Monday, August 1, 2011

the commercial your commercial should look like

"Whatever happened to commercials?" asks Michael Imperioli, in one part of a series of commercials for 1800 Tequila. "So many of them don't make any sense, and you can hardly tell what anyone is selling." How is it that a commercial reached a level of enlightenment lost on even the biggest advertising agencies in the world? This ad from Dead As We Know It, New York calls out one of the worst offenses in advertising: letting the ad overshadow the brand.

There is an insidious trend in advertising over the past few years. It’s what I refer to as “advertising absurdism.” Examples of this trend include Wieden & Kennedy's Old Spice deodorant campaign, Grey’s Dairy Queen Blizzard and DirecTV campaigns, and many more that create a stream of creative that is as surreal as it is illogical. Most often these campaigns are characterized by long camera shots filled with fast copy, and include a storyline fit for a few hours compacted into 30 seconds.

The paradigm for this style is W+K’s Old Spice deodorant campaign “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.” While the novelty of the ad sent it viral almost instantly, making it the prevailing “buzz” of the Internet for some time, the replication of its absurdist technique in other campaigns (and, even in future iterations of the Old Spice ads) make it seem cheap, played-out, and completely lacking in substance. As a result, these brands are trapped in the failed attempt of advertising creatives pushing a product with a trick, rather than a substantive brand strategy.

In contrast to this advertising absudism is the cutting simplicity of the 1800 Tequila ad, featuring nothing more than Imperioli in a suit with a bottle of 1800 Tequila. "This is a commercial for tequila,” says Imperioli — a fatal, sardonic swipe at the pop-advertising trends.

Humor, special effects, story appeal, and the like are advertising techniques. They are not products. However, when technique (whether effective at capturing attention, or not) overshadows the brand and becomes the true product of the ad, there is a serious problem. Humorous commercials like Grey’s “Russian Oligarch” spot for DirecTV may have great recall with consumers, but how many consumers connect the ad’s tiny giraffe with DirecTV? DirecTV paid Grey millions of dollars to sell a fictional creature and a rich Russian — at least, that was the end result.

The Dead As We Know It ad is about as close to perfect as you can get, and should serve as a model for how simplicity can take a brand further than large advertising budgets, special effects, and overly creative account teams. There are no distractions in the 1800 commercial that detract from the key purpose of the ad: to sell tequila. Imperioli may be a TV celebrity, but his Sopranos fame isn’t vast enough to overpower the tequila he’s marketing. From the dark, classy setting, to Imperioli’s haughty tone, and even his simple — yet finely tailored — suit, are all branding signals that serve to enhance the brand. Those signals convey that “real men drink real premium tequila,” as notes Tim Nudd of AdWeek, when the spot was featured as the site’s Ad of the Day. “Why make it more complicated than that?”

Some of the most memorable advertising campaigns of the years have been some of the simplest (and, not for lack of creativity): Bill Bernbach’s “Think small;” Dale Pon’s “I Want My MTV;” Goodby Silverstein’s “Got Milk?” So, indeed, why make it more complicated than that?

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