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Super Bowl 2014: Grins and Groans

First off, condolences to the Denver Broncos organization and their fans. That’s what we call a rough day at the office. And for those of you who are fans of Super Bowl advertising, it was kind of a rough night on the couch. Again.

Last year, we had a few “wows” interrupted by a lot of mediocre. Sadly, that trend continued through 2014. And at $133,000 per SECOND, that can mean some rough Mondays for some advertising executives.

SINGLE GRINS:
Radio Shack – good for them for poking fun at themselves as they make their re-rebrand statement. (Remember “The Shack” attempt from a few years back?) Best tweet of the night I read said something like “Radio Shack had to close 10 of their 12 stores to pay for that spot.” At least they’re trying.

Heinz – after sitting on the sidelines (yes, all puns intended,) for 16 years, Heinz returns with a feel-good spot to the tune of “If you’re happy and you know it…” Solid, simple, reminder advertising. The right message for a brand that already owns the category.

Wonderful Pistachios – for a brand that is trying to make hay in a highly commoditized category, Wonderful Pistachios made a strong statement for themselves with two :15s wrapped around the H&M David Beckham spot. They did a great job of getting out of the way, and letting Colbert be Colbert. Especially poking fun at themselves about a “lack of branding.” Really fun, really light, and memorably goofy.

DOUBLE GRINS:
T-Mobile’s Tim Tebow spots were absolutely hilarious, and I thought the most on-target/on-focus advertising of the night. Perfect symmetry between his situation (a national figure without a contract) and their basic brand position (mobile network service with no contract necessary.) He’s a good sport (yep, another pun) for poking fun at himself, the ads had high production and camp value, and I think this was a touchdown. (Ugh, that was shameless.)

Doritos brought high value humor to a crop of commercials that were otherwise meh. Add the fact that the spots were created by contest entrants, and you add a level of intrigue. Congratulations to Ryan Thomas Anderson for the winning entry and the $1 million prize. A second level of kudos to Doritos for matching good advertising with strong social activation, and (you may have missed this) an absolutely cool in-stadium activation: recordSetter got 30 people to don orange ponchos to create “the world’s largest human Dorito.” Pretty effing cool.

BIGGEST GRIN:
Chrysler 200 with Bob Dylan
So this was one of the (very few) spots that was not leaked or teased prior to the game, and it really paid off. Chrysler has embraced Detroit/Americana as a stand-in for the brand, and they have wrapped a powerful message around it. (Remember Clint Eastwood’s “halftime in America” ad? And the Paul Harvey “God made a farmer ad from last year for Dodge?” Yeah, same idea.)

They encapsulate this idea in the statement “Detroit made cars. And cars made America.” Overly patriotic? Sure. A tad pandering? Maybe. But powerful advertising? You bet your ass.

The best part is the finale of the 2:00 triumph, (delivered incredibly by a surprisingly articulate and pointed Bob Dylan,) with this: “Let Germany brew your beer. Let Switzerland make your watches. Let Asia assemble your phones.” Dramatic pause. Cut to Dylan in a pool hall talking directly into camera. “We. Will build. Your car.” Touchdown. Two point conversion. Game over. (Yeah. I went there.)

And now for the GROANS.

WTF GROAN:
Maserati introduces its new Ghibli sedan to America with an overly produced spot about “unleashing monsters” or something. Sure, I get that you can make a “big splash” with a Super Bowl ad…but wasn’t there ANYONE in the room saying “this might not be the best media buy?” And who named “Ghibli?”  If you’re going to introduce a “more approachable” brand extension (the Ghibli starts around $67,000) to an otherwise unattainable line, shouldn’t the spot be more, um, approachable?

SLOW GROANS:
Kia takes a target demographic couple on a spin through the Matrix with Laurence Fishburne in full Morpheus mode. Um, what? Or, rather, why?

Bud Light – Now here’s an instance where the social media leadup was better than the ads themselves. Bud Light’s three and a half minute brand film around the “up for whatever theme” was great. The two spots that got edited out of it…a little disjointed.

Beats Music Service introduces its “we’re better than Pandora” intuitive music service. Sounds like a cool idea. They made a nice spot, riffing on the Goldilocks folktale. Except they chose Ellen DeGeneres. Hmmm…is SHE the target? (Highly doubtful.) Is she RIGHT as being appealing to what we would imagine the target to be? (Still no.) So…why Ellen?

BIGGEST GROAN:
AUDI just completely missed the mark this year with “Doberhuahua.” After such an incredible showing last year with their “prom” spot, they go for the dopey CGI-laden humor trick of a Doberman cross-bred with a Chihuahua. They took their potshots at sappiness with knocks at kennel shows and Sarah McLachlan, and tried to wrap this around the idea that “compromise is scary.” It is. Especially in advertising.

End notes: Other hits and misses…
GoDaddy tried to capitalize on the “real time marketing” concept with a spot where a woman (Gwen) quits her job on live television. Interesting. And better than that gross makeout spot they ran last year. Wheeeew!

H&M’s ad with David Beckham was the first to be truly interactive…for a limited few. Turns out, if you have a Samsung SmartTV, you could have ordered product live through your television. Great strategy for the 327 people who actually own that tv.

Volkswagen’s “Wings” ad starts out as a really smart quality claim. Dad tells daughter that every time a Volkswagen hits 100,000 miles, a Volkswagen engineer gets his wings. Cut to German factory, where white-lab-coat-wearing engineers start sprouting wings. Funny concept, well executed. Major problem with this spot: NO FEMALE ENGINEERS. Not a one. Except that young lady in the elevator who slaps the other engineer. Wrong message to send to the world’s young girls, Volkswagen.

Until next year – keep grinning!

This article first appeared on Technorati.

What were YOUR favorite spots? Post in the comments below.

Bolton, Burgundy and Cheeky Buzz – Auto Marketers Set a New Tone

If you’ve seen the recent round of spots (they ran throughout the fourth quarter of 2013) for Dodge Durango featuring the fictional character Ron Burgundy, you know how good they are.  Crazy good.  (Kudos to Wieden & Kennedy.) They’re stupid funny, with an offbeat wit that perhaps only Will Ferrell could channel in this character composite, a mashup of 70-‘s into 80’s d-list celebrity relics.

Here’s just one of the many spots that were filmed (likely loosely scripted and then ad-the-hell-libbed-out-of by Ferrell) for the campaign:

What’s more intriguing, of course, is that the spots were wildly effective.  According to this article in Autoblog, Durango’s sales were up a staggering 59% in the first month of the campaign. Similarly, after three months of leadup, (the Durango spots were a marketing tie-up to promote the movie inasmuch as they were car ads,) the movie – who some have said didn’t live up to the hype – has raked in more than $108 million dollars at the box office (as of the weekend ending January 5, 2014) against a $50 million production budget.  That’s a profit, yo.  And it might have something to do with the more than 20 million views the spots have received on YouTube.

In a strange coincidence, another auto marketer (Honda) aligned with its own interesting character to help bolster holiday sales.  In the fourth quarter of 2013, Honda ran a campaign of spots under the “Happy Honda Days” theme featuring Michael Bolton, a bit of caricature himself, something of a mashup of 80’s/90’s pop stardom realism.

In the spots, the VO asks, “what does it feel like to get a great deal at Happy Honda Days?  Cue the Bolton.”  (Cheeky, right? Ri-ight?)  And then Bolton appears, singing wintry feel-good lyrics, like “Spread some cheer, the holidays are here…” and “now that the snow is falling down baby, my love is calling your name…” and the more heavy-handed “It’s a winter wonderland, and the snow is gonna blow.”

Take a look:

All these songs were written specifically for the spots…and they’re goofy, but with a deceptively catchy feel that’s very, well, Bolton.  That’s pretty neat.

But what’s really neat (and perhaps where Honda has out-cheeked Dodge in this strategy,) is the social component that’s wrapped into the spots.  Here’s how the program worked.  In late November, there was a 5-day window when people could message their friends via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Vine using a hashtag #XOXOBolton.  Here’s “The Bolton” setting the stage himself:

Then a bunch of lucky winners did indeed get personalized songs from Bolton, and THOSE were really funny too: Check one out, delivered to the difficult-to-pronounce Erdle:

So, major props to Rubin Postaer (sorry, now known as RPA) for taking a good idea and going a few really creative steps further.

In comparing these two campaigns, (Dodge and Honda,) how would you crown a winner?  Is it the quality of the idea?  The production value?  Or the reach?  Dodge and Ron Burgundy rode a wave of laughter all the way to the bank, (for both brands, it turns out.) Honda went the whole way, integrated the celebrity endorsement (and really carried the joke through) in a rich and fun social media activation.

Honda wins on extending the activation and driving engagement.

But at the end of the day, we have a job to do.  And in this inter-office smackdown, Burgundy and Durango win hands down for moving the needle way over into the profit redline.

So…who’s next on the cheeky auto endorsements?  How about Alice Cooper and Verne Troyer for Mini Cooper?  Huh?  Whaddayasay?

Just spitballing here.

Top Five Marketing Resolutions for 2014

As this year comes to a close, I’m reading a lot more posts and articles about the “best” this and the “most” that of 2013.  And yet, rather than reflecting on the astounding advances of the past year, I find myself looking forward.  And hoping.

With that in mind, here are my top 5 resolutions that marketers – of all sizes – might consider in the coming year.  If you’re a mom and pop shop that’s embraced marketing on any level, or a mega marketer that has a department full of b-school overachievers, or a business to business service provider that’s retooling…here are some idea-starters for moving your brand forward in the coming year.

The First Resolution:  I Will Get Integrated.
I know, you’ve heard this one before.  But I’m not talking about integrating digital with your current TV and radio campaign.  Or adding a url to your print ads.  I mean really integrating everything – reorienting everything you do – around your brand and the promise it carries.  And remember that can mean way more than advertising.  If your brand is about fun, then make sure your office is set up for FUN!  Or if your brand is all about design superiority, then pull that superiority into EVERY communication piece…even if it’s some mundane necessity, like an inter-office memo, or a fax cover sheet.  (Remember those?)

Integrating your brand means looking at EVERYTHING you do through a different lens…through YOUR lens.  Just having the conversations with your internal teams about what that might mean will be valuable indeed.

The Second Resolution:  I Will Get Visible.
If you’re not advertising, please start.  We are far beyond the era of marketers who will be able to say “it’s amazing…we’ve gotten really far without advertising at all.”  The truth is, the brands that win are typically the brands that advertise (in some way.) Do you ever wonder why ad budgets go up every year for most companies that are advertising?  Usually because it’s WORKING.  Even if you have a modest presence, or you’re outspent by your competitors, being visible still creates opportunities that invisibility simply precludes.

The Third Resolution:  I Will Get More Social.
Just recently, I heard about a midsize company who refused to embrace social media, despite having a membership-based audience, because they were afraid that someone might hijack their feed with some negative commentary.  The category leader was social.  The flankers were social.  But this brand refused to get on board for fear of one potential dickhead who might take to the Twittersphere with some grade-school gripe.  Instead, they’re missing out on having any number of conversations that might lead to deeper brand involvement, or maybe even more sales.  But a fear of what might go wrong is preventing that brand from reaping all that might go right.

The Fourth Resolution:  I Will Get in Bed with Data.
There are so many amazing things evolving in the analytics realm, it’s hard to consider developing a program without talking about the various incarnations of data tracking that may result.  Just think of the audience data.  Just think of the site tracking.  Just think of the…wait, I’m going full geek.  Oh, hell.  I am a geek!  And I love data.

Think about setting marketing objectives.  Then start thinking about setting data objectives that run alongside those:  what do you want to LEARN today?  Build that into your next marketing program, and you’ll be surprised how fun it is to hang with the geeks.  PS – it’s also a great way to build accountability:  from your creative team, to your media buys to your ecommerce providers…a strong set of data objectives is where the feet meet the fire.

The Fifth Resolution:  I Will Get More Creative.
Despite the fact that data is driving the marketing bus these days, there is no better time than 2014 to get full-on creative. Give your agency or your in-house team or that freelancer you’ve been avoiding a little slack and let them run with an idea or two or three.  And the bigger the idea, the better.  Why not a rock tour?  Why not the side of a building?  Why not get a million people to sign up?

Sure, build in some responsibility markers, and don’t let them do anything that might be considered rude or insensitive, but let’s let ideas fly this year.  Write a jingle.  Listen to an idea from an unlikely source.  Just because you’ve been “doing it this way for years,” doesn’t mean you can’t try something new.  You might have an opportunity to become your very best.  And it might be this coming year.

What are YOUR marketing resolutions for 2014?
Leave your comments here, or better yet, Tweet them at #marketingresolutions

 

I know a good spot when I SMELL one.

No, no, no.  This is not about some crazy new scratch ‘n sniff technology.  It’s about the latest television commercial for Nationwide Insurance, simply called “Baby.”  It comes from the agency McKinney (Durham, NC & NYC.) I like this spot a lot.  And you’ll see why in a minute.

Here’s the spot:

While this spot may not win a Gold Lion, it is perfectly and productively creative.  It also embraces virtually all of the classic conventions of good, solid advertising. I’ve developed a simple acronym/meme called SMELL to outline the five primary points of enumerating the creative approach through this process.  [Not the most elegant thing in the world, but hey, it works.]

This spot is Simple.
It’s a very concise idea.  The man in this spot thinks of his brand new Mustang as his “baby.”  He cleans it, treats it with care, makes sure it doesn’t get hurt.  Then when something does go wrong, he gets it fixed, and both he and baby are happy again.  No fancy tricks (except the enlarged baby effect,) no special lighting, no explosions.  Just a straight metaphor idea, simply executed.

Even the copy (voiced over by Julia Roberts) is simple:

“In the Nation, we know how you feel about your car.
So when coverage really counts, count on Nationwide Insurance.

Because what’s precious to you is precious to us.
Just another way we put members first.  Because we don’t have shareholders.

Join the Nation.”

Note:  I don’t quite get the “because we don’t have shareholders” bit, but it must have been a mandatory in the creative brief.  Oh well.

This spot is Memorable.
It’s hard to get this idea out of your head.  Once you see the car equated with “baby,” you get it, and there’s no need to explain it any further. Plus, because there’s a clear narrative thread (man loves car, man protects car, man hits fire hydrant with car, man gets car fixed and all is right again,) it’s easy to remember the story in context of the baby image.  That happy baby playing with a tire in the auto shop is super cute!  (And super cute is super memorable.)

In addition, the jingled slogan “Nationwide is on your side” is also memorable.  The line, developed by Ogilvy, Benson & Mather (now Ogilvy Worldwide,) in 1964, was sung to the distinctive 7-note jingle in 1973 and hasn’t changed since.  Consistency aids memorability.

This spot is Emotional.
One of the most important aspects of marketing is that it appeals to the emotions.  Brands create bonds on the emotional level, not the intellectual.  We start by desiring them, then come to trust them, and in some cases, we become deeply bonded to them.  That’s not rational – it’s pure feeling.

By humanizing the car (and with a cute little baby, no less,) this spot plays to emotions.  We see it happy, then we see it sad (after the accident,) then we see it happy again.  An emotional up-and-down within 30 seconds.

This spot is Likeable.
One of the key aspects of this spot is that it’s easy to like.  The main character is likeable, (he waves to the neighbor while washing his baby,) the baby (unless you’re an alien) provides likeability, they get Ms. Likeable herself Julia Roberts to do the voiceover, and they use the classic “Love is Strange” song from Mickey and Sylvia (from 1956) to provide the soundtrack:  a wailing wooing and cooing “baaaaaa-by!”  I like that.  It fits.

To lend some fairness to the conversation, the spot is NOT for everyone.  There are a host of dissenting opinions on this spot, (some people find it creepy, or weird, or just plain silly,) and I found a thread that sums it up here: http://www.commercialsihate.com/aahits-a-giant-babynationwide-stop_topic16598.html

This spot is Lasting.
Perhaps the most important thing about this spot is that it has a timeless quality to it.  This spot could have been released 10, or 20 or even 30 years ago.  I suspect that it will be relevant in 10 or 20 or 30 years from now.  That’s because there’s no “inside joke” being used, no “markers” of the current era (except for maybe the model year of the car itself,) and no descriptors in the copy that would be out of place years from now.

Because the ad taps into universal truths (babies are cute, we love our cars, sometimes we get into accidents, etc.) it has a quality about it that allows it to be relevant for a long, long time.

On second thought, maybe it should win a Gold Lion?

Breaking (Bad) news: Marketers LIE!

I know it sounds like heresy, but I’m here to break bad news: marketers lie. Most specifically, they lie in their advertising. They’ll do or say virtually anything to GET YOU TO LOOK OVER HERE! It’s nothing new. They’ve been doing it for decades, from omitting “unnecessary” items on their package labeling, or touting offers that get negated in 30 lines of 5 pt heavily kerned knockout legal copy.

And it’s hard to avoid. Because in many instances, the competitors are lying too. So some awfully nice marketers are often forced to join in the lying spree to make sure YOU LOOK OVER HERE TOO!

Case in point: Century 21, the national real estate broker, recently perpetrated an outright lie to draw attention to their brand. Wanting to capitalize on the enormous popularity of the AMC TV Series Breaking Bad and tie in to the September 29, 2013 series finale, and seeking a solution around the enormous costs associated with advertising on the show, they opted for a more, um, unorthodox solution.

Century 21, and their agency Mullen, ran the below ad in Craigslist, listing fictional character Walter White’s Negra Arroyo lane ranch.

cent21_cl_ad

See the full listing at http://albuquerque.craigslist.org/reb/4098553645.html

Pretty neat, huh? It’s a funny and quirky idea that leverages the popularity of the show. And they make no bones about it: the ad is a farce. It’s laced with Breaking Bad references, and inside jokes about how there’s nearby “RV spots” and a “motivated seller” who must be out by 9/29. Let’s face it. It’s pretty funny stuff.

But it’s also an out and out lie. And here’s the thing – they may have misled some people in the process. I commented on the AdAge article about the stunt and surmised that there may have been 117 people who actually clicked on the ad interested in this home. (Seriously, a 3BR ranch in a nice neighborhood for $150K listed by a reputable broker would MAKE ME LOOK.) And let’s say that 20 or so of those people immediately understand that it’s a Breaking Bad riff, and get a good chuckle out of it. That’s 97 misled people who MAY now have a bad taste in their mouth about the brand.

When you call the telephone number associated with the ad, you’re told “this house isn’t really for sale. But if you’re interested in buying a home, call Century 21.”

It seems odd to me that THAT’S the way you’d like to call attention to your brand. Sure, I get the bulleted list of reasons to do this:

- capitalize on Breaking Bad popularity
- show people in the target 25-44 demographic that Century 21 is a little hipper than you might remember
- get some ink around the #breakingbad and #waltshouseforsale hashtags

But still, if Mullen didn’t issue a press release around this concept, who would know about it? Maybe the extended social networks of those 20 potential buyers who are also Breaking Bad fans. But heck, you may have 97 people crowing to THEIR extended social networks about how they were DUPED by Century 21 in the name of a marketing “stunt.”

Brands have a hard enough time trying to maintain their personalities among competition, economic trends, and other market forces. So it’s ill-advised to pull out the rope-a-dope in the hopes of creating fans.

But as I said earlier, lying is nothing new for marketers. I recently received a promising email from JetBlue touting a two-day sale with “fares starting at $69.” And it happened to be somewhat true, there WAS a fare starting at $69. Just one. From New York to Buffalo. EVERY other flight leaving out of New York was more than $69, with some as high as $249. The promised fare carried restrictions like:

• “travel on Tuesday and Wednesday only” and
• “travel between October 8th and December 18th” and
• “blackout dates of November 22nd through December 2nd” and
• “may not be available on all flights” and
• “does not include fees for optional services” and
• “additional restrictions apply.”

While this is all important legalese, it ultimately dilutes the power and appeal of the original promise. So as a consumer, I’m left holding the bag on a flight I don’t even want to take, on days I don’t want to fly, just to try and save a few bucks? No thanks.

I’ve written many times that brands are very delicate entities that are built over time. Most importantly, one of the primary aspects of a brand is that it is a cumulative phenomenon – the perceptions and overall impressions are built over time into what you ultimately believe about the brand and its promise. And when brands start lying to me about virtually everything, (even as a goof,) those perceptions start to erode. And as a consumer, there are so many “shiny new things” out there, that I’m likely looking for another promising offer within 2 minutes.

Take note Century 21 and JetBlue and any other brand that’s still using snake oil salesman tricks from 100 years ago.

It’s a new age.

It’s a new consumer overloaded with choices.

You can’t just break bad and expect it to keep working.

Advertising: starring social media

I’m sure you’ve noticed this, but the phenomenon of digital interactivity – and especially via social media – has become a pervasive theme in modern television advertising.  Everywhere you look, brands of all kinds are using dramatic setups in their spots that either include, focus on or ultimately lead to some kind of digital interactivity.

To clarify, this is not just listing all the places you can find the brand on social media with a tag at the end of the spots.  This is regarding the growing number of spots being ABOUT social media, and about our digital lives, and how the brands are woven into our modern lifestyles.

Survey Monkey, typically regarded as a b-to-b entity, has gone out with an appeal to the consumer audience, and claims that their platform can be used “for all kinds of things, including event planning.”  What I love about this spot is the way it’s contextualized (and well-directed, as the story bookends the extended spot) around the “original” survey model.  Molly leaves a note in little Johnny’s locker, handwritten with crayon:  Do you like me?  With two options:  Yes.  No.  Classic.

Now, obviously, it makes sense for any type of online platform to use the digital life as the basis for the creative.  Google has done this marvelously before in their search spots, and more recently in a spot for their Nexus 7 product, where they use the theme of “search” as the basis for interacting with their electronic gadget.  It’s good – and they touch the humanity button perfectly with good casting and a few carefully planned tugs at the heartstrings.

Samsung’s Galaxy S4, (whose advertising still confounds me, since they’re just marketing around features instead of trying to find differentiating benefits, but that’s another post,) has a new spot featuring a traveling baseball team.  A bored infielder is using the video capture on the device to film his sleepyhead travel companion.  As the nod-er-off-er’s head bounces, the video is captured, and the buddy starts to tool on the loop.

And that’s what’s interesting – the ad isn’t about the quality of the video the device provides, the number of megapixels on the device, or even the dopey “tap to share” feature on the device, but rather on the video loop that this kid will create with the device.  (A primary-grade-level feature on any smartphone today.)  Ostensibly, the owner of the Galaxy S4 in this case is merely considering what a great Vine upload this would be, or at the very least how many likes that GIF will get on Tumblr.  THAT’s the unspoken focus of this spot, and it marginalizes the brand in some ways, because you can do that with ANY bloody phone.

In another category altogether, Wendy’s has taken up the social-media-as-the-end-to-the-means with its latest spot for its chicken flatbread sandwich.  In the old days, we would have just created a situation-comedy style setup with the big laugh at the end and then a 6-second panning beauty shot of the sandwich.  Today, the dialogue and setup is totally based on social media:  male character walks in and starts the dialogue with “hey…you saw my post on this great bakery…” and then ends with him posting a pic of redheaded “Wendy” to Twitter. [They also tagged the spot with a hashtag #twEATfor1k.]

And it goes beyond fast food into several other categories.  One new car commercial (for Honda) touts its “the car reads your emails for you” feature, and positions it as a safety benefit.  Smart.  But stop and think about that for a moment:  the brand recognizes the need for us to stay connected to our digital lives, and has built in an e-mail reading feature into their vehicles, and is now running spots promoting that.  That goes way beyond MP3 players and partnering with Pandora for entertainment purposes.

Surveys.  Search.  Social media posts.  All taking a lead role in spots for big brands.  Going even further, many brands now are using crowdsourced images and videos as the visual basis for their ads. It’s an interesting paradox, or at least a healthy turnabout:  for years, brands have hoped to be discussed and passively promoted through social media and across the digital landscape.  Now, social media and the digital life are being actively promoted via brand advertising.

Pardon Me, May I Borrow Some Equity?

From a marketing perspective, Audi is having a strong first half of 2013. They started with this spectacular Super Bowl Spot, which I also covered in my Super Bowl Advertising Roundup.

As you can see, this spot is really strong advertising, very well executed, and by most accounts, very well received. Kudos to the team at Venables Bell & Partners for 60 seconds of fine storytelling, excellently produced.

What I really admire is the borrowed equity. Audi uses the (classic) high school prom and all its teenage-I-don’t-really-fit-in-and-I’m-secretly-in-love-with-that-girl angst as the thrust agent to propel the underlying storyline. There’s so much being said, without actually being said, that provides backdrop and motivation to the spot. In virtually any other scenario, you’d have to spend a lot of valuable airtime to establish that emotional context. Borrow some “prom” equity, and it’s built in. Smart.

Now, Audi releases another gem, a viral video called “The Challenge.” It’s a two minute and 44 second short featuring Zachary Quinto and Leonard Nimoy. For the four of you who can’t make that connection, they both share the role of Spock from the Star Trek fiction series, and this video is released just weeks before the next installment of the blockbuster film franchise “Into Darkness” is released nationwide. [Interestingly, and clearly not coincidentally, Audi is NOT the “official auto partner” of Star Trek. It’s Mazda. And they’ve gotta be pissed over there in Anaheim.] Take a look.

Again, aside from the fact that this is a really good piece of content, with a couple of really good laughs around the old man vs young turk struggle, it’s the Trekkie/Nimoy references buried in the action, the Star-Trek-ism of it all that fuels the comedic undertone. It’s geeky, and quirky, and you’re almost waiting for Sheldon from “Big Bang Theory” to make a cameo. By the way, did you notice that shameless kick in the crotch that Audi levels on Mercedes-Benz? OUCH.

In the short, there are plenty of jokes, and Nimoy even reprises his old Bilbo Baggins vocalizing as part of it. It’s camp. It’s fun. It’s for FANS. It’s content dissemination that’s approaching four million views as of this writing. Yeah. FOUR MILLION.

In both cases, Audi was smart and crafty enough to pull some strong messaging together and dress it up with sexy shots of the latest A7 vehicle. But they go a step further and deliver those messages to consumers in powerful emotional packages that ALREADY have trust and memory and gravity built in. It is indeed “fascinating,” and I, for one, can’t wait to see what they do the rest of this year.

Live long and prosper.

[This article first appeared on Technorati.]

Facebook’s Mobile Phone: Three Reasons to “Unlike”

facebook-phone

Concept art courtesy of Gizmodo

Facebook is set to announce this Thursday the release of the Facebook Phone in partnership with HTC. According to the latest mobile report from The New York Times, the plans are to manufacture the first smartphone designed around the total social/sharing experience that Facebook enables. Maybe it’ll be called PhoneBook? Ugh.

On paper, it’s a really good idea. More than a billion people use Facebook on a regular basis to connect with friends, weigh in on political ideas, and just generally brag. And as it turns out, MOST of them are posting, liking and commenting from a mobile device.

However, this announcement is NOT on paper. It’s real. And on most levels, it’s kind of silly. Facebook has become one of the most visible, one of the most recognized, and one of the most important brands on the planet, (although, according to the stock price relative to the IPO, NOT one of the most valuable.)

And yet, with all the Stanford MBAs on staff in their marketing and operations departments, is there anyone there voicing an opinion that this is a thinly veiled brand extension that’s simply designed to appease shareholders with a strategy to create more revenue streams? Because, let’s face it folks, that’s what it is.

The subtext of the “exciting” and “new” direction for Facebook is to have another screen for advertising. Period. Facebook’s entire valuation was built – however hastily, however erred – on the idea that a billion+ eyeballs is a road paved with advertising gold. Add another screen, and you can charge another scale. The new rate card must be getting a design makeover just like the news feed.

But that road to gold, being paved this week with this mobile announcement, is pocked with obstacles. From a marketing perspective, these three obstacles indicate a likely FAIL and another rough year for Zuck & Co.

Obstacle #1: A partnership with a questionable partner.
Facebook is partnering with HTC, a manufacturer that, as of the end of 2012, has less than 5% of the total global smart phone market share. What’s worse, the HTC moniker is inextricably linked with another epic fail of corporate overreach, RIM, and the BlackBerry platform.

Why not partner with the #1 or #2 player? With the heft of Facebook, why not approach Samsung or Apple and design a custom “version” of their popular phones designed more smartly around the Facebook experience? The full version of Android (the HTC model is using a modified version of the system,) or iOS would provide more seamless integration into the consumer’s current mobile experience. Facebook is still acting like a startup strapped for cash, when it should be carrying itself with the mien that they ALREADY have a seat at the big boy table.

Obstacle #2: Consumer adoption.
Brand extensions are a dangerous proposition, even in the best-case scenarios. And in this case, (which is not the best case,) it’s super-duper dangerous. As it stands, the consumer already has the option to have a BETTER piece of hardware than HTC, (with S3 and the soon-to-be-the-most-popular-phone-on-the-planet S4 or any of Apple’s iPhones,) a BETTER piece of software via the Facebook app on either the Droid or iOS platform, and the chances are the consumer ALREADY owns a device she’s happy with.

So it’s highly unlikely that someone is going to rush out and buy an inferior piece of hardware, running an inferior operating system to run an OS that’s focused on a social network so they can take pictures and post status updates from their home screens. The rest of the world already does that with relative ease and great enthusiasm.

Obstacle #3: Increased operational workflow and costs.
As if Facebook doesn’t have enough going on internally, (acquisition plans, acquired partners spinning off, implementation of contextual advertising, implementation of graph search, etc.,) now they’ll have to add a bunch of new pieces. This might include a coding team to fix v.1 bugs, a customer service department devoted to mobile, internal teams to interface with HTC, a dev team to work on v.2 and beyond, marketing and advertising expenditures around the device, operations around packaging and distribution and on and on. Yeccchhh.

I’m no Stanford MBA, but when you have increased operational expenditures, increased marketing expenditures and are projecting – at best – to penetrate a 5% piece of the pie, chances are you’re going to have to dip into your pocket to support this new initiative with a boatload of short-term cash.

Zuck, here’s my advice. KILL this deal before it erodes the stock price and further erodes consumer perception about Facebook quickly becoming the “uncool” social platform.

Want some free ideas?

- Blame HTC as an unreliable partner.
- Cite your unusually high expectations for the platform as a reason to delay the rollout.
- Say you’re working on even bigger and better features and you think you’ll roll out by Christmas.

In the last year or so in Menlo Park, you’ve already misstepped with the privacy policy bungle, the pace of HTML 5 integration, un-hipping Instagram and more. Right now, you need some WINS. And acquiring Hot Studio last week is not what I mean.

Wanna have lunch?

This article first appeared on Technorati.

Super Bowl 2013: Grins and Groans

Super Bowl 47 is in the books, and with it, so is another chapter in advertising history. Football fans got what they wanted – a very exciting game that came right down to the end, with strategy, comebacks and even a second half blackout to make it interesting.

Advertising fans, not so much. The advertising was generally blah. No real game-changers this year. Just a lot of bland messages delivered in neat packages. Not including a ZILLION CBS promos, there were nearly 70 commercial airings between the National Anthem and the final play of the game. So here are my GRINS and GROANS for Super Bowl 2013.

SINGLE GRINS:

M&M’s doing a funny riff on Meatloaf’s “I Would do Anything for Love”;
Oreo’s “Library” whisper-romp;
GoDaddy’s “don’t wait to register”;
Sodastream’s “bottle savers”;

DOUBLE GRIN:
I loved the Tide “Miracle Montana” spot. Well thought, well executed, and well played by the wife character (who happens to be a Ravens fan, duh) in the spot. Smartly executed. Would have loved to have seen it in the first half, though.

BIGGEST GRIN:
Has to go to Audi for its “prom” spot*. It was one of the very few spots that drew the viewer in with a real narrative tone and you couldn’t help but rooting for the main character. In the spot, we learn of a young man who is clearly depressed about having to go to the prom by himself. But Dad intervenes, throws him the keys to the new Audi, and the kid starts to feel his oats. He races a limo off the line at a traffic light; he parks in the principal’s spot at school, and he walks right up to the prom queen and plants the I’ve-loved-you-since-6th-grade kiss on her. But he pays for all that courage. The final scene: same boy, driving home, black eye: Best. Prom. Ever. The spot ends with the tagline “Bravery. It’s what defines us.” See it here:


* BUT WAIT. There’s an asterisk. Here’s a note on why Audi’s minute-long love story is not a perfect message, especially considering the mostly male 20-something audience. While I appreciate the courage it takes to finally let your feelings be known to the girl of your dreams, it does NOT excuse the behavior of this boy. Kissing a girl without her permission is simply NOT okay, (even if she secretly liked it.) I love seeing a hero, especially in advertising. But NOT at the expense of a young woman’s privacy and dignity. So it makes sense that he gets socked in the eye. But societal norms, or better judgment, or an ad agency that should have known better, should have PREVENTED that scene from happening, instead of him being punished by a jealous prom king boyfriend. If this spot were politically correct, he would have gone stag to the prom, exchanged some nervous glances with the prom queen, and then perhaps they could have met at the punch bowl for a MUTUAL confession of their affections. I would much rather see him drive home with her phone number scribbled on a napkin…the promise of a future rather than the finality of a blaze of glory. The promise is what most of us can relate to. The hope. The hope against hope. The what’s-next-in-this-crazy-story anticipation. And heck, I’d rather do all that waiting in a nice Audi. Too bad – they went Hollywood and did a less-than-perfect spot. But, gosh, it was still really, really good advertising – using storytelling wisely.

And now the GROANS.

The WTF GROAN: I just don’t even get it.
Ram’s “Paul Harvey/Farmer” spot. Wow, what a wonderful sentiment. Wow, what a terrible waste of money for a car marketer.

SLOW GROANS
Taco Bell’s “retirees’; a long way to go and too far-fetched for fast food
Beck’s Sapphire “singing fish”; NOT the bom-diggity it was intended to be
Mercedes “devil”; just seemed like a waste of talent, all those teases and airtime.

BIGGEST GROAN
GoDaddy’s “kiss” spot. Besides being gross, it (again) decided to denigrate women in the process of making a point about style and substance. UGH! At least throw us a curve ball and make Bar Rafaeli the IT girl. Jeez!

What did YOU think of the Super Bowl spots? I’d love to hear!

This article first appeared on Technorati.

Creative in Common

When you consume as much advertising as I do, you start to notice patterns, like when two (or more) advertisements have a very similar theme.  Sometimes it’s an executional element, like the type treatment in a print ad.  Sometimes it’s the music bed in a radio spot.  Jeez, you work in this business long enough, and you start to recognize the more popular commercial actors in one television spot after another!

But once in a while, you catch a glimpse of creative synchronicity – two marketers plying their latest models using extremely similar conventions.  I’ve recently noticed this with the latest spots for Microsoft Surface and a revised spot for Kit-Kat bars.

Two gigantic corporations.  Two very different products.  Two disparate categories.  Two different audiences.  Two different agencies producing the work.  So how did they arrive at virtually the same executional strategy for their recent ads?

First, let’s take a look.

SURFACE

KIT-KAT

As you can see, these ads both employ a very specific creative strategy:  the “way in” to each spot is to focus on the “click-click” sound produced by using/consuming the product and create a commercial around it.

They’re both very entertaining.  The Surface ad starts with a little curious “click.” And then it’s followed by another, then another, and soon, the entire world is dancing in a Bieber-video-bonanza of clicking craziness.

In the KitKat spot, (which is not new, but has recently resurfaced in a media schedule that includes NFL programs,) the “click-click” of breaking off the chocolate wafers is soon followed by the “crunch-crunch” of eating the yummy snacks, harmonized with a few “mmm’s” for good measure.

Similar executions:  lots of different people, enjoying the product.  And interestingly, these multiple enjoyment scenes are focused around a singular commonality:  the click-click, or crunch-crunch.

Now there’s good reason to focus on this as a creative strategy.  For Surface, the click-click is an indication of the product features:  a self-stand for the tablet and the main focus of the spot, the quick-quick and easy-peezy snap-on of the Surface Touch Cover, a quick-click add-on that allows you to type into your tablet using a standard keyboard layout.  (You should also know that the Surface Touch Cover is sold separately, for about $120, and does not come with your Surface.)

For Kit-Kat, the click-click, crunch-crunch is the sound of the consumption experience of the product.  Break the wafer off with a click, enjoy the textured wafer with a crunch.  All for less than a buck.

Technically, both spots work very well.  They’re entertaining.  They’re light.  And they create a meme (click or crunch) around which to recall the product into top-of-mind awareness.  So far, so good.

But if we’re really evaluating these commercials on their merits, then by far, Kit-Kat wins without a contest.  Sure, the Microsoft spot is cool.  It’s sexy.  It’s energetic.  It’s youthful.  There are back stories on the filming and development of each scene (seriously, even extended scenes of just the schoolgirls dance routine,)  and “making of” videos with director Jon Chu.

But from a brand perspective, Kit-Kat gets more mileage out of this creative convention in a simple 15-second spot than Microsoft does in a one-minute choreographic extravaganza.  Why?  Because the “click-click” used in the Surface spot is highlighting a product feature (that a separately-sold keyboard can click on the tablet for a different type of use,) that has to be dramatically overplayed with all the dancing, twirling, and whirling about.  Conversely, the Kit-Kat “click-click/crunch-crunch” is a feature that is simple and direct, but most importantly, tied directly to the enjoyment benefit:  if you like a crunchy treat, you’re there in a matter of seconds – no big production number necessary.

Creative can be clever.  It can be cool.  It can be quirky.  It can even have things in common with other commercials.  As long as it makes you remember, (really important, especially for brand advertising,) it can pretty much be whatever it wants for whatever product or service or category. But in this case, you can see that it’s far better (and by better, I mean effective,) if the creative convention used in the advertising is tied directly to the enjoyment of the product – the benefit – derived from engaging with the features, rather than just on the features themselves.

Don’t you just love advertising?

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