Audi goes vroom at the Emmys.

If you watched the 2017 Emmy Awards this past weekend on CBS, you got a real sense of what the Television Academy was interested in this year. (And apparently, it wasn’t ratings.) But you also got some interesting advertising from Audi.

Audi ran three spots (multiple times) throughout the evening under the theme of “celebrating performance.”  Take a look:
Cheers

Star Trek

Mary Tyler Moore

In the spots, three Audis (the 2018 SQ5 SUV, the 2018 TT RS coupe and the 2018 R8 sports car, which starts at $164,900,) accompany a small orchestra playing classic TV theme songs. Pretty good idea, considering that the Emmy audience is likely made up of people who love television, so the spots create immediate context.

Here’s the text that Audi posted on YouTube along with the “Cheers” spot:

Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name. Other times you wanna use three Audi vehicles to perform TV theme songs. This is one of three pieces performed by the Audi Orchestra on Emmys night 2017. A demonstration of Audi’s unrivaled technology in honor of some of TV’s greatest shows. Orchestra members include the R8, SQ5, and TT RS. All songs are performed in the key of quattro.

Progress is celebrating performance.

Hmmm. The Audi Orchestra. Television theme songs being played by vroom-vroom-vroom-ing. Can you identify the value that brings to the average consumer? Neither can I.

Let’s start with what’s good about these spots. First, they’re beautifully executed, beautifully filmed. We get a nice motion cam beauty shot of the rear-mount V10 engine on the R8, some cool in-and-outs on the high-speed-spinning rims, and gorgeous pullouts of the soundstage. Really nice. Venables, Bell and Partners have done some incredibly impressive work for Audi over the last several years, including their Super Bowl spots, which have been sweeping cinematic victories.

Oh, and they show the new cars. That’s always a good thing.

But that’s about it. From a strategic perspective, these spots would get rejected in advertising school for several reasons:

1. They’re self-congratulatory. While it’s important to tout your features, it’s best to do it in a way that helps consumers understand what those features do FOR THEM. Not for some contextualized television experiment.

2. They’re wading into positioning territory that’s blurry. Remember, when a consumer shops a category, the position of all players in the category matter. BMW, whether Audi likes it or not, owns the concept of “performance” in the mind of the consumer. Trying to wrestle that free is dangerous at least, and a colossal waste of money at worst.

3. There’s no VALUE created for the consumer. Ok, great. A limited production vehicle that starts at $165,000 goes “vroom.” What else does it come with?

Look, I’m not saying you can’t do daring, or beautiful, or interesting, or arty work in advertising. You totally can. Even if it doesn’t necessarily sell. (Sorry, Uncle David.) But if it doesn’t differentiate the brand in some meaningful (to the consumer) way? Don’t bother. At the end of the day, any car can go “vroom.” Even my mom’s Nissan Altima does that. And for about $135,000 less than your shiny orchestra piece.

The real test of any advertising is to discern whether or not you come away with any sense of VALUE. Even your basic tire dealer spot that runs on the local cable network in anytown USA is going to leave you with a basic idea like “oh, cool. I buy three tires and get the fourth one free.” That’s value. Or if it’s not an offer-based spot, you might say, “oh, cool, that little thingy there keeps my food fresh for an extra two hours.” That’s feature-based value. But I watch these spots over and over, and can’t imagine anyone saying, “oh, cool. I can vroom-vroom around town to the tune of ‘You Really Got Me’ with these really nice import cars.”

At least we have Audi’s Super Bowl spots to look forward to.

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Super Bowl 49 – Grins and Groans

If you’re a football fan, you liked this game. A slow burn, with twists and turns, and a dramatic finish. Good stuff. (Unless you’re a Seahawks fan, then, not so much.)

If you’re an advertising fan, you got pretty much a reflection of the game: a kind of slow and steady stream of ads, none of which made you say “wow,” and a few headscratchers late.

Mostly, we were left with questions:
Where were the really big ideas?

Where was Chrysler? (there was only the one Fiat spot and it was pretty funny) – but after Dylan, Eastwood and Eminem, they had set the bar pretty high, and not seeing them in the game was weird.

And seriously: what was Nationwide thinking???

A few themes this year that were notable:

Dads – three advertisers embraced dads this year: Dove, Nissan and Toyota. (And we’re not sure why, exactly.)

Puppies – Bud’s follow-up to “Puppy Love” from last year, and GoDaddy’s “controveersial” spot that never made it to the air (and it should have, since their “replacement” spot was meh.)

Celebrities poking fun at themselves:

Kardashian for T-Mobile was really good and funny and actually made good advertising.

Brosnan for Kia was very well done and a big grinner for me.

Pete Rose for Skechers was actually cute, and he was a good sport to take on that sensitive subject matter with such air.

The Esurance spots with Lindsay Lohan and Bryan Cranston proving that “sorta” is not good enough were pretty good.

And Liam Neeson absolutely KILLED IT in his I’m- a-badass-and-I’m-coming-for-you brogue for Clash of Clans.

The ads that made me grin:

Fiat and the little blue pill:

Mercedes Benz fable

Coke

Double Grins:

BMW i3 with Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel

This spot was funny, had great performances, and made an excellent point: big ideas take a little getting used to.  Smart, and very non-typical auto advertising.

Snickers Brady Bunch

Snickers took their “you’re not you when you’re hungry” to a great new place, by going to a great old place.  Well done!

Doritos – When Pigs Fly

This wasn’t my favorite of the Doritos “crash the Super Bowl” ads, but it was still entertaining, light-hearted, and well-executed.

But my biggest grin came early in the game when I saw this spot from Turbo Tax:

Man this was just flat out good. High cinematic value in the production of the spot, and high concept in rewriting history around a simple (and relatively benign) benefit of “free filing.”

Of course, we all know it’s free to file your federal return. But you still have to pay for the software of course, and for state taxes, you’ll still shell out that pesky little 29.95 or so. Bah, details. They made a great ad!

As usual, there were some groans this year.  And one flat headscratcher.

Groans:

Cure.com insurance (pair of 15’s) – bad jokes, worse production.

Jumlia – credit to coming into the game as a first time advertiser, but it was forgettable – an animatic for toenail fungus. They could have made like a billion or so targeted impressions online, and still had a couple million bucks left over to buy a whole bunch of spots during the professional bowling championships later in the year, when toenail fungus really flairs up. (Duh.)

Squarespace with Jeff Bridges – just weird. Any ad that’s going to make you go to a URL to figure out what it’s all about is just a waste of the airtime. Who’s going to leave the game for that? And for Jeff Bridges acting creepy? No thank you.

But the biggest WTF this year was Nationwide Insurance’s “make safe happen.” I can’t even believe they chose THIS strategy, and chose THIS buy. Didn’t anybody over there THINK about what the typical super bowl viewing environment is? You’re talking beer, wings, chips, salsa. You’re trash-talking about your team. And wait, now we’re thinking about our potentially dead children? No, no, no. NO! Kids and puppies in advertising are great…but you don’t KILL them in your spots. Jeez! You’d think somebody over there knew the basic rules.

Outside of the Turbo Tax spot, there was no real altitude attained this year in terms of high concept approaches. A few bright spots, and a few duds. Oh, and Nationwide killing our children to make a very serious point at a really shitty time. And that’s STILL not as bad as that one really bad decision to pass at the 1-yard line by the Seahawks’ offensive coordinator late in the game.

Until next year, keep grinning!

Is your marketing intuitive?

Over the last year, I’ve become fascinated – okay, maybe even a little obsessed – with cognitive psychology.  As a result, some of the principles of understanding the mechanics of how the mind works have found their way into our agency’s plans and presentations.  What we’re trying to uncover are the automatic mechanisms of the mind, and how to appeal to those functions with specific marketing messages.

One way we’re doing that is by embracing what we call intuitive marketing.  There’s no set formula.  There’s no best practices guide.  And it’s even more complicated in that it’s different, not just for every category, but for every marketer.

What does it mean to be intuitive anyway?  To (over)simplify, the human brain has two basic types of reasoning functionality.  Some of those are complex, multi-step functions.  Like a difficult math problem, or recalling a song in your memory, with the guitar riff and the drum intro and the lyrics, and the harmonies, all at once.  The other kinds are automatic functions.  These are the immediate perceptions of facts and concepts that happen instantaneously, and that don’t require other thoughts or substantiations.  Like walking outside and recognizing that it’s cold.  Or even having an insight while someone is talking.  It’s not something you think about thinking about.  It’s just an immediate mental perception that typically happens in an instant.

And as marketers and the agencies that serve them, we’re all trying to simplify the choices for our customers.  To make it easy (even instantaneous) to CHOOSE US!

Sometimes, it’s the package design.  Sometimes, it’s the media choice.  It could even be the distribution channel.  But in any case, if your marketing doesn’t make contextual sense and simplify the cognitive conversation in some way, try thinking more intuitively. Here are a few cornerstone idea-starters:

Do (or be) the thing that makes the most sense and simplifies the engagement.
Did you ever notice how when you walk into a room, the light switch is almost always just inside the door opening, and at about chest height?  Or how the toilet paper is almost always within arm’s reach of the toilet itself?  Wouldn’t it be weird, and downright silly to have the light switch (or the toilet paper) across the room somewhere?  That would not only not make sense, but it would make your life – or at least that particular experience – harder in some way.

Apple revolutionized the mobile phone industry with their iPhone design through a number of powerful features.  Whether it was combining a phone with an email device and an internet device and a music player, or introducing the touch-screen features to a broad audience, they just made it EASIER to engage with your communications needs on one handsome mobile device.  Once it was introduced, it made every device that preceded it seem clunky, limited and insensible.

Anticipate the customer’s usage environment.
I was recently traveling on business, and stayed at the grandest ole’ resort in Nashville.  When I got in the shower, I noticed something really curious:  the mini shampoo bottles had twist-off caps.  Having already been soaked with water, it was nearly impossible to unscrew those things!  It was a good laugh, but it proved that they hadn’t really thought the usage scenario through quite completely.  A flip-top design would have been much more intuitive.

My colleague and partner and a fellow blogger, David Adelman, brought to my attention an especially curious case:  while riding the subway, he was reading the ads on the train car, and noticed that one of them featured a QR code.
On the subway.
Where there is no mobile service.

As far as intuitive goes, that’s an epic fail.

Don’t design features into your product or service that its consumers will never need.
My life as a frequent traveler is made more enjoyable by the fact that I love airplanes.  One of the reasons I love them is that they’re super streamlined in their design. Many people don’t even realize that airplanes are not outfitted to go in reverse.  It seems silly, but it’s true. EVERY facet of an airplane is built to optimize one thing:  going forward and fast.

The same is true of Instagram.  Many people don’t realize you can’t go to an “instagram.com” and upload photos.  (There are third party web access points, but that’s what happens when an ecosystem evolves around a successful platform.)  Instagram is wholly designed to enable a singular and contained experience:  point, shoot, edit, upload and tag all through your mobile device.

The best products and services are built the same way:  hyper-optimized to accomplish the simple tasks they’re built for.  Think Dyson vacuum cleanersKeurig single-cup coffee brewers. Staffing companies that focus on specific job titles. Tax attorneys.  Singular specialization can be intuitive.

Elevate the experience on a rational and emotional level.
Finally, think about all these cornerstones, and then take it to the next level.  That’s what the great marketers do.  BMW automobiles are designed to appeal to the driver in a specific way, and to the passengers in a different – but also specific – way.  The dashboard instruments that are critical to the driving experience are pitched in to the driver so he or she has an elevated driving experience.  Amazon.com built an algorithm that monitors your purchase behavior to make intuitive recommendations for future purchases.  Then it goes a step further to create bundle recommendations and even offer you the most optimized shipping choices.  That makes your shopping experience more than just a shopping experience.  It makes it an Amazon experience.

Start with these cornerstones and then go further to create the most intimate and rewarding experience for your customers.  If you do that, you don’t have to be too intuitive to know that success is right around the corner.