Posts Tagged ‘Commercials’

For years, advertisers have operated under the fundamental assumption that consumers are stupid. It sounds bad, I know, but consider the practice of traditional advertising: you flash evocative images in front of viewers in an attempt to subliminally influence their purchasing habits by informing them that they are currently inadequate, and the only means of overcoming their inadequacy is to obtain a very specific product or service – the product or service you happen to be selling. It’s not exactly giving them the benefit of the doubt, is it?

Ah, the sixties

Self-made sixties ad executive Don Draper, protagonist of the popular show Mad Men, and all around not very moral guy, once explained the practice of advertising to a client like this: “It’s based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is OK. You are OK.” This definition, though uttered by a fictional quasi-caricature of callous corporate decision-makers, speaks volumes about the way advertisers have traditionally seen consumers; namely, that they just aren’t smart enough to overcome their basest emotions – their fears and desires – and realize that they’re being totally sold; that consumers are somehow incapable of transcending the commercial experience and recognizing that, above it all, there’s a puppet master somewhere, pulling the strings, trying to influence them for less than altruistic reasons. In the sixties, consumers were considered tabula rasa; lesser entities ad men could uninhibitedly impose their will upon through the power of visual and verbal suggestion. But this is 2010. Why does any of that matter? Advertisers don’t think like that anymore, right? Wrong.

Watch TV without a DVR for an hour or so (a daunting task, I know) and you’re sure to see any number of those tired, unentertaining, run-of-the-mill, market-to-the-gut, disingenuous, old-style ads paraded innocently on screen as if you didn’t know that what you were seeing was a paid promotional piece – as if you aren’t able to discern that the people behind the curtain are trying to make you give them your money, and not just offering you unbiased reassurance or friendly advice on how to better yourself. I don’t know about you, but I find it downright insulting. I also find it exasperating – that experience of being forced into viewing a commercial as something genuine. The only time I want to engage in willing suspension of disbelief nowadays is during things I enjoy – things that actually offer some reward for my strenuous self-delusion… like sci-fi TV shows.


Now, before you write me off as a total cynic, let me say that I realize there are many companies out there that believe wholeheartedly in the product and/or service they’re advertising, and even some that advertise truthfully. Unfortunately, that no longer matters like it used to. Why? Because most Americans are no longer willing to believe that this is the case with any company. All it takes is a few corporate bad apples to ruin the whole bunch, and America has seen more than a few in the last several decades. Whether it’s companies that advertise environmental friendliness and then dump millions of gallons of oil into the sea (I won’t mention any names), or companies that brag about outstanding customer service to cable customers and then force them to spend seven hours on the phone, never fix their ESPNHD channel, and still bill them twice the amount they owe (again, no names, though that last one may or may not have happened to me last month… just sayin’), American consumers have all had their share of bad experiences, and have every right to their trust issues. With this in mind, doesn’t it seem like kind of a bad idea to continue advertising as though consumers are still as easily influenced as they were when skinny ties and lunchtime martinis were the norm? I’ll answer that for you: yes. Yes it does seem like a bad idea, because it is.

But don’t worry, not all contemporary ads are informed by the colossal misconception that every American consumer is a complete ninny. Somewhere along the line, (some) ad firms realized that maybe a few people were smart enough to see behind the facade a bit, and decided that instead of trying to advertise on the paper-thin pretense that the companies they represent actually have the best interest of consumers in mind, they’d just try to entertain. This enlightening idea gave birth to what we all know now as the popular “funny advertisement.” And some funny ads, regardless of their effectiveness, actually make ten-minute commercial breaks a bit more bearable. But, apparently, effectiveness is kind of important to most companies, and, seriously, no matter how many times I laugh at a Geico commercial (or used to – they’ve been pretty blah lately), I still can’t make myself believe they’re as legit as say, State Farm.

So where does that leave us? I’ll tell you where: in a giant whirlpooling mire of outdated, ineffective, confused, and overused advertising clichés, where the only prevailing philosophy is “bludgeon them over the head with your name enough times and they’ll eventually become so delirious that they break down and buy things from you.”

And then there’s Old Spice™.

To be fair, there are several other companies that advertise well, but Old Spice is a shining paragon of what I’m going to call the New Advertising, because I’m tired of thinking up clever names for things. Seriously, I do it every day. It gets old. Anyway, watch this commercial and tell me it isn’t awesome. I dare you.

This ad, featuring actor Isaiah Mustafa and his chiseled abs, is absolutely great. It’s funny, but it isn’t its absurdist comedy in and of itself that makes it so effective. It’s effective because at its root, beyond all the ridiculousness and faux-machismo, it’s a ruthless parody of old-school advertisements for similar products – advertisements like this:

Or like this:

Yikes. These are funny, but mostly because they’re so corny. Believe it or not, some still adhere to the basic concepts behind this style of advertising.

Consider that Old Spice used to advertise in a similar fashion, and, as a result, was regarded as deodorant for your grandpa. It might be hard to imagine now, but seven years ago, I wouldn’t have used Old Spice if you paid me. It was just… too old. Now, by spoofing exactly what they themselves used to be and how they used to market, the company has totally repositioned their brand, moving it right to the head of the 20-30 year-old male market, without, I’d be willing to bet, alienating older consumers, who, let’s face it, are too set in their ways deodorant-wise to make a switch now.

But there’s another, far more important reason that spoofs in the style of the Old Spice Isaiah Mustafa commercials are better than current run-of-the-mill funny ads. See, ads that successfully parody old advertising clichés actually acknowledge that viewers aren’t blind to the fact that they’re being marketed to. By pointing out how ridiculous and transparent old advertising practices were, ad firms are essentially deferring to the intellect of viewing consumers. In so many words, what Old Spice is saying here is this: “We know you’re savvy, and we know there’s relatively no difference between our product and someone else’s. We also know that you, in all likelihood, are aware of that fact. That’s why we don’t bother to try and beat you over the head with questionable data that you probably won’t believe about why our product is supposedly superior to someone else’s. We treat you like an equal with our ads, and we interact with you under the assumption that you are just as wise to advertising tricks as we are. So if you support our company, you show the world that you are a savvy consumer and an intelligent member of society that scoffs at outdated advertisements and can’t be hoodwinked by their ilk.”

Parodic ads boost consumers one step up on the evolutionary chain of advertising by crediting them with the awareness level of the advertisers themselves, and consumers, if not always consciously, appreciate that, as well as the collateral entertainment. Everyone likes to be in on a joke.

Which is why Old Spice didn’t stop at static TV ads. After the initial success of the commercials, in which a half-naked Mustafa progresses through a rapidly changing series of constructed film sets (another nod toward the artifice of TV advertising) depicting impossibly manly scenarios, Old Spice decided to get interactive. A team of marketers and videographers crammed into a studio for a solid day and filmed Mustafa in real-time, garbed in his signature bath-towel, responding to comments from high profile twitter users, like Ashton Kutcher and Perez Hilton, in typical ridiculous macho man fashion. The videos were immediately posted to Old Spice’s Youtube channel, which allows for user comments and interactions, where they quickly received hundreds of thousands of hits. It was beautiful.

On every level, Old Spice included their viewers in the advertising experience. They invited consumers to laugh with them at the silliness of old-school advertising. They encouraged their feedback. They even let them shape the course of ads by responding directly to their tweets. And by doing so, they completely sold them.

Yep, when I said ads that successfully spoof old-school advertising move consumers up a notch, I was telling the truth. I just neglected to mention that they also move advertisers further up – right to where they’re always striving to be: one step ahead. That’s why I think The New Advertising is an appropriate – albeit kind of uninspired – name for what Old Spice and similar companies are doing now. It’s the next step on the evolutionary chain, progressing the whole paradigm, putting advertisers back where they need to be in order to effectively drive sales. It’s like the 60’s all over again… except less hallucinogens and free love. Though I hear skinny ties are making a comeback.

The Man


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Hey, remember that time I said, “Seriously, the DVR has completely revolutionized the way the populace watches TV, which is a fact advertisers need to recognize and adapt to.”?

You don’t?

Then you haven’t been reading our blog on a regular basis. Shame on you.

Anyway, someone listened to my suggestion, and that someone was Honda. Well, more accurately, whoever’s in charge of making the ads over there at Honda thought of a way to do what I was suggesting before I suggested it… but whatever, it’s pretty much the same thing.

I was watching a DVR recording of the season premiere of NBC’s super awesome pseudo-spy comedy Chuck (which you should totally be watching if you aren’t already), and during the first commercial break I actually watched a commercial – and I didn’t mean to. They tricked me into watching it. Those wily Honda ad-men beat me and my superhuman DVR commercial avoidance powers (seriously, I can stop that thing on a dime; like, at the precise instance of the fade in from a break).

Check this out: it’s the ad for the new Honda Crosstour that ran during the episode’s first commercial break. It was probably the third commercial in the break, and if you watch Chuck, you’ll instantly recognize three of the show’s major characters: Ellie, Chuck’s sister; Devon, her strapping boyfriend (“Mr. Awesome” to Chuck’s friends); and Morgan, Chuck’s lovably loserish and bearded companion. Thing is, none of the characters had been re-introduced in the first fifteen minutes of the premiere, so as I was mowing through the ad set in x3 light speed fast-forward, I recognized their faces and instantly mashed the play button on my remote. I remember thinking something along the lines of: “Wow that commercial break was way short! Sweet! And Morgan’s back!”

But it wasn’t the show. It was a commercial – a commercial disguised as the show. Like 99.9% of the other viewers watching Chuck on Sunday, I watched almost the whole ad before I realized that I had been duped – duped by what I’ll be calling a “chameleon commercial” from now on… mainly because I think alliteration is super cool. Well done, Honda. You win this round.

On a serious note though, this is a great example of advertisers adapting to new obstacles in visual entertainment media. We should all be taking notes.

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During the holiday season there seems to be an overload of holiday advertisements. It is interesting to see what different companies come up with, so I decided to look into it this year. Many people will write blogs and articles about their favorite Christmas ads, the best and worst ads and which ads were most effective as far as sales. Instead of rattling off that information, I thought it would be fun to put a spin on an old holiday classic and tie in all the interesting blogs, articles and commercials I found. So enjoy the story, and click the links along the way to see what goodies Santa’s bringing in his sleigh.


‘Twas the week before Christmas, when all through my house

The TV was buzzing, and so was my mouse;

Holiday ads were on, and sent with such care,

In hopes that shoppers soon would be there;

With the economy down and loans from the feds,

Shoppers were going right out of their heads;

Will people go out and shop at the Gap,

Or would they stay home for a long winter’s nap,

As I continued to type, there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from my Mac to see what was the matter.

Away to the bedroom I flew like a flash,

Bumped into the table and knocked over the trash.

Sweet angels were singing a song that I know

All about the Garmin and where it could go,

Whether in a car, on a bike, or on foot far or near,

Buy a Garmin and your directions become clear,

What a clever ad, so lively and quick,

When there are so many out there for me to pick.

To advertise for Christmas, you must play the game,

So customers will listen and remember your name;

Like, Apple, GoPhone, Old Navy or Garmin!

And, Hershey’s, Sierra, Palm Centro and Charmin!

On TV, the radio and billboards so tall,

These ads will appear for one and for all.

As I headed back to my desk I wondered why,

There had been so much talk that no one would buy,

When times are tough, you must try something new,

Like sponsoring a website for all to go to.

My friend sent an email about herself

Turning her picture into a little dancing elf.

Sites like Elf Yourself and Facebook are around,

For fun, silly ways to keep you financially sound.

Now on the TV I hear that horrible tune,

“He went to Jared, and the wedding’s in June;”

A bunch of holiday ads I wish would go back,

To these advertisers with a great big smack.

But then there are some that make me so glad!

Like when Barney wants Fred’s Fruity Pebbles real bad!

The fruity pebbles commercials I still recall now,

For their jingles and taglines can really wow;

This year gadgets, clothing and food compete,

With animations, songs and prices you can’t beat;

Is it PC or Mac, will Macy’s serve JC Penny’s,

Which dinner will you eat, McDonald’s or Wendy’s?

Whatever it is that you pick off the shelf,

Remember to get another one for yourself;

So as these ads jump in and out of your head,

Some are fun, some are bad and some will put you to bed;

Who knows which ones will really win,

The decision ultimately comes from within,

As I close my laptop and scratch my nose,

I think about what gift to buy my Aunt Rose;

A diamond, a Garmin, some clothes might be nice,

I know, Target always has the right price.

As I walk out the door I stand there and cry,

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-buy.”

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