television advertising

Successful Ads Require Talent

It’s so silly, it almost doesn’t feel like it needs to be said – but to make an ad that works, one must have talent.

Over the last few years, marketers have gone insane trying to figure out how to make a video, “viral.” They look wistfully at the Old Spice ads, and say, “See? We need to do something like that!” Then they proceed to turn out commercials that look like commercials, which no one wanted to see in the first place.

Here’s a great example of the good and the bad: The first is the commercial for 5-Hour Energy that was in wide rotation last year:

This ad gets the product information across but in a stale way. It smacks of laziness. “We got the job done, now let us get back to figuring out our ad buy schedule so we can ruin people’s evenings by forcing them to watch it.” The only time I remember people talking about it was to express how bad those 5-Hour Energy ads were.

Here’s the commercial for 5-Hour Energy that is running now.

Can you spot the difference? Sure, the production value on the newer one is slightly better – if only because there were more edits, meaning more shooting days, and they took pictures of the actor jumping out of a plane.

That’s not it, of course. The difference is the new commercial is FUNNY. The one before that is NOT.

In fact, the first commercial looks exactly like how a commercial is supposed to look: Lame.

"Oh look! Another uninspired pitch man! I better sit right up and listen to what he's saying," said no one ever.

“Oh look! Another uninspired pitch man! I better sit up and listen to what he’s saying,” said no one in the history of ever.

Like I said, the first commercial does what it is supposed to do: Inform you of the product, tell you what it does, and tell you why you need it. It also makes you hit the mute on your remote or go get a snack while you wait for “Big Bang Theory” to come back on, because you didn’t DVR it and so cannot get around this ridiculous commercial.

The newer one gets the same job done – but makes you want to watch it because it is funny. It might even make you share the commercial with your friends, increasing its audience.

Making a campaign or commercial viral isn’t something you get by reading enough blog posts (like this one) about it, or books by people who have declared themselves industry experts.

It is done by being talented – by knowing how to write something that is funny, or shoot something that is engaging. Selling the product isn’t forgotten, but it isn’t the most important aspect of the piece. Since no one wants to believe they aren’t talented, they write what they’ve always written – shrieking, intrusive ad copy – and hope for the best.

This can’t be that difficult of a concept to understand, can it? If you want to have content that sings, that makes people remember you, that gets shared far and wide, you need to hire writers and production staff with talent. Talented people can create something fun that still has the key message development and call to action required in a successful ad. This is true of all forms of advertising, mind you. Paid search ads, landing pages, radio spots, print ads… the level of impact is always increased dramatically when someone decides to significantly up their game.

The key is thinking of your content as something that should be entertaining. Otherwise you’re getting the work done of creating content, but you aren’t getting the job done.

By the way, that image I used above? I found that on Google. It had the title, “I want to punch the 5-hour energy guy in the throat.”

Yeah – I’m sure THAT’S the reaction the company was hoping for.

MSNBC Commercials – A Smart Response to Right Wing Media

I am loving these commercials for MSNBC.

They have the obvious appeal of showing what are normally talking heads giving their real opinions of today’s stories. More importantly, they combat the very popular Fox News onslaught, which has gone unanswered for so long.

It shows MSNBC has teeth, particularly if you didn’t already know it. You may know Rachael Maddow has a point of view every bit as vitriolic as Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity, but with the thought process behind that opinion.

Of course, if you have different political opinions, you won’t like these at all. But even if I wasn’t a raving pinko liberal, I’d appreciate the strategy of fighting the Right’s fire with their own fire.

Prestiq – The worst commercial ever made?

You’ve probably seen one of Prestiq’s commercials by now. Each time I do, I am deeply disturbed by them.

Okay – this is supposed to be a commercial for an anti-depressant. But this lady does not look happy. She barely looks conscious. The impression I get watching this commercial is that if you take Prestiq, it won’t help with your depression. It will simply make you so incredibly numb you won’t care anymore.

You know how your batshit-crazy sister in law complained that her meds made her feel like a zombie? That appears to be the benefit they’re pushing here: Take Prestiq, and you will be as dependably docile as a wind up toy. And oh hey! Here’s a wind up toy to illustrate the point.

And even the toy isn’t smiling!

I get that they don’t want to come out and say, “take this medication and you’ll be doing cartwheels and singing all the songs from ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.'” That’s usually the kind of promise products avoid when they can’t deliver on it.

The line, “Prestiq is thought to work” is particularly suspect. You don’t know how your product works? It’s a drug! I’m not feeling very confident about this if you don’t even know how it works.

I suppose if you’re really so far gone with depression, that’s good enough. What they’re shooting for is you may not end up happy, but at least you’ll get out of bed so you can go to work and stop crying all the time.

And as I said, the campaign’s been running for a couple of years now, so I have to assume it’s working at selling their happy pills – wait, no, their not unhappy pills. That suggests to me they really know how to talk to the medically dejected. If that’s the case, this becomes one of the smartest commercials of all time. It simply shows the rest of us how little hope needs to be promised to get sufferers of depression to cling to it.

It also says they aren’t concerned with people, just getting them to go to work. Prestiq isn’t about solving depression, but making people productive for their bosses, family or friends. It’s rather like giving a gunshot victim a new drug that doesn’t stop internal bleeding, but does keep them from leaking on the floor, which is so annoying and unfair to everyone else.

To me, that’s depressing.

Beyaz message: “Life is better without children!”

I always love this commercial, because they make no bones about their message: Children ruin your options. Use this product, and continue to actually enjoy life.

I love it because it challenges the tyranny of parents.

This is important for their product, birth control. You can’t promote birth control pills with anything other than the benefit of the product: It helps you not get pregnant. Rather than gloss over what they are about, they come out with it openly.

They aren’t trying to appease this vocal segment of the population – the people who chose breeding. They are speaking directly to the people who will buy their product.

This is EXACTLY who they need to talk to, and they do it well.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Commercial

This is the commercial to the latest Call of Duty video game. And yes, that’s Jimmy Kimmel breaking out the RPG.

This is an entertaining commercial, but I’m not sure it’s great for the game. For starters, they never show the actual game. Not doing so isn’t like a commercial for a movie where you don’t show a frame of it, it’s EXACTLY like a commercial for a movie where you don’t show a frame of it.

I think the reasoning is that everyone’s played a game like this before, so there’s no new story in the graphics or gameplay. Instead, the online multiplayer lets you duke it out with other boring strangers like yourselves. (In my opinion online multiplayer is a joke, something game designers put in to distract you from their inability to construct levels and AI on their own, so they leave it to the community to try and make it fun. Which it rarely is. But that’s just me, has nothing to do with the commercial really – I’ll move on.)

The idea behind it is, while you have a boring life and a crap job, this game will help you escape that and blow things up. Of course, it also reminds you you probably have a boring life and a crap job.

It is a fun commercial, though. I have to give it up to them for actually making something that’s fun to watch. I don’t know how many more units they’ll move because of this, though. If you like these kinds of games, you’re already going to be buying this. If you’re not, or you don’t have a system, is this really going to get you to invest in it?

Facebook Video Ads – They’re great, and hopefully can stay great

Facebook Video Ads

Normally I’m pretty down on paid placements and Facebook. I mean, I know they can work for advertising, but usually they’re both a drag. But I have to admit, I really do like the Facebook video ad placements.

The ad for Target works better than a TV ad for one simple reason: They know you have the option to play it or not, so they try to make it worth your while. Rather than pimp several products at you at once, they just let you know about the sale.

Their approach, “I made a funny video,” acknowledges the culture of online videos the ad exists in. That is, most of the content actual people create and upload has the same kind of thinking as their ad – “look’it me!!! I’m being funny! Aren’t I funny!?! Watch me dance, Mama! Watch me dance!” I love that they were smart enough to see that, and play off of it.

Facebook Video Ads

But that’s just content. Getting back to the mechanism itself, it doesn’t try to promote all of the products Target that will have on sale this weekend, the way Television ads try to do. With TV, they fire off a slew of on-sale products to get them lodged in your head before you can change the channel.

If Facebook can adequately quality control the video content that’s used for these placements, this could be a very profitable marketing channel. That is, they’d need to make sure no one puts up video ads that are crap just because they have deep enough pockets.

Let’s say I’m a restaurant owner, and I make a commercial that’s really, really bad. It’s bad because I’m an unqualified, untalented shit, and my real job is running my restaurant. But I can afford an ad buy on Facebook, and they let me, so it appears on everyone’s page who lives within 100 miles of my restaurant. If my ad is bad enough, it could turn people off to ever video ad that appears in that space. I might get some exposure, but Facebook will be allowing me to foul their ad space.

It’s the same thing that killed paid placements on search engines. The reason people don’t trust paid search the way they do natural search is there’s no filter for paid ads – just a marketer with a credit card. With natural search you at least get Google’s assurance that the page they produce has to do with what you’re searching for. With paid you could get almost anything.

So I’m hoping Facebook puts some real care into this placement. It’s the kind of thing that could finally make them money. All they have to do is hold out for quality, and not let any idiot with a Flip Video buy space on it.

Another way to look at Twitter Followers

There’s always been a lot of fluff behind the number of Twitter Followers a profile has. If you’ve been on there for a day, you know how it goes: If you have 20, you aren’t that popular, if you have 1000, you’re at least more popular than most of the people you know, and if you have 30,000 you can think of yourself as a minor superstar.

As a personal feel-good, that’s fine, but as a metric of success it’s shoddy. Businesses tend to measure the success or failure of their Twitter accounts by things like follow counts because they can’t accurately measure how it has increased their conversion rate. This has never been easy to see, since social media generally catches people when they aren’t ready to buy something – they’re there to play. It’s like advertising to people at the park: If they see the ad they may buy the product later, if they think of it, but for now they’re just there to walk the dog or push the kids on swings.

It’s hard to know how many people read tweets, then follow through and buy something. But a follow count is easy to measure. If that jumps up fast, your company and product must be popular, and this must be working, right?

Maybe not – maybe a sharp increase in followers is really a sign that everything else you’re doing, you’re doing right. Look at the stats for Old Spice’s Twitter account, via

Stats for OldSpice on Twitter

Boy THEY sure got popular in a hurry, didn’t they? They must have really done a lot of following of other people, and posting #FollowFriday shout outs, even paid some company to put their profile on ads saying, “you should follow OldSpice,” right?

That, or they made a TV Commercial that no one can stop talking about.

OldSpice’s twitter follows show the success they’re having elsewhere. It also gives them another venue to catch people who are interested in them because of the commercial. Maybe someone who’s entertained by the commercial doesn’t instantly go out and buy Old Spice. So interested people follow them on Twitter, where they continue to receive messaging from the campaign, and eventually, maybe, give their product a try.

In this case, Twitter isn’t the first or the last stop in the conversion funnel – it just keeps people in it.

So if you want Twitter to work for you, the moral here is to have a larger campaign that kicks off the interest. Unless what you’re posting is so miraculously brilliant you bring in followers who’ve never heard of you before, Twitter is best used in conjunction with a larger campaign.

It’s why social media IS NOT more important than media buys. Television, print, radio, etc. have the widest audience, and are the best means for getting people moving towards your product.

Stealth Pessimism in McDonald’s New Commercial

I love commercials where I just KNOW the creators snuck in some hidden negativity!

Listen for the kid 10.5 seconds in:

“I don’t see any hope?” In a commercial for Happy Meals and Ronald McDonald House? That’s so brilliant! How someone could have snuck this past so many committees and reviews without anyone catching it… I just love it. The image of a copywriter hidden in the back of the Creative Department, drunkenly giggling at sneaking this in does my heart good.

And for the record, it worked – after seeing this, I swear to God, my Girlfriend and I went to McDonald’s. That’s two conversions, McDonald’s! Mark us down!

And give that smart ass at your agency a raise!

Great Commercial – UbyKotex: So Obnoxious

I usually dislike ads that play the, “we’re smart enough to know TV ads are crap,” but blow it by doing so in an actual TV ad.

What’s different here is that they’re calling out something about their own industry – and they’re nailing every point perfectly.

Is it me or does something really refreshing happen when clients give their agency carte blanche?