Archive for the ‘Ad Creative’ Category

The monster creative duel between Direct TV and Charter Spectrum

In Ad Creative, Memorable Marketing on February 25, 2018 at 5:23 pm

If you live in a “Charter Spectrum” area, you quite likely are familiar with the ad battle currently going on between the company and Direct TV. The latter has put extensive weight behind it’s campaign that attempts to make fun (or in my view, ridicule) those people who still “prefer cable.” In the process, they show an endless chain of poor mopes who, to support the metaphor, enjoy things like walking into glass doors, spilling hot coffee in their laps, getting poison ivy, or paper cuts on their tongues …you get the idea.

Meanwhile, Charter Spectrum has created a family of cliche’ horror movie monsters, including a mummy, an evil doctor, a killer dummy, the grim reaper, and several others. We enjoy their frustration when bad weather or other problems knock their Direct TV service off the air.  Many entertaining situations result, as we see the hideous group on the subway, during poker night, even trying to cut down a tree blocking their satellite signal.  

(My favorite version  features death himself trying to lead a game of charades to pass the time. He gets into a sarcastic exchange with the caustic little dummy, while the mild-mannered mummy and the simple-minded alien attempt to grasp the conversation.) Read the rest of this entry »


“Test Drive” TV spots help Volkswagen weather a testing time.

In Ad Creative, Uncategorized on December 7, 2015 at 1:04 am

Given the recent revelations about VW’s emissions testing subterfuge, the ad industry watched with anticipation to see what sort of persona the company would take on in its post-crisis advertising. The answer? A familiar one.

And that’s a good thing for VW. It brought back a popular campaign supporting its regular “Sign Then Drive” event. The campaign features salespeople who are ‘kidnapped” by people who are test-driving a VW, and are so taken with it, the test drives continue into all manner of entertaining situations for far longer than the anticipated time.


In my favorite spot, a family has taken a VW Christmas shopping, and is unloading gifts outside a family gathering when we see, at last, that there is a VW salesman sitting in the back. His earnest, mild-mannered suggestion to return to the dealership is greeted with a genuine look of hurt feelings as the wife asks,  ‘don’t you want to meet my family?”

In other executions, we join a couple lying on the hood/roof of the vehicle, looking up at the stars, making wishes. Then we hear a mild, totally un-sarcastic voice through the sunroof from an unseen salesman inside chiming in with “I wish we could head back to the dealership now.”

I think the campaign is a particularly good choice for VW for right now, for several reasons.

  1. The message is not a very intense “product/feature” sell – a good decision when almost any specific claim would likely prompt a snarky, knee-jerk response about the claim’s truthfulness.
  2. Secondly, the real “selling idea” here isn’t delivered in the company’s voice at all, but rather through the fondness various people instantly feel and show toward the vehicles on their “test drives.” This virtual third party endorsement works much better for VW at the moment.
  3. Finally, there is a consistent likability displayed by the VW salespeople in each spot. In that “Gifts” spot, for example – despite the salesman’s eagerness to end the test drive, he doesn’t want to hurt the woman’s feelings. So of course he sighs, taps his knees, claps his hands and hops out to go meet that family.

Read the rest of this entry »

GE presents itself as a disappointment in odd new campaign.

In Ad Creative, Agency Biz on October 20, 2015 at 9:07 am

I should feel proud. I mean, somehow I must fit into some media buyer’s demographic for GE’s new campaign to recruit college grads. I see and hear the campaign constantly, though my first job was, well, a while back. But the campaign strikes me as an odd one. I find several things to like about it, but I think it creates exactly the image that its creative team is apparently trying to dispel.  Here’s Ad Age’s take on it.

The campaign features TV and radio executions that are built around a young guy who seems happy to have just been hired by GE,  But in every case, his family and/or friends seem very disappointed, because they clearly picture GE as an old, very industrial giant that is the furthest thing from their expectations for “Owen”, our  hot young Internet developer.

In TV spots, they seem confused, and don’t understand his explanation of developing a language that will help machines communicate. In one silly overreach, a group fawns over another guy (Owen’s brother?) who is working on a stereo-typically vapid smartphone app that allows you to place hats on animals’ heads. Something much more to their liking. Owen pals

While the sarcasm certainly paints the friends as shallow, it doesn’t serve to elevate GE in the process. Most of us probably don’t think of GE that much at all – so the constant exposure to people who think it’s an industrial dinosaur simply makes us think they’re probably right. In one annoying radio spot, the newly hired guy has a girlfriend who badgers him to portray his new job as “working on a trendy app” and insists he leave out the “machines” and the “GE” part when they meet her parents that evening. Again, we sure don’t like her much. But again GE is considered an embarrassment.

Now, I GET it. I know that’s the point. I just don’t think it works. And the line that ends most of the spots is “GE. The digital company that’s also an industrial company.”  That doesn’t really help. If we have no real image, we don’t know what to think; the whole thing just sounds defensive. And if we do have the old “industrial”perception of GE, we’re not going to change that because you called yourself a “digital” company first.

Find some interesting way to show me “digital.” Show me what you’re doing now. Show me the kinds of things young college Read the rest of this entry »

Citgo pumps up the strategy.

In Ad Creative on April 14, 2015 at 4:30 pm

Early in my career, I earned praise from a newspaper advertising columnist for my work in an unusual venue. The column began “Sometimes creativity must be recognized, even if the vehicle is only a restaurant menu.”  It is in that spirit that I devote this column to an equally unappreciated communications channel: the gas station “pump topper” I encountered at my corner gas station.

The sign went beyond the usual “come in and get a 148-oz. smoothie for 49 cents.”  It actually had some marketing to it. Most of us know that if you buy items other than gas at a gas station, it’s for one of two reasons: you are either too late or too lazy to stop at a real store for it.  (In those situations, you rationalize that a $1.75 can of Coke or a $4.50 gallon of milk are great deals.) Well, while most of us grudgingly accept it as the price of convenience, Citgo has found a way to put things in a more positive perspective – and I think I can see an actual strategy in it.


“What  you need for whatever is next” does a pretty nice job of making me feel better about overpaying for things!  It gives me permission to think “I’m not a poor, pathetic, desperate, disorganized, gullible sucker. I am simply a cool, active, busy person who is smart enough to fit things into my schedule in the most efficient way possible. Let those other people with boring lives and penny-saving obsessions clip their coupons and go miles out of their way to a store where they can save a few cents on a hundred dollars worth of stuff. I, unlike them, have a life to lead.”

Whether I need something on the way home from work or daycare, or some snacks to bring to the party, or any item that will get me through to my next regular grocery trip without having to go shopping NOW – Citgo is right there, 50 feet from where I am filling my car with gas.

“What you need for whatever is next” is a good message, as long as you don’t think about it too much. Like when you walk out carrying that pricey pack of coarse toilet paper.

Virtual gingerbread house vacations lead off December’s “Good, Bad and Ugh…”

In Ad Creative on December 29, 2014 at 6:04 pm

Okay, glad we have a nice opening item for this month’s edition of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugh” in the marketing and advertising world.

The Good.

The good this month is, oddly enough, a nice piece of self-promotion/charity effort by New York ad agency McKinney. Instead of the lame attempt at too-cool humor many agencies launch, the folks at McKinney helped create  A just-plain-fun way to raise funds to help the homeless in New York City. You donate to book a “virtual stay” in one of three wonderfully-created gingerbread rental properties, featuring clever and funny edible amenities that even HGTV’s Property Brothers could never imagine. It’s difficult to explain in detail, but the best and most visual write-up I found is here.

It’s earned international attention, and well-deserved. Credit to everyone involved, for the agency in doing something meaningful with those Christmas sentiments (and writing it up very well), and to the artists themselves. It must have been a blast. Thanks to all who booked a virtual stay, as well – you obviously “get it.”  I endorse this concept without, uh, reservations!


The Bad

I’m getting  a little tired of talking about Wendy’s, frankly. But they keep earning it. THIS month, it’s another annoying radio commercial, this time for their Bacon Portobello melt.  In the spot, buyers sing their way through a horribly-forced jingle format, explaining what they did to “deserve” the sandwich. That’s not the bad part – creative is subjective, and some might disagree with me on the creative quality (though they’d be wrong if they did).

The problem here is in the “deeds” credited for earning the awards. They are all “little” Read the rest of this entry »

Stop the awful radio spot, Wendy’s. You “gotta!”

In Ad Creative on March 24, 2014 at 11:37 pm

Okay, sorry in advance for being crabby in this post.  But if I don’t vent soon, my steering wheel will be pencil-thin at the  10 and 2 o’clock positions from excessive squeezing.  My current job finds me driving a LOT. And listening to sports talk radio a LOT. And therefore, hearing the most obnoxious radio commercial in recent memory a LOT.

True confession, I already strongly disliked the redhead character who acts as Wendy’s shill in most of their recent broadcast ads. I find her unlikable and grating. I am also not a fan of Wendy’s laughable  “now that’s better” tag line- which she smugly utters at the end of every spot as if it meant something.

But back to the offending radio spot. Wendy’s is apparently offering one of their sandwiches on “ciabatta” bread.  So some copywriter – obviously one who can entertain himself for hours with a card that says “PLEASE SEE OTHER SIDE” on both sides – decided that such a peculiar word was perfect fodder for an oh-so-witty radio spot.

Image courtesy of Apolonia /

Image courtesy of Apolonia /

The spot – in case you’ve been fortunate enough not to hear it – features a dialogue between our heroine redhead and a friend named – of course – “Renatta.” They exchange insipid lines like  ”  It’s a ciabatta, Renatta.” and “He got a ciabatta, she got a ciabatta, everybody got a ciabatta.” Then,  “red” comes back with possibly the worst-written line in radio history, saying “All except Greg – now he’s persona non grata.”

Hey, I GET it!  It RHYMES with that FUNNY WORD. Hysterical! Cue the Beavis and Butthead snickers.

So many other ways to go. So many ways to make ciabatta sound like something you’d actually enjoy tasting. So many ways to, say, really communicate something.

Yeah, somebody be sure to come back with “well, you remembered the spot!”  Yes, yes I did and I do. And won’t be spending a penny at Wendy’s as long as that spot is on.  Not a penny, Jenny! Not any penny.

Oops, I  think I just split a gut.


“Jake….from State Farm.”

In Ad Creative, Memorable Marketing on March 5, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Chances are, there’s already a smile on your face from the headline to this post.   I just decided I could no longer resist writing about a commercial I have enjoyed for years. (And how often can you say that about a spot?!!) Just seeing the “wife” in a banner ad, I laughed. Image

I won’t describe it – you already know it well, and can watch here if you’d like to enjoy it again.

But this commercial represents the wonderful confluence of three major things essential to a great spot (or campaign, for that matter). The marketing objective is clear – let people know you can deal with State Farm 24/7 by phone, and presumably other ways. The copywriting is tight and ultra-believable; no wasted words, and extremely true-to-life dialogue that comes from the real world, not adland. And finally, great acting performances.

I can envision a comedy routine interrupted by the actor who plays the agent in the spot simply taking the stage, walking up to the microphone, and saying “….uh…khakis.”  It would bring down the house.

This commercial is rapidly achieving status I have previously reserved for the all-time-great film  “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”  – where pieces of dialogue from the film are apt to enter any conversation at any time. Yes, officer, yes they are.

So congrats to everyone involved in writing and producing this spot.  Somewhere, there may be a person who doesn’t look forward to seeing it. But who cares?  She sounds hideous.

Radio is alive and well; but where are the creative ads?

In Ad Creative, Agency Biz, Research on October 17, 2013 at 2:15 pm

It’s a little hard right now to link to the actual results, given Arbitron’s recent sale to Nielsen. But one of Arbitron’s last research projects revealed that more than 239 million Americans aged 12 and over listen to radio in an average week, spending an average of more than an hour and a half doing it.  So…objectivity aside….it appears that radio’s viablity as a medium is not one being questioned in today’s tumultuous media landscape.  But it occurs to me that, unfortunately, the creativity that was once a hallmark of  effective radio ad campaigns is missing in action.freeimage-538735-web

When I started in the business as a young writer, things were very different.  There were several legendary independent radio production companies doing exceptional work.   Dick Orkin and Bert Burdis were (not surprisingly) working as “Dick and Bert” -the reigning kings of creative radio, offering their writing and production services to clients of all sizes and scopes, from local car dealers to national brands.  Shortly after, they split to form  The Radio Ranch (Orkin) and Bert, Bars, and Kirby (Burdis).  Both companies, along with numerous other firms designed along the same lines and offering similar services, thrived.

The ability of these companies to coax a lot of memorability out of 60 seconds of air time was admirable. Their creative abilities to come up with concepts was terrific, but I especially admired their vocal talents and ability to produce excellent spots with impeccable timing and editing. I am fortunate enough to have,  on my reel, spots written by me, but performed by Orkin and produced by his company. (This is unusual, because for a lengthy time, Orkin’s company refusedto permit his voice to be used on any spots they themselves had not written.) Read the rest of this entry »

Traffic signs that make you THINK?????

In Ad Creative, Memorable Marketing on June 11, 2013 at 12:39 pm

In my first Chicago ad agency job, I created a  menu for restaurant in Water Tower Place that had lots of clever (okay, they were at the time) names for sandwiches and other items. And the advertising columnist in the Sun-Times wrote a column about it, saying “Sometimes creativity must be recognized, even when the vehicle is only a restaurant menu.”  I think it’s time to pay that kindness forward.

This weekend, traveling along I-80 in west central Pennsylvania, I noticed a couple of signs encouraging seat-belt use.  We’ve all encountered them ad naseum, of course, and most are so trite and bland, we don’t really “SEE” them at all any more. They tell us “it’s the law” or “it saves lives” – but nothing new and certainly nothing interesting.

But ONE sign really stood out:

Buckle Up Sign

Okay, it’s not much, and it’s not likely to win a CLIO or anything. But somebody, somewhere decided to infuse the project with a couple of ounces of wisdom, intelligence or whatever it takes to realize “if we put a little twist on it somehow, it might resonate a little more.”

I’m sure you get it, and know what I mean – it’s just a different way of saying “ALWAYS buckle up.”  But it’s a better way. And the proof, to me at least, is in the fact Read the rest of this entry »

The “Beck” story on charming AT&T kid spots.

In Ad Creative, Social Media on March 27, 2013 at 12:05 am

Ever heard of Beck Bennett?  Bet you will soon.

I was originally going to make this post another tribute to excellent casting.  By now, you’ve all seen the AT&T 4G spots that feature batches of kids interacting with a dryly humorous presenter. The campaign, themed  “It’s Not Complicated” touts the large AT&T network, and uses simplistic “even a kid knows that” kind  of logic to support the featured benefit.

It’s not a brand new idea, of course; kids saying funny things have been the basis of campaigns (and TV shows, for that matter) for many decades. To me, the beauty in the spots is the wonderfully fine line being walked by the adult.  He treats the kids with respect, and appears to earnestly be soliciting their opinions on the questions asked.

But his perfectly deadpan responses and interjections let us know that he is fully aware of the quirky,  sometimes long-winded answers the kids provide.

But as I investigated the campaign, I learned that perhaps the real beauty in this story is the way social media is at work around the edges. First, the interviewer is a fellow named  Beck Bennett, who grew up near my old home in Chicago and went to USC and studied acting, pursuing comedy activities on the side. Before getting his big break in this AT&T campaign, Bennett attracted a small following through a series of web shorts called ‘Fresh Perspectives” – a pseudo news round table in which he plays the same type of straight-man moderator to groups of Read the rest of this entry »