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.

So here’s the thing…

Maybe you’re bumming at the end of a week when you realize that laws, rules, and the constitution no longer seem to matter. That dishonest, self-centered, Russian-influenced behavior barely registers a head nod on this Friday.

It’s easy to lose faith in our political system when you feel it no longer represents the American people (thanks Citizens United!).

But then, if you’re lucky, you come across something that’s purpose isn’t to further divide or scare us. You discover something whose intent is actually, exactly the opposite…

Thank you, random committed Jon Bon Jovi fan in the park. And thank you random fellow citizens. Humanity and humor is so much stronger than party politics.

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.

Visually Branding Seat Belts for Safety

A brilliant new driving safety campaign out of New Zealand badges injuries to stress the importance of wearing seatbelts. Every year, ninety Kiwis die because they weren’t wearing theirs during a crash, but a new campaign from Clemenger BBDO sets out to address that for their client, the New Zealand Transport Agency.

Because younger men are less likely to use one, the agency partnered with VICE to find younger New Zealanders whose lives were saved because they were wearing their seat belt during a crash. Hundreds of survivors responded and ultimately, the agency chose ten for their campaign.

To visually brand the idea, the agency brought in the FX makeup team PROFX to recreate each victim’s crash injuries. Using post-crash photographs, they recreated the physical imprint of the belts on the survivors for a powerful print and outdoor campaign. The final portraits feature survivors wearing their seatbelt imprints with palpable appreciation.

The survivor pictured above is Liam, whose car was T-boned by a truck. On the Belted Survivors website, we learn he woke up from a coma just in time to witness the birth of his daughter. Story details like this add a powerfully human and visceral urgency to the work’s imagery.

The NZ Transport’s message aims to change the perception that buckling your seatbelt is only for kids or old people. With powerful visuals like these, they should be very successful at achieving their goal. This is powerful work, beautifully and memorably done.

img_3054

Add Another One to the Advertising Disruptors List: Design

Whether you think Elon Musk’s new electric pickup looks badass or just plain bad, you can’t dismiss its market impact. As of late last night, Tesla had signed 250,000 pre-orders for the Cybertruck. That’s a quarter of a million in less than a week for an unproven, forty thousand dollar vehicle promoted with just one event in Los Angeles.

TEsla

Just. One. Event.

No ad campaign: no celebrity endorsers or catchy licensed pop songs or feature film product placements. Somehow, Tesla’s Cybertruck currently drives twice the Google searches of Ford’s stalwart F150.

Admittedly, the pre-order commitment only amounts to one hundred dollars but still, this is not how things generally work in automotive advertising, a sector famous for gargantuan promotional budgets. Besides, at a Benjamin each, that’s twenty five million dollars in deposits.

That’s not to say the look of the Cybertruck is universally loved, far from it. “A Toblerone on wheels”…”Someone take away Elon’s Lego’s”…”Like it’s from a racing game on Nintendo 64.”

But the look of the Cybertruck is definitely universally discussed. It’s singular design dominates late show monologues and automotive blogs. It’s also launched a thousand memes; unsurprising given Elon’s love for that medium. In fact, one popular online theory contends “Elon only made the Cybertruck because he loves memes so much.”

Musk’s achievement builds on a product trend that James Dyson and Target’s designer collaborations have worked over the past few decades. In our increasingly visual culture, anything that stands out draws outsized attention. And the Cybertruck certainly stands out.

Admittedly, few advertising clients would dream of designing such an aggressive, shareworthy product, but if the Cybertruck isn’t an argument against the fading relevance of mass market invisibility, nothing is.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving,

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..

Screen Shot 2019-11-01 at 1.12.48 PM.png

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.

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.

img_3054

The Totally Digital Man: Will Smith, Michael Jordan … and Ed Miller

Perhaps you’ve read about Ang Lee’s new movie The Gemini Man that features an entirely digital version of actor Will Smith’s 23-year old self. The results look pretty spectacular in early behind the scenes footage. By any technical measure, this is an extraordinarily special effect; creating an entirely computer-generated human being–particularly someone so universally recognized–is ridiculously difficult.

We certainly thought so back in 2003 when we needed a college-aged Michael Jordan for the end of a Gatorade commercial. Fred Raimondi of Digital Domain did amazing work throughout that groundbreaking project (watch the spot and a behind the scenes footage here) and yet, as good as the then state of the art effects were, the final version of young Michael always felt a little … Playstation.

But that wasn’t my first encounter with an entirely digitally-rendered man. No, I first experienced a digital doppelgänger upon joining J. Walter Thompson Chicago in 1997. That’s where I first encountered Ed Miller …

EdMillerAll

That’s Ed on the left. A kinda good looking guy with one of those faces that feel somehow familiar. For a year or two, we’d read about him in the agency newsletter occasionally and see his face up there with the rest of us on the big, agency wall hanging in the lobby.

The thing was though, Ed didn’t exist. He was the product of the pleasantly subversive minds of three agency creatives: Joe Van Trump, Russell Heubach, and Mark Westman. As Mark put it … the idea came from the growth and flux in the agency personnel. There were so many going away parties, we joked that we could make up a fake going away party and people would still come. I used to do a lot of compositing for Russell and Joe and I lived with Joe at that time. They asked me if I could make a mash up of Joe and Russell for a fake person that would use both their middle names to get ‘Ed Miller.’ What made it possible was 3 things:

  1. I had all of the company head shots.
  2. They were all taken in the same set up, at the same angle with the same lighting.
  3. Photoshop had just released version 3.0 and introduced layers, so I could stack the heads and align the features. 

Having great source material made compositing easier so we could focus on finding unique features to combine. Merging two people was too obvious so we started pulling in more folk. Russell’s hair, Joe’s smile, your jaw, Matt’s shoulders and Steve’s eyes. The face felt familiar, but you couldn’t put your finger on it. Then for me, it was just a little blending and minor contrast adjustment to make them all look like there were meant to be there. I was a figure painting major in art school; it felt like sketching in charcoal. John Siebert took the face and started dropping it into old photos of guys in the army, company party photos, etc. He finally put the face on a going away card to sign for Ed. The venue was the dive bar Trotter’s. The party was packed; multiple people asked where Ed was. Later, I put the example in my book when I interviewed at DDB. It was so fun to do.”

These days companies like Generated Photos (“100,000 Faces Generated by AI, Free to Download!”), offer entirely digital people as a way to serve content-sucking new media by making copyrights, distribution rights, and infringement claims a thing of the past.

But in 1997, none of us were thinking that far ahead. We were just having fun.

Of course, Einstein said “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” So maybe we were just being creative.

But done right, you can’t really tell the two apart anyway.

 

img_3054

On Winning Friends & Influencing +800K Others

Teri Turner is an innovator in the world of social media, an influencer who has built an incredibly passionate and engaged following over the past five years. She’s a hard-working, network building, life embracing and affirming force of nature.

Happily, she’s also a friend. Last night, I had the incredible good fortune to interview her in front of 300 followers during the final scheduled appearance of her 23 stop national book tour. It’s not often you get to interview someone whose career trajectory serves as a primer in new media marketing.

Teri&d2

In recent years, it has become cliché how every brand seeks “authenticity,” but Teri’s “No Crumbs Left” brand personifies the power of exactly that. She did not start with a plan, she simply started, living and sharing her interests and expertise with others. A Facebook page led to Instagram posts, which in turn led to brand promotions and a podcast and a book tour; Teri produces an incredible amount of media content, learning and expanding to new platforms by simply “following the thread where it leads.”

Social media influencers matter in today’s marketing for one simple reason: recommendation marketing drives sales like nothing else. In Nielsen research, 92% of consumers cite recommendations from friends and family as the leading driver of purchase behavior.

A natural networker, Teri built a truly engaged following through DM’s and other direct online interactions. Early on, she collaborated with fellow social media personalities whose work interested her, an intuitive move that grew her audience. One collaboration was with Whole 30, when No Crumbs Left took over their feed for a week. That proved so successful, Whole 30 commissioned a No Crumbs Left cookbook. And that cookbook finally and firmly entrenched Teri as an Authority (currently available for fifteen dollars on Amazon, you will not find a better gift at a better price). As an authority, her website feels more like a media channel than a sales pitch as she relentlessly shares recipes, ideas, and inspiration.

As a social media Authority and Influencer, Teri’s in the unique position of choosing which brand partnerships she accepts. They must fit her sensibility and values. And her terms, like payment upfront. As she tells it, some large companies balk at why she won’t wait 90 days for payment. But as a small business person, that doesn’t work for her, and neither does having corporations set the terms. In the world of social influence, brands that want to leverage the incredible selling power of personal recommendation must embrace some new realities:

  1. Mass marketing approaches do not apply. Brands do not set the terms or dictate the message. But if they accept that and engage the right influencer, they will benefit tremendously.
  2. Brands can buy celebrity endorsements, but partnering with authoritative social media influencers and their audience relationships requires alignment more along the lines of a friendship than a standard business contract. It must be one-to-one.
  3. Participation is everything. Mass marketing broadcasts to large, passive audiences; influencer partnerships engage with smaller, far more engaged audiences. Any way brands can leverage that engagement builds affinity. And sales.

Social media influencer rules are being written and rewritten every day. And while it is woefully inefficient from a scalability perspective, for clients savvy enough to find the right relationships, this is a pathway to new, and far more engaged audiences for their brands.

Is it worth it? I think so. Spindrift, Pre beef, and Gotham Greens are now on our grocery lists, and we met all those brands through Teri.

You know, our friend, who recommended them.

img_3054