This Year’s Lasting Super Bowl Advertising Lesson

Now that the game is over and all the teasers and tie-ins have played out, that great arbiter of Super Bowl commercial rankings — USA Today’s Admeter — has declared a winner: Jeep’s charming and hysterical “Groundhog Day.”

Bill Murray killed it. So Jeep killed it. But Highdive? The agency that created this spot? They totally killed it.

Just not for the obvious reason.

Sure, their new spot is a note-perfect comedy gem, a meticulous recreation that adds wonderful new gags. It’s a spot we all wish we had done.

But just one year ago, Highdive was a relatively young startup agency with a handful of employees that somehow produced a :60 for the Super Bowl.

And their spot got savaged on social media.

Their ad featured a Dr. Martin Luther King sermon, artfully edited to highlight Ram Truck’s tagline “Built to Serve.” Critics cried foul, pointing out that MLK’s full remarks specifically argued against aggrandizing yourself by buying fancy cars. With Black Lives Matter very much in the headlines, their debut spot was roundly panned for being tone deaf.

So Highdive had their moment in the sun. And failed. Very publicly.

Many have written about the lessons of failure, about how much adversity can teach you for the next time. And all too many creative people lose heart when critics pounce, believing their chance is over, they missed, there will be no next time.

Happily, Highdive didn’t. And now here they are, just one year later, occupying the highest perch in the advertising landscape. They took the hit, learned from it, and bounced back with a vengeance.

And a groundhog.

Kudos to them. May many more good things lie ahead.

PS: One other lesson from this year’s ads? If you want a quick primer on how music shapes viewer emotion, pay attention to how the score and SFX of this one and this one generate inspiration and the start and stop of this one drives the comedy. Wonderful craftsmanship.

Branded UX … IRL

Marketers tend to consign User Experience discussions to digital executions. But last July, South Africa and Norway gave a sculpted bench as a gift to the United Nations that perfectly embodies branded UX.

As a physical piece, it is elegantly simple: a long, spare, gracefully curving, arc.

But as a User Experience, it is quietly effective; sitting down puts you in close proximity to anyone else sharing the bench.

“Best Weapon”: a gift from South Africa and Norway to the United Nations

And that’s exactly the point. The Norwegian design firm Snøhetta took their inspiration from a Nelson Mandela quote:

“The best weapon is to sit down and talk.”

Nelson Mandela, Mandela: The Living Legend, BBC 2003

Mandela’s words reflect the United Nations’ mission to maintain international peace and security. As an experience, “Best Weapon” is entirely on brand. And in these exhausting days of showboating, self-interested politicians posturing as leaders, this sculpture’s core human truth resonates in powerful silence.

An Enduring Testament to Noteworthiness

You might know it as a Hollywood landmark and an official Los Angeles Historical-Cultural Monument. The cylindrical mid rise peeks over the shoulders of DiCaprio and Pitt in Tarentino’s latest movie. And whether intentional or not, the Capitol Records building visually suggests vinyl albums stacked on a spindle.

The 63 year-old building’s architect Louis Naidorf repeats his protest that such an allusion was never his intention in a recent Billboard interview. His bosses didn’t tell him who the building’s namesake company would be; the then 24 year old Naidorf was simply told to design a 150 foot tall, 13-story building on Vine Street with work spaces of equal size and no corner offices. When Naidorf eventually learned the principle tenant’s identity, he worried his design might be considered a cheap, gimmicky stunt.

And at first, it was. The Capitol Records people initially passed, wanting a more traditional, rectangular building. But here’s where the story really resonates. Naidorf says the other tenant of the building, an insurance company, argued for his singular design. He recalls them advising the Capitol Records team “You’re not on Hollywood Boulevard, you’re up some damn side street and you’re only occupying half of the building and leasing out the rest. People won’t laugh at the building, but they will notice it and that’s damn good for leasing. Do the round one.”

“People won’t laugh at the building, but they will notice it and that’s damn good for leasing. Do the round one.”

Getting noticed rarely comes from expected solutions; noteworthy ideas spring from the new, the novel, the innovative. And anything new, novel, and innovative introduces risk.

Happily, the insurance execs recognized this and had more trust in Naidorf’s idea than their hepcat record label counterparts. They saw it wasn’t truly risk, but rather uncertainty. If Naidorf’s design came together, they would be leasing office space in a hot property everyone would recognize. And to them, that sounded good.

In the creative world, where ideas are the only currency, not pushing for the new, the novel, and the innovative is actually a far greater risk. Because safe thinking leads to the absolute worst outcome of all: disinterest. No reaction is more soul crushing than “meh.”

Naidorf set the rooftop tower off-center to further distance his design from stacks of wax.

With his very first professional project, Louis Naidorf crushed it. Looking back on his long and successful career, he seems to recognizes that. “It’s a sweetheart. I like the building. Sixty seven years is a pretty long time for a design to hold up.”

It certainly is. Your idea literally changed the landscape Mr. Naidorf. So glad they went with the round one.

The Data Confirms It: In a Contentious, Divided Society, Joy and Love Still Rule

I’ll admit. I’m a sucker for happy endings. I love those viral clips that demonstrate human kindness and thoughtfulness writ large. Nothing is as contagious as uncontrollable laughter.

Still, it’s easy to feel bummed out these days, particularly if you use social media. Most recognize how Facebook gamed our feeds to garner more attention, and in the process fiercely stoked polarization to the detriment of our democracy. It’s depressing to see how quickly even benign social media comments get weaponized into political spew. And political debate on the nightly news rarely elevates beyond schoolyard name-calling. Given this news environment, it’s only natural to consider our society as little more than a tumble of feral, clawing tomcats in a bag.

And then, right at the moment when hope fades, along comes a day-brightening bit of undeniable evidence proving the exact opposite.

Of the 3,019 emojis in the Unicode Standard version 12.0. the top two used are Face with Tears of Joy and Heart: 😂 and ❤️.

Those are the two symbols we reach for more than any other: emojis symbolizing happiness and love. Those are the emotions we express the most. And yes, I consider that very good news indeed.

We are so loving and supportive with our emoji

I realize emoji choices aren’t long on anger or division, but don’t harsh my mellow here. I like that we have a language predicated on love and support for each other.

Admittedly, I don’t use emoji myself. I have nothing against them and will frequently type “heart” or “thumbs up” but I prefer the written word. No judgment, just preference. And I won’t deny that strings of these colorful hieroglyphics brighten up many an Instagram response.

If you’re interested in seeing where your favorite comes in on the frequency count, visit Unicode’s Emoji Frequency page.

I’m simply going to enjoy this sunny Monday a bit more, knowing that perhaps we’re not all spittle-lipped hatebags after all.

I heart that. I heart that a lot.

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Go Kindness! Go Vols!

Peyton Manning.

Peyton’s my only connection to the University of Tennessee: my time on Gatorade and the joy of working with this underrated comedian who also happened to be pretty good at throwing a football.

And then this story happened…

UTshirts

It was “college colors” day at his Florida elementary school, and a fourth grade University of Tennessee fan didn’t have anything to wear. So he made his own, drawing “U.T.” on a piece of paper and stapling it to an orange t-shirt (I already love this kid and suspect he might someday make artisanal pocket squares in Brooklyn).

As can happen with attempts at creativity, his earnest design failed to impress the local cool kids who mocked his shirt over the lunch hour. This kind of cruel behavior always happens during lunch, doesn’t it? The teasing really upset him, which inspired his teacher Laura Snyder to share his tale on Facebook.

The universal nature of the boy’s story made Laura’s post go viral. And soon, some very astute, deeply human people at the University of Tennessee took note.

First, UT Interim President Randy Boyd sent the young man a care package from the student bookstore, insuring he would have plenty of Volunteer merchandise, both for himself and even some of those meanies who derided his homemade efforts.

Then the story really took off. News outlets across the country picked up the narrative. And having the right kind of reactive, social media savvy, the University in turn:

  1. Created t-shirts with the young man’s design, selling them online and donating the profits to anti-bullying organizations. This went super-viral.
  2. Offered the fourth grader a full ride scholarship to their university class of 2032, quieting the online yahoos criticizing them for taking advantage of the story.
  3. Dressed their 300+ “Pride of the Southland” marching band in the boy’s t-shirt during their game vs. UT Chattanooga.

We’re a painfully divided country these days, rife with finger pointing and name calling (thanks Russian troll army!). And yet as Americans, we are drawn to the well-meaning underdog. We will stand up for the unfairly criticized fourth grader. There are no sides, no partisanship in our support of a kid who was treated unfairly.

And that gives me hope for a better future ahead. At least when it comes to the University of Tennessee Class of 2032. You go anonymous kid, good on you.

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I Heart Pixar

Mostly for their amazing aptitude at capturing emotion in animation. Toy Story and Finding Nemo represent great storytelling, regardless of medium, and as a father, I will ever strive to be half the man Mr. Incredible was.

If you haven’t seen it, their latest release is a lovely, short form delight.

If after watching this you’d like to read a book that proves the lie in the incredibly unfair misinformation intentionally ascribed to this charming, and uniquely American breed of dog, a good place to start is horse veterinarian Vicki Hearne’s wonderful “Bandit: Dossier of a Dangerous Dog.” Reading it is both affirming and depressing, given the incredible media distortion callously ascribed to this breed.

Regardless, a short film like this is an uplifting way to launch the workweek. So Happy Monday.

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Gold, Frankincense…and Metal

So, how many times this season have you heard Paul McCartney’s treacly “Wonderful Christmas Time”? Did an act of congress dictate that every store’s playlist must feature an inappropriately-breathy rendition of “Santa Baby”?

If you’re struggling to find your musical merry this season, search no more. In what is the polar opposite of anything on Neil Diamond’s Christmas playlist, a metal band out of York, PA has released their own magical antidote of sorts. Small Town Titans have re-interpreted “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” with a metal sensibility that would make Boris Karloff smile. And it gladdens my heart more than all the sugarplums on Michigan Avenue…

Wow. The Zevon-worthy lyric “YOU HAVE ALL THE TENDER SWEETNESS/OF A SEASICK CROCODILE” never felt so ominously threatening. And apparently, lots of us agree that’s a good thing.

The unsigned power trio released this cover last year but according to lead singer Phil Freeman, “we weren’t really expecting more than maybe a million views by Christmas.” To their surprise, their Facebook post of a live performance went viral. It now has over 23 million views…and it’s still climbing. That’s what happens when your post gets shared by over a half a million people.

In a lovely twist of fate, Freeman, Ben Guiles, and Jonny Ross all met as students at Lebanon Valley College; my decidedly non-metal mother and sister’s alma mater.

So yes, it is a lovely season and indeed, it may well be the most wonderful time of the year. Still, there’s definitely room for this sentiment as well. Nicely done lads.

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Yes, Creativity for Creativity’s Sake Can Generate Significant Agency Value

It was nearly five years ago. Mike Fetrow and I were struggling to bring better, more interesting creative work to Olson–the kind that keeps the incredible talent we’d recruited happy and productive.

Back then, Cory McLeod worked in Olson’s studio, creating web banners and microsites and generally bringing far more creativity to his projects than they deserved. A multi-lingual Canadian/Latvian immigrant, Cory had a rich life outside of work, creating public art and collaborating with his documentarian wife, Mara Pelecis (here is the trailer to Surviving the Peace: her emotionally-shattering, powerfully personal film about the effects of PTSD on America’s veterans).

During a trip back to Latvia, Cory struck up a friendship with Rabbi Menachem Barkan, who created the Riga Ghetto Museum to commemorate this overlooked chapter of history. And that’s how a midwestern agency in a city populated by Norwegian Lutherans ended up making a website for a Jewish pro-bono client halfway around the world. We worked on this project during down hours, nights, and weekends. Brilliant people jumped all in, much to the growing concern and outright displeasure of agency management and our militant project managers.

We were scolded for wasting time, since time is money in the agency business. Upper management and our VC owners pressured us to drop it, to do the bare minimum and move on, since they were trying to sell the agency and needed to optimize our margins and billable hours.

But we weren’t and we didn’t. Our only personal payment may have been pride and trees planted in Israel in each of our names, but the Olson agency garnered international attention, earning coverage in high profile outlets like Fast Company. Which proved very valuable to the agency sale process.

In today’s margin-stressed agency world, passion projects are often the first to go, but that’s inexcusably short-sighted. Done right, they serve as compelling ads for agencies, drawing in new audiences by showcasing creative capabilities without restraint.

CoryPerkons

I bring this old story up again because Cory’s back–this time with a magnificent VR Rockumentary about the Latvian band Perkons. It’s another Cory passion project, one that drove him to teach himself VR filmmaking. And it was only made possible through the continual support of Fallon.

Perkons had its US debut last night at the Walker Art Museum. For ten minutes, lucky people strapped on Oculus GOs and HTC Vive’s and lost themselves in a tale of Soviet repression, artistic expression, and the changing tides of history.

On the surface, Perkons is far from a project with obvious agency value. But ex-ECD Jeff Kling supported it (going so far as to provide the VO) and now Fallon has a tremendous, widely promotable example of VR storytelling that makes any agency envious. The project is beginning to gain press (some amazing outlets are already making sponsorship inquiries) in a way that will inevitably attract client interest.

Thanks to a creative thinker. With a dream about a forgotten Latvian band that changed the course of modern history. And an agency wise-enough to fund it.

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Creativity Will Save Advertising. Again.

I know, I know–it’s too late; advertising’s already dead. Digital/social/experiential/big data killed it…

The only problem is this constant, dire drumbeat sounds juicy, it creates alarm, but it’s mostly just opinion or self-promotion. It’s clickbait.

If you want facts, follow the money. In the most recent case, digital entertainment powerhouse Netflix bid $300m to buy Regency Outdoor Advertising.

That’s right, the disruptive, disintermediating, digital content giant wants to buy a billboard company.

Their motivation is fascinating. Netflix noticed that big outdoor imagery stokes social sharing. People posted lots of shots of their “Netflix is a joke” campaign to Instagram which promoted their comedy line-up.

NetflixJoke.jpg

In other words, people share great creative.

These days, $300m might not sound like an earth-shattering number, but it represents the largest acquisition in Netflix history. Imagine; a leading digital giant offering to pay one third of a billion dollars on a oft-declared dying medium…a smart company wouldn’t do that unless they knew it worked.

And that’s a fact.

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This post originally appeared in Screen Magazine.

No Irish Here Today…

More than text or still imagery, video has the power to summon visceral emotion. These feelings can be inspiring and uplifting, affirmations of our better selves, or they can be base and degrading screeds, as delivered by those wedge-driving Russian trollbots.

That emotional backdrop makes this video created by Dan Margulis, an advertising Group Creative Director at Doner, very intriguing…

Dan worked with content production company Atlas Industries to shoot this video last Sunday during Detroit’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It anchors “No Irish Pub”: a website Dan built as part of his project, which he describes this way:  “This social experiment hopes to foster thought and dialog around immigration in America.” The Detroit Free Press wrote a nice account of peoples’ reactions during the event.

God love him. If it makes people think and talk instead of post and shout, he’ll have accomplished a grand thing. And either way, good on him for trying.

Happy St. Paddy’s all,

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