The Advertising Apprentice

September 22, 2009

Meet Your Illegitimate Son

Filed under: Advertising — adamlauzon @ 10:30 PM
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There are many great reasons people should travel to Denmark, including:

In addition to these great attractions there may be one more reason for you to book your flight to Denmark; as described in a now banned Danish tourism viral video, starring Ditte Arnth, commissioned by the Visit Denmark tourist board. You can see it HERE.

(By the way you can get a return flight to Copenhagen for as low as $1200 through Air Canada.)

This is definitely one of those ads that falls under the “seemed like a good idea at the time!” category. The irony is that any woman in this situation is probably thinking the exact same thing the morning after, but I digress.

I can respect the risk they were trying to take by not creating a traditional tourism commercial like this one:

However, a two minute and twenty-eight second video of a woman seeking the father of her child is way too far on the other end of the thinking-outside-of-the-box spectrum and further this subject matter is inappropriate to be used in a tourism video. That is unless the message that they were trying to convey is “Come to Denmark, you can meet an attractive woman at a bar, go back to her place, and have unprotected sex with a complete stranger.” Based on the outcry and criticism of this video in the past week, it’s clear that not many Danish women are happy with being portrayed in this way. And if this was the desired message, then you’re luring the “wrong” type of visitor. This seems more appropriate for an episode of Jerry Springer rather than video promoting tourism to Denmark.

Next, I’ll play devil’s-advocate and focus on some of the video’s positives:

  • It has definitely succeeded in creating buzz around the world for Denmark, with the spot generating discussion from media outlets such as:
  • There is a call-to-action; “please contact me; I will put my email with this video, so just write me.” (Though I would’ve preferred to see at the very least Visit Denmark’s URL at the bottom of the screen.)
  • The visuals: a simple background, an attractive woman and a cute baby.
  • The video is definitely effective in attracting attention and in keeping viewers’ interest piqued.
  • You really have to give Ms. Arnth some credit for doing what seems like a straight shoot while holding on to a live baby. It reminds me of the following Johnny Walker The Man Who Walked Around the World ad:

The ad stars Scottish actor Robert Carlyle and reportedly took 40 takes before the director was happy with Carlyle’s timing. Can you image being at the five-minute mark and messing up a word and having to reshoot from the beginning? I’d be surprised if Carlyle didn’t help himself to a shot or two of the whisky just to calm his nerves!

For other lesser-traveled countries, such as Norway, that may be considering a similar style video to attract visitors I suggest going for it… just use a hook that doesn’t portray your citizens as being blatantly promiscuous! Perhaps a video post-card from a person to their family and/or friends describing all the great things they’ve done while in said country. Something like that probably won’t generate nearly as much buzz but at least it won’t offend anyone.


September 20, 2009

So You Think You’re Funny?

Filed under: Advertising — adamlauzon @ 8:19 PM
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The idea for this week’s entry came from an article in the New York Times written by Stuart Elliott. In the article Elliott discusses a new campaign being introduced to promote the Butterfinger chocolate bar. From the sounds of things it seems as if this is a very well-rounded campaign, combining a sweepstake with online and social media efforts, in-store promotions, and the video clips aired at the beginning of shows at comedy clubs across the U.S. They’ve also done a very good job at doing their market research in defining who their target market is.

While I could easily examine the campaign further or the challenge faced by trying to create branded entertainment I will instead address the idea of the “creative genius”, if you will, required to write a funny ad.

A professor of mine at the University of Ottawa once said that an ad will give you one of three things: information, titillation, or a laugh. A discussion of that idea in itself could easily suffice for this week’s entry! I’ll leave it untouched for the time being. If you have any thoughts of your own on it, please feel free to post your comments below.

Many of us think we’re funny and we’re comedians at heart so the task of writing a funny ad would seem relatively easy. It is, but it isn’t! Let me explain further. Not to take anything away from the talent I or other copywriters possess, but with a bit of practice I’m sure most people would be able to come up with a pretty funny 30-second spot. However, and this is where the amateurs are separated from the pros, it is possible for your ad to be funny but be completely “useless” at the same time. If your spot is memorable and funny but not because of the product itself then you’ve failed the company that has paid you thousands of dollars to create an ad for them.

Your job as a copywriter with the space/time you’ve been given is to generate interest and create action for the product/service. So if people remember the commercial because of the funny character or the joke that was made, but can’t recall what product or service was being advertised, you’ve just failed your client! So your product/service must be incorporated within the joke/punch-line to succeed.

To further explain what I mean, have a look at the following two commercials:

Saying that this commercial is hilarious may be pushing the line, but it certainly is funny. Despite having over two and half million views on YouTube it probably hasn’t translated into a noticeable increase in sales for Mercedes. So while it does meet the objective of being funny, it fails in tying the product into the joke. When talking about this commercial to your friends you’ll describe it as: “That funny commercial where the blonde tries to order food in the library.” Not “that funny Mercedes-Benz commercial where the blonde tries to order food in the library.” In a struggling economy and an industry where sales is the driving force, so the 2.5 million YouTube views is great but if it doesn’t translate into an increase in sales for Mercedes this view-count is almost meaningless.

To contrast this, have a look at this commercial:

This commercial on the other hand is not only funny, but more importantly it is successful in integrating the product into the joke. When discussing the ad with your friends you invariably have to refer to it as “the Bud Light commercial where the dog bites the guy in the crotch.” That discussion will put Bud Light fresh in your mind and the next time you’re at the beer store you may very likely pick-up a case of Bud Light just based on your ability to easily recall that funny Bud Light commercial.

September 13, 2009

What’s Old is New Again!

Filed under: Advertising — adamlauzon @ 4:56 PM
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While browsing through the New York Times’ Media & Advertising section, a great source for industry information, I came across this interactive page that provides you with a breakdown of the number of ads based on product class aired during the past twenty-four years of the Super Bowl. It even has a media player embedded within the webpage so you can check out some of the memorable ads to have made their debut since 1984.

The other day while watching TV I saw this commercial and had to do a double take to make sure I hadn’t gone back in time:

Seeing a commercial that first aired in the early 1990s, I challenged myself to do some interesting homework for this week’s entry, watch TV and pay close attention to the commercials to see if I could find any other examples of spots being “recycled”. (It’s sort of like a homework assignment you wished for in high school!) I was able to find a couple examples of other companies re-airing old commercials:

I will concede in advance that the Delissio, or DiGorno for you Americans, “Party Crasher” ad on this page is a bit of a stretch. In particular because the ad was only created a year ago but in an industry that’s constantly reinventing itself it does nonetheless apply. (By the way the pizza boy is actor Steven Christopher Parker.)

The commercial below from also falls under the same argument as the Delissio commercial:

(You really have to love YouTube because you can find just about anything on that site!)

These are just three examples and I don’t think it’s quite time to call this an emerging trend in advertising. I think it’s more of a cost effective attempt by these companies to remind us of their products and to remain visible during the recession; and this is quite the novel way of doing so.  I certainly appreciate the feelings of nostalgia from the Coffee Crisp commercial, when upon seeing it in the early 1990s, it’s almost guaranteed that I would have persuaded my parents to go out and get me a Coffee Crisp.

In honor of the NFL’s kick-off weekend, I must consider if this is a new trend, how long is it before we see one of these memorable ads that made their debut during the Super Bowl?

(In-depth commentary on these commercials, and many others that have aired during Super Bowl telecasts only to become viral hits, can be found in Bernice Kanner’s aptly named The Super Bowl of Advertising, published by Bloomberg Press. It’s become a yearly tradition for me to read through this book the weekend before the Super Bowl just to get myself even more excited for the creative genius about to be witnessed by millions upon millions of viewers and it serves to remind me once again why I choose to pursue a career in advertising!)

If you’ve seen other examples of commercials that originally aired years ago and are now being re-broadcast, post a comment or send me an email and I’ll revise the post.

September 4, 2009

Is it Shock Value or the Value of the Shock that Matters Most?

Filed under: Advertising — adamlauzon @ 9:51 PM
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This week as students of all ages are heading back to the classroom it seems only fitting to discuss a topic that stirred lots of debate in one of my advertising classes from the winter: the use of shock value in advertising.

Take a look at the following PSA recently released by the British Government that shows the dangers of text messaging while driving:

Not only is this a long PSA, topping in at over four minutes, but also graphic and pretty violent. I don’t know if the chain of events as depicted in this commercial is very likely, but most certainly plausible. Either way I’m sure it will make you think twice about reaching for the phone and text messaging someone the next time you’re on the road! The above clip hones in on a notion creative departments everywhere face, is there value in shock value?

For another example of advertising that uses shock value check out some of the campaigns that have been used by fashion company Benetton. Over time these campaigns, and the ads found within, became less about value and more about pure shock. Some communication professionals believe there is no such thing as bad publicity, but when people start boycotting your clothing line because of the offensive nature of your ads, there is the possibility to alienate the consumer. And when news of these boycotts gets coverage from internationally renowned news outlets, i.e. The Independent, The LA Times and CNN, the boycott can have lasting effects on company sales.

Looking at the ads on this page, the Bulgarian makers of Flirt Vodka seem to really enjoy using shock value, and sexuality, in their ads! Of course it’s no real surprise that alcohol companies are firm believers in the concept that sex sells, but this just seems needlessly graphic and over the top.

Advertisers aren’t the only ones guilty of using shock value to gain attention; everywhere you look there’s plenty of examples of other forums that will say just about anything to get your attention. Politicians are extremely bad when it comes to this. At a political debate you may hear a politician say, “I don’t care about crime”. Everyone pauses as they’re taken aback, “but what I do care about is how there is not sufficient measures in place to prevent criminal acts from happening”.

Some comedians use shock value in the form of racism, sexism or vulgarity. Take American comedian and ventriloquist Jeff Dunham, for instance. He has five or six characters he uses in his act, like Walter, Achmed the Dead Terrorist, and José Jalapeño on a Stick.

While I am a fan of his comedy, some of the jokes, even his character Achmed, I’m sure are included in his act purely for shock value and to gain attention. (By the way, the above linked YouTube clip of Achmed has amassed over 94 million views making it one of the most viewed videos on YouTube.

The primary reason for this behaviour in the advertisers, politicians, and comedians is the same: to use the shock value as a hook to get attention, to set themselves apart from their competition and get their message heard. The important component though when using shock value is that you must be able to back up the usually extreme position you’re taking, otherwise you come across as some radical just looking for some attention and everything you say will be dismissed and seen as having little credibility or value.

By using shock value advertisers are taking a big risk; conveying the same information in a different way/by taking a different approach. It’s so often said in creative departments that safe is forgettable, you must take risks to get rewarded.

The verdict: the value of the shock is so much more important than shock value. It is the message people are left with that is the value of the shock.

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