Monthly Archives: September 2009

Meat Puppets…

All hail Luke Sullivan for coining the term (or at least printing it):

4 client relations

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It’s definitely Y!ou, not me.

Thanks to Barbara Lippert, who brought me much insightful commentary and this campaign to my attention. I can’t figure out what I dislike more, how corporate this whole campaign feels when it should be about reaching out to each user individually or how Yahoo can’t help pointing at themselves when claiming to talk about ‘you’.

If you can’t agree on one thing, don’t just incorporate everything

Visually this ad is right up there in meaninglessness with Bing. It’s worse, because Bing could at least make some claim to novelty and at least the cut-scenes could be construed to capture the media-overload problem that product was supposed to solve. Here, Yahoo is professing to be about the individual, which means it shouldn’t really be about a bunch of cookie-cutter demographics. If it is, then it’s about everybody, even if they’re all isolated. At best they’re only extremely loosely-based on people I know. Nonetheless, that means it’s not about me.

It’s tough to try speaking to one person at a time. Tougher to convince them you’re speaking to them for the first time, and that this isn’t some rehearsed spiel that’s been hashed over by marketing departments, account people, creatives and their directors, and a load of focus groups. Ads that have accomplished this in the past didn’t try to reference that fact. Uncle Sam didn’t say, “I Want You–poor/middle/rich, white/hispanic/black, guy/girl anywhere between the ages of 18-35 of fighting age or capable of working in a factory!” he said “I Want YOU” and the message was strong enough. Throw in that other crap and people very quickly realize you aren’t really talking to them.

If your strategy is that you MUST make the brand about this nebulous non-existent person-in-the-street loosely referred to as ‘you’, then evade outlining who you’re talking to as best you can. In this post-post-post-modern era, irony helps. So does honesty. Come right out and say it.

The message is, “We’re interested in you, these are the people who you are obviously NOT (because our marketing department dreamed them up and stuck them in an ad), now tell us who you really are. Prove to yourself that you are not just DNA on a cotton swab, or the space between your retinas, or a blurry image on cold security monitor.”

It’s a little premature to pass all this judgment, and maybe future spots will feature different people, but I feel like it would only reaffirm the fact that Yahoo! is just an extension of Microsoft. If you feature individual people with their own stories, you’re doing what CP+B did with their ‘I’m a PC’. I’m saying there has to be a way to showcase the fact that people are unique without just showing a bunch of people hand-picked based on their congruence with various social groups.

The Y!ou logo is, in my opinion, poor design. It smacks of self-serving smugness and smells of burnt designer souls. This is the icon for Yahoo, and a shorthand of their logo:

This is how they write it when referring to the audience in second-person:

The question is, who are they putting first? An exclamation point is used to emphasize what comes before. They couldn’t even include the rest of us in the excitement. The rest of the word is tacked on alike an afterthought. This really reads, “It’s Yahoo! ou”, or “Yahoo! owns u” (because that’s what this campaign is trying to do really, own the very idea of self). Even the body copy begins with a boast about how great the company is.

I predict that nothing is really going to change, whatever increase in traffic they get will come from those who aren’t using yahoo even though they’d rather be because Google is actually that much better at delivering the goods. They will try Yahoo and likely leave again because the core message, and I suspect the whole corporate culture, was never about anybody but themselves.

Meet Accounts!

3 Meet Accounts

What’s with all the hand-drawn ‘style’ in ads these days?

2 ADs and Macs copy

Make your own election campaign ads! Here’s how:

The cardinal rule for electioneering since Campbell: Take no Risks!

The cardinal rule for electioneering since Campbell: Take no Risks!

Y’know, there should be some serious legislation mandating that elections be run by ad agencies. You’d think politicians and their handlers who do this sort of thing pretty much all the time, and plan campaigns years in advance, would come off less like amateurs in the communications game.

If only campaign ads were imbued with a little more creativity, people might actually care. The latest batch on all sides are pretty much the same as always so rather than offend any particular party I’ll just outline how they almost ALWAYS work (at least post-Mulroney, when everybody seems to forget what made these things memorable):

Are you attacking another party? If yes than show unflattering pictures of their leader and, depending on if the point of character in question is a ‘masculine’ trait (e.g. leadership) or a ‘feminine one (e.g. warmth, honesty) you get a male or female voiceover to quote the person out of context and perhaps with a little exaggeration. Then you mention what the besieged leader allegedly said about your attack point, basically owning up to the fact they’re ‘weak’ or ‘dishonest’ or ‘hellspawn’ or whatever. Don’t forget to mention the name of your party so people know which direction the mud’s being slung from!

Are you emphasizing how great your leader is? Show flattering pictures of the guy (or as flattering as you can find, ‘politics is show-business for ugly people’ after all), quote some figures, cut to stock footage of forests, prairies, lakes, maybe a clean city-scape and have him warmly say they approve the message.

Are you emphasizing how approachable/honest/trustworthy your leader is? Have him repeat some meaningless jargon, make sure you get his nose brown by telling Canadians how wonderful they are, show some leaves in the background and get him to take his jacket off.

Maybe you want to show off how awesome your platform is? Are you crazy? Since when have election campaigns been about honestly discussing which direction to take this country? The last time an election was about policy Ed Broadbent was NDP leader and we had a referendum! Better to obfuscate your platform so viewers automatically categorize election promises as ‘meaningless jargon’ in their heads and focus on how the leader seems approachable/honest/trustworthy.

Great advertising boils complex ideas down into a few memorable words and a striking visual mnemonic. It persuades, and it challenges our preconceived assumptions so that we see things from the client’s point of view. Bad advertising attempts to interrupt you at dinner, during your favorite programs, while you are reading, etc. with the same ridiculous message until your defences are beaten into submission and you do whatever they tell you. See the candidate enough times, political volunteers are told, and eventually you will be made to vote for him. If this were so, we’d all be buying from telemarketers rather than hanging up in their faces.

Good communication makes you FEEL something other than loathing for the communicator. Stating a promise isn’t enough, telling people what’s in it for them isn’t enough, showing you’re a trustworthy brand isn’t enough, there has to be something that makes them laugh or cry. Occasionally parties are handed scandals that rile people up, but that’s usually at the expense of the entire political profession. What we need is a better way to generate interest.

For a time, parties had a good grasp on TV, those old enough might remember the flag being yanked off its pole, or the country being physically divided up. If you’re American you’ll remember ‘Good Morning America’, the daisy-counting ad, and a host of others. But these days our TV ads look like they were either done in powerpoint or made for radio with the visual as an after-thought.

It doesn’t have to be this way, but it’ll have to be up to the web 2.0 generation. NotALeader.ca, dedicated to portraying Stephane Dion as a weakling and a storybook failure (complete with fairy tale retelling of his tax raises) was a brilliant piece, and working for the other side I really wished we’d done something like that. So far Youtube ads have mostly mirrored other campaigns (like TBWA’s I’m a Mac/PC ads) or–shudder–real election ads.

I doubt parties in Canada will ever get Social Media the way Obama’s campaign for change did (Cannes Titanium for crying out loud! They put the rest of us to shame). And it remains to be seen whether Obama’s machine is an anomaly or just another of the man’s many ‘firsts’.

The challenge is to communicate your party’s message in a way that gets people’s attention. I now it’s hard to go for the new without losing your base, but as it stands Canada’s quickly becoming a bore-ocracy that believes issues are simply too too complex to be at all interesting. Worse, our politicians, by boring us into not caring about what they do, are violating an important agreement within democracy. Complacency and apathy is only partly the fault of the people, the rest lies in the extremely sad pickings to be had and the deceitful lullaby all sides have agreed to sing us on CPAC.

Ad Stew comic #1: Why ads bore

1 why ads bore

Glad SOME good’s come out of DDB Brazil

Quickly, what happened last week:

Ad Agency DDB Brazil won some awards for a VERY CONTROVERSIAL ad linking 9/11 to Global warming and American interference in, well, everything. At least that was what I took away, and was promptly informed by some that I was reading way too much into it. I maintain that my viewpoint wasn’t unique, and that at least some extreme-patriots-cum-reverse-conspiracists must have seen these ads as anti-American.

copy reads: "THE TSUNAMI KILLED 100 TIMES MORE PEOPLE THAN 9/11. The planet is brutally powerful. Respect it. Preserve it. http://www.wwf.org"

Anyway, dabitch at Adland has covered this in far better detail than me, and informs many of the facts I have here, so you can get a fuller story there. Before I forget, Barbara Lippert was where I found this stuff first.

Long Story Short

Suffice it to say that creatives at DDB Brazil came up with this ad, the agency somehow sold it to WWFBrazil, ran it once in a small publication, and then submitted it all over. Cannes and OneShow awarded them for their, ahem, efforts. Then people started to get REALLY offended by it. While people were getting angry, some of them pointed out that it wasn’t even a REAL ad. It only ran once, it wasn’t even in a big paper. The head offices of both DDB and WWF never approved it. Then One Show revoked their award, the creatives were fired, and due to some excellent blogging by the Dog and Pony Show, new rules have come into effect at the One Club. The main punishment is a retroactive and cumulative 5-year ban for anyone submitting fake ads.

Effective beginning in 2010:

  • An agency or regional office of an agency network that enters an ad made for a nonexistent client, or made and run without a client’s approval, will be banned from entering the One Show for five years.
  • The entire team credited on the “fake” entry will be banned from entering the One Show for five years.
  • An agency or regional office of an agency network that enters an ad that has run once, on late-night TV, or only because the agency produced a single ad and paid to run it itself will be banned from entering the One Show for three years.

So that’s it. At least now it’ll be harder to get away with cheating. It won’t stop ads that have only run once, just those that are run disingenuously at late hours or paid for by the agency. Gotta love those clauses, because for a second there I was worried Apple’s “1984” by TBWA/Chiat Day were gonna get screwed (it only ran one Super Bowl).

Still, my question is how those guys won. The morning-after consensus is almost unanimously that DDB Brazil deserves their award IF they had run it in a real magazine, or more than once, or any of the other criteria above. Except that the original reason everybody was angry was that the ad flat-out made little sense and worse, pissed off more people who saw it than otherwise. So how do judges pick these things? Are awards but a complex form of chicken in which the agency with the biggest balls and the ability to cajole clients wins? Or was the coup great because they ran something so offensive that next-to-no initial public response to such a slap in the face could be termed ‘a win’?

As a student of advertising I’m really confused here. Any help?