And the award for outstanding performance by an ad goes to: KOHL’s

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Last night’s Academy Awards will be talked about for many reasons. Chris Rock’s controversial opening monologue (which basically continued throughout the entire show,) teasing at the #hollywoodracism subtext was very labored indeed, and you could see the squirming in the front five or six rows as it went on. And then there was some strange stuff going on with Sam Smith’s musical performance. And lots of political stuff – including a segment setup by the VPOTUS. Oh, and Leo finally won one!

But, sadly, what many people aren’t talking about is Oscar’s real big winner: Kohl’s. The retail brand basically KILLED it last night with their Oscar-focused ads. Remember when Gwen Stefani did a “live” ad for Target during the Grammys? That was cool, but Kohl’s proved last night that you don’t have to go live to go big.  (Although, they did go big, considering the ad buy alone cost roughly $10 million.)

Kohl’s ran four separate commercials with the concept of “acceptance speeches” as the common thread to tie them all together. In each spot, something happens to each of the main characters. In one, an older brother offers the front seat of the car to his younger sister on the way to school. In another, parents inform a young boy that his friend’s parents have agreed to let him sleep over.

Upon hearing this awesome news, each character launches into their “acceptance speech.” Filled with gratitude and excitement, they are wonderful snippets of comedy and context. Because each speech is perfectly lip-synced from an actual Academy Awards acceptance speech from a famous actor. And it’s pretty friggin’ irresistible.

For instance, the girl in the car (who was just given the front seat by her older brother,) lip-syncs Whoopi Goldberg’s speech for her best supporting actress role in the movie “Ghost.”

She gushes, “Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve wanted this. You don’t know. My brother’s sitting there, he says ‘thank God we don’t have to listen to annnnnymore…you can do it now’…my mom’s home, everybody’s watching. I’m so proud to be here..thank you SO much.”

[It’s edited, of course. The little girl in the spot does not thank Jerry Zucker for “taking the time he took before deciding to use me.” She also did not thank Patrick Swayze as Whoopi did during that Oscar acceptance speech.]

Nonetheless, the performance the young girl gives (brilliantly lip-syncing and emoting the edited speech,) is what drives this spot, as well as the others. Each actor does a similarly spectacular job of acting out the edited speech, and it makes for wonderfully entertaining–and highly contextualized–advertising of the highest order.

Check them out:

If there’s one drawback, it’s that the spots are almost too contextualized. There’s almost no mention of the brand (until an obligatory final billboard,) no mention of benefits, no mention of positioning whatsoever. It’s entertainment with a logo tacked on to the end.  When I first started watching the “Whoopi” spot, for instance, I thought it was a spot for a car brand.  It’s an otherwise fantastic effort, and the halo effect should carry the brand through any difficulty the execution may have inadvertently created.

But as far as advertising goes, it WAS entertaining. And I cannot underscore enough (as I did during my roundup of the Super Bowl spots,) the power of a strong performance, and each one of these spots featured an outstanding display of acting, (not to mention strong conceptualization.)

And for that, in addition to changing the game of putting the right ad in front of the right people at the right time, the 2016 Oscar goes to KOHL’s.

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The Curious Case of Apple and the FBI

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There’s a lot of talk going on right now in Silicon Valley about this case the FBI and Apple are grappling over: it’s an attempt to unlock the iPhone 5C of Syed Farook, the Pakistani-born terrorist who, along with his wife, killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California.

At the heart of the case is a request by the FBI, now filed into a court order, to impose upon Apple Computer to help the FBI unlock this device. As you know, iPhones can be locked with a numeric code, and after numerous attempts to unlock the device with the WRONG code, the software has a built-in “erase all” function. This is built into iOS, and it’s a protective device. The FBI is specifically requesting Apple to write NEW software that will override the built-in protections of iOS, so that the FBI can try 10 or 20 million different passcodes without erasing the contents of the device.

The first issue, of course, is how the FBI can’t figure out how to get into this device. You could probably throw a rock in Silicon Valley and find a dozen entry-level hackers that could circumvent the passcode to get into the device. How does the FBI not have 10 of these people on staff already?

Sure, the nature of this attack was awful, and would get even your garden-variety patriot up in arms about getting to the bottom of the crime, and especially finding out if anyone else was involved. It makes perfect sense, from an investigational perspective, to see what information that phone has on it.

However, I’m not sure that’s Apple’s responsibility. And as the Tim Cook-penned response indicated, it does set a dangerous precedent about privacy and the reach of government. He wrote:

“Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.

We are challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications.”

But more than all that lofty ideology, this seems like a pretty cut-and-dry case of “it’s not our problem.”

In some sense, I think the FBI is confusing Apple with other tech giants like Google or Facebook. These companies DO have oodles of information about their users – usernames, passwords, location history and much more. But this is not the business Apple is in. Not by a long shot. They make their money on selling devices.

And that’s where I think this discussion hinges. All Apple did was sell a device to a consumer. What that consumer subsequently did with it is his business. Now, if that device was used in a horrible crime, (and that’s not a fact, but rather only an angle being pursued,) it certainly makes sense to see what information is on there. But how that is Apple’s responsibility seems, at the very least, confusing – if not downright dangerous.

From a brand perspective – this is a high-stakes game for Apple. If they capitulate (or are forced to,) then the risk of floodgates opening becomes a likely outcome – expect every country around the world (especially high-iPhone-penetrated countries like China and India,) to issue similar orders to the company.  And then expect similar orders to flood the executive offices of every technology company, social media company, e-commerce company and so on.

If Apple holds firm here, they could come off looking like heroes of privacy and vicars for establishing the boundaries between technology and civics. But at what cost? Is there a public backlash against the brand for “not cooperating in the war on terror?” Or is there a sentiment for honoring our rights to privacy that Apple would have stood steadfast to uphold?

This is dicey, indeed. And if I’m a brand manager for Apple, I would be constructing about 17 different contingency plans. Let’s stay tuned.

Super Bowl 50 Grins and Groans

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Well, the Super Bowl had its “golden” anniversary last night, and, by all accounts, the anniversary was about the ONLY golden thing of the evening.  The game was a bit of a mess, dominated by Denver’s defense, with a lot of fits, starts, sacks and turnovers.

But the advertising that showed up was a little dull, too.  Which is sad, because last year’s big game didn’t live up to 2014.  Alas, we’re on a downward trend.

A couple of notable items:

Scantily clad women were kindly asked to stay OUT of the advertising this year. Weird.

There were very few surprises, but the ones that were held back were certainly worth the wait.

A couple of newcomers likely won’t be back. They’ll be lucky if they’re in business.

It was basically the “Celebrity Bowl” of advertising this year. A few of the standouts (read more below) were Christopher Walken, Helen Mirren, Drake, Ryan Reynolds.

And say farewell to the Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl” party.  This was the 10th and final year of that enormously successful campaign.

The ads that made me grin:

Snickers – “Seven Year Itch” with Willem Dafoe
They continue to nail this campaign with the “you’re not you when you’re hungry” meme year in and year out.  And this year’s offering, a takeoff on the Seven Year Itch scene with Marilyn Monroe, was so well done and so well executed and so well performed, it made me grin twice.  (I still think it may be slightly off target, unless Snickers is now being marketed to Boomers??  But still, this spot kills.)

Mtn Dew Kickstart – “PuppyMonkeyBaby”
While a lot of people just scratched their heads at this, it’s actually very funny, and simplistic enough to be strategically on point.  “Three awesome things combined,” says the ad, referring to Mountain Dew, juice and caffeine.  So they combined three awesome things into one triple-cute mascot:  puppy, monkey, baby.  Makes perfect sense!

Quicken Loans’ Rocket Mortgage – “What Were We Thinking?”
This was most certainly a reach, and some may argue an over-reach.  But it was also so helplessly optimistic, it was hard not to like.  Plus, when introducing a new product, what better way to get people to remember it than by comparing it to, say, the Internet?  Well done.

 

Double Grins:

Bai Antioxidant – “Horse Whisperer”
This was a spot that wasn’t leaked earlier, and it’s super funny, super on target, and super performed, and so super unexpected!  What a great risk to take – I think they pulled it off!

Doritos – “Ultrasound”
The “ultrasound” commercial was funny.  In a gross, male, immature way, but funny.  And that’s EXACTLY what Doritos advertising is about.  It’s not supposed to be haughty, it’s supposed to position the chips as so insanely delicious that people will do anything to get them…including jettisoning from the womb.  Also remember that this ad was submitted by an “amateur” into the “Crash the Super Bowl” sweepstakes.

Hyundai – “Ryanville”
How far can you go to promote one tiny little (optional) feature on a car?  Well, in this spot, they went all the way to Ryanville, and nailed it.  Not only do they make a good case for the auto-braking-pedestrian-detection feature, they do it with a nice flip-of-the-gender-script, and have the gals ogling the guys.  Well, it’s one guy, but apparently, this one guy is all girls need.

Audi – “Starman”
Audi has basically been killing it for the last three years with their sweepingly cinematic spots.  But this one manages to do something that the last couple haven’t done:  connect (finally) more completely to their target audience.  It’s a piece of fiction, and a momentary suspension of disbelief, but we are more than willing to go on the journey to the past and back to present within a span of seconds.  Really well done.  And wow – they had Bowie.

But my biggest grin came when I saw this spot from Kia called “Walken Closet”
Could anyone else have delivered such a compelling performance?  “It’s like the world’s most exciting pair of socks….BUT – it’s a midsize sedan!” Funny, and drives home a core point about standing out of the “beige-ness” of midsize sedans.  (I know what you’re thinking.  “But Kia IS a midsize sedan!”  True, but the average car buyer in that category doesn’t consider Kia as a car with any excitement, or performance, or as Walken so eloquently puts it:  “pizzazzzzzzah.”  The mere fact of CONSIDERING Kia, as opposed to the “safe” choices in this category, like Honda, Nissan or Toyota, is what makes this a leap out of the “beige.”  Good stuff.)

 

Honorable mentions:
Prius’ “The Chase”
Two brand (and beautiful) spots from Jeep
Texting PSA for domestic abuse
Drake for T-Mobile

As usual, there were some groans this year.

Groans:

Persil Pro Clean – It’s always risky to come into the Super Bowl as a first-time advertiser, and Persil didn’t really do enough of a job of distinguishing themselves.  It was a clean and well-produced spot, but there wasn’t much there to grab onto.

OIC-  this spot, entitled “envy,” shows a man wishing he could go to the bathroom, and envying all these others that can.  Again, a well-produced, well-executed spot, but because it wasn’t for one particular brand, but rather, more of a PSA to get you to a doctor to talk about OIC, it just lost any connective tissue.  The spot is “made on behalf of those living with chronic pain and struggling with OIC.”  Which is everybody, sorta.  And nobody.  Sorta.  Just think what they could have done with the roughly 8 or 9 million bucks this spot cost to get this message to the right people in the right places at the right time.  Smells like a consortium buy to me.

My least favorite:  SoFi. 
Listen, no matter what anyone tells you, you never, EVER, EVER say mean things to your consumer.  Not even anything that can be misunderstood as mean.  Well, there’s nothing misunderstood in this spot, except why it was made in the first place.

This commercial starts its first eight seconds of life like this:  “Jim is great.  Sara is not great at all.  This guy – NEVER been great.  (then the camera pans down to a cute baby in a stroller…) No.”  So inside of eight seconds, we’ve identified that three out of four random people, including a baby in a stroller, are not great.  And since they’ve set up the construct that there are basically two kinds of people in the world (great and not great,) we’re all nervously wondering if we’re great.  I probably don’t need to tell you this is NOT what you want your consumer doing when you’re trying to get them to like you.

The ad goes on to say that SoFi gives great loans to great people.  (And leaves the rest out in the cold, I might add.)  And then…are you sitting down?…the ad invites you to visit SoFi TO FIND OUT IF YOU’RE GREAT!  (I bet a zillion people did that.) I know you can’t believe this, but it actually. Gets. Worse.  The final line of the voiceover, after saying “find out if you’re great at SoFi.com,” says “you’re probably not.”

Hey, here’s an idea.  Fuck you, SoFi.

Until next year, keep grinning!