Monthly Archives: January 2009

Super Bowl Sunday: Go Big in Small Markets


Not the only time when football might blow up in your face...

Not the only time when football might blow up in your face...


Super Bowl Sunday, the one day a year when ads really seem to matter to people outside the ad industry. Or at least that’s what the sports fans in the US think. For the rest of us in Canada and everywhere else who might happen to be at a bar or looking for an excuse to exhibit our machismo, the ads will be the same schlock we get everywhere else due to CRTC regulations that mandate we watch the Canadian stuff, so cable companies just splice in their scheduled sponsor interruptions. Yet the hype and the extent to which these commercials are touted before they are even aired would lead you to think this was blockbuster summer condensed into several 10 minutes segment over the course of a few hours of football. Truth be told, outside the world of advertising and American football fans, nobody cares unless you fuck it up.

Sad, but true. 

Sure the US is a major market, and there is a veneer of shared interest around the world for just about everything American, but the whole business of media people blowing huge chunks of their budgets on buying a few minutes when viewers are likely to be drunk or watching the nachos getting nuked by the second-most important box in their house has always struck me as rather bizarre. 

Almost as bizarre is the risks agencies take when the stakes are high, you’d think somebody that has just gotten the Super Bowl spot would go with something they know everybody watching will like, but instead creatives start foaming at the mouth for the craziest demographic. Maybe it’s because they get a blank check for whatever they want to produce. Check out some major failures below:

Ironically enough, these are the ones that people do remember, and some might even be able to name the men behind the curtains. Especially if their names are on the endside of the vs. in lawsuits plastered over papers in the coming days. With so much already spent, the cost of the ad itself probably becomes relatively insignificant, but planning-wise I’d keep in mind that it’s the word-of-mouth an ad generates as much as the ad itself that sells the product. The ad is there to sell the product, not the ad itself. People may want to watch your suicidal ad campaign after they’ve heard all about it, but few will actually buy the product. If I had to choose between a conservative commercial that nobody sees or a crazy commercial that everybody hates, or worse–turns the product into a boycotted one–the choice is obvious. Sure, lots of people do stupid shit during Super Bowl Sunday, but stupid shit on such a stupid scale is a lot of shit you’ll come to regret. Don’t just take it from me:


Clearly not thinking about Monday... or any day to come.

Here's how to make every day after this one a Monday...


This is not to say advertisers shouldn’t take big risks, but with market fragmentation and time-shifting, why not save them for when the people you know who want to will see them while the people who don’t will not? As for being everywhere, there are cheaper more effective ways to do this, use them.

Meanwhile, you want to see the most effective Super Bowl ad? You probably already have, several times. Just think of what you are going to do next.


It’s Not Subliminal, It’s Sublime: Art As Advertising Part 2.1


“King of Kings am I, Osymandias. If anyone would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works.”

~Ramses the Great

Cocky old bugger wasn’t he? Well he wasn’t the only one, for the ancient Egyptians, art was advertisement for both the state and the affluent. Almost all art we find from Egypt today seems to come from professional artisans, and the majority of what’s left seems devoted to the leaders. The reason so much of it is left over comes from the pyramids. These were made during their lifetimes, to be completed ideally before their deaths. So for Egyptian rulers, a constant reminder of their greatness was also a work in progress. People could see that giant landmark being built and would know theirs was the most awesome ruler in the world (nobody else was doing it right? nobody else could do it).

Apparently, there were also inscriptions, text that went along with the art like what we saw above. That quotation, which has inspired at least two poems and some songs since, was supposedly found on the leg/base of one of his statues. It is a challenge to all his competitors, it is also a reminder that he was there.

Ramses was also a great spin doctor, there’s the story of him nearly getting creamed by the Hittites and going home and calling it a victory, maybe he came in on a winged chariot and said ‘Mission Accomplished’… In advertising, you work with what you have. The enemies are gone, they aren’t going to conquer us, that roughly fits the definition of vanquished, which is kind of the same as us conquering them. My target audience is the population of Egypt, not the Hittites, so I’ll tell the Egyptians we kicked ass, and since the enemies won’t be around for a while to say otherwise, let’s just go with that. Napoleon did similar things, putting people in paintings who weren’t there, having newspapers print accounts of near-misses as glorious victories, rewriting history.

I mentioned that the majority of the stuff was state-centered, but some of it may have been for anybody who could afford it. A great deal of the art we have from those days come from Egyptian mummies, and at some point just about anybody who could afford to was getting mummified. The work that was being done on non-aristocratic mausoleums included symbols that represented who the person inside was. Because Egyptian clothing followed a more rigid class structure, the more naked the statue, the poorer the guy inside. 

Of course, other Egyptians weren’t the only target audience, there was the religious aspect to keep in mind. These people were also trying to advertise to dead spirits and to the gods. The point being you had to impress them. What better way than to brand yourself with symbolic items representative of your profession, your piety, your achievements on earth?

Now think of the people who make this stuff, artisans and priests must have had a field day selling essentially useless trinkets and symbolic bric-a-brac to potential customers. 


Next000 With the Greeks and Romans we get into the real heart of actual advertising, and I’ll show you some of the first product brands.

The Future of Commercials/What Everyone Can Learn From Old Print


Clive Owen, a BMW and famous directors the world over... what more could you want?

Clive Owen, a BMW and famous directors the world over... what more could you want?

Product placements have their place, but it has never been the solution to the problem in advertising of how to sell something without seeming like you’re just selling it. A friend of mine the other day mentioned that Creative Directors may have to swallow the hard medicine and just stick the logo of their product in the corner of the screen during commercials so people time-shifting can at least see that with their tivos. With people fast-forwarding through your ad, you’ve basically got a static, soundless image and who better to consult on static soundless images than the old king of print David Ogilvy?

Even for creatives who want to continue with innovative ways to sell their product in moving pictures, one possible solution is to go with Ogilvy. The man was the king of print because he offered content that peaked people’s interest, that explained not only why the product was better, but how it was better. Take the classic Hathaway Man ads, it had the dude with the eyepatch, but it also explained why the shirts were better, and how the tailoring showed this. 


Why People Actually READ Ogilvy Ads

Why People Actually READ Ogilvy Ads

This sort of thing applies to commercials today too. It simply isn’t enough to show why product x is better than product y a la toothpaste and detergents, and a nifty cartoon or crazy story can be fast-forwarded. The Hey Whipple pet peeve of having something so annoying people go for it is also going to be ignored, because consumers now have the option of literally blasting Mr. Whipple and skipping your commercial. So what exactly is the solution? 2 things to start with:

1. Commercials must be appealing enough that somebody will watch the whole thing. 

Do this however you want, but a suggestion would be the BMW ‘commericals of ’01 to ’02. I have yet to see branded content so exciting. The whole package was an anthology of short film stories, just about all of them showcased some feature of the BMW such as power steering, easy handling, speed, and each had a distinct and memorable tale told by a world-class director built in. Anybody into celebrities, film, art, cars, action would have saw them, and their immense success can be seen in the way people still search and watch them on Youtube today. When you can make an impression lasting 7 years, you know you’ve achieved a connection and delivered the goods for the client. To extrapolate on this a little further, you might want to include useful tips for how to spot the added advantage of your product, afew useful pointers theat provide a feeling of value for the viewer.

2. Commercials Must Stick in the Mind After the First Viewing

Once your potential ADD-addled customer (in this day and age, aren’t we all) sits down and seeks to watch the commercial all the way through at least once, you have to make sure that, since s/he is unlikely to watch it again anyhow with Tivo, the next time it’s brought to their attention will be in the grocery aisle, the iStore, the shopping mall, or whatever retail location exists for your product and that they will remember you, why you’re better and why they should buy it. Commercials then, must stick in viewers’ minds the first time. 

This of course makes things tougher, because your window to sell is smaller and you will have to work harder to make sure the ad got them hooked. But given the alternative of a big logo being fast-forwarded through, this is a welcome challenge to any creative.

It’s not subliminal, it’s sublime: Art as Advertising Part 1

Art and advertising have always shared a close relationship. So why do people still carry notions of a distinction between the two? Perhaps the two most common ways to draw lines between advertising and art are:

1. That ads are made with psychologically malicious intent (i.e. to get us to buy something we don’t want) while art is the pure expression of some starving sod (i.e. it’s art and we love it because–paradoxically–the artist is so profound s/he doesn’t care what we think)*.
2. Similarly, ad people do it ‘selfishly’ for money while artists do it for the ‘goodness’ of self expression.

Reframed, and to show there’s no real class bias at work here, one might also see the two this way:

1. Art is the useless output of decadents who are happy beat one another off and contribute nothing of real value while advertising, though little better, at least attempts to perform the service of selling the products which define our prosperity.
2. Similarly, ad people do it for the ‘goodness’ of money while artists do it ‘selfishly’ for themselves.

To all of which I say BULLSHIT.

From the earliest epics to the Pompeian murals to the Sistine Chapel to Andy Warhol art has always served to sell the artist and those who buy his/her output, and art has almost always been created in the hopes of monetary remuneration. In this four-parter I will explain how the moralists who seek to frame advertising as art’s evil twin often end up with two definitions for the same thing. I will do this by showing how historically all known ‘art’ is really actually advertising before concluding with an argument for why no artist can help being an advertiser.

In the next section I will redefine (or use an alternative paradigm because somebody out there has got to have thought of this first) art and advertising in simple, pragmatic terms so that when people converse about the two they don’t have to snort at either of them.

I don’t doubt the two are still going to cross over, and in my last section I’ll get a bit moralistic myself and look at why this isn’t such a bad thing, demonstrating in the process why it’s a triumph when a piece of work is simultaneously good at being both.

In doing all of this, I hope to set out a basic way by which we can honestly judge the quality of all advertising, thereby making the work of this blog much easier.


One of the world's first commericals.

One of the world's first commericals.



Art likely starts earlier than Gilgamesh, but this is the first occurence of an advertiser as a character. I will also come back to cave paintings later because they have become advertisements. The Epic of Gilgamesh, which describes the eponymous demi-god and king of Uruk’s quest for immortality, ends with the defeated hero carving his story into the walls of his kingdom, knowing that in ages to come words and pictures will be all that is left of him.

In other words, the entire epic is literally an endorsement for advertising. We know that Gilgamesh, were he ever a real person, could never have attained physical immortality, but what he does instead is god-like. Despite his best efforts, Gilgamesh can’t be there to ensure everyone still remembers how great he is so he makes the city walls advertise him: what’s carved into the fortifications embellish his deeds, make him identifiable, and encourage readers to buy into his awesomeness. By ‘creating’ the story on the wall, Gilgamesh is an artist, by having it sell himself he becomes the first ad man.



000Next: I’ll try to tackle the art of the ancients, specifically the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, as well as China and the Americas if I have room and tell you why, for the snobs’ definition of art, the writing is on the wall.


*I lump the Marxist or Religious definitions of art together and will discuss them shortly.

Defining who I am

I am an aspiring creative who will do anything to become a copywriter.

Sometimes, given my current job and the wealth I could acquire, it seems crazy to want this.

Then I remind myself that I couldn’t really be happy doing anything else. While I may be good at many things,

I know advertising is what I will be great at.