Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Chipotle's Scarecrow: It's a Beautiful "Thing"

When I first saw this film/video/advertorial I was stunned by the production values. It is wonderful animation. The details, the colors, the sound mix, it's jaw dropping beautiful.

Then I began to clue into the multi-layers of borrowed interest. Each element is taken from classic children's stories and films.  And I soon realized this is one very well calculated crazy quilt.

So I have taken it apart and here's what I've come up with:

First  and most obvious is the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz. We all remember, he was on a quest to find a brain. In this situation,  mechanical crows buzz around threateningly.

Second is the music: it's the wonderful  "Pure Imagination" from Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory covered  by the fabulously talented Fiona Apple. But this time I began to feel uncomfortable. The original context of "Pure Imagination" is an uplifting declaration of wonder. I get goosebumps every time Gene Wilder sings this. It is a charming, endearing and heartfelt celebration of childhood in Willie Wonka. Not so here.  Here it is used to the opposite effect, with Apple's almost dirge-like rendering. It takes on a somewhat apocalyptic delivery being used as a further lesson to this assemblage.   But this very special song,  in this context, loses all it's magic and becomes threatening, eery, sad and kinda creepy.

The third layer is the  underlying statement of  anti-chicken and beef as food for us. It's symbolized in the form of sad repressed cows and hens aka Nick Parks claymation characters and the not so subliminal force fed, forced confined treatment these critters are subjected to before becoming big macs or Mcnuggets. It is an altered rendition and just a feather away from Park's Chicken Run movie.

So as Scarecrow leaves the "emerald city" in his cool old ford heehaw pickup, he has a
brainwave of how to save the world, the cattle, the chickens and the kids of the food eating future.

Overarching all of this is the bigger "marketing" statement where we see the Scarecrow
growing sun kissed fresh veg, vigorously chopping this fresh veg, cooking and serving fresh veg to the brave new fresh veg world/generation. The implied message being: we are a fresh new idea, we are just a small, farm fresh, organic, healthy good fresh food choice straight from our chemical free farm, freshly prepared as you wait and freshly delivered direct to you, you little brave new consumer.

However, being in the adbiz, there is a glaringly obvious message here:  The cost of producing this epic showpiece is astronomical. Only a big time corporation with deep deep pockets could afford the  expense of the over-the-top amazing animation, the usage cost of the music, the cost of Apple etc etc. Which I am sure they are going to try to recoup some by making this a game app.

This is one massively expensive crazy quilt.

Nothing down home and small about this.

The problem is: what the film depicts is not what you get at the Chipotle counter. There's no one chopping fresh veg in a Chipotle. Product comes right out of a mass produced fast food service like every other. So this is a real "bait and switch" for kids enamored by this film/game and dragging mom and dad into Chipotle. Chipotle is basically planting the seeds for swapping Ronald McDonald out for the Scarecrow in these kids heads.

And the more I really think about this, the more upset I am that whoever "created" this, took
the liberties of co-opting and changing children's stories icons by making them now mean something else. L Frank Baum, Roald Dahl, and Nick Park are geniuses. The people who took their creations
and bastardized and cobbled  them together to represent a story for selling burritos are not. The sadder aspect is the people that created this will take ownership off the work of others.... just to sell tacos and burritos. And little kids won't know better. Most kids won't ever know better.

So while I admire the production values for what they are, it all reduces  to a beautifully rendered and craftily crafted crazy quilt wrought object. Myself borrowing from another book/film, like Frankenstein, it's a thing. A piece of digital wonder that someone will build their career on as the next digimeister, filmster or ubergamer.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Will Skittles be sunk by Social Media?

Anyone who is familiar with the Trayvon Martin case knows he was carrying a bag of Skittles and an iced tea when he was confronted by Zimmerman and ultimately killed.

From the moment Skittles was mentioned, it was enlisted by the public to become the symbol for Trayvon and all those who feel like Trayvons. It's become the symbol for youth and social injustice.

Skittles has a huge presence in social media: some 25 million on Facebook and 100,000 on Twitter.
They had an active engagement with their followers, everyday, even holidays, supplying some clever quip or oddity of interest to kids and Skittle lovers. Currently, they dominate the confectionary market among young kids and teens as the most popular candy.

But since the verdict, Skittles have gone silent on social media.
That's the day Zimmerman was acquitted.

The Skittles thing started with the Sanford Florida police office. Skittles were sent as a public statement of the police's slow response in arresting Zimmerman. They were sent as a symbol of protest.

Activists have since adopted the confection as a symbol of racial injustice among youth and the circumstances surrounding Trayvon's death. Skittles have also been bought in bulk and sold as a means to fundraise for the Martin family and used for other Trayvon initiatives.

Now Skittles is caught in the middle of a very difficult situation. To say anything on social media  regardless of how innocent or clever or innocuous, could be misconstrued by their huge following.

Skittles is caught in a Catch 22.

There is a great lesson here about social media's power. Personally, I predict, on any level, on every level, social media will be proven eventually to be a very dangerous outlet. Not just for huge brands like Skittles, but for everyone...from the biggest to the smallest contributor.

I have always felt Social media is a bad idea.
No matter how good intentioned one might be by joining in the circle, no matter how much fun it might seem, no matter how it may seem to establish repoire, begin a relationship with or promote dialogue with a brand, you run the very big risk of things going awry aka Skittles.

Social media is real time fast--too fast for its own good. Once the drums are beating they're hard to stop.

Social media can turn into a witch hunt.
If followers get it into their heads to go after you, to use you in whatever form, you are powerless to stop it. And like most situations that are crowd sourcing, it is fickle, hungry, constantly circling looking for its next victim and lives on the edge of mass hysteria.
Facebook and Twitter are immediate and swift to judge. Facebook and Twitter expose you by your own choosing and can be devastating if you are on the receiving end of opposing opinions. Facebook and Twitter allow comments and judgments to build instantly. Let's be honest, for the most part, they are a simplistic public gossip forum on a large scale. And the bigger they become, the more powerful they are.

This is not meant to be a comment about the Trayvon Martin outcome.

This is meant as a cautionary example and case history for what can happen to a massively popular brand. A brand whose content was carefully crafted, managed by corporate strategy with full corporate oversight and became a hugely followed success on social media. This is the risk every brand/person takes when you jump in a public pool and allow your position to become fodder on an open forum. You leave yourself vulnerable to being silenced by the very successful social presence you created.
I am sure this blindsided Skittles. And I am sure they are trying to figure out strategic next steps to maximize the brand and minimize the damage. And I am sure there are huge costs, and not all financial, that Skittles never figured they would have to factor into their planning. It will be interesting to see how Skittles moves forward from here. Who would ever have imagined this fun, innocent brand would be co-opted into as big an emotional symbol it has become. It has gone viral in such a completely unforeseeable way, that it has silenced the brand on social media.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Boys at Dollar Shave Club are trying to beat the big boys butts with butt wipes for men

These guys are trying to carve out a men's market going up against the big boys like Wilkinson, Gillette, and now the paperproduct guys like P&G and Kimberly Clarke.

Dollar Shave Club's irreverent delivery I am sure totally resonates with their young, cool target. Their cost-cutting online merchandising club I am sure also resonates with this target, especially in these economic times.

And they are giving the Fortune 500 Guys a run for their money. And why not? It's the first really innovative David and Goliath marketing effort I have seen lately...or ever. Even if these two enrepreneurs only get .5 market share, they are laughing all the way to the bank.

In less than a week since this went to YouTube it has almost 1 million views. Again the CEO and
writer/spokesperson for their second product is Michael Dubin. While I don't think the writing is
as tight as his first effort, he uses the name of the product: One Wipe Charlies as a "theme" to
make the target feel they are a tongue in cheek, portable necessity when on the battlefield of life.

It's clever, it's going to make them more money than blades probably and makes me curious to see what manly market entry these guys are going to wipe up with next.

Standing the Test of Time

One of my all-time favorite ads is for the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin TX. Originally I credited their agency Sanders/Wingo for this brilliant stroke of genius. However, when speaking with them, they told me in fact, it was not them who created this. It remains a mystery. But worth embedding here again.

What makes this "negative sell" work is the fact that it's a customer, who in fact promotes the theatre's policy by their own behaviour. It's great.

Watch again or for the first time. I love the use of the typography. I love that it's unedited and uncensored. I love that it so irreverently speaks for all those with cell phone addictions.

And that it turns a negative into a positive. Great stuff.

Monday, June 3, 2013

KMart is Desperate

I had a fabulous Creative Director/Mentor in my early days of the ad game tell me more than once:

"the pun is the lowest form of advertising."

And so it is with the two newest spots from KMart. The first one is: "Ship My Pants". With over 18 million views apparently on YouTube. The second is: "Big Gas Savings" with a mere 63,000 views.

I personally find these both so distasteful I am hesitant to post them but here goes. What does this
really do for KMart? Really... They are perceived as a low end almost the lowest end of retailers.
The merchandise is cheap. The stores are bleak. And they must be desperate to grab any kind of
retail dollars and attention at this point. And I think honestly, in my opinion, these ads reflect that.

In the short term the "Ship My Pants" ad was taken off mainstream TV going straight to YouTube.
Probably KMart knew that would happen but decided what the heck, this exposure and the media
flurry it will generate is worth it. Again, relying on "bad press is better than no press." A very old
PR chestnut that I would never recommend to any brand that's on life-support like this.

However, it's always always about the bottom line. Did it translate into sales? Do these kinds of
cheap tricks generate dollars?

Yes, these ads are a headturner the first couple of times. Yes, it's going to be remembered, but probably not for the reasons KMart would like. And for sure, the people who created this stuff will go back to KMart armed with facts and figures about how many times it was viewed, the short spikes in sales or awareness etc etc.

But over the long haul, is this really what KMart wants to be? Puns are short-lived. I am betting each round of "creative" will just get murkier and murkier if they stay on this "Puns R Us" slide.

I know they are currently in review and looking for a new agency. Let's hope KMart finds one that
stands up to this crap and says: It's time you guys regain some legitimacy in the marketplace. It's time
to start again, carving out a place for themselves in the market that isn't reliant on cheap tricks.
KMart cannot play it safe now. KMart is at a place where being a long third, if that, in the Walmart/Target lineup is tough. Honestly, perhaps they shouldn't even try to compete with them.
Perhaps this is the biggest opportunity KMart has to re-invent themselves in a whole new way; not just
in their advertising but in how they are with consumers and the experience of shopping there.

One thing I find  lacking in today's creative generally, is any knowledge of Ad history. If I were handling the assignment for KMart, the first thing I would have the group do, is dig to see what brands in the past were struggling in a similar situation.

Off the top of my head the first name that comes to mind for me is:  Avis.

Avis brilliantly and bravely "came out" to the public by admitting they were behind Hertz in the rental car market. DDB created the now iconic:  "We try harder" campaign. It was smart, humanly funny. It created an interesting self-effacing position for themselves which people respected. It kept the Avis brand alive with integrity and class. And over time, built a strong viable brand on par with Hertz.

Integrity and class. Two attributes more and more advertisers seem to be losing sight of or are willing to sacrifice, for a few teenage hits on YouTube.

So my advice to KMart's advertising creative would be:  Try Harder.

Monday, May 6, 2013

I love Dogs...

And Subaru totally speaks to me with their campaign tag:  Once you sit in a Subaru, you'll stay.
Grant Weber is the Gen Y salesman who claims: " I sell Subaru to dogs. " A charming spokesman decked out in his topsiders, v-neck sweaters and chinos selling financing, cargo space and other features.

The dogs take over with human situations and them driving the cars...of course it makes you smile.
And when you consider all the car clutter that is playing tug of war for your attention, this is one
campaign that when it airs I bet even you will sit and stay to watch. Fun fun fun.

Of course this campaign is from my favorite agency of all:  Carmichael Lynch. They just know how to get it every time....cudos to the agency that again and again shows us what advertising is all about.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Marc USA swings and misses with Rite Aid

Marc USA has produced a couple of TV 30's for Rite Aid's flu shot season. Both spots make Mom the culprit who has the flu and the one to run away from. One guy who is so sweaty himself, he looks feverish to me, is using his nail gun to lock his wife up. The other is a family hiding in the basement against a kinda Stephen King-esque creepy flu mom. Good production values, lighthearted music, a couple of supers to actually tell you what these spots are really about: Don't hide from the flu. Get your flu shot at Rite Aid. No appointment necessary.

Now for some reason these spots just feel flat and uninspired to me. Did they make me smile? no. Did they make me laugh? no. Did they scare me or instill fear in me? no. And most importantly:
Did they make me run out and get a flu shot? no.

I think advertising today lacks a really important element: it has to make me care. It has to touch me somehow in a place that takes time to find. When I say it takes time to find that place, that sweet spot place, I mean creatively.

All the right people at Marc and Rite Aid obviously approved those two commercials, probably had many levels of approvals.  I would bet the farm that the creative team or teams that originally brainstormed for this project, didn't have nearly the time they needed to do justice to the message. Those teams or that team may never have found the sweet spot that I am talking about even if they did have the time. Maybe that sweet spot was a line of copy on a coffee stained legal size page somewhere or a thumbnail sketched as an afterthought or was thrown into the round file after the first stage of ideas presented internally. Or maybe the team just didn't have the inspiration, briefing, strategy or support needed to get to that insightful sweet spot place. Hard to know. But one thing I know it certainly isn't in these expensive 56 seconds.

Did the creative team do their job then? Sure. These commercials are clean, single minded, simple, and with the help of the supers, informative oh, and not offensive. So on a scale of 1 it's a total bomb, 10 it's a gold lion, I give this a score of 3.5 and call it: a "making the client  happy" rating.

And this is what most agencies really strive for. Making sure the client is happy. It isn't about great ads. It isn't about reaching out to the consumer. It isn't about finding that sweet spot. It isn't even about being compelling as a communication.

So for Marc USA and Rite Aid, my 3.5 is probably their 10.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year...and Welcome 2013!

The Holiday season is the time I always drag out the classic DVDs: Capra's It's A Wonderful Life, The Christmas Story about the kid and the BB gun, and of course Chevy Chase in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

One reason I love NL's Christmas Vacation is because the director was a very successful commercial director in Toronto long before he was picked up by the US film industry. His name is Jeremiah Chechik. Jeremiah is brilliant. And he directed the original Christmas Vacation movie.

This season, Chevy Chase and the original family cast: Chase, D'Angelo, even Lewis (surprised to see that) and Galecki (fortunately Randy Quaid was smart enough to stay out of this or who knows maybe he wasn't approached) of the Lampoon's Christmas Vacation classic were reunited for of all things:

hawking sweaters for Old Navy!

Personally, I don't care for Chase as an actor or comic. In my view, his only good performance was this
film so all the more reason for my reaction of:


It was the same reaction I had to Matthew Broderick (whom I love) selling out his character of Ferris Bueller, from the classic teenage movie: Ferris Bueller's Day Off, for of all things: Honda. I think it only ran during the Super Bowl so had a short lifespan, thank heaven.

The lesson here is:
Some things you just don't touch. They are whole and perfect as they are. Any kind of crass commercialization, in any form, will forever taint not just the product, but the actors who starred in it originally.
To try to recreate a time and place and specialness from a pre-existing 90 minute classic film into 30 seconds, where 20 seconds of that is devoted to sell sell sell:
it absolutely cannot be done. Ever.

And no sadder evidence of this was the horrible horrible Old Navy campaign trying to capitalize on the Griswold's Christmas. It truly was 2012's holiday home invasion.

This sacrilege was brought to you by CP+B... how the mighty have fallen.

Now, onward and upward. I look forward to sharing with you this 2013 my insights of the good, the bad and the ugly in my favorite game...the adgame.

Let the games begin.