I have to confess that Apple's advertising in recent years hasn't really rung my bell. It could be that their products are just iterations of things that already exist (and competitors are snapping at their heels with products that have features every bit as good and in some cases better than Apple's). In the past they had news - like the Mac, the iPod, iPhone (early days) and iPad.
The ad kicks off emphatically off as a tribute to how the iPhone can augment the experience of making music before meandering off into the back blocks of wherever on motorcycles, boxing gyms and in-home planetariums - wrapping it all up with the message 'You're more powerful than than you think'.
It's a bit of a Bohemian Rhapsody kind of thing set to the Pixies Gigantic song. In other words - it's a mess. It seems as if Apple's flat industrial design and flat UX design is a triumph of focus and clarity of purpose - while the marketing department has lost its way. The iPhone may well be just about all things to all people (there's an app for that) - but if you throw everything into the pot at the same time then nothing shines through.
Frankly I think the ad is a bit of a clunker. It almost comes under the heading of - if you have nothing to say then sing it. Though, rather than finding an elegant riff and sticking with it, they went with an atonal mess.
Ads work better when you have a clear proposition - one that potentially resonates with a person. People can't focus on too many elements at one time (especially when they are distracted - or you are distracting them from their purpose - like watching their favourite show on TV).
There is an old advertising trick to demonstrate this to clients when they want to jam pack too much information into a commercial. Get five ping pong balls. Toss one to the client. They'll probably get catch it. Now throw all five at once - good luck with that one. Maybe Apple's agency didn't have the balls to remind their client of that communication truth.
A strong, single minded proposition will beat a complex sequence of information every time.
Over the past couple of years cosmetics companies have been making a bid to be seen as purveyors of 'true beauty' as a way of manufacturing a point of difference for their brands.
This campaign for the specialist make-up brand Dermablend makes no apology for concealing the model's flaws.
The ads are classic demonstrations of the product in use. By wiping away the cover the people in the ads communicate how effectively the product allows them to engage in everyday life without enduring the problems associated with being different - make-up as camouflage.
Where the subtle shift takes is in how the brand leverages the meme that cosmetics can somehow make you 'better' and the equal and opposite meme - you are perfect the way you are. In this case both are paradoxically true and false.
Can you be better by becoming someone else? If you have a flaw that you feel you need to conceal, are you inherently rejecting the true you?
Most of us want to 'fit in'. There's no real difference between using cosmetics or prosthetic teeth - or wearing a suit to work at the bank when you're a rock star in the making at the weekend. In our culture we have the choice if we can afford it.
Dermablend encourage people who use their product to submit their own 'camo confession' as part of their push to find a place in the cosmetics conversation that is something other than 'vanity'.
The model in the commercial (above) is Cassandra Bankson, whose beauty tutorials are an internet sensation in their own right
Slightly Tangenital - but related.
This ad for a feminine hygiene product (Indonesian) offers the promise of hygiene on the go - presumably on a night out (though I might be projecting an interpretation from my own psyche onto some thing completely innocent).
There seems no end of douche-bag products designed to make women feel bad about themselves and their bodies.
I have a feeling this ad was probably never placed in Indonesian media - it was featured on the Ads of the World website.
What do you think?:
Are women's insecurities targeted more by marketers?
What other examples do yo know of?
From time to time the idea of reincarnation is trotted out in advertising.
Top is a magazine in Brazil that covers luxury trends. In these ads they have imagined what Donald Trump, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates might look like if religions that promote the idea of another roll of the dice are right. Setting aside the question of - what on earth they did they do wrong in this life? to deserve such terrible fates (and in the absence of cash would another Llama breed with Mr Gates?).
The ads have been translated into English - Portuguese is the local lingo - so may have lost something in translation - but they remain kind of funny - who doesn't like to take a moment from their hard-scrabble lives to laugh at the uber-wealthy.
I'm being unkind though - in context the ads make a nice point - after all the magazine catalogs the bling and tat the nouveau riche are attracted to.
Ironically Zuckerberg and Gates are notoriously unaffected by their wealth - while Donald Trump takes his Midas touch thing a little too far sometimes - if you've ever visited Trump Tower in Manhatten you'll know what I mean.
My point here is about exposition - creating a visual ad then having to spell its meaning out - it's a bit clumsy. In this case it's easy to get the impression that the suit or the client's wife said something along the lines of: "E se ninguém entende que a coruja é senhor Trump?" - "Maybe you should put his name in the headline?
All communication is better when it is clear. Strip away as much clutter as possible. if your advertising is distinctive you might not need a logo (Bill Bernbach even suggested you might have a better chance of being heard if you leave it off altogether). If you have a strong visual story resist the urge to spell it out in words.
Fewer elements mean less chance of distraction and confusion.
A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. Antoine de Saint-Exupery
J.Crew are a catalog retailer in the US. Michelle Obama wore their kit at her hubby's first inauguration bash and set the tone for a presidency that was styish but not so so much Jackie O prêt-à-porter as a Yo! to go .
Something happened the other day that is worth noting. A blogger for New York magazine wrote an open letter to the company asking them to bring back a discontinued swim suit. The retailer responded - taking out a double page spread in the magazine to announce that the togs were back in all their scoop backed glory.
The blogger acknowledged the acknowledgement online and the story loop closed.
Bloggers can be influential - it pays to listen to what is being said about your products. If they are super-fans (raving fans as Tom Peters famously labelled them) then they may be incredibly influential…'mavens' - as we are throwing around the nomenclature of big-name commentators.
Be human - even if you're a big brand. Nobody cares about faceless corporations anymore. We all know that there is someone in a cubicle or a corner office pulling the levers that make things tick…don't be too slick.
If your customers ask for something - there might be value - not just at the cash register - but also as evidence your brand is responsive and fleet of foot.
The ad comes from Colombia - the headline says "The Kitchen you are imagining is in Hipercentro Coronna.". The (fake) classified ads on the page morph into a dimensional representation of a kitchen with range hood. It's a little bit funky and I don't really know if if has all that much impact - but it is interesting and interestingness goes a long way.
The ad reframes expectations. Sometimes this can be expressed a 'make the strange familiar and the familiar strange'. If you were flipping through the classified ads (do people still do that?) and came across this message would you look twice (all things being equal - if you were in the market for home improvement supplies the ad would have a high degree of salience - and if you were just passing through perhaps you'd think the retailer was more interesting and file that thought away until you were ready, able and wiling to buy).
A 'retake' is better than being ignored or lost in the 7 point type of a listings page. Come to think of it the same rule applies even if you are making a glossy double page spread in a fashion magazine. Is there something that surprises and delights.
Your mind is wired to look for patterns. We 'see' things that aren't there - mentally joining the dots. One of the most vivid examples of this phenomenon is the moving image - movement is simulated by showing static images in sequence. Movies typically screen at 24 frames per second. That roughly coincides with your brain's processing capacity - we stitch the sequence together in our our minds - seeing fluid motion. If some other images that don't follow the sequence are inserted you will notice them (no, I'm not talking about the fabled 'subliminal' messages). The foreign material will disrupt the flow.
In a sense that's the job of creativity in advertising - to interrupt the flow while still being a part of context. Your fashion spread will be wallpaper unless something about it upsets your equilibrium - the mindless rhythm of flipping the pages of Vogue Italia or Wallpaper magazine.
The best advertising does this well. You are reading Vogue in the comfortable reassurance that it will contain this month's expressions of the fashion continuum (in a way every month is like a frame of the film of culture - a step by step progression from the early 2oth Century to the present day). Ads in Vogue ten to look like ads in Vogue - so a little disruption can go a long way.
Harvey Nichols, the high-end retailer in England have a reputation for creating ads that defy conventions in their category but which also conform to the model for fashion and beauty. In doing so they not only announce their retail events - like any retailer they have a seasonal calendar and have to compete for more than their fair share of the market.
Whether the kitchen retailer enjoyed any benefit from the ad that kicked off this conversation is hard to know. The ad appears in a creative portfolio on the Behance web site (it may never have actually run in the press). But it does serve to remind that even the most moribund media can present an opportunity to cut-though with messages that surprise and delight and which can take on a second life as social objects - something that gets people talking - as we are here).
This ad for the Waitrose supermarket chain is very nicely made. It uses the talent of a big name director Tom Tagholm (who proved his chops convincingly with work for the 2012 Paralympics, taking the tape for Gran Prix gold at Cannes with Superhumans). Three things strike me about this ad:
A young boy researches gardening and makes the decision to plant his own crop in the back yard. His mum obviously supports his endeavour - but doesn't interfere, except to bring him in out of the rain. He tills the soil, plants the seeds, scares the crows and is no slug on pest control. When the bounty of the harvest is revealed and he proudly serves his assembled family a feast of roast veg.
The commercial is beautifully shot, edited and matched to a music track that evokes empathy without stretching too far into schmalz (even if it is a bit too Coldplay for my taste). Avoiding the temptation to show the family as loving supporters gazing on in admiration (or any other layer of unnecessary emotion to prove some communal bond or interpretation) and neither is the kid shunned or neglected. He's just doing his thing.
The segue is to Waitrose's produce aisle. A young employee is restocking the carrots and the voice over announces: "When you own something you care a little more - everyone who works at Waitrose owns Waitrose.". When I realised what the ad was for I half expected an obvious pronunciation that the produce was as good as if you'd grown it yourself, or a condescending - we grow it better than you could yourself. But no. It is a simple statement about the one thing that makes Waitrose different from, say, Tesco - implied, not stated - human scale and humanist values.
The story, the technique and the point are all are neatly and economically interwoven - though the sotto declamation at the end clearly signifies that this is an ad.
There are conventions in categories. They just evolve and become universal truths - it's marketing entropy - everything ultimately migrates to the black hole of the centre of the positioning grid.
Beware of universal truth - your ads should project something of your brand that no-one else can claim. That might be something oddball - the classic VW ad - it's ugly but it get's you there - comes to mind.
Waitrose are part of the John Lewis Partnership in the UK. The staff are called partners and are participants in a cooperative scheme that grants bonuses to employees based on their pay scale and discounts on goods. The claim in the ad is completely aligned to their practice.
Language can have a powerful effect on people's perceptions.
When things rhyme people think the statement is more true.
Of course if you ask anyone if it is true that things that rhyme is true they will laugh at you.
All is revealed in a study named "Birds of a feather flock conjointly - rhyme as reason in aphorisms"
We explored the role that poetic form can play in people's perceptions of the accuracy of aphorisms as descriptions of human behavior. Participants judged the ostensible accuracy of unfamiliar aphorisms presented in their textually surviving form or a semantically equivalent modified form. Extant rhyming aphorisms in their original form (e.g., "What sobriety conceals, alcohol reveals") were judged to be more accurate than modified versions that did not preserve rhyme ("What sobriety conceals, alcohol unmasks"). However, the perceived truth advantage of rhyming aphorisms over their modified forms was attenuated when people were cautioned to distinguish aphorisms' poetic qualities from their semantic content. Our results suggest that rhyme, like repetition, affords statements an enhancement in processing fluency that can be misattributed to heightened conviction about their truthfulness.
If you use rhyme in your advertising then likeability and the perception of truthfulness increases.
Remember OJ Simpson's trial? Well, you probably don't remember many of the details, aside from the media circus - details are far too complex to process. The jury - who had been subject to a barrage of facts and counter-facts over the course of a very long trial were told by Simpson's clever defence lawyers "If the glove doesn't fit - you have to acquit." And they did.
So, while advertising copywriters might sneer at the idea - maybe there is truth in the adage: If you've got nothing to say - sing it.
Taco Bell is a chain of fast food outlets in the US. They want a slice of the lucrative breakfast market and have created a menu and minor fuss over their advertising.
As a comparatively small player Taco Bell don't have the budget to go head to head with McDonald's. So they have set about getting people talking. For their launch commercial they have recruited 25 people called Ronald McDonald to endorse how good the food is.
It's an unconventional approach in the category but it points to a new strategy that second tier and challenger brands are deploying to borrow interest from their competitors. The idea is to take another brand's idea and make it your own - but bypassing any competitive claim that might have to be substantiated, refuted or legally challenged as 'passing off'. The ploy is an obvious wink to the consumer and in the age of social media the hope is that the message will be shared. It's not very likely that many people are going to be so excited by the Taco Bell breakfast menu that they will share it with their friends on Facebook. But give them an underdog story - 'Hey, did you know there are dozens of people called Ronald McDonald and they eat at Taco Bell?…" (The implication is that Taco Bell's breakfast menu is so good that Ronald McDonald prefers it.).
The Ford/Cadillac ad is similar - though less directly competitive.
Perhaps another perspective is that brands are behaving more like individuals in their use of social media - personification is a part of the brand canon - brands are like people. So, rather than issuing a corporate cease and desist letter from the legal department McDonald's responded on Facebook with a vaguely condescending response - 'Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery'. The 'real' Ronald pats a ratty looking Chihuahua. (Never mind that the Taco Bell campaign featuring the dog ended over 10 years ago - though there is probably a subtext there too).
Don't wrestle with a pig. You get dirty and the pig loves it.
McDonald's are clearly not interested in engaging with Taco Bell. Doing so would stoke the fire and effectively be putting money into the underdog's marketing budget.
The Danes have a pretty good life. It's a lot like New Zealand - dairy production is important, it's conservative and has expensive social welfare. At 5.6 million they have a few more people than us and their economy is in good shape - US$211 billion. Last year the UN named it the world's happiest country (take that Bhutan).
But Denmark has a population problem. Its birth rate is stagnant at 10 per 1,000 residents in 2013. Other wealthy, developed countries have a similar problem (Germany 8.3, Japan 8.4 and Singapore 7.7). The Danes are worried. It's not that they don't want kids. Most Danish couples say they want two or three kids but 20 percent of couples are childless. Population growth is a real issue for most countries that, like New Zealand, are committed to the welfare of the aged - who have paid taxes all of their lives for the privilege of healthcare and pensions.
The Danish travel industry are coming to the rescue. They have taken up the issue as a promotional theme encouraging young Danes to go on holiday.
According to Spies travel “Studies show that Danes have 46 percent more sex on holiday, and because more sex increases the chances for more children, we call for a romantic break to save the future of Denmark.”
Whether the stats are real or not Psychology Today says the theory bears up. To help convince Danes of breeding age the promotion seduces with prizes for couple who can demonstrate they got pregnant while on holiday at a romantic location. The prize is a bit of a buzz-kill - three years of disposable nappies (how's that for bringiing you back to reality with a bump).
The ad does its best not to alienate customers who are unlikely to win - it is inconceivable that a gay couple would be in the running within the strict confines of the rules.
When you are developing a promotional idea think laterally. A promotion is a tactical expression of your brand. It helps to align your message with your brand's values - Spies is selling holidays - holidays are, by definition, playful. Holidays for younger customers are sexy - sun, sand, romance…
Make a wild creative leap. Your promotion can revitalise your brand and inject some surprise and delight into it. Taking the static birth rate as a starting point and making the jump to Do It For Denmark - genius. People are talking about it (there will probably be a spurt of inbound tourism too as randy young travellers come to do their bit to increase the Danish gene-pool).
As a promotional message it can afford to be slightly 'wonky' - the real message of the Do It For Denmark is that short breaks to romantic places like Rome and Paris are sexy. They are actually promoting dirty weekends. But it is fun and 'throw away'.
Be careful with sex jokes though. They can fail to excite the audience in a positive way - Telecom New Zealand learned that the hard way with Sean Fitzpatrick's tongue in cheek ad to encourage kiwis to put a black rubber ring on and abstain from sex for the duration of the Rugby World Cup. It was an embarrassing flop.
The Spies website has some helpful tips for conception. Google translate gives the Emerald Isle a helping hand by turning the word Denmark in Ireland.
This blog is a notepad of contemporaneous and sometimes extemporaneous thoughts about creativity, strategy and ideas.