or… the Battle of the Two Volkswagen Superbowl Spots
In one corner we have “The Force”, the 2011 Volkswagen 50-million-YouTube-views Superbowl commercial featuring a “powerless” diminutive Darth who re-gains the power of The Force with a little help from his father and a Passat.
In the other, we have this year’s Volkswagen Superbowl Spot, “The Dog Strikes Back”, starring Bolt, a St. Bernard – Australian Golden mix. A canine “biggest loser” metaphor for the return of the New Beetle.
Both entertain. Both offer a story arc of struggle and reward. Both have a surprise ending.
Does the former make the latter the better? Or does Little Darth still reign supreme?
I don’t think there’s much question that the quality of a really great ad is dependent on the quality of the idea it’s built upon. Ads like DDB’s the 1960’s iconic VW “Lemon” or any of the ’90’s “Got Milk” campaign we’re memorable high concept ideas that influenced consumer behavior in the pre-Facebook, YouTube, Twitter days of advertising.
There was a time in the not-so-recent past when print truly made a difference in brand advertising. When people bought a product because because they believed it made them appear smarter, more sophisticated, or more intelligent. Not only in their own mind but to others as well. No more. When consumers of advertising messages also became the creators, a tectonic shift occurred.
The 20th century ‘analog’ idea became the flexible, agile, stretchable, shareable ‘digital’ idea of 2011. One that doesn’t rely on ads anymore. One that doesn’t fight with competing brands for the consumer’s attention. Not anymore.
Today, ad ideas battle against every other message out there that people see, hear or read. Slugging it out against more than just advertising messages. Trying to get noticed above all the other bits of information, from RSS feeds to blog posts to Facebook walls to a countless stream of text messages.
The thought that I’ve wrestled with in the past few days is this: “Have ads, as brand building blocks, finally become irrelevant and unnecessary?”
In a word, probably. Much as I still love creating them, (I really do) they’ve sadly become the Jimmy Carter of media… aging (not very gracefully), occasionally attracting some attention, but for the most part, they’re irrelevant and unnecessary.
Here’s proof. Name a print campaign that made you want to buy the product without going online first.
Don’t misunderstand me. I like nothing better than to gaze upon a two-page print ad with a killer concept, pithy on-point copywriting and art directed to the nines. But the times they are a changin’… too fast, maybe. Tick, tick, tick. Waiting three weeks for the next copy of Wired to get a new print blast of brand personality just doesn’t cut it in today’s 24-hour, spin-dry, news cycle world.
So just give me ideas. Lots of them. And keep ’em coming. Ones that solve problems. That satisfy a need or desire. Hopefully the ones I have. In any media. Any time. Every day.
I recently read that match.com created 100 commercials this past year. Talk about speed dating!
So content isn’t just king. It’s King Kong!
But I for one am glad. Really glad. Because for us idea junkies, well, we’ve become more relevant and valuable than ever before.
Now don’t be misled by the title. This post isn’t going to wax poetic about television commercials advertising Butterball Turkeys or Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce.
No, I just want to take up a little digital real estate (is that an oxymoron?) to say thanks to Advertising for the opportunity it has given me to earn a pretty fair living, work with a lot of great people and have more fun coming up with ideas than I ever could have imagined. Along the way I’ve logged lots of frequent flier miles, worked late into the night countless times, and sold my share of campaigns with smoke and mirrors. No, I’m not going to name names here. It’s Thanksgiving, remember.
My work has sold everything from supermarkets to Chevrolets (before the bailout). Light bulbs to surgical blades. Spaghetti sauce to ice cream. Casinos to bottled water. And while every client relationship has its ups and downs, I’m thankful for them all. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them, although sometimes I’m not quite sure exactly where that is.
But I digress…
I’m also thankful for the opportunity given to me by Kean University as an adjunct professor on the Robert Busch School of Design. It’s a great honor and challenge to share my knowledge and expertise with the next generation of young creative thinkers. And to see so many of my former students become successful art directors and copywriters is personally rewarding, to say the least. One of my students, who shall remain nameless, once called me “the Simon Cowell of Professors.” I think she meant that as a compliment.
But I digress… again.
Like any business, our “industry of ideas” has certainly changed since I created my first advert back in those dark days of the last century when typesetters roamed the land. But, the technology revolution of the last decade and the communications opportunities that have resulted offer more ways for us to be creative than ever before.
I’m REALLY thankful for that.
I guess there’s not much else to say but “Can you pass the sweet potatoes, please?”
I recently was discussing a creative project with someone who remarked to me that they had a hard time “Thinking outside the box.”
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh, that old cliche. The one that describes the land beyond those four little cardboard walls. The place where incredible, unforgettable ideas float gently across our minds like so many puffy clouds on a sunny spring day.
Which brings me to the point f this post.
Who came up with this box? What’s in the box? What’s outside the box? And, what makes the inside of the box such a bad place for ideas, and outside the box such a great place?
Frankly, I don’t believe there’s a box. Or a tooth fairy. Or a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Or……
You fill in the next one.
I’ve seen “outside the box” thinking that couldn’t sell ski gloves in Alaska in January. Great idea? Sure. Make me want to buy the product. No way.
And, I’ve seen a supposed “inside the box” idea drives sales off the charts. No Gold Lion Winner to be sure. But a solid, creative concept that made me want the product, get up off the couch, and part with some hard earned money. Mission accomplished.
The point is, that whatever the idea, it had better connect with the viewer and drive home some positive, motivating thought. Great ideas that are funny, entertaining and well executed but fail to deliver a relevant differentiating brand message are just that. These messages still have to solve a problem in some way. And, the problem doesn’t have to be a big one. Often the small conquest of a problem can have the most impact… if the idea that solves it is a big one.
Porsche makes some of the most wicked fast sports cars in the world. They built their brand on speed and the adrenaline rush that results. Find a curve in the road, drive fast. Find a straight stretch of road, drive wicked fast. Then, they build the Cayenne. An SUV. With all the Explorers and Grand Cherokees already out there on the road, and selling for a LOT less money, what problem were they hoping to solve?
Remember, there’s no box. Really. There’s just ideas. Big ones and little ones. Smart one and dumb ones. Ones that entertain and ones that really sell. Ones that make people like a brand and ones that make people buy.
There’s just a place in our minds where ideas come from that we have to discover. Over and over and over and over and…