Friday, April 27, 2012

An Apple without its core

I've been seeing the new Apple iPhone 4S ads this week and wondering why I don't like them very much.

As an Apple addict, I've spent way too much money on their products over the years. In my immediate family we currently have a MacBook Pro, three MacBooks, an iMac, iPad and the aforementioned iPhone 4S. Our Apple graveyard includes Quadras, 3G iBooks, various incarnations of iPods and more.

I only state this so you know my criticism of these spots doesn't come from an Apple hater.

Where do I start with the irrepressibly cute Zooey Deschanel?

First of all, she's so sweet she makes my teeth hurt. Second, if you want to know if it's raining, look out the goddamned window.

As for Samuel L. Jackson...

Organic mushrooms? Risoto? Gazpacho? Do we really want to see the sensitive side of the guy who got the "Motherfu¢k*ng snakes off the motherfu¢k*ng plane?" I don't think so.

But I'd forgive those sins if the spots were even on brand or on strategy.

Apple represents the democratization of data. Its interface makes even the most arcane technologies useful to people like me who have very little understanding of how a computer works. It's a powerful tool that makes life better. Instead of showing that, they've created spots that position the iPhone 4S and Siri as a superfluous plaything for those who are so self absorbed they can't be bothered to remember to clean their room.

This is the kind of gimmicky work I'd expect from Microsoft – remember their Seinfeld campaign? – not the brand I know and love.

Apple and Chiat, you can do better.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

USA in Adland

Here's a tough assignment.

Encourage all kinds of people from around the world to spend their vacation dollars in America.

The challenges are monumental:
  • A product with millions of attributes
  • A target audience that is wildly fragmented with attitudes that run the gamut from love to hate
  • A government committee looking over your shoulder as you create this campaign
  • The multi-billion dollar travel industry chiming in from every corner with its two cents
Considering all of that, this isn't a bad effort from JWT.

It's not a bad effort. But it's not a great one either.

"Land of dreams" is a wonderful way to describe the U.S. It's a tag that elegantly captures what our country is and has always been (when we're at our best). The other thing I like is that it allows the viewer to personalize the spot. My dream is different from your dream.

But it descends quickly into mediocrity from there.

The spot is so crammed full of disparate (albeit beautiful) imagery that it seems to say, "We're not sure what it is, but your dream is probably in here somewhere." This is the challenge that comes from trying to offer something to everyone.

The music is nice and hummable. Roseanne Cash is a pro and you can't go wrong having her pen your campaign's anthem, but from an overall concept standpoint, there's nothing new here. Toss a Cruze, Corvette, Camaro and Silverado into the mix then change the soundtrack to "Heartbeat of America" and it's 1985 all over again.

Will this convince people to travel to the U.S.? It won't hurt. Just getting a message out there is better than we've been doing, which is nothing.

Ultimately, the campaign will be successful when it's not from us, but the people who visit us. I hope the effort evolves to contain elements that allow people who've come to America to share how their vacation fulfilled their dreams.

Until then, this spot – this product of a very tough assignment – represents us well.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

It's time to reinvent television

I wasn't surprised to see the following quotation in an article on changing television viewing habits in the New York Times.

“We watched (The Walking Dead) live,” he said. “It was not nearly as good. The commercials broke the tension. We had watched the other episodes (on Netflix) with blankets over our heads. I hate to say this to the AMC executives and everybody else in the business, but I will never watch ‘Walking Dead’ live again.”

What did surprise me is that it was from Jeff Gaspin, who until last year was the Chairman of NBC/Universal Television Entertainment.

Fewer and fewer people are watching shows at their original scheduled broadcast times. DVRs, Netflix, On Demand and other streaming services are making it easier to see your favorite shows when it's convenient for you. This also means you can watch them without watching the advertising that pays the shows' production cost.

Unless you're PBS, HBO or TCM, you count on advertising to pay for everything from executive salaries to overhead to production costs. Under the current economic model without advertising, there's no programming, and without programming, there's no TV.

This has real human consequences. After all, who's going to pay Ryan Seacrest's $15 million annual salary if Coca Cola, Ford and AT&T stop sponsoring American Idol because no one's watching the ads?

Currently the typical hour on NBC, CBS, ABC or Fox runs 15 to 18 minutes of commercials. On cable that increases to 20 to 22 minutes. A 30 second network primetime ad will sell for anywhere from $50,000 to $225,000 depending on the show's popularity. So that means the networks generate on average about $55 million dollars per day.

Not a small sum.

As viewers skip more and more ads, advertisers become understandably less willing to pay for them, and the networks will have look elsewhere for their $55 million.

It's not going to come from product placement. There's not enough revenue there.

It's not going to come through increased cable fees. People are too used to getting their information, entertainment and escapism for free.

I'm not saying that television is dead. I'm just saying it's going to take a new deal, a new model between networks, advertisers, producers and performers to create a system that is sustainable.

If I'm a major advertiser or a network executive, I'm trying to reinvent the system now. Not five years from now when the pressure is really on.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bad ads start out as bad concepts

I was just about finished with a review of the awful new Geico "Taste Test" campaign, when I realized that writing a scathing but hilarious critique wasn't going to help anyone.

We can all see how bad the campaign is.

We all know why it's bad.

The important thing is to learn how not to make something that bad for your brand.

So as a public service I offer the following to ad managers and marketing directors everywhere.

If you hear three or more of the following phrases in the presentation of a new campaign, tell your agency to go back and try again.
  1. Have you ever seen (insert movie title, tv show, video game, commercial here)?
  2. Everybody knows our brand promise. We don't have to hit them over the head.
  3. You have to cut through the clutter.
  4. It doesn't matter what people are saying. As long they are talking about the advertising, it's doing its job.
  5. You are not the target. It is not important whether you like it or not.
  6. This has viral hit written all over it.
  7. Our target is media savvy and understands the subtleties of brand communications.
  8. Advertising isn't about selling, it's about creating (awareness, preference, buzz, etc.)
  9. It'll be funny. We'll get the Farrelly brothers to direct it.
  10. Trust us.
I hope this helps prevent you from making the same mistake the folks at Geico did.