The unique thing about film is that it offers you the chance to bring life to life.

A film, like a blog post, is the energy and thinking of the creator(s) made visible.

A commercial film (AKA an ad) has an agenda. You are trying to sell someone on something. It’s not pure film.

So, you’d think that advertisers would devote all the time in their commercials to selling the product being advertised.

But they usually don’t.

Sometime in the 1980s, TV advertising decided that it was in the entertainment business.

And a formula emerged.

It went something like this: distract the audience with a shiny, entertaining bauble of “fun” and then slip a spoonful of sell in at the end when they’re not looking.

Much like feeding a baby medicine! Exactly like that actually.

There was an automatic assumption that the subject matter – the product being advertised – was boring. And the solution to this was invariably comedy. Or more usually, attempted comedy.

And it was usually backed up with some sanctimonious bullshit about having respect for the audience, who couldn’t possibly be interested in what’s being advertised.

Really? There’s a big assumption.

I never liked this approach. It’s too generic. I’m not saying I’ve never done it. I have. And it’s never that exciting. It can be funny. But that’s about it.

If I’m doing an ad for something it’s going to be hand crafted to suit that product and ONLY that product.

And it’s going to be ALL about the product being advertised. And it’s going to be done in a tone appropriate for that particular product.

If I have thirty seconds of time and energy I’m going to focus on what matters. And that is usually nothing more than the blindingly obvious smart thing to say.

This post in part was motivated by seeing this commercial film.

I don’t mean to pick on V&S or HD. But this one just got up my nose.

The proposition here is about as exciting as they come in advertising: you can now customize your very own Harley Davidson! I want an ALL CHROME one! 100% pure shiny chrome. Can I have that?

Something that’s actually exciting and interesting in and of itself.

This is not a new line of improved detergents or shampoo.

I would watch a TV show called “CUSTOM HARLEYS”, for example. It’s that good. I really want to know more.

I have watched TV shows about glue being made. And prosthetic limbs. This is Lord of The Rings by comparison!

Yet they spent all their time and energy showing people in cages. It’s an analogy folks! Harley, in case you weren’t aware, is about freedom. It’s 2011 and they’re telling me this? Oh, and you can now customize your own Harley. Bye!

Why they didn’t spend all this time and energy solely telling me about their great new idea is beyond me.

And will always be beyond me.


  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention FILM IS TIME AND ENERGY. USE WISELY. | ESCAPOLOGY (the escape pod’s blog) --

  2. Hi Vinny,

    I don’t know if you’ve seen the show American Chopper? But it always made me and my brother want a bike MORE THAN ANYTHING.

    These guys are everything that Harley are about. They should just base their campaigns around them:


  3. I agree with you Guy.

    When I saw this ad Vinny I was like ugh, gotta tweet Vinny! Isn’t the problem Harley had was they went yuppy? I mean wasn’t the whole point about the bike being a bad ass? They patented the damn sound of the engine (or tried).

    The bad ass harley bikers (not the yuppies with them) would come to the yuppie South Bay LA and would drive down Manhattan and Hermosa Avenues on Sunday mornings when it was quiet and they would rev that engine setting off car alarms in BMW’s and Mercedes left and right.

    And didn’t the yuppies buy the damn bike vs the crotch rockets because they wanted to think they were badass?

    I would of had 25 secs of Black Screen with just the sound of the roar and then pop in a bike cruising Big Sur the last 5 secs.

  4. Part of the problem may be the product, the H-D1 Customization program. Yes, you can get your hog the way you want. But only if what you want means choosing from their available components, parts and accessories. Yes, there’s plenty to choose from. But to cal l that “customized” is an over promise when compared with shops like

    But the greatest problem with the breaking out of the cage metaphor (at least in the way it’s presented in this spot) is that it sells the category and not the brand. No other brand of motorcycle is shown in a cage, therefore all motorcycles equal freedom. So excuse me while I get on my Chinese-made BMW R71 pre-war replica and ride!

  5. :53 seconds of cages, and :07 of Harley. Makes absolutely no sense to me.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sore throat. I am going to go ask a subway car full of people for their diagnosis and best way to treat it…

  6. Good post.

    This ad is awful. It’s unoriginal and does very little (if anything at all) to meet the requirements of the brief.

    From the brief: “What do we want them to think? Owning a Harley is the epitome of living life. It’s exciting, while also being efficient and practical. It’s fun as hell. Life’s too short. I’m reinventing the stereotype by saying F the stereotype. Let’s ride.”
    see the original brief here.

    So, the imagery of the guy on the bike zipping through traffic on the city streets is ok. But this certainly isn’t the theme of the ad… and this is bad.

    V&S really missed a major opportunity, given the almost universal problems associated with a bad commute. [ Jonah Lehrer has a good summary of the research here. ]

    From the article: Daniel Gilbert notes, “Driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day.” That’s a huge opportunity for Harley to expand into a more urban market.

    But what makes this even worse is that this ad was crowdsourced. Crowdsourcing was supposed to give us newer, better ideas. It was supposed to leverage the massive untapped reserves of cognitive surplus and introduce competition into the marketplace of ideas. Instead, we’re stuck with uninteresting interpretations of played out concepts (see this Kia Soul ad, which is really just a re-interpretation of Apple’s ‘1984’).

    Consumers deserve better.

    Crowdsourcing, or asking people for input, isn’t inherently bad, but I’m struggling to find any reasonable justification to put it at the forefront of any ad campaign.

    • hi nick, in addition to producing meh output (based on this anyway) crowdsourcing sounds like a monumental pain in the arse. sifting through tons of shite ideas in the hope of finding a gem? be easier, and faster, just to bang out the ideas and go home.

  7. I was going to blog about this but you nailed it Vinnie. Saving a bit of dough on the creative is, as my old granny would say “Spoiling the ship for a ha’porth of tar.”

    It’s a great illustration of how easily non-qualified folk can fundamentally misunderstand a strategy. Harley created a particular brand of “freedom” – the rebel spirit and the open road, etc. – that these folks patently don’t uncerstand.

    • thanks simon, i kind of couldn’t believe how hamfisted this was considering what a polished gem the HD brand is. this isn’t solving anyone’s problem.

  8. It’s too obvious. It’s not unique or original enough. It doesn’t sell bike customization. I hear all this – and I even agree with some of it.

    But let me offer a contrarian point of view: “cages” are exactly what bike riders call every mode of transport other than a bike. Bike riders & Harley owners know this and love it. They immediately get it and Harley immediately gets to own it. That’s right— the concept of “cages” *isn’t unigue* to Harley — but it can be ownable by them, especially if none of the other bike companies have tried it.

    To the right people, this may be the right message. I don’t have to like it.. but if it sells more Harleys because bike riders and owners get it then that’s a big part of what matters to selling. Right?

  9. i hear what you’re saying josh.

    but if it was me, i wouldn’t base what is surely a very important piece of communications (HD don’t advertise that much) on a clunky analogy that is accessible only to a very few. Yes it’s an inside term,that doesn’t necessarily make it the basis for an interesting film.

    It just isn’t good viewing frankly. It’s not funny or interesting.

    It’s artless and clunky.

    None of these adjectives apply to the Harley brand.

    The pity here is that all they had to do was be as cool as the brand already is/was. They failed to do that. And i don’t know why. The creative guy at V&S has a solid pedigree. It’s anomalous.

  10. why would you dramatize a term that’s already there? this is saying “we follow you” instead of “follow me”.
    besides, what are HD owners suppose to think/do after this? should they tap each other shoulders and congratulate themselves for already “escaping”?
    if so, the message is brotherhood which again is not here.

    someone said it’s a wasted opportunity. a huge one, i might add.
    you have two major claims here: freedom and customization (which is analogy for freedom, isn’t it?).
    you can go anywhere with it, not just around the corner.

  11. You went Viral Vinny! Oh and we got a Fuck Yeah from Vik! my weekend was made!

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