BIGG IDEAS — Beyond the Bucket, for the Greater Good

There has been an enormous amount of attention lately — and that is a good thing — paid to the Ice Bucket Challenge on behalf of ALS. It has possibly raised understanding, and has certainly raised awareness and money.

A lesser-known challenge is, ironically, one that is from a man, Chris Rosati, who has ALS. You may have seen a news piece on him handing out thousands of donuts to people in cancer wards — all from his wheelchair.

Chris has upped the ante for those of us who aren’t satisfied with a bucket of ice water. Through his InspireMEdia, he has started BIGG: Big IDEAS for the Greater Good. Rosati challenged kids, knowing that they do not carry notions of their own limitations, to do something really special to contribute to humanity.

In his sweet, calm way, Rosati has inspired a lot of kids to think beyond the easy bucket, to use their natural empathy and act upon it. Their IDEAS are as remarkable in their cleverness as they are in their goodness.

So, now that we’ve dried off and warmed up, and passed the bucket, let’s not pass the buck, too. We’re all of us good enough, big enough, for a BIGG IDEA.


Das Auto — Existential Ads and Multi-Interactive Media

In the not too distant future, philosophy, communications and business professors will be lecturing on the power of guerilla marketing to engage customers with a hearty mix of real and unreal… and hyper-real.

Flash mobs break down the fourth wall, bringing the audience into the “scene” for all time, courtesy of YouTube. Interactive marketing, by its very nature, changes the audience’s relationship not only with the medium and the marketer, but everything else surrounding them at the time of the interaction.

When the interactivity is compounded by multimedia, mixed media, or multi-interactivemedia, as in the case of a “public service” Volkswagen presentation, even though the message itself is compelling, the IDEA of layering these media is what resonates.

And, of course, the clincher is the irony in that to make the point, they are mixing the two places where interactive technology (cellphones, anyway) is least appropriate — while watching a movie and while driving.

Recipe for a McViral Video — Why Their World Cup Spot Works

There is a lot of talk about the McDonald’s two-minute “spot” for the World Cup, but nobody — at least none of the critics — seems to understand why it’s so good. In an embarrassing fail, Ad Age didn’t even take the time to find out that all of the trick shots from everyday people seemingly all over the world are real.

The spot is textbook viral, which may be a little easier for McDonald’s, especially when they aren’t really selling anything. But it’s worth a look at what exactly they did so well.

They start out by  “zagging.” Everyone else is zigging (using famous players), so they “zag,” using very unfamous non-players. All of the trick plays were probably already viral; that’s most likely how the ad agency found them, so they knew going in it was essentially “pre-sold.” They get a big formulaic with a beautiful model and an old man, but those two work precisely because they are juxtaposed.

There are two things that make the spot truly an outstanding piece of work. The music is likewise a “zag.” It’s a hip retro Burl Ives tune (it even sounds part Spanish, part French and part English) that is bright, cheerful and innocent — and fast-moving and that perfectly matches the fun and innocence of the video.

The more subtle element of the spot is the one that truly lets it ring the bell: the reaction shots!! They are so honest and real. The people are so genuine, sweet and even humble about their amazing feats; and the crowds are elated and sometimes dumbfounded. The truly brilliant editing brings out just the right touch of the homemade video, so that the escalator boy’s self-deprecating laugh is cut off; the girl who knocks the McDonald’s sign away is embarrassed, but at a distance, leaving us to fill in the blanks; the big guy with the over the bridge shot looks uncomfortable with the camera. The girls who react to the old man or to the young boy are beyond either’s wildest dreams, but they’re still in awe of these show-offs. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

So, the whole exploit is not just real, it’s genuine. Maybe that’s the special sauce of a viral video.


What’s Wrong with TV Hockey?

Watching two of my favorite cities — L.A. and Chicago — go at it so fiercely in the Stanley Cup playoffs, with reportedly “the most exciting games ever,” I am struck by just how unexciting TV hockey is. It’s like going back in time when sports was covered with one or two cameras from the middle of the field.

Sure, hockey moves fast, and no doubt the sports channels don’t want to take the chance of missing something big by showing a replay of something not so big. So, what’s their answer? Show everything, so that, even on HD, we actually see nothing. To augment this, the announcer spews forth in a meaningless drone for a pseudo-play-by-play that also tells us nothing.

TV Hockey needs two things: a John Madden figure to attract us to the analytical side of the game, augmenting our appreciation of the skills required, and therefore our enjoyment of the televised version of the sport; and “tape delay.”

So, you’re seeing the game a few seconds behind “live.” So what? What possible difference could it make? You use that time to show all the missed shots from various angles; to entertain us with actually seeing the puck now and then in close-up shots; to draw on the screen Madden-style to explain some of the cool things that we saw but didn’t really see; to slow down a few of the important moves to let us revel in the athleticism.

Then, if you get too far behind, you can catch up in the twenty-minute rest times, or speed through the parts of the game that are just skating back and forth. NBC, for instance, could conceivably run this alternative version on one of its other channels to test how many viewers want to actually see the game. Or even try it online. A face-off of sports coverage.

It’s time, though, to bring hockey coverage into this century. Overtime.

Mini-Mayhem — Allstate’s Esurance Ads Too Quick for their Own Good

There was a time when insurance ads were not the best thing on TV. That was, perhaps, before technology brought us talking lizards. Now, though, the mayhem Allstate brings us is infinitely more entertaining than what it sponsors, especially when measured in half-minute increments.

Progressive’s Flo has a back story that easily outweighs any sitcom character. Farmers University is a competitor. The only thing wrong with State Farm’s pop-on agents is there aren’t enough spots for all the media they buy; even the entertaining woman trying to grab a dollar from a fishing line stinks after three months.

What’s puzzling in this mix is the ads for Esurance, the ones where people are so old-fashioned that they think posting photos on their wall means their living room wall. Esurance seems to be trying to position itself as the new, cool Geico.

They seem to be making the case that Geico is a waste of time at 15 minutes. You could be saving money and spending only 7. 5 minutes with Esurance. So, after the laughs die down, we’re left wondering, Really? Do they think there are people out there who care about seven minutes in buying insurance? Then, when we see that it’s really an Allstate ad, we wonder if we are paying too much for the Allstate insurance we got that wasn’t through Esurance.

Isn’t it terrible when a funny series of spots is betrayed by an idiotic strategy? I call that mini-mayhem.


Cheeri-Uh-O’s — Can You Sue Companies You Like?

Is it General Mills’ fault? Their standard line about “if you sue us, you must agree to arbitration, which we will pay for,” was so misinterpreted that the New York Times, an impressive publication in its previous lives, reported that GM was saying that if you “like” them on Facebook, then you can’t sue them.

Even accepting the general level of idiocy that is the currency of facebook, it’s hard to decide which is the most outrageous: that people would believe they can’t sue anybody for anything in this litigious society; that GM can’t control its communications better; or that the New York Times would get involved. After all, it’s the journalistic equivalent of hanging around the Russian Tea Room, asking patrons what’s news.Can we sue NYT for such disinformation? Even if we subscribe?




2000X — Stanford Team Opens Up A Whole New World for the Whole World

Once in awhile, an IDEA comes along that is so big that one can hardly imagine how much it will affect society. Such is the case with the recent unveiling of a microscope invented by a Stanford University professor and his students.

The microscope is constructed out of paper, costs about a dollar to make, is virtually indestructible, magnifies up to 2000 times, fits in your pocket, and can even project the image on to any surface. The only thing that’s not revolutionary about it is the name – FoldScope — but, hey, with the notable exception of Steve Blank, Stanford entrepreneurs are not known for their marketing acumen.

It will  be used to save lives anywhere in the world, which means particularly the third world, by detecting some two dozen diseases quickly and easily. But as revolutionary as that is, the societal tsunami will come from giving children all over the world instant access to a “whole new world,” one that will no longer be hidden at 2000 X.

What NASA did for astronomy, and Woodward and Bernstein did for journalism, the FoldScope will do for science and medicine and a dozen other fields — all over the world.

A Corporate Fiat: Know Yourself, Know Your Super-Brand

Companies often have a strange war going on between their brands and their sub-brands. Partly because they don’t want to admit that the spin-off is as popular, or more popular, than its originator, and partly because corporate marketing folks just love turf wars, the companies will ignore all that expensive research and “go with their gut.”

Sometimes the schizophrenia pays off. Where do you get the incredibly reliable Kenmore appliances? Sears, of course. Long ago, when Sears was a healthy brand, it refused to shake off Kenmore, or elevate Kenmore into its own brand. Now, as Kenmore does all the heavy lifting for Sears, that’s not such a bad thing. Meanwhile, as expected, Procter & Gamble continues to be the paragon of sub-branding and sub-sub branding paradigms.

If sub-brands are a problem for companies, imagine what it is like handling their super-brand. The wars over holding company turf are C-Level. So, when the previously reputable Time Warner holding company made a big deal out of putting AOL first, they alienated two-thirds of their corporate body, and quite a few customers who preferred print, movies or TV to the Internet. As AOL tanked, it tarnished the whole corporation.

They should have done what the Italian head of FCA did. That’s Fiat Chrysler, by the way, but they are okay with the fact that you might have not known that. Rather than pull a Time Warner move and make a big deal out of the merger, alienating both loyal Italians and Chrysler’s generally conservative target, they know that the only thing they sell as a holding company is stock. Let Fiat and Chrysler sell the cars separately under their own brands, their own traditions, their own target customers, their own products. And for those who like to look under the corporate hood, they have some nice shares that come with a service policy.


Show & Tell Lifestyles and the Cadillac Manifesto

There are two types of lifestyle spots: the kind that show you a lifestyle you aspire to and think you can live if you have the product (or pretend to live if you have the product); and, the kind that tell you who you are or would be (and maybe give you a glimpse, too) if you have the product. The latter are somewhere between a horoscope and a manifesto, both in quality and truth.

Beer commercials are some of the more prevalent lifestyle spots. Interestingly, Dos Equis’s “most interesting man in the world” is more of a “manifesto.” When they started showing the lifestyle instead of telling you about it, it stopped working.

Cadillac’s new in your face “two weeks of vacation” spot is also a manifesto. Though they show a wealthy guy in his beautiful house, the spot is about what he is saying, not showing. Interestingly, it has received some backlash because it sounds like Cadillac wants the one-percenters back. Even though the spokesman looks older than he is, that’s not the target. Or is it? Clearly, Cadillac can’t make up its mind.

A couple of weeks ago, they announced they were modifying their logo, getting rid of the olive branches and elongating the shield to supposedly attract a younger audience. But it’s long been a truth about the post-Boomers that they eschew the Type A, 80-hour week for a more balanced lifestyle that is much more European or Australian than it is American.

So, who would go for this Cadillac manifesto? Guys who missed the point of “Wolf of Wall Street” (or “Blue Jasmine” or even “American Hustle”) and want to grow up to be like Leonardo’s character? The spot even looks like a trailer for WoWS. Yikes!

I tell you what, marketing folks from Cadillac, and your pals at the ad agency Rogue. You need a vacation. Take four weeks off. Maybe longer.

Super Bowl Commercials? SNORT!

I have been a cynical elitist in my life, and I can assure you it is not an avocation worthy of pursuit. When those who ventured an opinion regarding the arts or literature and were met with my practiced wide-eyed snort, they would quickly flee to that all-American of defenses: “Everyone is entitled to his opinion.” (Actually they would usually say, “their opinion,” but grammar isn’t the point here.) Then it was their turn for some form of wide-eyed reaction when I would counter with, “Yes, but some of us are paid for our opinions.”

Though I now eschew both cynicism and elitism, I still prefer professional opinions to amateur ones, and not just in the doctor’s office. Each year, when the polls for the best Super Bowl commercials are released, that wide-eyed snort, well, is just beyond suppressing.

After all, who votes, but people who have been drinking for three hours? Snort! Well, now we can understand why the Romans loved the circus. The hoi polloi gets to use their thumbs, if they can get them out of their noses or asses.  SNORT!!

What is obvious to us professionals, especially those of us who have done it, is that advertising beer is the easiest thing in the world, especially when you have a stable of icons to help you. Though the Budweiser commercial is truly well done, it no longer has anything to do with the product. Though the Bud Light spots are product-oriented, they basically just support that hoi polloi perspective. Also, do you really want people to think of your customer as “that guy”?

Doritos? It’s wrong in so many ways as to defy even snorting. Did the mom actually  laugh at her child being hogtied by the other child?

So, what’s good? Lots of them. But, now that I’m not an elitist, I look forward to your opinions, so see for yourself. But, here are the rules: 1) the commercial has to “sell” you or portray a benefit; 1a) or at least has to be about the brand;  2) the users of the product, service or even brand have to look like they belong with the aforementioned product, etc. or are someone you like and/or admire; and 3) you have to remember what company is paying for it. That terrific spot for the truck, for instance? Was that Chevy? Ford? Toyota? Ooops! Not a good spot, if you don’t immediately know.

If you regard these rules as killjoy rather than necessary, let’s just say that you aren’t worthy of an opinion. Snort! I know, though, that if you got this far, you are worth listening to.

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