Thursday, December 24, 2009

Put on a happy face

Take a look around you. There are faces in the everyday objects you wear, use and observe. Some are frowns. Some are smiles. Do you see them? They are everywhere.

An advertising agency produced a television commercial that has captured a number of these objects with facial expressions and used them to capture the viewer’s attention. I’m sure you’ve seen it, but if you haven’t, you’re in for a treat:

The first time I saw the commercial I was mesmerized: completely taken in by the visual medley. In fact, I was so absorbed by what I was seeing, the music and the voiceover were nearly unnoticed. That  probably has more to do with me than with any flaws in the creative execution.

I’ve seen the commercial dozens of times now and I am still wowwed. It has the entire package: superb imagery, a dynamite music bed, and an intelligent script that is perfectly paced and spoken. I applaud the creative team and American Express for recognizing that the pictures convey a thousand words, so the announcer need not.

A breakdown of the commercial:

  • 24 images:  10 frowns, smartly outnumbered by 14 smiles
  • 5 frown images are shown in the first 8 seconds before a single word is uttered
  • As we see the second 5 frowns, the announcer mentions the bad things that can happen to the items we purchase
  • The first smile image doesn’t appear until the 25 second mark (I love how the indicator light pops on with a beep immediately after the announcer says “Happily” … brilliant!)
  • The name of the advertiser and product is finally mentioned at 27 seconds (smile) - and isn’t spoken again (bigger smile)
  • The airport baggage carousel is the only obvious image tie-in to the copy; “and peace of mind when you travel”
  • The American Express charge card is shown in the last five seconds
  • The music is Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major; this choice is a stroke of genius

It’s a terrific advertisement. I can’t help but smile every time I see it.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sony Bravia HDTV commercial is "on fiah"!

I absolutely love the Sony Bravia commercial with Peyton Manning and Justin Timberlake playing ping pong.

With all of that action and the star power of Peyton Manning and Justin Timberlake, you’d think the message would be lost, or worse, seem like a distraction. Perhaps, save for a simple script that is flawlessly executed. Equally crucial to the commercial’s success is the impeccable visual balance of the set. It allows the viewer to look at Erin Andrews as she speaks and still see the point that is being articulated - and played. The video editing is also superb. Kudos to the advertising agency.

It’s a typical situation: an HDTV shopper looking at all of the flat screens expresses a common consumer frustration “These all seem the same.” What happens next is preposterous. The display wall slides open to reveal Manning and Timberlake playing an incredible ping pong point. Seated on the far side of the table are Tom, the cameraman, and Erin Andrews. Both are seemingly oblivious and unimpressed with the paddle action in front of them. Manning responds to the consumer “They’re not” as he rhythmically hops and smacks the ball back to his opponent. Andrews explains that you can’t fake Sony quality which makes watching sports in HD even better. Musician-and-actor-turned-budding-sports-star Timberlake exclaims that the more you watch sports on a Sony the better you get at sports.


It appears so because Timberlake gets the best of Super Bowl champion quarterback Manning with a slam for a winner. What follows next is comic brilliance.

You have to hand it to Sony, allowing so much of their commercial to be about the entertainment experience. Isn’t that precisely the point when watching programs on HDTV?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Rome didn’t fall in a day; it took the pills much longer to take effect

Back in the day (that would be college), a buddy and I took notice of the tendency for people to “take their medicine” whenever something didn’t feel right. Their medicine was typically a pill:

Take a pill!
Achy? Weak? Take a pill! Hot? Cold? Take a pill! Lethargic? Hyper? Too fat? Too skinny? Take a pill! Sad? Frustrated? Foggy mind? Racing mind? Dark thoughts? Stupid thoughts? Anxious thoughts? No thoughts? Take a pill!

We had many other lines, and I swear, the pharmaceutical industry stole some of them and developed actual pills to cure the ills.

In my previous post, I lamented the expansion of the pharmaceutical industry, its intrusion into all aspects of our existence, and the aggressive advertising of drugs for all kinds of medical, health, and quality of life issues. I closed the post asking a bunch of questions about the responsibilities of all of the players. I will now attempt to briefly discuss these questions.

The Pharmaceutical Manufacturer
I am disgusted and appalled by the number of pharmaceutical advertisements running on television. I could go on a rant on how insidious they are and how many lack originality or creativity, but that is an issue for another post. My concern is with the legitimacy of some of the elixirs being promoted and the responsibilities of the pharmaceutical manufacturers that produce potions and pills for obscure or new syndromes or disorders. 
A few pharmaceutical companies are modern day carpetbaggers. They've “discovered” afflictions, intimate it affects many of us, and lo and behold, they have the only treatment; or they sensationalize a very obscure malady - obscure because it affects 1 in every 10M humans, which equates to about 600 people in the entire human race - and their patented formula, relieves the symptoms and allows you to lead a more normal life. Oh yea, right.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers have a civic, moral and ethical responsibility to assure us that profit never trumps public health.

The Advertising Agency
Advertising agencies have a significant responsibility as the messengers for their client’s goods because they have insight into the client’s secrets. To me, they are a gatekeeper for the public welfare. Is the syndrome or affliction real and prevalent? Is the disclaimer long and the potential side effects so disturbing you wouldn’t give the medicine to your mother in-law? Is this a drug that previously treated a different affliction that’s apparently been repositioned for financial gain (as opposed to the public good)? These are just three of the many questions advertising agencies should ask themselves about the drugs in their portfolio. If the account and creative team struggle to find the value proposition and key differentiators; if they spin their wheels developing a compelling script; if they need a speed talker to rip out the warning statement, alarms should go off. And the agency should consider if their relationship with their client is more valuable to them than the well-being of society at large.

The Physician Community
Physicians also need to look at their relationship with the pharmaceutical industry. They must be above reproach. Serving as the pimp for a specific drug or company is unacceptable. Many patients simply trust doctors.  It is incumbent upon physicians to know the drug intimately, understand all potential side effects, contraindications, its competitor's drugs, generics and so on, and provide the patient options ~ including some that don’t involve medicines, when possible.

The Government
Our government certainly has a role here. It's clear industry self-policing is a fallacy. It is not a coincidence that pharmaceutical industry spending on advertising has grown exponentially since 1997, the year the government removed regulations on pharmaceutical advertising. That alone should incite elected officials to revisit the decision to deregulate. Our fearless leaders must be the people's advocate and not bow to lobbying or threats to support opponents or withhold campaign contributions in upcoming elections. There’s simply too much at stake.

The Buying Public
Too many people seek a quick-fix. A magic pill. Few want to put in the effort to realize the reward. It's the same mindset that makes lotteries, casinos, frivolous lawsuits and entitlement programs so popular. But with the Internet only a click away, the public has immediate access to incredible volumes of information from qualified sources. The public should be better able to discern the legitimacy of a remedy, or at least take the initiative to research the syndrome or disorder and the proposed drug, prior to seeking a prescription or making a purchase.

I recognize I’ve only scratched the surface here, but to adequately examine the issue and flesh out the arguments would require a dissertation. This is a blog, and this post is already too long.

In summary, we all need to hold each other accountable. The drug companies can’t make money unless we buy their products. We mustn’t be duped into believing every little affliction or ailment requires a pill or vial. Sometimes, we need to examine if a lifestyle change, and a little exercise, will make us feel better. Such a course will take time. After all, Rome didn’t fall in a day.

What are your thoughts? Do you have any concerns with the actions and advertisements of some members of the pharmaceutical industry? Do you agree with my sentiments? Or do you think I need to take a chill pill?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pharmaceutical manufacturer develops treatment for wild hair syndrome

Of course advertising works. The proof is in the glut of commercials on television for pharmaceutical drugs. Considering the immense cash expended in research and development, and the rigor involved in testing drugs, one has to assume pharmaceutical manufacturers do their homework when it comes to advertising. They know their customer. They know when, where and how to reach them. They know advertising pays huge dividends.

But at what expense to humankind?

Look at what has happened to our society. We put substances into our body to treat all sorts of discomforts and dislikes. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for relieving pain and correcting physical maladies and chemical imbalances that affect quality of life. But I question what we are trying to do when we take prescribed and OTC medications for every little twinge, ache, discomfort, imperfection and shortcoming.

For a certain portion of our population, it’s the path of least resistance. It takes absolutely no effort to pop a pill instead of getting on a treadmill or following a prescribed diet, lifestyle change, physical therapy or rehab regimen.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers recognize this is an exceptionally lucrative market and they are being very creative in developing remedies with appealing names for all kinds of medical, quality of life and vanity issues. Some are now described as a syndrome or disorder that also bears a creative name (such as the fictitious syndrome in this post’s title) that was probably assigned by a savvy marketer or a professional naming/branding firm. The medical community and the public didn’t know of this syndrome or disorder until we heard it described in a TV or radio commercial, or read about it in an advertisement.  In some cases, a close examination of the name of the “condition” by a thinking person would have him or her scratching his or her head thinking “What? Seriously?”

Unfortunately, the public is buying, regardless of the legitimacy of the syndrome or disorder, or the necessity of any kind of treatment.

What may be worse is how drugs have become the base for superficial gain.

Perfectly healthy people inject, swallow or smear to artificially enhance so they can look or perform better. It's superficial, vain and perhaps a bit reckless. Sometimes, the drug provides short-term results, but what about the long-term consequences? Many will discover them as health issues begin to arise in the ensuing years. With luck, if any delayed side effects arise, they will be minor. But that’s a bit like Russian roulette, isn’t it?

What is the pharmaceutical industry's responsibilities here? What about the advertising agencies? How are they culpable? How about the physician community? Is the federal government being vigilant enough in reviewing the efficacy of new drugs and the claims manufacturer’s publish? How closely do they review the data? And what about the consumer? How is he or she accountable for what is prescribed or voluntarily injected or ingested for medical, quality of life or vanity purposes?

I will attempt to answer these questions, keeping in mind this is an advertising blog, in upcoming posts.

Monday, October 26, 2009

You can get a prescription for that

So many have written about this subject, I wonder if I will touch on anything that hasn't already been expressed. Still, I am compelled to deal with the topic because advertising plays such a significant role in influencing people's attitudes about their health.

Television is flooded with pharmaceutical advertisements. I recently heard a radio personality claim that 55% of commercials airing on TV now are for prescription medications. I have fruitlessly scoured the Internet for verification of this number, but I recall my reaction to that number wasn't surprise or disbelief. It was more a sad acceptance that it may be true. Every day we are bombarded with TV, radio, print and web advertisements for prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs to treat countless conditions.

Medicines clearly are critical to the health and well-being of the human race. Pharmaceutical manufacturers spend tens of millions on R&D for many drugs that never receive FDA approval. So when they bring a drug to market, they need to reap the financial rewards for the life of the patent and beyond to fill the coffers to fund development of new remedies.

My concern isn't with drugs that deal with real diseases and afflictions like cancer, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Hodgkin’s, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, AIDs, autism, and hundreds of others that affect a significant percentage of the population. I take issue with pharmaceutical manufacturers that create new elixirs, or remix or reposition an existing drug (sometimes just after the patent has expired) to treat obscure or rare syndromes or disorders. You’ve seen and heard the advertisements for these products. Analyzed with a careful read, an acute ear and a keen mind has to make one question the legitimacy of the problem being addressed and the potential size of the universe being served.

This is the first entry in a series of posts dealing with this controversial and emotionally-charged topic. I intend to look at the issue holistically, and consider the attitudes, roles and responsibilities of the major players; specifically, pharmaceutical manufacturers, physicians, government and consumers. Naturally, I will take up the role of advertising, and the responsibilities of the agency in shaping people’s understanding of the products and the health issues they address.

Can I deftly discuss this topic without eliciting an angry response (perhaps several)? Probably not. Should be fun, and hopefully, educational.

Check back real soon for the next post…it’s almost finished.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

I heard it on the radio

How many of us notice commercials when listening to the radio?

For that matter, how focused are we on the programming on the radio station of choice? How engaged are we with the content being delivered? I suppose it depends on why we have the radio on; is it serving as background noise, or are we listening to a specific program? When it’s the latter, who amongst us doesn’t leave the room, turn our attention to something else, or change stations when a program segment ends only to return to that station after the commercial break?

I have to admit that I am as guilty as the next person when it comes to radio commercials; at times, I zone out, ignore them or change stations.

I’m at my worst when I’m driving. My wrist is resting on the gear shift in the center console and I have my finger on the pre-programmed or Seek or Scan buttons prepared to change stations once a commercial break begins. It’s akin to channel surfing with a TV remote.

(Yes, I like to punish my passengers.)

Despite this behavior, a few commercials have caught my attention. Almost without exception, it had something to do with the intelligence and aesthetics of the commercial, and less to do with the advertiser or product or service being promoted. I suspect that says more about me than the advertiser, product or service. As a creative, I tend to observe advertising through a different lens (perhaps I should say I listen to radio commercials via a different ear).

So what attributes conspire to make an attention-arresting radio commercial? I believe it must have some very distinct qualities:

+ Excellent premise
+ Superb script
+ Unusual voices
+ Catchy music, music bed and/or sound effects (SFX)
+ Outstanding delivery

Rarely does a radio commercial work without some kind of audio hook. Rarely is a radio commercial compelling with a vanilla voice delivering the message. A straight delivery by the local DJ or even hired talent blends in and fails to grab the ear (unless the voice is of someone famous). The characters must either possess a unique voice, or absolutely flawless timing, diction and delivery, often on top of an awesome music bed or accented by some dynamite sound effects.

The Identity Guard commercial is a prime example. All four talents, three males and a female, have big and unusual voices. The spot is purposefully over-the-top in a very engaging manner. It opens with a professional announcer pronouncing the benefits of Identity Guard in a bold, booming voice. Three customer testimonials are interspersed. The first, a female, uses a ridiculous “bubblewrap inside of something inside of something else inside a tank or vault analogy” to describe Identity Guard protection. Her voice is sharp with giddy enthusiasm. You can’t help but pay attention. The next “customer” delivers his statement with equal verve.  The third and final customer, another male, confidently proclaims that he is going to share his social security number with the world, but quickly retracts, admitting it is a stupid idea. That’s a not-so-subtle stab at their competitor and the market segment leader, Lifelock, whose CEO famously publishes his SSN in all Lifelock ads. Clever. 

It’s absurd, entertaining, and yet very informative. I am regaled, I know the product and I know the advertiser. This radio commercial has kept my finger off of the presets, Seek and Scan.

For Identity Guard and their advertising agency, yes, I heard it on the radio.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Can BMW see the light?

Is it just me, or is the BMW Efficient Dynamics light bulb commercial a disconnect?

Comedian Brian Unger, standing in near total darkness, holds up the spiral-shaped compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) Americans have come to identify with energy conservation. While looking at the CFL, he states, “Americans are always finding ways to be more responsible….” (Oh really? Always?) A soothing digital music bed flicks the switch on a pristine showroom with a thousand points of light – and two beautiful white BMWs - as Unger continues “…and so is BMW.”

The image is so compelling, so striking, that it commands your attention; and just as quickly, you disengage; if you are like me.

I find myself asking, “Why is that room lit up with more bulbs than all the mirrors and runways at a Hollywood awards show? How is that energy efficient? Did the agency use CFLs? I can’t tell. How is BMW being more responsible with respect to the environment?”

These questions might not have been asked if the bulbs were spiral-shaped. I’d still be distracted by the number of bulbs used, but I wouldn’t be questioning BMW’s commitment to energy conservation.

It may seem like a minor detail, especially to BMW, considering the billions they have spent on the awarding-winning Efficient Dynamics technology, but it’s minutiae that can distract an audience and create fissures in an advertiser’s credibility. I’ve seen the commercial several times, but I have yet to hear and comprehend the entire message.

Another distraction is the talent. Who is he and why was he chosen? Through research I learned the man’s name and profession. So why did the advertising agency and BMW select a comedian to deliver a straight message that doesn’t contain even a wisp of humor?

BMW Efficient Dynamics may be far and away the most advanced green technology in the automotive industry, making it a very compelling differentiator, but this commercial fails to shed the proper light on it.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Advertising in all its forms

OK, a bit more scut work and I think the mundane laying of the foundation for this blog will be completed.

There are many, many forms of advertising. Here are some of the most common: advocacy, comparative, cooperative, educational, goodwill, informational, institutional, persuasive, placement (movies/TV shows), product, purpose, reminder, point-of-purchase and specialty.

Can I cover all of them here? It is my hope that I will find examples from each that impress me, or make me cringe. The discussion could be fun.

The delivery vehicles are also important to address. Why? Some products, services or objectives of advertising simply cannot be achieved with or without certain media in the mix. If “words can not adequately describe it,” or, “you have to see it to believe it,” are expressed, then is it suitable for radio? Are opportunities to significantly improve ROI missed due to an inadequate or inappropriate media mix? Hmmm. Will I know it when I see it? Double hmmm.

In today’s society, the types of media are almost too numerous to list, so I’m only going to mention the most common ones here: television, radio, print, direct mail, outdoor (this bucket includes everything, from billboards to retail signs to static transit ads and the rapidly emerging out-of-home digital screens) web, and telephone (landline and mobile with screens). Did I miss any?

You already know I love television advertising; will I delve into the others? You betcha. I dig radio! Sometimes even moreso than TV. It engages the theater of mind, inviting the listener to create the scene in his or her head. It’s magic when it works.

Admittedly, I haven’t paid as much attention to print ads as I used to, primarily because I’m not exposed to them. I receive three sports magazines in the mail: one weekly and the others monthly, and a university alumni publication each quarter. That’s it. Did you notice I don’t have a newspaper subscription? Am I atypical? You tell me: how many print publications do you receive or read each week? How many are monthly?

Web ads. I’m going to make a concerted effort to be aware of my online behavior with regards to banners, interstitials and other forms of advertising deployed on web sites. There is a lot of great work being done online. I’m confident this medium is in its infancy and the potential for innovative and creative advertising is yet to be completely comprehended. Some of us may find ourselves right in the thick of it, intimately involved in the evolution. How cool would that be?

I feel like this post has meandered. Has it? Here’s what I meant to convey:

=> there are many forms of advertising; I expect to discuss most

=> there are many delivery vehicles; not all are appropriate for some messages, products, services or audiences and I’ll consider this when discussing some campaigns

=> the web is a new frontier, we probably have yet to comprehend its potential and I don’t know what I don’t know so let’s explore and learn together

Now for a strong finish. Here’s another television ad that still makes me giggle.

What an excellent script:

Boy Friday: Is that your new Sprint Phone?

The Man: Uh-huh. With Sprint’s new Fair and Flexible plans, no one can tell me what to do. I can talk when and how I want. It’s my little way of sticking it to the man.

Boy Friday: But, you are the man.

The Man: I know.

Boy Friday: So you’re sticking it to yourself.

The Man: (slight pause) Maybe.

That’s it - very crisp and economical, and flawlessly delivered by the talent.

Can you believe this ran in 2005? The commercial still seems fresh to me. That’s staying power.

Monday, August 17, 2009

How do you define advertising?

Advertising has been around since the beginning of time. Archaeologists have found many paintings in diverse cultures around the world that clearly announced an event or pointed to trade/the opportunity to acquire goods. I think that’s pretty cool. Even in pre-historic times, folks were trying to influence behavior through published messages. I wonder how the owners of the walls or rocks charged for the use of their medium.

To help frame the discussion in this blog, I want to answer the question, "What constitutes advertising?" I'll start this short discussion by presenting some definitions:

  • Main Entry: ad·ver·tis·ing
  • Function: noun
  • Date: 1751

1 : the action of calling something to the attention of the public especially by paid announcements
: advertisements {the magazine contains much advertising}

3 : the business of preparing advertisements for publication or broadcast

Jeez. Is that it? Can advertising be adequately described in so few words. This isn’t Twitter, so let’s delve a little deeper.

The Marketing Dictionary:

Paid form of a nonpersonal message communicated through the various media by industry, business firms, nonprofit organizations, or individuals. Advertising is persuasive and informational and is designed to influence the purchasing behavior and/or thought patterns of the audience. Advertising is a marketing tool and may be used in combination with other marketing tools, such as sales promotions, personal selling tactics, or publicity.

OK, this is better, and in general, I think it captures the spirit of the term. Yet, the definition made me think, “How blasé. Dictionary definitions can be real snoozers!” They lack the appeal, pizazz and sham-wow that advertising can engender.

I prefer a broader and more chromatic definition of what constitutes advertising:

Every attempt to secure the sale of a product or service is advertising. The wares of the primitive merchant displayed invitingly in front of his booth is advertising. A want ad, to secure a job or an employee, is advertising. An inscription on a wall, the barker in front of a side show, the promises of an internet marketer, the announcement of a new online technology, membership in an affiliate program, wearing a peculiar shirt or distinctive sticker in your car - all these are forms of advertising in that they seek to attract attention to a product or a service that is for sale. For a product or a service of general use, rich and poor, high and low, men, women and even children, must be appealed to.

Works for me! Thanks to Fidel Prida, work@home entrepreneur, for breathing life into the definition of advertising.

Does this definition work for you? Let me know your thoughts.

Later on, I intend to challenge the notion that advertising is confined to the promotion of products and services, or the acquisition of votes. Hmmm, could be salacious.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Advertising rocks my world!

Anyone who knows me understands that television commercial breaks are not the time to engage me in conversation. My poor wife, who loves to chat, discovered this early in our relationship. Lucky for me, she didn’t ditch me after the first few times of unsuccessfully attempting to rip my attention away from the television to share a brief story of her day, only to discover my brain was fixated on the 30-second vignettes on the tube.

This attraction to advertising started at a young age. I can recall being mesmerized by TV, radio, print and even billboard ads when my age was represented by a single digit. Over the years, the attraction turned into a passion, a college degree, and ultimately, a career in marketing communications.

Something 2 Ad is my forum for sharing my passion. This will be more than a review of ads past and present that have captured my attention along with an explanation of why I like them (or not); I'll also be discussing advertising in all its forms, the power of advertising to affect change in society, both positive and negative, and whether or not agencies and their clients have responsibilities to their customers and the public at large. I also plan to research and comment on where advertising is going. It's a vast and exciting subject and I intend to delve into all areas where I have an interest, a point of view, and a desire to learn.

So let's start the journey and see where this blog goes. I hope you enjoy what I have to say and are motivated to provide your thoughts, whether you agree or disagree with me.

Let's start with a look at a commercial that is currently airing on national TV. Embedded here is one of my faves from the AT&T U-verse campaign:

This ad just cracks me up. The girl is a hoot. Love her attitude! The brief exchange between Tim and Mason is great; especially how Mason endures Tim's wisdom and then dismisses him with a simple "Yea, but I, I don't have that." His facial expression and body language speaks volumes.

This AT&T U-verse campaign is brilliantly executed. I'll be re-visiting it in future posts.