Monthly Archives: January 2009

The Escape Pod in Adweek

Adweek.com has been charitable enough to publish our ramblings on the upcoming Bowl (Super-sized edition). You can read it here. As usual i’m rooting for Bud to win the game. I hear they went heavy on the horsey ideas this year. Lots of Clydesdales spots. All shot by the inestimable Joseph P. Pytka & Sons.

Is this the best commercial ever made? Yup.

It involves both cream and…oh…what is it? Oh yeah, berries.

Grow up P.E.T.A.

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has produced yet another embarrassingly stupid ad. This time they’ve decided that, in 2009, it’s OK to objectify women to produce a “controversial” ad that, shock horror, was refused placement on the Super Bowl. Wow. Like that idea hasn’t been tiresomely done year after year by Godaddy.com and other clueless and unimaginative marketers.

Let me be clear. I love animals. I have a dog, a rabbit (and i’m allergic to rabbits), a guinea pig and a parakeet. I am PETA’s natural constituency. Who doesn’t love animals? Yet PETA continues to produce ads that are amateurish, tone-deaf, insensitive, and alienating. And now we can add puerile and sexist to that list. And what if NBC actually had allowed their stupid ad to run? Oh, that’s right, my young daughters and I would have been embarrassed while watching the game. Nice one guys.

Listen up PETA. Your attempts at self-promotion are just woeful. Please stop wasting money and embarrassing yourself and animal lovers everywhere. It’s having the opposite effect to what you think.

I can help you PETA. I am an experienced ad professional. I have done famous work that people liked. I could make America love you in a matter of months. Call me on my cell. (630) 606-0567.

100 MILLION PEOPLE PAYING CLOSE ATTENTION TO EVERYTHING YOU SAY. WHAT DO YOU THINK THAT IS WORTH?

superbowl1
It has become fashionable in some quarters ( I mean you digital hater who has no experience creating TV commercials) to diss, poo-poo and generally malign TV as an advertising medium.

But the inconvenient truth is that doomsday predictions about the end of TV advertising are resoundingly not coming to pass. For much the same reasons that TV did not kill radio I’m guessing. Yes, radio lost its pre-eminent place as a decisive cultural force but that didn’t mean that it just faded away either. It adapted to the changing times and found a new place in the culture. TV is in the throes of of a similar transitionary period. In some ways TV has actually gotten a lot better recently. TV dramas have gotten exponentially better IMHO. And the erosion of the primetime audience has led to the rise of “addictive TV” – American Idol, dancing with the stars etc. Clearly TV is not giving up without a fight.

Sunday’s Super Bowl will serve as a potent reminder of the power of TV to unite the culture in a way that the Internet never will. And that really is its point of difference from an advertising perspective. I remember having a very spirited discussion about this very topic a few years ago with….NAME DROP ALERT!…..Sir John Hegarty. And he was right and I was wrong. I was in the TV hater camp at that point. Never fight with a knight!

I have been fortunate enough to experience the power of the Super Bowl first hand quite a few times. And it’s amazing the impact it allows you to have on the culture.

How much does a Super Bowl ad cost these days? $100,000 a second? Worth every cent in my estimation. And I would be so bold as to posit that anyone who disagrees simply doesn’t know what they are talking about. They don’t know the value of attention.

A great ad for a great cause

amber alerts ad
I saw this poster recently. It’s advertising “amber alerts” a mobile phone based network of regular folks who are texted a message whenever a child disappears in their part of the country so they can form a digital posse, if you will, to help find the missing child. It’s a great use of technology for a great cause. And this ad does it justice.

I signed up for the amber alerts program based on seeing this ad alone. i can’t think of higher praise. whoever did this knows exactly what they’re doing. well done.

Advertising awards shows have officially become a pain in the bottom.

Let me get this straight. I love winning awards. I am very shallow. I am in advertising. This should be shocking to absolutely no one.

And i’m always suspicious of ad people who say they don’t care about awards. And i’m even more suspicious of people who win awards and then act like they don’t care about them. Claiming that they use their Oscar as a door stop etc. Oscars belong on mantle pieces and behind glass cabinets. Just so you know. I’ll come round and polish yours for you next time I’m in LA if you want. Respect! Please.

So anyway, we’re wading through the ever-more-complicated ad awards entry requirements. It’s that time of year again.

Here’s a typical request. “Please submit a film (no longer than five minutes) outlining the idea”. A FIVE MINUTE FILM! dude, just so you know, now you have me evaluating your request just to bloody ENTER your award show and weighing it against the worth of your award. and i have to say, i know from experience that most awards are simply not worth that type of time expenditure. and don’t even get me started on the entry fees. a separate issue entirely.

what most awards shows kind of fail to realize is that their roots lie in the pre-Internet days. when they served a valuable service: collating and presenting a very necessary once-a-year peek at the state of the world of creativity. that is no longer the case. i’ve already seen anything worth seeing online. except for the Asian scam ads that never ran anywhere anyway. yet the awards shows are still stuck in that era. Still producing dead tree “annuals”. and because they are so behind the times, their entry categories have become laughable. Online is no longer just INTERACTIVE, got that kids?

So here i am, an admitted ad awards groupie, actively considering whether or not it’s worth entering ad awards shows. that can’t be a good sign for the awards shows.

How to crack an alien culture. Part 1

How do you create advertising for a culture you know nothing about? easy. you devote your entire being to suddenly finding out everything you can about that culture. You immerse yourself in it. You think of nothing but it. You learn to love that culture. Regardless of your personal preferences and prejudices. That’s how.

I know this because to succeed in advertising in the USA i had to leave behind my European origins and start from scratch, culturally speaking. My pop culture references were useless over here. So i made a conscious decision to wholeheartedly dive into my adopted country’s culture. To love it. And never again complain about how difficult it is to find a decent cup of tea over here. To become culturally elastic. which most people, by virtue of never having changed cultures, never learn to do. why would you if you didn’t have to?

So when i was faced with proposition of doing NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr’s first ever Budweiser commercial i was slightly scared. NASCAR is a huge cultural force in the USA. Like F1 is in Europe. But even bigger. And if NASCAR was Rock n Roll, then Dale Jr. as he’s known, is the son of Elvis – the NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Sr.

Basically i knew nothing about NASCAR beyond what everyone knew about NASCAR, ie that is hugely popular. So i dived in. I read books and watched races etc. And I realized that doing Dale Jr’s first ad was a big deal. So it had to be good. It couldn’t be the view of an outsider making the same superficial observations that every NASCAR advertiser makes…it’s fast! they go round in circles! etc.

So i read a ton of Dale Jr’s media interviews. And in a Rolling Stone interview he was asked if he could improve NASCAR, what would it be? And his answer was “I would put music in the cars”. And that gave me the idea for the spot. Because Dale Jr loves his music. Everybody knew that. He hung out with rock stars like Dave Grohl. He played in a band. Dale is cool. He even looks fast!

Interesting fact. Dale Jr. showed the script for this idea to his dad a month before Dale Sr. tragically hit the wall at Daytona and died. And it was actually his dad who came up with the idea for the ending. Which makes complete sense if you know anything about The Intimidator. So Dale Earnhardt Sr. actually helped me write this spot. It was voted best NASCAR TV ad of the year by more than 300,000 NASCAR fans at nascar.com. And i more proud of that award than almost any other I’ve won. It proved that i’d cracked it! I’d cracked Dale Earnhardt Jr. I’d cracked NASCAR. And it was a very conscious effort to do so.

Too hot for TV! Vol. 5

This is the fifth, and perhaps final in our series of unaired commercials. They kind of go downhill a bit after this one. winking smiley face.

You can see the others here, here, here, and here.

This one was weird.

Shortly after the first Wassup! spots started airing it became apparent that there was an appetite for online parodies. So we figured who better than us to do a parody of our own thing. After talking things over with the director Charles Stone, we settled on a few that we knew would be hard for the general public to pull off, ie they involved real production expertise. The obvious and smart thing was to go “What’s 180 degrees away from young African-Americans yelling into phones?”.

I remember we rejected the idea of country club white guys doing it as being unnecessarily racially divisive. Goodby Silverstein apparently didn’t think so. They jumped on the bandwagon with exactly this idea a year later. And won a gold Clio with it. I will forever hate them with the intensity of a thousand suns for doing that. I’m kidding Jeff! Seriously, I’m kidding.

But one idea that we all liked was the idea of having Old Ladies watching a game show having a Bud. The elderly ladies in the spot were blissfully unaware of the Wassup! phenomenon. Which made it even funnier. They had absolutely no idea what they were doing. I vividly recall nearly dying laughing when we shot the scene in the garden as the elderly actress screamed urban slang into her phone. “Wassup money grips???” etc. It was the first time we did something that mirrored or echoed the original wassup template. It would not be the last. That kind of became our job. Doing new variations on that one thing. Over and over. we got real good at it too!

The reason it didn’t air was that there was just something off-putting about grandmas drinking beer in the middle of the day in an ad for budweiser. it just felt wrong to the clients. and that was cool.

but the funny part was that the very next month…this wassup parody swept the internet! the exact same idea. it was like clockwork. and it was kind of eerie. but the good part though was that the spot we produced — much better execution IMHO — was eligible to be included in our Grand Prix-winning entry to the Cannes advertising festival. and it was a big hit en France. so in a sense it did actually air. but only in the palais at Cannes. and it did its damage there. so thank you old ladies. Merci!

FUN FACT: The New Jersey house where we shot our spot was the same house used to shoot Hesh’s home scenes in The Sopranos.

News Alert! LOOK AROUND YOU debuted on Adult Swim last night!

The first season of the insanely brilliant Look Around You, an impossible-to-describe UK tv show that Simpsons creator Matt Groening called “The funniest TV show I have ever seen” debuted on Adult Swim on The Cartoon Network last night. Last night they aired the first “module”. But you can find lots of others on youtube. Peter Serafinowicz is a genius. As is Robert Popper. And the guy who does the voiceover is priceless too.

Enjoy this little sample.

The Escape Pod on NPR

NPR’s Marketplace program did a story about client OfficeMax’ new female oriented marketing and product strategy. Bob Thacker and I were intervied. I managed to get two sentences into the interview. But I don’t sound nearly as nervous as i imagined i’d sound. so that’s good. you can hear it here.

if you’ve never been interviewed (by phone usually) on the radio, you probably imagine it as i once did, that it’s just like chatting on the phone. it’s not. and this only hits you right before you go on the air.

i have been interviewed on the radio several times and each time i’m surprised. the first times i was interviewed were based on my budweiser work which was receiving a ton of publicity. so i got interviewed a lot. but mostly by US media outlets (Newsweek, People, The New York Times, you name it). which would have been fine but for the fact that my family in ireland never saw any of this. so after a while, i realized my power and requested that the agency PR machine get me something in ireland. and by “something” i meant getting something into the local paper. just to annoy the haters really. but how was our PR maven to know what i meant? she just heard “get me something in ireland”.

but what happened next was way out of proportion to my wishes. I get a phone call while shooting in LA.

Our PR person rattles off a list of Irish radio DJs that will be calling me later that night (ireland is 8 hours ahead of LA). So i go to dinner and come back to the hotel and don’t sleep a wink. and then at two a.m. ireland’s national radio network calls my room. i pick up the phone and only then do i realize that i’m actually quite nervous. and only then do i imagine all the haters back in ireland laughing at my pathetic performance on national radio. and ireland is a big radio country – we love to chat. and i freeze up. literally. i can’t breathe, much less talk or think.

and so the irish radio producer is telling me exactly when i will be live on the air and what to expect. and i’m kind of grunting replies. it’s terrible. i’m on the verge of just hanging up and running away when i have an idea. i walk over to the minibar and open one of those tiny bottles of cognac. and swig it all back. it burns my throat and induces involuntary breathing. i’m finally breathing! next step talking! and my blood is flowing again. and i somehow make it through the interview. a second tiny bottle of cognac might have been opened and consumed.

my family back in Ireland loved the interview. and i collapsed in a heap on the bed. radio is hell!