Now Anyone Can Be an Illustrator

While perusing through an online news magazine (NPR) the other day, I came across the above illustrations. Every time I see this kind of art, I want to cringe. It is this kind of display that makes me almost ashamed to call myself an illustrator. This is the state of current artwork shown in magazines and online sites, the kind of art that accompanies editorial articles these days.

There isn’t a colleague of mine who wouldn’t refer to this as anything other than garbage.

I was an illustrator in the 1970s and 1980s in Chicago, where drawing ability was a necessary factor in getting freelance assignments. In fact, you almost had to have an art rep in order to get in the door just to have a prospective client review your art portfolio, and art reps wouldn’t even begin to consider you as a talent without drawing ability.

By drawing ability, I’m referring to the acumen needed to draw realistic anatomy, features on faces and hands. There were other talented illustrators who could draw humorously with less realistic detail, but their style still required drawing faces and hands that showed they could articulate the actions needed to depict their figures’ agility. No matter your style, trying to get by without drawing those things would put you out on the street.

The Golden Age of illustration was early in the last century, when artists such as Howard Pyle and N. C. Wyeth were at the height of their careers. Drawing and painting were equally admired, each in different ways: drawing for the artists’ ability to depict realistic detail, and painting that showed color in a way that added mood or beauty to the drawn composition.

When I was in art & design school in the late 1960s, the admired illustrators like Bernie Fuchs, Mark English, and Bob Peak. These were illustrators in and around New York City, whose careers took them from the far corners of commercial art for advertising to the wider expanses of editorial art for magazines. They painted beautiful art for anything from Cadillac advertisements to movie posters, from simple splashy spots for soft drinks to story illustrations in Redbook and Ladie’s Home Journal.

I also admired Milton Glaser, a New York artist and designer who could do everything and often did both in an ad or design.

This was artwork. I can’t say the same about what’s displayed today.

These days, the illustration classes in art schools do not require the ability to draw, and it seems they prefer that you don’t. (My inquiring letter to Melanie Corn, the president of a well-known art school in the midwest, remains unanswered; I asked her if anatomy is still taught at her school, and if not, then why not.)

The art now shown in magazines and in online editorials seems to require that you have to visualize only internal feelings, such as anguish, hate, and frustration. If none of those, then only the ability to use tools such as Adobe Illustrator (third example, top right).

I’ve often told colleagues that the name Adobe Illustrator is a misnomer: you can draw with it only to a very limited degree, and then only mechanically in a very stilted way, that takes hours to do what would normally take—with a pencil—only minutes. There’s nothing intuitive about it. In the grand landscape of all art, Adobe Illustrator is more a design tool than anything. We use it in package design as a composition and production application.

So it appears anyone can become an illustrator now. No need to draw. Just scribble what depicts fear and anxiety. There is no more beauty—and real art—in today’s illustration. And that’s a real shame.

 

Absurd Animals & Vegetables

It never ceases to amaze me how far we’ve come in our daily living in the last 50 years, at least technically. But it never ceases to amuse me how stagnant we’ve remained in the last 50 years, in visual ideas.

I was watching television last week and remember commenting to my wife that cartoon movies, which have come so far in animation over the last eight decades, from acetate/still camera flat art to wild 3D, still have what they’ve always had—talking animals. From Steamboat Willie to The Secret Life of Pets 2. And movies especially have pushed the envelope: we’ve had talking toys, talking cars, and even talking trees.

Advertising is no different in many respects. I was watching the newest ad from K9 Advantix II, an ointment in a tube you apply to your dog’s coat in weekly or monthly applications to repel fleas and ticks—apparently more effective than merely having them wearing a collar. The ad I watched has several different breeds gathering around a campfire discussing their doggy anxieties about pests.

The ad instantly reminded me of one of several paintings I’d seen back in the day: dogs sitting around a card table playing poker. I don’t know where that image came from or who might’ve first painted it (there are different versions of it, some I believe showing at least one dog wearing a banker’s green visor.)

Of course, there are many other ads on TV having animals doing human things, such as cats playing piano (The Shelter Pet Project) and that know-it-all owl wearing glasses (America’s Best). Apparently America finds it absolutely hilarious seeing and hearing animals playing instruments and talking. It has been this way forever.

Then we have another kind of ad in which we find people dressed up as vegetables. This takes theater to a whole different spectrum. The first time I saw this was in the old Fruit of the Loom series from the 1970s. And then, it was inventive. Fruit of the Loom was pushing its line of men’s underwear, and with the company’s logo of assorted fruit, having a gaggle of goofy men dressed up as the depicted fruit from the logo was funny.

I would dare say that Land O’Frost Foods has obviously picked up on this theatrical idea. Land O’Frost makes packaged foods, one of which is their line of lunchmeat. And if you’ve seen their latest ad, it shows several lunchmeat ingredients sitting around a conference table supposedly discussing company food matters.

Actors dressed up as vegetables (or animals) is no longer a novel idea. Times change and audiences become more sophisticated. Their tolerance for some things goes down and some themes have long become tiresome.

One local ad series we see down here on the SunCoast of Florida is for an exterminator, in which actors are dressed up as roaches. They talk and think they’re funny, telling jokes a la Henny Youngman. Then the exterminator spokesman carts them off to his van. The whole schtick is as old as theater itself and is very tacky. Yet there are countless advertisers still using this trite gimmick.

I think the reason they go to that bastion of hackneyed themes is that a business owner who takes himself too seriously in a series of TV ads is going to look too self-important. But if he uses a humorous approach, it may work regardless of how old the line is. Of course, law ads can’t be too humorous, and by contrast, an ad for an exterminator shouldn’t be too serious. Getting sued is always serious, but a bug infestation can be funny—as long as it’s not yours.

Talking animals, on the other hand, somehow perpetuate to infinity. Don’t ask me why.

 

Newer Is Better

(This is a repost from the original back in March of 2018. Dan Blanchette is on assignment.)

Why does a company introduce a new package for a seemingly ordinary line? Can’t they use an existing brand and indicate that it‘s new?

Well, yes (sorry) they could. But it wouldn’t have the impact that a brand new line would. Remember, good design has impact. And in packaging, impact is almost everything. Without it, a package will die on the store shelf.

And there‘s nothing like a brand new package for a brand new line in a food company‘s pantheon of products. They can make it whatever they want to be: new graphics, new photography, new colors, new copy, new name. They can make the PDP, the primary display panel, anything they want. In this case, that front of the can, it can be anything they need it to be, that endangered 40% of the label.

Campbell‘s new line of soups has a catchy name. Well Yes, of course, refers to “wellness”, one of those words I feel is kind of dumb, like “tiredness”. But no matter. It works here, and the semi-freeform design of the name works, also. Especially sitting as it does on the label. And the flavor SKU sits right below it, and the photo of the main ingredients sits right below that. 1, 2, 3. Easy and direct.

And this new label treats the consumer like he/she has a brain: there’s no “beauty” shot of a bowl of soup on the front. Don’t need it. Everyone knows what a bowl of soup looks like. It’s the ingredients that count. And the label has plenty of areas denoting what the health information is, mostly in a large and easy-to-read panel on the back.

They have fourteen SKUs in this new line (so far), all without artificial colors or flavors. Campbell’s says each has “purposeful” ingredients. And that, of course, is in line with the relatively recent wave of consumer-minded things like “organic” and “non-GMO” tags you see on food packaging. But in this new line, not all are non-GMO ad none are organic. Some are delineated as vegetarian or vegan, according to their ingredients. If you’re looking for protein or fiber, they have those, too.

So it’s new. And it’s different (part of what Campbell’s calls the Sage Project). And Campbell’s knows that if it’s new and has that impact they need, consumers will see it, pick it up, and read the label. And because the design is friendly and informative, and having all those friendly ingredients pictured right there, people will buy it. Yes, partly because it’s Campbell’s—a name we trust. But the design really carries it.

And the large “Yes!” in the name is instantly inviting. It has an intrinsic, positive vibe. Everything in the design (and ingredients) is positive. It’s no wonder that Campbell’s decided it had to be a new line. It was such a fun thing to do.

 

 

 

 

A Menu Redesign

This is a menu I was recently asked to redesign for a restaurant here in Florida, the Siesta Key Oyster Bar, otherwise known locally by its initials, “SKOB”.

As soon as I laid eyes on the existing menu (whose pages are the three examples on top), I was instantly aware of two things: clutter—especially of unnecessary background items, and poor contrast between typography colors and background colors. Clutter creates many things, none of which add to clarity of organization no matter how you look at anything. Poor contrast between copy and background creates poor readability.

I mean, why on earth would you design a menu for a high profile place to eat and drink and make it hard for the customers to read it?

The existing menu, as I was later to find out, was created by a designer who works for one of the restaurant liquor distributors in the area. The menu didn’t cost the restaurant anything to have it produced. That was a courtesy of the distributor to secure business with the restaurant. Free is not always good.

In this particular case, SKOB is a high profile restaurant in the Sarasota area of Florida. Siesta Key is a tourist spot on the Gulf of Mexico, and the nearby beach is probably the largest white sand beach in Florida, one that’s used for several events during the year, such as the Siesta Key Classic Sand Castle Competition. Plus, the real estate values in that area are hard to beat along the gulf coast.

So you have to wonder why a good restaurant such as this would have their patrons look at and read a poorly designed menu. Not only is “free” not necessarily good, but the presence of money does not necessarily make good design of anything just happen by itself. Ignorance has no price.

The cover of the existing menu (top left) has everything in it but a beached whale. There’s too many things that vie for attention: the way the name of the restaurant at the top is treated reminds one of the old vacation postcards from the 1950s; then we have the red lifeguard shack; next is the logo at bottom left of the layout, needlessly repeating the name of the place; and then the extra clutter at the bottom caused by a flock of seagulls, giving us bad readability, against an otherwise clean span of beach.

My approach (bottom row of examples) uses fewer distracting elements in the background. I felt the cover should be the first example of simplicity in welcoming patrons to the restaurant. Since this is a cocktail menu, putting a simple tropical drink in a beach setting seemed to be the easiest way to convey relaxation and appetite near the beach.

The client called for a realignment of sections in the menu (hence the reason my first inside page does not have exact corresponding copy as in the existing menu). Their first inside page is full of copy describing each cocktail, with small type reversed out of a background of overlapping palm fronds. I can see people squinting just trying to read the menu at this point. I went with a fresh approach of non-clutter with easy readability of copy and just a few seashells on a simple sand texture, with tropical banana plant leaves calling attention to the different drink categories.

Their next page is not nearly as bad as the previous one, but repeating the background image here felt too easy. I opted for a change of pace with different beach sand and surf.

I always remember one of good design’s adages: simple is best. The fewer items, the better, when it comes to communications (print and web, menus included). You can add visual interest to any layout, but not to the point of clutter, and readability—one of good design’s staples—is always paramount.

 

Music As Sound Design

I like music in television, provided it doesn’t get in the way.

And it occurs to me that in putting together a TV show, the producers would know that the content—the subject matter of the show itself—would be the focus of it. In “reality” TV, what we’re supposed to be shown, I would assume, is an informative presentation.

But I think that depends on the “channel” you’re watching. And of course cable television has innumerable places to catch the kind of show you want to view, especially if it is reality based. But finding what you want to see may be tricky. In the relatively formative years of cable channel lineups, it was easier to find shows based on the format of the channel. For example, TLC used to be The Learning Channel, but these days that moniker does not actually encompass what is generally offered there. Historic shows aren’t necessarily found on The History Channel—they could be on The Smithsonian Network or even Discovery. So it goes.

My wife and I have been up and down the “dial” in finding shows we like, and like most people, we stick to what we find enjoyable. But I notice that even with a show whose content I might find interesting, the accompanying music can be annoying. And so today’s column is about that: music as sound design. (I won’t add a sound design category just for this.)

If design is everything (which I believe is and which I postulated back in 2017), then everything you see and feel (and even hear) watching TV is part of the show or commercial, and therefore part of the overall presentation—and planned. The producers want you to hear that music. And if that music is weaved into the fabric of the presentation, if it truly becomes incidental, you almost don’t consciously hear it. Unless of course it becomes intrusive.

I was watching Tiny House, Big Living this morning on DIY Network, a show about building small, convertible mobile houses for people on modest budgets. They’ll build you a home that has less than 500 square feet of living space and make it livable for two people. They make the place with spaces that double as kitchen and laundry areas, living room/bedroom spaces, etc., and with nice appointments made from quality materials. Their work is actually impressive the way they can maximize space. But in watching the construction crew, the producers have you listening to guitar music that might’ve been played by the band who did the transition music from Friends. And it sounds much louder than it needs to be.

Another show we watch is Gold Rush on the Discovery Channel. This show, if you’ve never seen it, is about gold mining in Alaska. It follows three crews of miners using bulldozers, scoop loaders, and other earth moving machines along with standard gold sifters such as sluices to find gold. And they do a very good job of getting the gold, some better that others. Here, because of the continuing crews, you get attached to them and tend to root for your favorites because of the contentious yet friendly atmosphere. But once again, there’s music, for the most part when the crews suffer damages to equipment and then must rally to fix it, whereupon the producers will have you listening to heroic, almost Olympic style music so you can enjoy the comeback-from-disaster challenges along with the crew. It’s empathetic, I would guess. But the music tends to be repetitious, and it happens every week, and generally with all three crews.

Then we have another example for intrusive music with The Great British Baking Show on PBS. And here, like a lot of things British (or so it seems), the producers have you listening to what I’d call tedious music passages. The home-based bakers are all given time limits for baking anything from complicated breads and cakes to thematic monstrosities that would challenge any home cook. And during the competition, the camera crew is focusing on closeups of the process, the facial expressions of the contenders, and often the mistakes they may make, which then of course, like all other shows, is edited down to the quick cuts necessary to give maximum impact for anxious expectancy. And that anxiousness is accompanied by the tedious music, always recorded by a chamber orchestra with violins twittering their repetitious tinny notes, practically like Flight of the Bumblebee.

I will say, however, that if it weren’t for the music here on this baking show, you wouldn’t feel nearly as much in tune with the bakers’ nervousness.

So music does help you along in viewing and in empathy for the performers (or miners and carpenters) if two things don’t happen to make you tired of it: repetition of the same music, and if the music isn’t played at volume.

Design can encompass many senses: visual, tactile, and even aural. Good design uses them proportionately to achieve an end result that’s a harmonious, and pleasing experience. Bad design will use one or more of them to a disproportionate degree, with an annoying result.

 

A Package Design That Remains True

      

(This article appeared in September 2017. Dan is taking the week off.)

As package designs go, few in the marketplace stay true to form as much as Frito-Lay’s. That Dallas firm has recognized their customer better than most.

Sure, there are others such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi, those long standing brands from way back (more than 100 years). As history records it, Coca Cola has been around since 1886. Likewise, Pepsi Cola emerged from a local drink—originally “Brad’s Drink” from a pharmacist in North Carolina—in 1898.

The Frito Company was born in 1932. Charles Doolin bought a recipe from a local corn chip manufacturer in San Antonio for $100, and along with a manual potato ricer and an oven, started making his own snack. I had a tough time running down the history of the name, but he called them “Fritos”—I would imagine meaning “fried” or “fritter”.

A year later he’d moved upstate to Dallas and by 1945 granted a license to H. W. Lay & Company (Lay’s Potato Chips) to make and distribute Fritos in the southeast. By 1961, the two merged into Frito-Lay. Then in 1965, Pepsi and Frito-Lay merged, and things were sunny for both companies after that. A year later, Doritos was born.

The name Doritos was derived from the Spanish “doradito”, meaning golden brown.

The thing about Doritos, as in all the Frito-Lay brands, is that it’s maintained the same design flavor, meaning it’s kept its brand design equity in two distinct areas: color and style. The red-orange-yellow color palette tells the consumer that the taste is bold and spicy, and the design style of the type and graphics tells us it’s festive.

Experience just one taste of Nacho Doritos and you won’t forget it. Just seeing the package on the store shelf reminds your taste buds of the spicy flavor.

Looking at the history of the package from left to right reinforces all this. From the 70s’ color blocks through the freeform scribble designs of the 90s reflect the zapping taste inside the bag. And lately the lightning-esque triangle shape of the chips reminds us of what’s inside, that true-to-form snack that remains true to itself.

How many brands across the spectrum can you honestly say remain true to form such as this? Relatively not many.

 

Color is Relative

One of the many areas we covered in design school was color. We hit the ground running with a foundation year subject called Color Concept, where we not only studied color, but we learned how to move it around a composition, how to manipulate it and use it to bring a viewer’s eye around to focal points within the frame of reference—the boundaries of the composition—how to modulate it.

This was a big step for each of us. And in learning about any color, we found that one of its attributes is that it’s relative to other colors around it, meaning that its appearance can change. And that was something you could control only by altering those other colors.

The human eye adjusts for color comparisons. Here I’m talking about color’s main attributes: color has both value (lightness or darkness) and chroma (saturation).

The human eye can see color relativity only by comparison. For example, putting a gray square on a white background, then the same on a black background, you see just how the gray tends to change. It appears dark against that white background, but much lighter against the black. Our eyes adjust for that comparison automatically.

Our eyes are exactly like cameras. We squint in bright light conditions, and our pupils contract in size, letting in a small amount of light on the retina. Conversely, our pupils open up wider in dim light and thereby allow additional light to reach the retina so we can see greater detail. That’s just how a camera’s aperture works—if you use shutter priority for the camera’s basic shooting preference.

Color also changes with environment. Say you’re in Sherwin-Williams looking for a color to paint your bedroom. You see a soft blue tone that might match your bedspread and you pick out a few chips that’ll come close. So you head home, and when you arrive and put those chips on the wall, you discover that the color has changed. Either it’s too light or too dark, or even that it’s too drab. What changed?

The environment in your home is not at all the same as in that paint store. The lighting is not the same. And light has a tremendous amount of influence over color. As photographers know, fluorescent light, incandescent light, and daylight all have different wavelengths, tricking your eyes from seeing the true color of anything.

A color’s chroma works in a different way with regard to relativity. The chroma changes by way of the color’s placement among other colors. As an exercise, we’ll compare a color above to see how it can change before your eyes.

I’m borrowing two of Hans Hofman’s paintings for today’s examples. Look at the left-hand image above and focus in on the ochre color at the top, just right of center. Now in looking at the right-hand image, see if you can find the color that is the same ochre tone. There’s only one small portion that’s the same color. I adjusted the tones to match in Photoshop before placing them in today’s examples.

A clue: that ochre color in the left-hand image looks much greener than it does in the right-hand image. And that’s because of the red around it. I suppose you could say that a color is judged by the company it keeps.

We’ll see the answer in next week’s column.

Playing Card Pips & the Heart Symbol—a History Lesson

Ever wonder where playing cards got their pips? Ever wonder how the heart symbol came to be?

Playing cards has been in my personal experience for as far back as I can remember. I learned playing War as a child, games such as Hearts and Canasta in high school, Euchre and Spades in college, Contract Bridge in the Army. My wife and I and our relatives play Bridge and Euchre all the time today.

For anyone learning to play card games, however, it becomes a curiosity to find just how those symbols came to denote the four basic suits. The answer is as clouded in history as any legend ever was, as it turns out. There are many sources of information on this topic, and depending on where you look, different stories.

Most sources believe that card playing itself started in China around the eighth or ninth century. The form was “paper tiles”, more like dominoes than actual cards, but as cultures across borders became mixed with trade routes, places like India and Arabia picked up the practice of card games and the form developed into a more durable substrate. Eventually the games made their way into Europe, but that practice wasn’t always considered just games.

As most everyone knows, the church was the most dominant of governance centuries ago, and the clergy saw devilish aspects in such practices, especially with regard to the Tarot practices in France and in eastern Europe. Plus other card games were an easy way for thieves to trick unsuspecting people. Bait and switch, sleight-of-hand, and “magic” made things “disappear”, and the law was right around the corner to prosecute the offenders. Shell games and two-headed coins and other forms of trickery were always being invented to try to gain the advantage, but cards made things a little easier because they were ready-made. Some governments plainly outlawed the playing of card games for many years. A Paris law from 1377 forbade the playing of card games on workdays because the pastime got out of control—everyone was playing cards.

And the pastime grew across all classes, whether they were noblemen, butchers, horse traders, or prisoners. Plus the various countries developed common symbols on the cards, further making it easy to play when traveling across borders. Some countries used bells as pips (Germany), while others like France started using things like diamonds. The Atlantic states in a recent article that historians believe the pips depict the four classes of Medieval society: hearts (for the clergy’s cups and chalices), spades (from the swords of nobility and the military), diamonds (from the merchants), and clubs (from the batons of the peasants or even the policean occupation long considered low class). These became the standard, based on a centuries-old French interpretation.

The heart, however, has its own strange history. While I was in design school, there was a rumor circulating that the heart symbol—which looks not at all like the internal organ—was a graphic depiction of sensual portions of the female anatomy. But it was only a rumor, and further investigation proved this to be false.

Heart-shaped leaves were used in artistic drawings from ancient times—from around the fourth century BCE—in what is now Pakistan. The heart shape was used to depict seeds from a long extinct plant known as Silphium, which grew in some Mid- and Far-Eastern countries, including what is now Libya. An ancient coin with that symbol is shown in the visual at bottom left.

The heart symbol itself is also classified as an ideograph, meaning it’s a glyph depicting a concept. A 1250s depiction of what some believe is a heart symbolizing romantic love is shown in an art miniature. That miniature is shown above at bottom right, where a man offers what appears to be his heart to a woman, professing undying love. There is some disagreement among scholars as to the exact shape being offered in that miniature and what it actually could be, however. The title of the manuscript that features that miniature is entitled “Novel of the Pear”, suggesting that the object could be a pear. I’ve seen some pears and even peaches that take on the shape very similar to that of a heart.

The “scalloped” shape of the heart was first used in a 14th century miniature, dented at the base (bottom), and used as a motif (repeating pattern). This was the first indication of the now familiar glyph, although upside down, which later, through different usage, became right-sided with the dent on top and its point now downward. That design has prevailed and been used on playing cards since the late 15th century.

As to the similarities in actual historic usage (Silphium plant seed on the ancient coin) and the stylized graphics supposedly drawn from features of the female body, these are merely speculative and hold no basis in fact.

 

The Scene is the Same, But Not the Message

I know, I know. How tired we all are with these commercials. Especially the big three of insurance commercials: Geico, Progressive, and Liberty Mutual. Nationwide and Allstate are not far behind in frequency.

I actually enjoy watching these ads for the most part (caveat coming). And apparently, so do enough viewers that Geico recently had a website by which you could vote among ten of their ads for your favorite (my fave was not among the ten listed candidates).

But Geico has a somewhat unique position in this. They’ve had different series running for some time now, to include themes like the caveman and the gecko. The gecko has his own long-running gig going and that may run for much longer yet. But they’ve had one-offs with things like the camel and then the absurd series with the zen gardener and the karate wood chopper. Geico’s creative agency has limitless ideas.

Then there’s Progressive, with only two themes: Flo and Jimmy for one, and then the “box” for the other. No one seems to know what the box is (other than to represent the insurance policy), but his lounge lizard persona actually makes me laugh. And I’m glad for Progressive that they have that box, because—and here’s my caveat—Flo and Jimmy can’t go away fast enough for my tastes. And that’s what works for Geico: they change it up often enough that you don’t tire of any of their themes.

Liberty Mutual has had their ad series (“Liberty Stands with You”) of using the backdrop of the Hudson River/Statue of Liberty going now for around five years. The top two visuals are examples of the actors questioning the accepted standards of competing insurance companies (“What good is insurance if you get charged for using it?”). I liked that series, because each actor brought a different slant on how insurance is used or abused from the standpoint of the consumer.

But lately, Liberty Mutual has taken a different direction while still using the backdrop for their “Only Pay for What You Need” campaign. They’re writing humorous spots now, such as the cycler with “customized” calves and the guy who’s in the witness protection program. What changed? Did Liberty think they were missing out on something? Did one of the account execs decide that Liberty was taking itself too seriously?

The answer is yes and yes. Liberty Mutual decided that the old style in this series was too staid. The earlier versions were informative, but feedback was that family viewers were gliding right over the ads without really looking while they were fixing their evening meals. The ad execs were getting a little frustrated that Geico’s ads were watercooler gabfest material and their’s were not. A change had to be made.

Exit Havas Worldwide ad agency, enter Goodby Silverstein & Partners. According to GSP’s executive creative director David Suarez, “The evolution we made was just to give those customers a little more color and let it be more overtly funny versus the traditional testimonial style. The clients were hungry for the work to be more breakthrough.” Suarez’s team brought in the creative minds from Barton F. Graf (known for Little Caesar’s) to inject the absurd humor angles. And apparently, Liberty Mutual is happy with the results.

Personally, I would’ve changed up the backdrop to differentiate the new attitude. Liberty broke the sequence—the consistency—with the absurd humor angle. Sure, the Statue is their monogram. But “liberty” can be stated in so many different ways. Liberty doesn’t have to be so literal. Freedom can be a synonymous underlying theme, something that might be nice for insurance companies to examine.

And so, another thing to consider is this: does every commercial have to be funny? If too many ads on TV are of the humor variety, your funny commercial starts to get lost in the shuffle. Sometimes a serious series of commercials—depending on placement—can be way more effective.

Either way, the issue I have here is in the packaging: the series looks the same at first inspection, most probably because Liberty Mutual has fallen in love with the backdrop. And if you the viewer are not attuned to the new script angle, you’ll ignore the commercials because the scenery hasn’t changed.

My take from this is that Liberty Mutual has already missed several million new viewers.