"Shoot, I kinda liked this thing before that last round of edits."
Advertising is a subjective business. Certainly, we’ve seen our fair share of juvenile, misguided, and downright offensive advertisements in 2013. (For example, this genius Berlusconi ad from Ford’s agency in India).
That said, my position—and I realize this contradicts the common wisdom—is that an offensive ad can never be truly terrible. Because it's doing something. It's driving the conversation somewhere.
The question I ask when evaluating an offensive ad is whether or not the ad is so offensive that I would never again consider buying from the company, no matter how tempting their products and offers.
And that’s a pretty high bar. After all, Gap is still around, and those clothes are made by child slaves in Asia. So clearly, we have a great talent as Americans for ignoring the outrageously horrible.
Speaking of outrageous, remember that GoDaddy.com Super Bowl ad with supermodel Bar Rafaeli and that nerdy tech guy making out? Fantastic ad, I thought—got people talking by grossing them out.
(Quick sidebar: What does it say about our society that we're made uncomfortable watching an attractive person kissing an unattractive person? I'm not grandstanding here and saying I'm better than that; I squirmed just as much as anyone. I'm just a little worried about what that says about our culture...)
Anyway, after the Super Bowl, almost everyone I talked to officially "hated" the ad. And yet they were talking about it, endlessly, everywhere. Mindshare, people, mindshare!
So, following my previously stated offensiveness criterion: Is anyone going to see the ad and affirmatively boycott GoDaddy.com? Probably not. Remember this is a fairly commoditized Web domain and services business we’re talking about. They don't really care what you think about their values; they just want you price shopping on their website, and to get you there, they need to stay top-of-mind.
Now, does this mean that I’m saying all one needs for a winning SuperBowl ad is close-up footage of a man passing a kidney stone, followed by a BP logo?
Yes! That’s precisely what I’m saying.
But enough about great ads. Let’s get on to the real point of this blog, which is the worst ad I've ever seen. As regular readers know, I often write about why B2B and B2G marketing is so much poorer than the B2C variety. But today, let's focus instead on a much easier question: How precisely do we achieve such drivel?
Typically, it begins as B2B and B2G professional services companies devise their unique selling proposition, which invariably turns out to be: "We do good stuff."
(Naturally, if you needed good stuff done, you'd turn to these guys—owning to all the good stuff that they're clearly doing.)
"We do good stuff" is sometimes supplemented by two powerful companion messages: 1. "We exist,” and 2. "We have money for advertising."
From the messaging stage we move to the ad creative. Now here, the logo is going to do most of the heavy lifting, because our greatness is self-evident. We're not trying to convince people of anything, only to gently remind them of their unquestioned affinity for our superior brand of military-grade industrial lubricant.
So that’s the process. And here’s the result: a DC Metro ad that undoubtedly garnered high-fives and “nailed it” whispers from every person in Harris upper management:
Let’s just count the ways in which this ad is terrible, using the Internet’s most valuable currency—snark.
Oh, you’re IT experts, are you? You specialize in the thing that everyone else in this area specializes in? That's just super. Way to differentiate yourself, Harris. You just need two more words added to the beginning of that headline: “Trust Us.”
Not so much sentences as a series of ambiguous verbs. We also get a sub-head that’s basically just a second, unrelated headline. It’s as if they couldn’t decide which headline they liked best, so they just used both. Great job in not backing up an incredibly vague headline with any type of actual message or argument.
What am I even looking at here? It's a computer and a man in the shape of an X? What could this possibly tell me about Harris? Oh wait, I remember now from the headline... they do IT. Obviously, this image reinforces the fact that they deal with computers, as opposed to burgers. Super helpful.
4. QR code
OK, these are just terrible—always. It’s a scientific fact that no one in the history of the universe has ever actually activated a QR code. And yet they keep popping up—probably because marketers think they're trendy and forward-thinking. Never mind the complete absence of utility.
So there you have it—the most innocuous, forgettable, milquetoast ad that's ever been produced. It will offend no one, but it will impact no one.
And therefore, it’s an exercise in futility—the worst kind of marketing malpractice. Like they say in my University of Phoenix philosophy class: If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody cares, do you still get to bill for the chainsaw?
Not satisfied? Need still more examples of B2B marketing shadenfreude? Then check out this white paper below. I promise, things only get worse on the Web...
Did you watch the Super Bowl last night? Did you care about the game or were you just there to see the commercials and watch Beyonce? It’s ok, I’m a huge football fan and the commercials and Beyonce were my main reason for tuning in this year since my beloved Packers were forced out by the 49ers. I give a resounding “eh” to both the commercials and Beyonce’s performance, for what it’s worth.
Every year there is so much hype about the commercials that are going to air during the Super Bowl and my colleague Kate will be along shortly to wrap it all up nicely for you but for now, I’m here to tell you that you probably missed some of the best ads of the night if you weren’t on Twitter.
Nobody will ever forget that this is the Super Bowl the lights went out on and it was clear that CBS did not have any commercials on reserve in case the game ran long or something caused a delay. And, it’s not like you can just quickly whip up a TV commercial when something unexpected, like a power outage, occurs. But, if you’re a smart brand and prepared for such a scenario, you can quick whip up some banter on Twitter and make a “print” ad out of nothing.
Oreo has by far received the most praise for their quick wit and quick thinking. Within minutes of the power going out at the Superdome, Oreo took to Twitter with the following tweet:
As of today, that tweet has been retweeted more than 14,886 times! So how did Oreo react so fast? According to Buzzfeed Oreo didn’t just place all their eggs in the “Cookie or Creme” commercial basket, they had a full team on standby, including agency reps and Oreo brand team members, ready to strike if the opportunity presented itself.
And Oreo wasn’t the only one to get in on the action. Tide was right behind them putting out this tweet, and ad, a mere three minutes later.
Even Walgreens had some fun with the situation:
While it’s fun to share these images and talk about the Super Bowl winners (personally, I’m still tearing up over the Budweiser Clydesdales commercial) and losers (anything GoDaddy does) the real point is the continued power of social media. Oreo was ready to strike and it paid off for them – big time. I know many people who still turn their noses up at social media and scoff at the idea of using it, but when timed correctly it can be incredibly effective. Oreo paid millions to have their commercial run during the Super Bowl but being quick to post that ad on Twitter is priceless. Not every company should try to replicate exactly what Oreo, Tide and Walgreens did but it does go to show that you should never put your social media on autopilot. Too often we push social media to the side, assign it to an intern to handle or worse, set it and forget it. Social media isn’t going away and brands like Oreo are already light years ahead in their mastery of how to use it effectively.
On February 3rd, people all over the United States will tune in to CBS to watch the most exciting event of the year…Super Bowl XLVII of Advertising. Yeah, I’m sure two cities (tops) and those who placed high-stakes bets may actually be tuning in for the football game, as well, but most viewers will be tuned in to see which companies spent an insane $4 million for 30 seconds of exposure. Yes, I said $4 million – the highest price tag for Super Bowl ads ever, up $500,000 from last year’s event according to a recent Huffington Post article.
Back on January 8th, Broadcasting and Cable also reported
that the ads for this year’s game have officially sold out, although not as quickly as in the past two years. Maybe the price tag hike had some companies double thinking the purchase. The article also quoted CBS Corp. president and CEO Leslie Moonves saying, "Yes, we are sold out. But obviously, if some of those movie companies want to come in at the last minute and pay us five or six million dollars, we will find a place for you." (Obviously!)
But how do the Super Bowl ads of the past compare to one another? The folks at USA Today are counting down the top 25 ads in honor of the 25th anniversary of their Ad Meter. They’ll be revealing one per day in the month of January until they announce the number 1 ad on January 28th. Be sure to check them out as they are announced here. Here's number 21 on their list and one of my personal faves:
Want to see who is already signed up for the big day of advertising (and, maybe football) on February 3rd? Business Insider has been reporting on confirmed participants, which include:
- Best Buy
- Century 21
- Ford (Lincoln)
- Fiat (Chrysler)
- Gildan’s Activewear (WHO?)
- Go Daddy
- SodaStream International
- Taco Bell
- The Walking Dead
- Wonderful Pistachios
Have you seen this video yet? Book burning party in Troy, MI - be there or be square. Ok, it's not really a book burning party but people didn't know that....at first.
Here's the scoop from the Leo Burnett/Arc Worldwide agency - the creative geniuses who won a gold prize in the Effie awards for this campaign.
"Troy Public Library would close for good unless voters approved a tax increase. With little money, six weeks until the election, facing a well organized anti-tax group who'd managed to get two previous library-saving tax increases to fail, we had to be bold. We posed as a clandestine group who urged people to vote to close the library so they could have a book burning party. Public outcry over the idea drowned out the anti-tax opposition and created a ground-swell of support for the library, which won by a landslide."
Watch the video about the campaign below.
Pretty genius, right? Without going in to the politics surrounding what led to this campaign, I think this is a great example of how a well orchestrated campaign, at the right time, can work to achieve results. When people think of Leo Burnett they think of an advertising agency, but this campaign came out of Arc Worldwide - the marketing services arm of Leo Burnett, not the creative/ad side of the house.
The folks behind this campaign - and those at the Troy Public Library - clearly understood that while approving a 0.7% tax increase to save the public library was important, it was hardly the kind of vote that would drive people to the polls. And, with those on the other side spending big money to oppose the tax, it looked like the library was certain to close. By first drawing people's ire by encouraging people to vote "no" so they could hold a book burning party and playing in to their emotions - and then ultimately revealing the true meaning behind the campaign - the citizens of Troy were able to see that closing the library was equivalent to burning books and turned out in droves to vote yes to save the public library.
Am I suggesting that this sort of campaign would work for everyone? Absolutely not. I know some clients I would never in a million years suggest this kind of campaign for. But, I do think it shows that public relations, now more than ever, goes beyond just writing and issuing press releases and hoping the media will pick up on your story. For the right client, or cause, this sort of campaign goes directly to the people who matter and gets picked up by the media second.
So what do you think about the book burning hoax? Genius or dishonest?
"Repair the exhaust vent? That's not why we're here, Tarkin!"
There's an article I've been meaning to write about from a now-obsolete issue of the New Yorker.
It's like a hundred pages, so I'll summarize it for you: In the late 1940s, brash adman Alex Osborn invented a creative technique called Brainstorming, otherwise referred to as the biggest sham since laser hair growth.
Turns out that according to research, individuals participating in a brainstorming session produce fewer ideas than they would have independently. But surely the quality of those brainstormed ideas must be better? Nope, consistently worse.
So what's going on here? Are humans really less creative when they collaborate? How then do we explain Gilbert and Sullivan, the Coen brothers, or the two girls from Hot Problems?
Evidently, the collaborative component isn't the hiccup at all. Rather, it's the first commandment of brainstorming -- thou shalt not criticize.
This is true: The best creative directors I've worked with weren't successful because of the great ideas they had (though they certainly had plenty), but because of the great ideas they recognized.
What I mean is, our minds are always coming up with new combinations of words, pictures, thoughts, and emotions. That's not a difficult skill. You can program a computer to be a random word generator or a random image aggregator.
What makes human creativity unique is the ability to recognize that seed of potential within the creative chaos.
And to do that, you have to probe, question, and generally be an ass.
When we work alone, we're constantly criticizing our own ideas, and that's what inspires new and better thinking. But in the brainstorm, we're working so hard not to dampen anyone's creative thoughts, that we inadvertently hamstring the whole process.
What's great about group creativity isn't the collaboration, but the conflict. Others can probe and question our ideas in ways we never could ourselves.
And that's healthy. That's productive. Sure, you'll all hate each other at the end of it. But that's the price you pay for a better sneaker tagline.
10,000 Nerd Bucks if you get the title reference.
Sifting through my reader this week, I came across what I consider to be one of the most maddening yet incredible start-up stories, courtesy of Mashable. A start-up called Wander has launched a mind-numbingly simple game – you click the image of a cow and you get a point. If you like or tweet the game, you get 100 points. The points serve no purpose at all, but the leader has one billion points on the aptly named “Utterly Pointless Leaderboard.”
Let that sink in for a minute: one billion points in a time suck of a game that serves absolutely no purpose other than to earn points. Go ahead and curse the human condition, punch a wall, whatever – I know you want to.
Mashable points out that Wander’s game is the homage to Cow Clicker, a Facebook game designed to illustrate the pointlessness of, you guessed it, Facebook games. Sort of like “You Have to Burn the Rope” for the social generation, I guess.
But the stark simplicity of the game combined with its massive popularity is telling – no one has any idea what Wander does (even Mashable), but their name is going to be everywhere. This is a solid lesson for PR pros, and not just one in gamification (although that’s a pretty key point here).
Attaching client names to something, anything, which promises engagement, will have some kind of benefit. It may not be the booming success reaped by clicking a stock photo of a cow, but the exposure gained will surely be greater than standing quietly in the corner of the social world.
So tweet, create Facebook pages, have YouTube videos, create social contests…the list goes on for quite a while. But just think – if clicking a cow can have such booming effects for a mystery company like Wander, just think what a similarly well-conceived endeavor can do for your organization.
"The tastiest meat is under the horn."
Savvy marketers understand the key to their success has been -- and always will be -- making people feel bad.
When consumers feel bad, they buy things to make themselves feel better.
When they feel good, they go running barefoot in the rain or make watercolor paintings or some such non-capitalist nonsense.
So we have to keep people feeling bad, all the time -- and that means constantly coming up with new ways to shame and humiliate our targets. After all, there's only so many times we can watch Subway commercials of overweight people breaking their favorite hammocks.
Enter Ogilvy Cape Town with its new social media campaign for rhino preservationist nonprofit Forever Wild. As noted by Copyranter (one of my favorite ill-tempered advertising bloggers), it's a pretty clever bait and switch.
Essentially, the agency created a series of "YouTube Interventions," where they replaced pop culture videos with heavy-handed rhino moralizing. So people searching for "Facebook Dad Shoots Daughter's Laptop" only get about 6 seconds of the hilarity before the video switches over to graphic depictions of rhinos being raped, eaten, and murdered (in that order).
The pay off line is: "No time to help save rhinos? Well it looks like you've got time to watch Keyboard Cat you selfish hypocrite."
Did it make people feel bad? Check. Did it increase signatures on Forever Wild's Internet petition by 400%? Check. Did it cost basically nothing to produce since YouTube content isn't regulated by any rational form of intellectual property protection? Discount Double Check.
Bravo, Ogilvy. You saved some rhinos. And you might have even saved a few hammocks.
Arlen "Buckwheat" McKenzie hawks the 5 dollar footlong during Super Bowl I
I lost a lot in this year's Super Bowl (pride, money, reason to live, etc.), but one thing I didn't lose was my disdain for poorly conceived and executed Super Bowl commercials.
Most of the ads this year seemed to follow a pretty standard formula:
Man meets car.
Car drives past scantily clad models.
Models interact with humorous baby and/or dog.
Baby meets Jay Leno.
I forget which car I'm supposed to buy. I think it might be a Kia.
If you've read my white paper about websites (SHAMELESS PLUG), you'll remember that differentiation is the second key to success on the Web. Well, the same goes for success on the small screen. Even if your ad has the MOST hilarious baby and dog duo of all time, it's still valueless if I can't remember the product or the value prop.
But they weren't all bad. Clint Eastwood's rousing “Halftime in America” ad for Chrysler was effective and memorable, if perhaps a tad exploitative. I actually preferred GE's pair of similarly themed (yet mercifully less heavy-handed) manufacturing ads.
Honorable mention to the Bridgestone ads which were admittedly silly, but original enough to get across a simple, coherent value proposition in a clever way.
So what was the worst ad campaign of the night? My vote is for the crowd-sourced Doritos ads. They were marginally humorous, instantly forgettable, and had nothing to do with Doritos. Either that or the Bud Light Platinum ads, which seem to imply that the beer is brewed by robots.
I don't know, people. Maybe I'm just a cynic. What did you think of this year's crop?