, that object of the college prank transplanted to the mainstream by the movie Amelie and then forced into over exposure by those tremendously bad Travelocity ads.

Now the odd thing is that the campaign is adored by Barbara Lippert, Adweek’s brilliant judge of advertising.  So maybe I’m wrong.  But I can’t help feeling that the creative team sat down and decided to "get a little crazy" in pursuit of a younger consumer.  One of the new rules of advertising: don’t ever patronize your market, especially when they enjoy acute sensitivity to contemporary culture in general and marketing in particular. 

(It is perhaps too easy to blame the agency [TBWA\CHIAT\DAY, Playa Del Rey].  Ever since Carlos Ghosn moved the Nissan marketing team to Nashville, we have had to wonder what the costs might be.  Maybe this sort of ad plays in Nashville.  More probably, when you live in Nashville, it’s hard to see that it doesn’t play on the coasts.)

Lippert likes the Sentra campaign she says because there is "genius…in the casting." 

Horowitz’s good-natured, quirky, inventive and flexible approach to life is delightful to watch.

But in an era of really gifted comics and satirists, people capable of interrogating contemporary life until the seams burst and the lining tears away (think Jon Heder [Napoleon Dynamite] or Sasha Baron Cohen [Borat], ) this ends up looking "indie lite," or agit prop with the "agit" excised, or performance art turned into dinner theatre.  (When your average frat boy would have been wittier, you know you have a problem.) 

Now to the good news: a Volvo ad called "Rosie" that features a little girl chattering away as her Dad buckles her into the back seat of the family car. 

This is advertising as we used to make it.  Someone sat down and thought about the value proposition of any car from a father’s point of view (something like "safe passage"), the standard feature of the Volvo value proposition ("really safe passage"), and then looked for a way to propose this proposition in a manner that is interesting and powerful.

Sweet Jerusalem, they hit this one so far out of the park, it’s still traveling.  Rosie, a little girl of about 5, is talking, talking, and talking (as above, complete with visual aid).  We can’t tell what she is saying.  She could be reporting a story, she could be making one up.  (Actually, it’s hard to tell: is Rosie telling the story, or is the story, with its calls for dramatic gesture and exclamation, telling her?)  Dad hesitates to close the door for fear of interrupting, but it’s clear to us (and to him) that there is no interrupting this great spill of detail, enthusiasm and fluting talk.

One of the things I love about the ad is that "Dad" is played with restraint.  It would have been easy to have him "mug" his reaction or signal how achingly sweet this moment is.  But, no, that would have been patronizing.   Rosie is plenty because Rosie is everything.  We know exactly what is going on here.  No additional indexing, no additional "viewing instructions" are necessary.  What we get from Dad, at the end of the spot, is the littlest smile as he drives away.  Rosie, of course, is still talking.

Rosie’s talking jag is the sort of thing that one parent might report back to another.  It’s possible that the grandparent’s might hear about it. But it is also the sort of thing that is so deeply implicated in family life that, chances are, it will not stay in memory.  After the fact, Dad might say, "yeah, that Rosie has always been a chatter box" but the treasure of this moment will not make it into the family’s "oral tradition," into the scrap book or into the attic.  It is evanescent.  It is gone.

Someone at the agency went and recovered it.  (Did they get it from research?  Did it come from a brainstorm?)  And they seized on it as a way for us to think about "really safe passage" and the value that Volvo creates.  Left to their own devices, the automotive engineers will wow us with side impact tests and braking stats.  And we can communicate these to the consumer with promises of "safety."  And, bless them, even in a focus group, the consumer pretends to be interested, because, hey, who isn’t interested in safety?

But when the pitch is about safety, the particular gets lost in the general.  Yes, we all believe in safety, in the way we all believe in motherhood or iPods.  But for God’s sake, safety does not work as a brand proposition, and it isn’t something Volvo can claim for itself, unless it is made vivid, actual, human, and urgent.

Rosie is safety made vivid, actual, human and urgent.  It is when we see a little girl telling a story from her Dad’s point of view that see how much safety matters.  Now it’s clear.  Now it’s clear that Volvo is worth every penny of the price premium, and the styling shortfall, that Volvo obliges us to pay for it. 

There are several ways to express the value augmentation, the meaning manufacture, taking place here.  Here’s one: Rosie’s story > (augments)  Rosie’s charm > Rosie’s vulnerability > Dad’s responsibility and solicitude > Volvo’s safety. Actually, we could parse it a couple of ways.  And this too is the measure of a great ad.  It has a kind of semiotic redundancy built into it.  We can see it several ways but we always up back in the same place. 

But enough about the anthropology.  What about the advertising?  It turns out we can choose.  We can choose between agencies that chase after new segments with palid recitations of the kind of thing the consumer can do better while sleepwalking.  Or we can tell human and branding stories with such power that the world comes to us.  If advertising (and marketing and anthropology) learned anything in the 1990s, it was this: don’t play your consumer, don’t patronize.  Do what you do as well as you can do.  Find the value propositions and tell its story with all the creative power and cultural knowledge the agency has at its disposal.  Or, as we might now put it, find the Rosie within. 


Anonymous.  2006.  Nissan’s Long Haul To Nashville.  BusinessWeek.  July 3, 2006.  here.

Lippert, Barbara.  2006.  Living la Vida Nissan: TBWA’s inventive campaign stars a man, a car and a life.  Adweek. October 23, 2006, p. 26. here.

For a YouTube version of the Volvo ad, here.

Hats off to the authors of this ad:
(details courtesy of Euro RSCG Worldwide)

Title of campaign – Volvo “Who Would You Give a Volvo To?”

Network – Euro RSCG Worldwide

Office – Euro RSCG Worldwide

New York

Advertiser – Ford Motor Company

Brand – Volvo Cars

North America

Product Category – Automotive

Launch Month/Year – September 2006

Geographical Area –

North America

AGENCY credits-

Global Chief Executive Officer: David Jones

Chief Executive Officer, NY and San Francisco: Ron Berger

Executive Creative Director: Jeff Kling

Creative Director: Nick Cohen

Art Director: Julie Lamb

Copywriter: Risa Mickenberg

Contributor: Sharoz Marakechi

Director of Broadcast Production: Joe Guyt

Director of Broadcast Production, Business Affairs: Cathy Pitegoff

Associate Producer: Becky Burkhard

Group Account Director: Ian Marlowe

Account Mgmt: Edward Yu, Caroline Jackson and Amy Richardson

Business Manager: Deborah Steeg

Talent: Dawn Kerr


Production Company AND City: Furlined,

Los Angeles

Director: Pekka Hara

Director of Photography: Joaquin Baca-Asay

Executive Producer: David Thorne

Producer: Rob Stark

The death of modern advertising

SaatchiThere a couple of ways to look at the future of advertising.  With clarity or with panic.  Lord Saatchi has chosen to panic.

In the pages of the Financial Times, he warns of the death of advertising.  Lord Saatchi believes that advertising has been extinquished by a change in culture and commerce:

nowadays only brutally simple ideas get through. They travel lighter, they travel faster.

WhatI am describing here is a new business model for marketing, appropriate to the digital age.   In this model, companies compete for global ownership of one word in the public mind.

This is "one word equity".

In this new business model, companies seek to build one word equity – to define the one characteristic they most want instantly associated with their brand around the world, and then own it. That is one-word equity.

Lord Saatchi believes that the work of advertising is now clear.  It is to find the one word,

the word that guides everywhere. And once it is found, never to forsake it. How do you find that   word? There are 750,000 words in the English language. How do you know which is the right one? It is difficult.

The pain comes from the ruthless paring down of the paragraph to the sentence and the sentence down to the word. One-word equity is the most priceless asset in the new world of the new technologies. Discover it and you have the route to salvation and eternal life.

To call this stupid, well, is this really the one word I’m hunting for? Moronic?  Brain damaged? Sorry, that’s two words.  Insensate?  There is one priceless word for what Lord Saatchi has written, but I need to do a little more paring.  I’ll get back to you.

In the meantime, let’s examine Lord Saatchi’s claim.  He believes that the hunt for the one, true word is driven by a change in culture and the consumer. Culture has got faster and more complicated.  Check.  The consumer is now a digital native who thinks in new ways.  His branin has rewired itself, responding faster, recalling less.  Check.  The consumer suffers CPA "continuous partial attention."  Check.  So advertising is dead.  Check, please.

The premises are sound.  The conclusion is insane.  Lord Saatchi peers into the future and loses his nerve almost immediately.  Hold, Lord Saatchi, might the new consumer offer new life to advertising?  After all, this is a creature who can monitor several media, detect tiny messages, accomplish acrobatic acts of analysis thereupon.  The evidence collected by the likes of MIT’s Henry Jenkins points to the emergence of a consumer with extraordinary powers of assimilation and understanding. 

But of course, advertising cannot remain unchanged in the face of this consumer.  But it is not clear that it has died, nor that it should now be confined to the capitivity of single words. I think that the new consumer releases the agency from all that old USP [unique selling proposition] and KISS [keep it simple, stupid] nonsense  I believe that if we could climb in our Rocky and Bullwinkle time machine and ask the adverisers of the 1950s London and Manhattan if they might like to have the new consumer or the old one, that would be unanimous in their enthusiasm for the new.

Lord Saatchi has two choices in the face of the new consumer.  One was to change advertising to give it new power.  The other was to kill it, first by declaration in the pages of the Financial Times and then with his new "one word equity" model.  Fine work, Lord Saatchi.  We will carrying on the revolution without you. 


Saatchi.  Maurice. 2006.  The Strange Death of Modern Advertising.  June 22, 2006.  p. 13.  here

BMW claims meaning for the brand


The new "enemy of ideas" spot for BMW captures corporate citizens we all of us know too well.  These are the people who like to say "no," the ones who resist, resent, and refuse innovation. 

In the BMW ad, they says things like "Let me play the devil’s advocate," or "With all due respect, but" and the ad has us understand that this is the language of obfuscation, and they are the agents of orthodoxy. 

In another spot called "euphemisms," we hear a corporate citizen say "You’ve presented some very challenging ideas" and the ad offers a translation: "I am scared of your thinking."  "Keep that idea in your back pocket" is translated as "Your idea is about to die a slow death."

Brilliant.  This is an important new cultural territory.  It is now clear just about everywhere in the corporate world that innovation is the new order of the day.  BusinessWeek has said we now have an innovation economy.  As culture and commerce change in this way, new meanings open up for the brand, and I was wondering when someone’s brand would step up to claim it.  It looked for awhile as if HP might make itself a special friend of dynamism, but that campaign seemed finally to lose its way. 

Now BMW has seized the opportunity: "at BMW ideas are everything and as an independent company, we make sure great ideas live on to become Ultimate Driving Machines."  Apparently, BMW means to make itself the "Company of Ideas."

The campaign is by GSD&M.  I don’t have the names of the creative team at GSD&M or at BMW, but good on ya, mates.  This is good work.  Let us hope that it does as much for the corporation as it does for the brand.  I will supply these if I can, but right now I have less than a minute to press time. 


Anonmymous.  2006. BMW Unveils New Advertising Campaign.  The Auto Channel.  May 8, 2006.  here.  

McCracken, Grant.  2005.  Death by Committee.  This Blog Sits At the.  April 6, 2005.  here.

The new Passat ad II

Passat_ii_1 A Passat ad, discussed yesterday,  is now running on TV.  It features people shouting their insecurities from a megaphone.  One of these people, a man in a yellow car, says:

Because I am compensating for my shortcomings!

Because I am compensating for my shortcomings!

But the same ad on YouTube has this man saying:

Because mine is only about yeah big.

Because mine is only about yeah big.

In the image to the right, you will see the man in question gesturing with his hand, so to illustrate what he means by "yeah big." 

Now television has changed a lot in the last few years.  Explicit references to the male and female anatomy are not uncommon.  But I think it’s safe to assume that no one on the creative team actually believed that they would be allowed to run the "yeah big" version of the Passat ad.

So why did they shoot it?  Why did they keep it?  Why did they put it on YouTube?  I think the answer has to be that they were hoping for a viral effect.  They were hoping for the kind of notice that I am now giving it. 

What kind of virality is this kind of virality?  Making an "unauthorized" version of the ad, was this supposed to make us snicker like school children and send everyone a copy?  As in "look what I found!"  Were we being given the opportunity to admire the daring of the agency and/or the client?  Maybe. 

Or maybe we’re being played.  An ad was, I think, put into circulation quite deliberately.  It’s not a mistake.  It’s not an experiment.  It’s not private exercise.  To judge by appearances, it was made for the express purpose of being "leaking to the internet."  And that’s a little cynical, no.   

So we are left with a very strange combo, here.  The official version of the ad is, as I said yesterday, exemplary.  The unofficial, viral version is cynical and sophomoric. 

Um, I thought the viral ads were supposed to be more sophisticated, not less.  I guess we’re still working on this "new marketing" thing. 


Please see yesterday’s post for a fuller treatment of the ad, and praise for the "official" version. 


This blog originates in a conversation Pam and I had with Debbie Millman over dinner tonight.  Neither Pam nor Debbie should be associated with my bad tempered conclusions. 

The new Passat ad

Vw_badge_1 I saw the new Passat ad on Monday night and again last night. Pam and I just stared at each other with our mouths open. 

I wish I could find the ad on line.  In fact I couldn’t find as much as a single whisper.  I guess this ad is brand spanking new.   [Update: Thanks to Nicolai, I now know that the ad is on YouTube.  You can find it here.  Thank you, Nicolai!]

[Man in a blue car. He is shouting from his window with a megaphone.]

Because daddy never hugged me.

Because daddy never hugged me.

Because daddy never hugged me.

[Man and woman in white Passat drive past him.  They look at him and one another with alarm. Now they pass a bottle blonde in a red sports car. She is using her megaphone to exclaim:]

Because the more guys look at me, the more I love myself.

Because the more guys look at me, the more I love myself.

[Man and woman in Passat now pass a man sitting in his car. He uses his megaphone to say:]

Because I make more money than you!

Because I make more money than you!

[Now they pass a man in a yellow sports car. He uses his megaphone to declare:]

Because I am compensating for my shortcomings!

Because I am compensating for my shortcomings!

[Editorial note: On the YouTube version, the man is saying:

Because mine is only yeah big.]

[The Passat pulls away. Girl looks at boy. They shrug. Girl throws her megaphone out the window.}

[On the screen, a declaration appears in a tiny "consumer advisory" type face:]

Closed course. Do not throw megaphones or metaphors out your window.

[Voice over:] Volkswagen Passat, lowest ego emissions of any German made sedan.

[Close up on back panel of Volkswagen:]

"Passat" [and below that a badge that reads] "Low Ego Emissions"

Ok, the analysis:

There is a lot to like about this ad. Sure, it trashes the consumer culture, competitive brands and most consumers. Sure, it insists that non-Passat drivers are driven by childhood insecurity, sexist delirium or the rankest status competititon.

But the ad does this so well and so elegantly, all is forgiven. In advertising, it turns out, this is allowed. You can trash the industry, all your competitors and most other consumers, and that’s ok. Actually, there is a chance that the Passat marketing and creative team will get an award.

Here’s the thing: all brand messages are more subtle than this.  All consumer self expressions are more nuanced.  (Well, not Donald Trump, of course.)  Naturally, that doesn’t matter when Crispin Porter + Bogusky sit down to do creative for Volkswagen, nor should it have too. 

It really is a marvel, this ad.  The "trying too hard," "protesting too much" megaphones.  The "easy to recognize" stereotypes.  The effortless build, as a pretty strange proposition rolls out with perfect clarity.  But what really works is the proposition that "ego driven" drivers pollute the world.  This analogy (most cars : driving :: polluters : the environment) has the power of the zeitgeist going for it.  At a stroke Crispin Porter + Bogusky has turned every competitive brand into a Hummer.  Nice work, if you can pull it off.  And I think they did. 

The other half of the proposition (Passat drivers : all drivers :: Prius drivers : fume spewing, gas guzzler drivers), this is a little dangerous. After all, Passat drivers are in fact fume spewing and gas guzzling. But again the sheer elan of the ad pulls it off. (Only the Dickensenian anthropologist, joylessly pulling things off Tivo, is going to dwell on the problem.)

The real problem here is that the spot is a little smug. It says: "we, the Passat drivers, are the only ones who get it. We are above all this. Everyone else is a clueless, self absorbed, obnoxious jerk." 

This may be the very way Passat drivers see themselves.  (It would be very interesting to see the research and planning that went into this.)  But when you reveal this to be true, you tempt some people to say "oh, please, get over yourself." This is, for instance, pretty much the way I think about Hummer drivers. It would be a pity if it’s the way Crispin Porter moved me to think about Passat drivers.

On balance, though, this is bold and brilliant advertising. Well done, Passat. Well done, CP + B.