Monthly Archives: December 2008

Sole prediction for 2009

michelinPredicting the future is a mug’s game. Nobody predicted Google, or youtube. they may have felt the need for the service they provide but nobody saw them coming.

interesting tale: we at the escape pod once had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out with Google’s first salesman, david scacco. he was the guy whose job it was to visit ad agencies back in 1998 and sell advertising agencies on the merits of using google. in 1998! can you imagine a tougher sell? He showed us his foamcore backed presentation boards that he used to use in his original presentation. surely they’re in the google museum by now. they were very funny. stuff like “over 125,000 daily users!” and “search over 2 million web pages!”.

even if he’d presented Google, the idea of google, to me back in 1998, i’m pretty sure i would not have recognized its future potential. so no future predictions from The Escape Pod.

OK, just one. It’s this. 2009 will mark a return to the basics of advertising in a big way. and i don’t just mean in a there’s-a-recession-we-have-to-sell-stuff way. I mean a refocusing on what advertising is supposed to do as opposed to “ooh look there’s a new digital thingy let’s obsess about that for ages”. we see a return to big ideas. big ideas that can effortlessly be incarnated in any medium or platform or whatever. big ideas have, and always had, power. they are infectious and usually elemental. they have intrinsic value. they are WORTH something.   they can make  a brand.  my first boss was the guy who came up with the big ideas that made Perdue Chicken (the best)  Volvo (well engineered safety)  and Maxell Tapes (worth it) what they were.  his ideas (and the ideas of his clients) created a magic.  he defined brands.  he said  he “helped brands realize their destinies”.  which i always thought was as neat a definition of advertising as i’ve ever heard.

i recently had to buy tires for my minivan and one image kept swirling around in head. the baby sitting on the Michelin tire with the line “Michelin. Because so much is riding on your tires”. That’s what i mean by a big idea. have they even run that ad in the past ten years?  didn’t matter.  there it was, still haunting my consciousness.  still being the decisive factor in the purchase process of a product that everybody feels is important but nobody really has a clue about.

i think at this point we have all digested the idea of the internet and had enough experience of it that we’re not in its thrall anymore. we get it. it has its uses. but it’s not the only tool available to us. so let’s apply big ideas to to it.

have we entered the “post-internet” age?

[update:  is it just me or does the baby in the michelin ad look like an irish-american tavern owner?]

The best posts of the year

based on the number of clicks received, not our opinion. the hard facts jack!

1. Our idea for Obama. still have some plates if you want one.

2. A post inspired by our back to school effort for client OfficeMax. we like this one too.

3. A post about our new favorite ad blog written by UK ad legend Dave Trott. free wisdom, you can’t beat that.

INTERESTING FACT: A surprising/depressing amount of visitors to our blog seem to come from Poland and are using google image search to find pictures of Mike Tyson. Oh well.

Happy holidays from The Escape Pod!

We did this a few years back. I say “we”. I really mean Bent animation in Portland. They did an amazing job. took bloody ages to do this one. stop-motion animation is not for those with short attention spans to say the least.

Finally, some art for the walls of The Escape Pod

We at the Escape Pod have long been fans of Hugh Mcleod.  Hugh is Scottish.  Hugh is a true artist. Hugh is a great cartoonist.  Hugh is a great marketing thinker.  Hugh is a digital pioneer.   Hugh is arguably the world’s foremost blogger.  Hugh is restless.  Hugh used to live in Chicago.  Then he moved to the Scottish border region.   Then he moved to London.  And now he lives in Alpine Texas.   He is about to, finally, publish a book.   And it will be a big hit.  Because Hugh has put in the hard work over the last decade to amass an audience of devoted fans, myself included.  Hugh is quite simply a breath of fresh air.  He’s a bit of Quixotic figure in a way.  Taking on Microsoft and Dell and helping clue them in on the web hugh.0

It is one of the biggest regrets of our professional lives that a project we hoped to collaborate with Hugh on never came to fruition.   we pride ourselves on  knowing a good thing when we see it and hugh is the real deal.

So were delighted to be able to purchase a signed limited edition print of the above “cartoon” by Hugh today.  It’s one of our favorites of his many cartoons.  A print out of it  used to adorn our office wall in a previous life.  And now it will adorn our office walls once more in a more fitting manner.

Rock on Hugh!

UPDATE: Man on Wire = brilliant!

so i watched the movie i impulsively rented based solely on seeing the promo trailer at the dvd store.  it’s an account of the French highwire walker, Philippe Petit, who fulfilled a lifetime dream of walking between the twin towers of the world trade center in new york in 1974.

having been up to the viewing deck of the World Tradc Center years ago, i’d seen lots of framed b/w shots of his escapade there, and assumed –  not unreasonably i thought – that this somehow was a WTC sanctioned publicity stunt.   it clearly wasn’t.  the whole thing was illegal as hell and was meticulously planned like a 70s bank heist movie.  an appropriately motley crew of new yorkers (including, hilariously, a jewish stoner)  and frenchmen somehow pulled off the wirewalk of the century.  this was art.  Philippe Petit makes Christo look like a  flower arranger.

it’s a great story.  and it’s really well told here.  and, coincidentally, it was edited by the inestimable Jinx Godfrey, who we at The Escape Pod have had the pleasure of working with in the past.  i actually checked to see who edited it and was happy see Jinx did it.   she’s just a master of her craft.  and this movie is yet more undeniable proof of that.  good on ya Jinx!

It’s inspiring for all us creative dreamers because Monsieur Petit himself was, and remains, a creative dreamer who wouldn’t let anything — self-preservation, impossible odds — come between him and his dream.   He did it!

why do we buy?

I have always been fascinated by the psychology and micro-psychology of purchase decisions and processes. It really helps keep your advertising honest if you’re true to the way your product is actually purchased and the real role the product plays has in people’s real lives. and i find it fun to dissect various purchase decisions. and i realize that doing so makes me a pathetic ad geek.

beer, for example is a surprisingly complex purchase decision. what you drink socially says something about you. so a lot more thought goes into it than might appear. are you a cosmo gal? are you a Bud man? the implication for me about this was that the advertising should create a halo of fun and likeability around the brand. because the beer you drink is your friend. you only associate it with good social times. so demonstrating those qualities that everyone seeks in friends could only be a good thing. because the beer you drink is, by definition, not a rational choice. the rational thing is to stay home and read a book.

so anyway, i was in the local dvd rental store looking for the new Star Wars Clone Wars for my son. not intending to rent anything for myself . when i saw a promo for MAN ON WIRE playing in the store. it’s a documentary about the tightrope walker who walked between the twin towers in New York in the 1970s. and i was hooked. i had to see it! so i rented it. it looks real good. that was yer classic “impulse” purchase. Low stakes. low cost. looked like fun. little downside. should be great viewing. a great example of the power of point of purchase. how many times has your wine choice been swayed by a little shelf talker recounting a positive review in Wine Spectator? Sometimes it really is that simple. People are usually open to suggestion and sometimes haven’t really thought about the purchase decision.  And that’s a good thing to remember.  Help them make the decision.

because if your advertising is in tune with how people really buy and consume your brand it has a much greater chance of being welcomed into your customer’s hearts and lives. you might think this would be obvious but there are a lot of insensitive oaf brands out there who clearly don’t get this. i am constantly surprised!

How to be exciting

Being exciting is easy.  you simply have to do exciting things.  that’s all.  people are attracted to exciting things and exciting people.  Being exciting means you don’t have to work so hard to meet new people.

celebrities are exciting.  if you’ve ever seen a celebrity, you know what i mean. the actor  peter o’toole once knocked on the door of my home in Ireland when i was a teenager.  i nearly died of shock.  of excitement.  so the ideal then would be for your brand to be exciting.  there are two routes to this: one is to create an exciting product.  have you ever used a FLIP video camera?  i have.  now that’s an exciting product.   but chances are your product might not be one of those ideas.  therefore the things you do have to create excitement. your packaging, your advertising, the things that are in your control that  you can make exciting.  and of course not everything will create a tsunami of excitement every time.  but if being exciting is not a consistent and explicit goal every time and at every opportunity, it will NEVER happen to your brand.

you know all those stories of famous actors and models who were “accidentally discovered” when they were “dragged along” to auditions by friends? never happened. complete horseshit. it takes a will of steel to succeed in the hyper-competitive entertainment industry. everybody who gets the spotlight fought hard to get it. usually by being exciting in some way.

If being exciting is a consistent goal, when lightning finally  does strike, and people are genuinely excited about your brand,  your reaction won’t be: “Oh my god, how did this happen?”.  It will be “Thank god.  It finally happened!”.

Seth Godin tells it like it is

once again, we are in complete agreement with the great domed one.

not every medium is suited to advertising. and anyone who has any experience of actually * trying to harness the internet for advertising purposes knows that while it has created exciting new opportunities, it does not rely on advertising for its existence.

and anyone who has worked in the traditional media knows that, creatively, not all media are equal. TV for example is a much better medium than radio. you can show and demonstrate things. you can create exciting little films.

so while facebook attracts a huge crowd, there isn’t much opportunity to create a meaningful brand experience. how many of banner ads on facebook have you clicked on? exactly. does anyone get excited about the prospect of creating a banner ad for facebook? exactly.

now we are not ruling out someone potentially conquering the world via a facebook app or banner ad, and ideally it would be us! but we aren’t holding our breath for it.

check out Seth’s brilliant post.

*as opposed to just blogging about it. winking smiley face.

Common sense. It just makes sense.

Dave Trott recently posted on the notion of radical common sense. As always, his thoughts are well worth reading.

It has often occurred to me over the years that what are frequently held up as “breakthoughs” and “game-changers” in advertising and marketing are little more than the triumph of pure common sense.

Nike. Just do it. Of course. You sell athletic wear, motivate athletes and would-be athletes.

Got milk? Milk and cookies go really well together. Who could disagree?

Target. Affordable design for all. who doesn’t want nice stuff that’s well made and costs less?

Of course the problem is that sometimes people resist doing what is subsequently revealed to be the obviously smart thing for various reasons. You can well imagine the California milk board wanting a campaign that touted the health benefits of milk (noble but not exciting). a slightly higher road than acknowledging the reality that milk is really comfort food. or the ideal partner to many comfort foods.

and it’s easy to imagine nike just touting the various wonderful features of their shoes and clothing. and i’m sure it made a lot of people at Target’s lives more difficult now that they had to go out and find ever cooler stuff to put on their shelves. “can we just sell the cheapest stuff?”

it’s a lot easier to delude yourself that consumers are rational calculating machines that will respond to the “correct” stimuli, than to deal with the messy gooey reality that is humanity. yes, people use the calcium of milk to give themselves permission to gorge on cookies and milk. but that’s not the real motivating factor. just as nobody drinks beer purely for refreshment. or because of the hops used to brew it. they drink it to relax with friends. that’s the real motivating factor.

When you deal with the realities of things and are brutally honest about what motivates your customers, common sense solutions are the only solutions. but it’s a mistake to confuse common sense exclusively with rationality…if that makes sense.

How to write a Superbowl ad

(Hey everybody, it’s super bowl time! so i’m reposting this from 2008. It ran as an article in Adweek too. I devoted a fair few years to working on spots for the super bowl. I can’t believe how much time I spent thinking of beer ads for THE BIG GAME. now, looking back at it, it seems crazy.)

It’s super bowl time.  All across the land, the top commercial film directors are turning up their noses and/or taking their pick of the sixty odd scripts currently in production in anticipation of the big game.  the viceroy hotel in santa monica is about to get very busy.

the thing about the superbowl is that the viewing situation is unique.  EVERYONE is watching. and it’s the one time of the year that everyone actually looks forward to watching commercials.  so the pressure is on. you’d better be good.

obviously there can be no rules in creativity so these are just things we’ve learned over the years creating superbowl ads. being on “the big game” is exciting. knowing that a hundred million people will see your work is a great incentive to get it right.

so here goes…

1.   Spots that hinge on a reveal or a rugpull can be dangerous. because only one moment of the ad will be funny. Unless the reveal involves something can’t-miss.  like a t-shirt wearing chimp dancing on a garbage can…for a bank.  that’s good times.  Otherwise you ideally need something that starts big and gets bigger.

2. So, be funny or really compelling in some way all the way through. the reason banking on a single gag is a risk is that you’re essentially asking people to judge your humor. you’re asking them to ask themselves if what they just saw was funny. and that invites potential failure. ideally you just confidently overwhelm the audience. tickle them. be fresh but familiar. but don’t beg them to laugh.

3.  Animals work. Dogs work especially.  Not my preference creatively, but spots that have dogs in them score higher in the USA Today popularity poll.  Kittens work too. but not badgers i’m guessing. yet skunks are a slapstick comedy goldmine. and of course our mini-us friends the apes are hairy hilarities. solidly reliable. and they can be trained to do whatever your idea needs.

4.  The superbowl is lowest common denominator time.   Just a statistical fact.  Grandma and your girlfriend/boyfriend and your teenage male cousin are watching.  What will all of them like? The best superbowl spots have universal appeal.

5.  Go with the flow.  Don’t listen to the “hey, everyone else is being funny, let’s not be” voice in your head.  people are watching the superbowl to have a good time.  not to be bummed out or made think too hard.

here’s something we did a few years back. this was the toughest superbowl ad i ever did. we had to discourage beer drinking on the superbowl. for a client that sold beer. our solution was to create a commercial that discouraged drinking and driving but felt like a beer spot. trust me, that wasn’t easy.

a german intern came up with the original germ of this idea. and the spot was, to my great surprise, the thirteenth most popular spot of the game. this spot suffers from several executional flaws which still make me cringe. so i hesitate to show it to you. it’s more to illustrate the point. and hey, it was #13 on the USA Today poll. So it was a hit!

6. Use the unique viewing environment. People gather in crowds to watch the game. so ideally your spot will literally be a crowd-pleaser. and will unite viewers in agreement that “yeah, that was funny!”.

7. The audience will have had a few beers, it’s good to assume. so their ability to process information and follow plotlines might be impaired. So don’t have too many gear changes in your commercial.

8. Where your spot runs in the game matters. you probably have no control over that. and if the game is a blow out and your spot runs in the fourth quarter it will be an uphill battle to get the viewers’ attention. the upside is if your spot is really great it won’t have to compete with a dramatic game. and so it can really stand out.

9. Keep it simple. Commercials that consist of just one thing are easier to process and follow and remember. The USA Today poll winners tend to be texture-free and almost childishly simple. Again, not our personal creative preference. But a fact nonetheless. maybe that’s why we never scored higher than #4 on the poll…. boohoohoo! :-(

Here is that spot. Guess what, it featured a talking dog! This spot scored highest in the pretesting so it was actually the first spot to air within the game. The pole position of superbowl advertising.

It got beaten by spots featuring dogs lighting their farts and kicking each other in the nuts. Kidding!

10. The USA Today superbowl ad popularity poll works like this. A random sample of the population (every race, gender and age) is gathered to watch the game. they are given clickers that they click as they watch the spots that run in the game. the more they like what they see the more they click. i think that’s one reason for the preponderance of animal spots. everyone likes cute dogs. so granny and young man click furiously from the opening frame when they see the cute animal behaving like a human. they don’t click furiously when they just see a human acting like a human. regardless of what you may think of the USA today poll, i can guarantee your client will care about how well their spot fares in it.

11. Be cool. i know there’s a lot at stake and most people are lucky if they get to write one superbowl spot in their careers but the mood on set and in the edit suite will show up on screen. if fun isn’t had in the process the commercial itself will suffer. my personal favorite superbowl ad that i wrote was done in an almost casual manner. it was a slender idea made great by performance, direction and editing more than writing. the dialogue actually came from the first words the actor playing the texan said to me upon meeting. he really was like that. so i figured that would be funnier than anything i could think of. and the director had the idea of just “doing the three thing”. repeating something three times till it becomes absurd.

plus, we had a lot of creative freedom. the finished spot differed wildly from the original script. which never made me laugh. so we changed it. people really seemed to like this one. they would smile when remembering it. it was just silly fun. great fun to shoot. i was kind of pleasantly surprised by how well it played in the game. we had the good fortune to have this spot be the first ad to run after U2 had just killed it in the half-time show. so everyone was in a good mood. and the game was still wide open. see point 8 above. you can’t beat good timing.

and it was the seventh most popular spot in the game according to the aforementioned USA Today poll. not that anyone cared about that. oh yes they did!

12. Don’t forget to write a good ad for the product you’re advertising. A lot of superbowl ads seem to be over-anxious to entertain. and forget to pack the sell. but remember that part of what consumers judge as a good ad is how relevant to the brand it is. how well does it sell what’s being advertised? chances are your brand already has a place in people’s heads. so they can intuitively recognize what constitutes a good ad based on previous knowledge.

just showing dancing animals won’t distinguish you. Budweiser and Pepsi can do that because they really don’t have anything to say. if anything they’re over-familiar to viewers. the overarching characteristic of the superbowl is the bigness of it. so be big. but that doesn’t necessarily mean being funny. you can be entertaining without simply being funny. masterlock built their brand running this brilliant spot every year on the game. all their media budget, gone in thirty seconds. but a great use of it.

NB: the above are just guidelines based on experience. there will always be brilliant exceptions. in fact the best ones ignore the guidelines. but they’re trickier to sell. if i had my way every superbowl spot would be wall-to-wall kittens. nothing but kittens. kittens everywhere!