Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Ad Ventures

First of all, it appears the big winner in the Superbowl Ad race is the Doritos spot going by the name "House Rules." There are numerous surveys and research firms ranking the Superbowl spots based on various criteria, and trying to list them all here is far more copy and paste hell than I want to go through, but the overall ruling is that "House Rules" rules. From personal observation, it's the first one guys seem to be calling up on YouTube when re-watching the ads.

What's interesting about this spot is that it was not conceived in the usual ad agency way. It was a contest entry submitted by an ordinary human. Joelle De Jesus of Hollywood, won $25,000 in the Frito-Lay Crash the Superbowl contest where muggles of the ad world submitted their entries for a shot of fame and perhaps job offers from the Hogwarts of ad agencies. (I'm sorry to say Joelle's hometown makes me suspicious. Would anyone shooting their spot in, say, Butte, Montana have as much access to acting and technical talent?) No two-hour spit balling meetings around a huge table. No "running it up the flagpole." And no inter-office ass kissing. Just talent free to do what real talent does... create something special. The difference in the approach is as clear as the difference between the reactions to the "House Rules" spot compared to Charles Barkley hawking Taco Bell.

This, by no means, spells the end for traditional ad agencies. In fact, the American Idol method of getting spots produced has been around for a few years now, and it pays big dividends for the agency. Why pay major dollars to a creative team when we can run a contest and let Joe The Producer do our work for us and get a better product on the air? Ad agencies will be just fine. Copy writers and storyboard artists, on the other hand, should be nervous.
"This agency runs on ideas, mister. Original ideas. Now you've got two hours to create an insurance spokesman that looks like that damn gecko."

The other noteworthy event in advertising this week is the boycott of ABC stations issued by some Toyota dealers in some southeast states. The president of Southeast Toyota, Ed Sheehy, of Deerfield Beach, Florida, doesn't want to talk about it, of course, but apparently ABC News Nightline coverage of runaway Toyotas hurt his feelings so he's taking his ball and going home.

ABC affiliates affected by this boycott have responded by simply switching on the network feed and running the full-minute contrition/apology spots that ran a blitzkrieg throughout all the networks' prime time Monday. Apparently Toyota national would rather confront the issue than cry about Nightline.

Although the spot comes off a little contrite and without soul to me. We needed to see the face of Toyota. Somebody needs to look us in the eye and say these things the way Lee Iaccoca did in the '80's. Instead, Toyota seems to be running and hiding from the world. News reporters have been told "politely" to leave the dealership when looking for an interview. Uh, guys... that's your opportunity to put a positive spin on the issue, or at least reassure us. When I broached the subject to my local dealer, the manager turned and walked away, leaving me with a nervous salesman. Not cool.

Local car dealers are not accustomed to this kind of controversy, and their reactions have been, in my view, mostly immature and knee-jerk. But you can't put all the blame on them, as Toyota corporate hasn't been setting the best of examples. It took over two weeks since the first recall notice for an "urgent" memo to hit local TV stations for the one-minute apology spot while an agency scrambled to cram all the sappy production values they could muster into one spot. In the meantime, local TV stations were left with no choice but to continue airing "Buy a Toyota" spots already on the schedule as if nothing was wrong. In contrast, it would've taken about a day, maybe two, to shoot a local dealer looking straight into the camera saying, "We're going to fix this. We'll do what's right."

If this situation was a murder mystery novel, Ed Sheehy's reaction would have the detective looking deeper into his character, and the reader would be thinking, "What's he hiding?"

Thursday, February 4, 2010

More SuperBaloney

On Thursday, February 4th, 2010, between 5:25 and 6:00PM, WHIO-TV aired commercials for the following advertisers who all used the classic Monday Night Football theme music in the background for a Superbowl tie-in.

H.H. Gregg
Papa John's Pizza

All three of these companies hired ad agencies to "think outside the box."

Monday, February 1, 2010


One the fun things I like to do on occasion is listen to Rush Limbaugh and take him about as seriously as I would Archie Bunker in All In The Family. I get a laugh out of some of some of his catch phrases, especially when he refers to the "liberal mainstream media." What he's doing here is making historical reference for the sake of baby boomers who grew up watching the parents on The Brady Bunch understand their children, Alan Alda on M*A*S*H speak out against war, and Billy Crystal play an openly gay character on Soap. In reality, of course, there is no such thing as a "liberal mainstream media." Aside from the fact that the phrase is an oxymoron - if the ideology being espoused is liberal, then it is by nature not in the mainstream -the reality is that the major broadcast networks are owned by conservative major corporations. Disney stands out, but Viacom and G.E. aren't too far behind. And, of course, Fox sets its own standard for conservative news coverage. These corporations employ pretty much the same kind of guy (yes, I mean men) to head their broadcast divisions: balding sales executives who wear suits and ties and a Rolex every day and listen to the smooth jazz station while driving their Mercedes S-class to work. These guys aren't interested in making political statements or seeing how many people their network can offend; these guys want ad revenue to go up. It's as simple as that.

Which brings us to the current hullabaloo over commercials on the Superbowl. CBS has accepted an anti-abortion ad from the conservative group Focus on the Family, but said no to an ad from the gay matching service ManCrunch. Let the fur start flying. Is it fair? No. Is it a big surprise? Of course not. Is there anything anybody can do about it? Probably not. Is it all a big bunch of hooey to get you to watch a Superbowl that might not otherwise interest you? Oh yeah.

For what it's worth, CBS also gave the nix to an ad from GoDaddy.com for being potentially offensive in some way. We're not hearing much about that, probably because they had other spots in the pipeline and GoDaddy.com doesn't exactly spur hot political reaction.

Make no mistake, these advertisers have a message to get out. Focus on the Family wants a captive audience for their message that might not otherwise go beyond the already initiated. They know that Tim Tebow shares their point of view and have enlisted him to draw attention to their message because Tebow can throw a football, which eminently qualifies him to contradict gynecologists.

ManCruch has a message, too. Unfortunately, that message doesn't go over well beyond Greenwich Village and San Fransisco. ManCrunch's ad agency knew where the line was, and crossed it with surgeon-like precision to get CBS to give them the boot, and generate far more buzz than a single Superbowl would have ever done. Clever.

So, is the network that once brought us Maude wussing out? Well, let's go back to that network executive in his Mercedes listening to Anita Baker. The first thing he did when the teams for the Superbowl were confirmed was look at the markets these teams represent. It's Indianapolis vs. New Orleans. From a Midwestern point of view one team is from Venus and the other is from Mars. But what really matters to the network is the economic status of these markets from which most of the viewer interest will come.

Indy is no cow town, but it's hardly in the same league with New York, Dallas, LA, Boston, or Philly. Once you leave the beltway, you're in Indiana, buddy. All you have to do is ask Dave Letterman how that works. The Colts' secondary fan base is in towns like Fort Wayne, where the market is so depressed that the CBS affiliate there has no master control. WANE is actually run out of WISH in Indianapolis. A lot of folks like Peyton Manning, a star in his own right who may very well enjoy a fine career in the booth years from now. But I would imagine Jets fans and Patriots fans feel no love for watching the Colts win another Lombardi. New York City may just sleep this one out, leaving the largest revenue market in America watching YouTube on Super Sunday unless somebody can stir up some interest. How about the ManCrunch thing? A-ha!

And there's New Orleans. I don't need to tell you the story of that market's hard times. They deserve something positive like this. But from the network's standpoint, the problem is not just the same, it's worse. In the aftermath of Katrina and the exodus of people searching for temporary housing New Orleans saw their market ranking drop 11 places. That ranking has recovered somewhat, but the economic status is lagging far behind. It's kind of hard for a CBS ad exec to convince Lexus to run ads on a New Orleans Superbowl. Don't expect to see a whole lot of brokerage firms and major banks on the air either. They're having enough troubles as it is. And as for ManCrush... OK. You run an ad for a gay dating service in the Deep South and see how well that goes over.

Tim Tebow speaking against abortion in the highly Catholic New Orleans? It's a match made in Heaven. In fact, in much of the South the Florida Gator quarterback doesn't speak for God... He is God. Perhaps CBS was afraid if they said no to Tebow, "God's gonna get you for that."