In Praise of Product Demos

Here is a tremendous commercial, one of my favorites in a long, long time.* When you look closely, it is little more than a hardcore, wall-to-wall product sell. Nonetheless, it is also massively entertaining. I don’t know what wonderfully twisted mind decided the best way to showcase the amazing features of an adjustable ladder would be Mexican masked wrestling, but whomever they are, they earned their paycheck this quarter…

The casting is perfect. In a time of unchecked political correctness, casting Will Rubio, who self describes as an actor//comedian/sexy Cuban, and encouraging him to lean hard into the accent gladdened my heart with its pure joyfulness. “The Ladder Luchador” also features a very liberal, nee Stooges-esque reliance on physical comedy. But if you pay attention, you’ll notice that every single physical gag is a product demo. And listen to those sound effects: the Foley artist had a hill of fun with this project.

At over three minutes long, this spot will never run on television, but it is currently earning hundreds of thousands of views on the internet. Not just through the Murphy Ladder Company and Home Depot paid media placements, but through impressions earned from a wide variety of news and entertainment outlets that are sharing it. That’s where I found it.

Most people don’t realize how hard this particular brand of dopey-ness is. Or how hard-working. Big congratulations to Provo-based social media agency Harmon Brothers, whose previous credits include Squatty Potty and Poo Pourri. Masterpiece Theater this ain’t, but it is very on point for today’s audiences. In fact, one posting on YouTube features a vertical aspect ratio for mobile phone consumption. Smartly done.

PS*: Yes, I’m serious. This is my favorite product demo in a long time. Like a truly loooong time. Before this, my favorite product demo spot goes back to Penn Tennis Balls, circa 1975.

Perennial Brand Content

American Greetings created this branded content six years ago. And every year, it finds a new audience across social media. Rightly so, because while it may be simple in execution, it is brilliant in concept. And performance.

Of course you can get ahead of the idea; most viewers probably do. But if that last woman’s emotional honesty doesn’t choke you up, you may be the Tin Man.

If you are lucky enough to have a Mom, hopefully you already sent her a card. If not, for god’s sake, get on the phone. You got less than ten hours left.

The Power of Simple

In the daily deluge of news items, memes, and hot takes regarding social distancing, this one leapt off my feeds …

Astoundingly elegant, powerfully persuasive

It is a public service ad shot for the Ohio Department of Health by Real Art: an experiential production agency out of Dayton. An incredibly imaginative idea that’s perfect in execution, it racked up over 6 million views within its first 24 hours. Perhaps the only negative about this piece is how it inspires so many shameless headlines that feature the word ‘snappy.’

Real Art’s video team lead Andy Nick provided some fascinating production details on his Twitter feed. The set up for the explosive shot required 8 hours. And like most productions, time got short toward the end of the day. So much so that for the final ‘distanced’ scene, he took the precaution of supergluing the balls to the traps in case the bouncing ping pong ball thrown into their midst went awry. Remarkably, it didn’t and he captured it on the first take. Check out another view of the madness on this BTS video he shot on his iPhone from another angle.

Very impressive thinking, an even more impressive production, and an unforgettable message. This is advertising at its best. Well done Andy and team.

“Urban Isolation:” a 6-Year-Old Skate Film for Today

This hauntingly quiet short film has been all over social media lately, often misleadingly described as “shot in LA during the stay at home order.”

It wasn’t. “Urban Isolation” was shot and edited in 2014 by Russel Houghten. The skateboarding filmmaker created it specifically for an 11-piece video project sponsored by RED and The Berrics. RED makes exceptional professional video cameras and The Berrics is a collaboration by professional skateboarders Steve Berra and Eric Koston dedicated to promoting the sport through web content and their indoor skatepark.

Six years ago, Houghten’s film earned a Vimeo Staff Pick and eventually became one of Vimeo’s ten best films of 2014. Yet its visuals of a lone skateboarder working highway, ramps, and urban architecture of daytime Los Angeles void of other people make it feel incredibly au courant. This is the same kind of eerie prescience found in Bill Gate’s 2015 TED talk on pandemics. But Houghten created his visuals through extensive post effects, not a government shutdown order. You can see a bit of his process in this behind the scenes video, also documented by RED.

I can’t explain why online trolls put such energy into knowingly misrepresenting things online. But in this case, at least it helped promote an interesting creative project. I hope you enjoy the piece.

The Virality of Topicality

If it hasn’t already, this video should soon pop up on your social streams. Posted to Vimeo just three days ago, “Be a Lady, They Said” has already racked up three million views with no signs of slowing…

The powerful, outraged copy came from a two year old blog entry written by Camille Rainville, a then undergrad at the University of Vermont who posted sporadically at writingsofafuriouswoman. Her words struck a chord and were widely shared over the net in January of 2018. Cynthia Nixon’s intensely measured read of that essay only makes them more viral.

This new video purportedly promotes Girls Girls Girls magazine. But the girlsgirlsgirlsmag.com URL simply leads to a web page featuring this clip and nothing else; no nav, no about, no other links.

You won’t find Girls Girls Girls magazine at your local newsstand … if you even have a local newsstand. The publication is a limited run promotional vehicle for New York and London based fashion photographer Claire Rothstein. About two years ago, Rothstein and Girls Girls Girls made waves with an editorial image of Rachel McAdams breast pumping while wearing Versace and Bulgari diamonds. But aside from that, it is largely non-existent as a publication. Its Facebook page hasn’t been updated in a year, although its Instagram feed gets regular updates of Rothstein’s imagery.

Rothstein’s aesthetic is decidedly couture: heavy on high-sheen luxury and fantasy escapism in the vein of Patrick Nagel. Her sensibility pervades this cut, with moving Rothstein style clips from high-fashion director Paul McLean. The edit also features imagery sourced (stolen?) from any number of movies, television shows, and news reports. It’s a trainwreck for rights and permissions but that’s not the point.

The point is self promotion. And riding the zeitgeist. And wow, does this piece do that.

Ryan Reynolds + Dogs = Ratings Gold

The Westminster Dog Show is pretty much the biggest event in the canine world. It began Monday morning and culminates this evening when some Havanese or Whippet or Shetland Sheepdog will be crowned “Best in Show.” You can’t begin to imagine the brushing involved, but that’s not the point.

The point is that the Westminster Dog Show airs on FS 1, FS2, and the Fox Sports App. And they’d really like you to watch.

Enter Ryan Reynolds …

Fox paid nothing to have Ryan Reynolds promote their event. That’s because Reynolds bought a stake in his Portland based spirit early in 2018, and ever since, has lent his considerable charm and wit to promoting it.

Reynold’s brilliant approach to video-based brand expansion for Aviation Gin uses clever cross promotions and collaborations with everyone from Samsung to Virgin Atlantic to Peloton … or actually, just the actress from that much maligned Peloton commercial. He doesn’t buy media, he earns it. And more importantly, he earns audiences. So advertisers like Fox Sports eagerly sign up to partner with him.

Fox Sports wins, Aviation wins, and those of us who just like a smart-assed charmer? We win too.

These simple, clever, quickly-produced brand videos, keep both Reynolds and his investment top of mind with his gin-drinking audience.

Don’t believe me? Check out some of these YouTube comments …

Well played you clever Canadian. Well played.

How Do You Sell Mass Media Without A Super Bowl?

It was fun last week, discussing and debating the Super Bowl ads. It felt particularly special since it’s so rare that we all share an experience. The digital/mobile takeover consigned such commonality to the past, now that we build networks conformed to our own perspectives.

When even our media gravitate toward the niches Chris Anderson famously dubbed ‘the long tail,‘ how can you attract people back to mass platforms like network television, the long tailed beast’s metaphorical body?

Like any marketing challenge, successful solutions require a brilliant strategy. Just over three years ago, some clever people promoting Denmark’s TV2 created video content that is as strategically brilliant as it is emotionally powerful …

Celebrating not what divides us but all that we share; this is a resonant insight brought to tone-perfect life through writing, casting, music, and edit. There’s such delightful surprise in the discovery of our collective commonality and the unexpected things we share.

Locked off so much of the time in our own corners, it’s helpful to be reminded of that. Helpful, and reassuring.

Four year old video content for Denmark's TV2 warmly demonstrates a strategy for attracting people back to mass media: the things we share.

Technology in Service of Mankind: The Punishing Signal

Think of all of technology’s broken promises, starting with the last time you updated your operating system. It’s a discipline lousy with hyperbole, half-truths, and lies, lies, lies.

But every now and then, our best and brightest bring technology’s glimmering potential to bear in an effort to improve the collective quality of life.

This time, that group is the Mumbai Police Department …

Last week, the department posted this lovely video explainer to Twitter. It outlines their latest effort at fighting noise pollution, and quickly went viral.

By hooking up decibel meters to red lights, the police assessed honking noise in real time and then, through an admirably perverse algorithm, delayed green lights, resetting the countdown if the honking volume exceeded 85 decibels. In their words, the idea was “honk more, wait more.”

While admirable, this effort feels rather ironic coming from a country that acknowledges the free-for-all nature of their chaotic roadways with the admonition “Good brakes, good horn, good luck.”

Will this clever trial quell India’s addiction to honking?

Hard to tell, but in a country with 11 times the population density of the United States and no subway or mass transit system, the question really is ‘what can it hurt?’

Fingers crossed and holding my ears for you Mumbai…

In Mumbai, traffic is exceptionally loud thanks to the national proclivity for honking.

PS: Hat tip to Greg Popp who steered me to this story in the NYT. Good luck with your shoot in NZ, amigo.

And with this, we wrap Halloween 2019

My daughter forwarded me this Halloween clip that blew up across social media today. Click the link on the photo and make sure to turn up the sound as you watch..

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A quick bit of Googling revealed that the man who posts on Instagram as @Shauhindavari is Shaw Duvari, a professor at Orange Coast College in Newport Beach where he teaches public speaking. He also coaches the OCC Speech, Debate, and Theater team, which he drolly describes as “incredibly successful.”

A quick scan of his posts show his typical viewcount averages in the low hundreds, but something about this one struck a nerve. He’s already eclipsed 20,000 views due in no small part to a share from Barstool Sports.

No, he might never match the viral success of this oh-so-relatable post. But today, Shaw wins the internet. Good on you guy.

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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