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.


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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.

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Pharma Ads Farm ’70s Songs

I didn’t know when it started happening, but what seems like a few years ago (ten? twenty?) advertisers started using clips of old songs—with even alterations of the lyrics of those songs—for background music to sell their products on television.

According to some sources, the disappearance of jingles started happening as early as the late 1960s. Advertisers began to think that the old jingles previously used would begin to sound old-fashioned to younger ears—teenagers and young adults, more and more—certainly by the ’70s. And as we all know, advertisers like to target most of their ads toward that coveted 18-to-34 age bracket.

Of course, music itself was changing, as it always will. But how music is marketed would play a part in what happened to TV commercials, as we’ll soon see. I wrote an article on the demise of the TV jingle (see my entry from January of this year, “The Soundtrack of Our lives?”). My focus today is to show how and why advertisers are using past music to accompany their messages.

There is a consensus among advertising historians that Michael Jackson was the first to make the foray into making an already released song a part of TV advertising when he adapted his hit “Billie Jean” for a Pepsi commercial in 1984. After that, celebrity-partnered ad campaigns began popping up (RunDMC with Adidas and Madonna with Pepsi).

You’d think that perhaps advertisers were misappropriating old music for their ads—especially Big Pharma. After all, Big Pharma—the largest drug companies in this country—are spending huge sums of money to promote their meds. This year alone, to date, four of the top pharmaceutical companies (Pfizer, Eli Lilly, AbbVie, and Bristol-Myers Squib) have spent $2.81 billion on TV ads, and that’s only 40% of all the drug ads on TV. Meaning, viewers, Big Pharma will be blowing over $7 billion by year’s end. Is that crazy?

That prime age bracket for targeted ads has been augmented to include retirees when it comes to advertising meds and medical services. After all, baby boomers make up around 25% of the consumer market, and Big Pharma would be remiss in ignoring the massive potential in revenue here. And since the music industry was already making the mechanism of licensing work for whoever wanted to use it, Big Pharma naturally gravitated to songs that were most associated with the age bracket they wanted to key on. So 1970’s music—pop songs anywhere from 40 to nearly 50 years old—were natural for the pickings.

And as we’ve seen before, TV viewers remember music as a subliminal thing, and advertisers depend on this link for viewers to remember the med. Of course, Big Pharma puts these ads on TV so doctors won’t be able to ignore their patients’ questions about them, promoting the sale through the medical system itself.

The above examples show the use of ’70s tunes: left, we have Ozempic—a drug for type 2 diabetes—using Pilot’s “Magic”, a tune from 1974; at center, we see Anoro—a COPD drug—using Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” from 1977; and at right, we’ve got Trelegy—another COPD med—using “ABC” (one-two-three), the catchy 1970 song from the Jackson 5.

Bands and solo artists have been hurting in recent years by the industry’s way of marketing music. Streaming and selling music online has truncated the amount of money made. With no retail outlets, the way music is purchased has made it practically necessary that music artists use licensing in every and any way they can. It used to be regarded as “selling out”—making your music too “commercial”. But the tide was rolling, and too much money was at stake to be ignored. Last year, revenue from licensed music amounted to over $355 billion in the U.S.

Do I like it? No. I don’t want to remember music like this. The way the advertising industry has corraled music to its use has created a miasma of sound and imagery you can’t run away from, no matter where you are—such as in a movie theater awaiting the feature film or even watching youtube.com.

Almost like tones in a watercolor that run together, it all becomes a blur of subliminal noise that leads me to think of mind control.




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Progressive Never Gets It Right

I know I’ve talked about Progressive Insurance before, but I love beating a dead horse—this one, anyway.

In the past, I spoke about TV ads for Charter Communications’ Spectrum and how well they were designed and scripted. Their “monster” series was the freshest I’d seen in years, and in the article I posted, I referred to a copycat ad from Progressive using the same scenario (monster under the child’s bed).

Well here we are, boys and girls, in the fall of 2018 and Progressive is still at it. They see something they like and admire. Then they copy it. Not an original bone in their collective bodies, whoever the creatives are at Arnold Worldwide.

The left visual is from the latest in a series from Geico. And I’ve written about this series which started with the “zen gardening” spot. This series of ads is original and quirky and is among the best ad efforts in recent memory. The thinking is fresh and leaves the viewer wanting to see it again and again, if only to figure whom the ads are for—which is OK. They’ve gathered your attention with your first viewing and made you wonder; after that, they have you once you see it’s Geico.

That’s the thing about television. The medium isn’t like print or the web. Television advertisers know that they buy ad space that allows repeated commercial air times, and that in turn allows them to capture your attention. They can sidestep the old advertising adage about making sure the consumer gets it right the first time to avoid confusion.

I remember a series of ads that ran in a magazine decades ago depicting a brand of alcoholic beverage. They’d run a teaser on one page of the publication one week, then another the next week, and finally the last ad in the third week which would then reveal everything you needed to know about it. Not a very good ad campaign as it turned out: it left readers disinterested by the second week.

But TV ads are ubiquitous and run often enough that you can’t miss them, and if they’re interesting enough—such as the Geico series—we actually want to see them again. Which is the best thing an advertiser can hope for.

Which is what Progressive can only dream about. With characters like Flo and Jamie, viewers get irritated and tired of bad ad ideas and then recognize plagiarism when they see it.

In the Geico spot at left, the series has already laid the groundwork with careful scripting and one-time characters for each spot. So it’s easy to accept the format knowing we’ll see a new entry each time. It’s soft sell wrapped in a quirky setting.

With the spot at right, Progressive not only tries too hard with the offbeat premise, they feel they need to explain the situation with characters (including the long tiresome Flo) who are watching the scene from the background. This is hard sell unwrapped as counterfeit.

And this is the real difference: Geico doesn’t need to explain anything, knowing that viewers are sophisticated enough to pick up the idea behind the absurdity of the theme, while Progressive doesn’t give the viewing audience credit for that.

Progressive is smart enough to know what works, but only after they see their competitor’s ads. In trying to top them, it fails miserably.


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What’s Actually Going On Here?

There are a number of television commercials out there these days that ostensibly address nothing in particular within the confines of the air space they occupy.

They might be referred to as “soft sell”, the old epithet describing the opposite of “hard sell”, which means to push the product or service in an obvious way. Advertising in general is almost always soft these days. It’s become practically politically incorrect to hard sell anything, an equivalent of using all caps in an email.

Geico is quite good at using the soft sell, especially of late, using absurd visuals to illustrate the needless worrisome conflicts of consumers looking to buy insurance. But other advertisers are not good at all at what they’re trying to do.

The above are visuals from a Lincoln Navigator commercial, this from the series featuring the actor Matthew McConaughey. In all the TV spots of this series, none of them do anything other than feature the actor’s facial expressions, his smiles, his confidence, his self-assuredness. We see nothing—no attribute whatsoever—of the vehicle.

I mean no features, no details, no closeups, no sounds of this vehicle. He could be driving anything from a Kia Soul to a Tesla, and we’d still be looking at his face.

I’ve seen all of the ads in this series, and I have to say this is without doubt the softest series of ads I’ve ever seen. They’re so soft, they might be considered an inverse of the category, like it’s gone too far, a virtual implosion of soft sell.

Here’s an actual description of the ad, which I quote from iSpot TV, an analytic source for TV ads:

After driving a Lincoln Navigator along a scenic road, Matthew McConaughey brings the vehicle to a stop. It’s as if he senses the rattling train tracks ahead as he taps his fingers on the steering wheel to the beat. He drums in anticipation, and when he points at the crossing gate, it lowers. The intensity of the beat grows and he is fully immersed in the rhythm of the passing train. When the gate rises, he presses a button to put the vehicle in drive and is on his way once more.

Wow. That’s it? That’s how far this is from soft sell. It’s literally passive. So is this about the Lincoln Navigator or is it about McConaughey? Another ad in the series shows McConaughey and his Navigator being ferried across a waterway, again with similar drama.

Lincoln must love this guy. Mr. McConaughey has been a prominent actor for well over twenty years, starring in such movies as Contact, A Time to Kill, Dallas Buyers Club, and Interstellar. I won’t comment on his acting ability, but his apparent attitude in these Lincoln ads gives the series a smarmy implication.

Is that what Lincoln is trying to put across? That owning and driving this vehicle imparts a slick confidence right through the steering wheel? A wheel that we can only guess what it looks like…

Also from the same descriptive passage from iSpot TV:

Lincoln reveals that its 2018 Navigator is J.D. Power’s most appealing vehicle with the highest score of any vehicle in the last six years. (I thought Chevrolet claimed that among its J.D. Power awards.)

If Lincoln can claim that, I suppose it doesn’t really need to show the Navigator’s features. Just the fact that Matthew McConaughey likes it.

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The Non Sequitur

You have to hand it to Geico. They never give up.

And this latest round of commercials, from without doubt the leading advertiser in insurance on television, is genius. At first, you might say, “What’s the point?” But subsequent viewings—which I’m more than certain Geico would like you to experience—will demonstrate that there is just a thread of visual connection to the message.

They probably sat around in a conference room and thought how far out they could go to make the visuals as absurd as they could get away with and yet keep the viewers interested just by the craziness of them. They aren’t funny in the conventional sense. But it all sounds perfect to me.

The latest one running in this series (there have been many series, starting with the caveman) has an actor portraying Alexander Graham Bell with his invention sitting in a balcony of a theater, then answering his telephone during the play running onstage. Who takes his/her phone with them to a play? We do—in our pockets or purse. But never mind. It’s the absurdity of hearing the newfound contraption ringing in the balcony, a la 1875.

And of course, Geico segues into the sales pitch eloquently enough, with just a thread of connection to the scene.

The visual at left was the first in this series. Called “Zen Gardener“, it has this worried renter trying to do some gardening with sand in his apartment. In walks his girlfriend who talks him into looking into Geico because he’s worried about coverage or expense or whatever. She tells him she’s been using Geico for years, then helps him clean up by going to the closet to retrieve the dustpan, and when she opens the door, another cubic yard of sand spills out. It’s ridiculous, totally absurd. But by that time, the voiceover tells us, “Get to know Geico to see how easy getting homeowner’s and renter’s insurance can be.”

The visual at right follows the same premise, only in this scene we see the guy on the left with the same concerns about his insurance who tries to sublimate by collecting and snapping bubble wrap (his walls are covered in it, too). Again, absurd.

The thing that Geico has latched onto is knowing how TV commercials are watched by the current viewing public. And that is with one eye at best and no eyes most of the time.

Commercials are just another thing to be avoided by most TV viewers. And of course a widely growing TV audience is searching for ever creative ways to do that avoiding, not the least of which is recording their pet shows on their DVR and zipping past the commercials when they view those recordings later.

And of course, the contemporary audience has more places on the proverbial dial to switch to at any given hour. Television is so vast compared to what it was even twenty years ago. And advertisers find every nook and cranny to fill all the ad spots they can afford.

But being different is still king in getting viewers’ attention. In all design, from package design to automobile design, having a different angle, a different viewpoint, a different way to make people see and think, that has always been and will continue to be the ticket to having consumers take notice.

And once you have their attention, the rest is easy.


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This Is Ridiculous

My wife and I were watching television several weeks ago when we saw the above ad for Schick’s Hydro Silk TrimStyle razor for women, which is made for those women who wear bikini swimwear.

We couldn’t believe our eyes. “Are you kidding?” we said almost simultaneously.

Television has come a long way in its permissiveness. I can remember watching shows back in the late ’50s and early ’60s where Ozzie and Harriet and all the other married TV couples slept in twin beds, because studios weren’t allowed to show them sharing the same bed.

That was part of an era in Hollywood governed by The Motion Picture Production Code, a period of time between 1930 and 1968. Often called the “Hays Code”, it deemed what was morally acceptable for public audiences to see in movie theaters. Will H. Hays was the president of the Motion Picture Association of America, and under his leadership, the MPAA began its strict enforcement of that code starting in 1934.

Hollywood, in its early days of making silent pictures, had its share of scandal with the murder of a famous director (William Desmond Taylor) and the alleged rape of a starlet by the famous actor Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. Religious and political organizations were appalled at the apparent “wild west” atmosphere of the fledging motion picture industry, and with the Black Sox scandal in Major League Baseball (having of course nothing to do with Hollywood), and the rise of bootlegging and gangsters in the 1920s, the Hays group felt it necessary to impose its moral rules and keep Hollywood “clean”.

After World War 2, television came into its golden period. (Television was actually invented in 1925 by Philo Farnsworth; Philco, Westinghouse and RCA developed their machines in the ’30s, but the formative television business didn’t get off the ground until after the war ended.) Hollywood wanted to get into television for two reasons: one, as a hedge from the upstart TV business—couples were staying home and raising families and not spending the time going out to movies; and two, since they already had the production facilities, why not make TV shows and cash in by having advertisers run commercials just like the radio industry?

Of course, with the Hays Code already in place, the same rules applied. Anything morally suspect was not allowed. A long list of items was spelled out, such as illegal trafficking and use of drugs, inference of sexual perversion (subject to interpretation by a committee), vulgar language, miscegenation (sex between black and white races), any depiction of venereal disease, and a man and a woman in the same bed. The list was way longer than that and included showing white slavery, rape, branding of people or animals, surgical operations, and gratuitous brutality of children or animals.

It took many years for Hollywood—whose star system faded in the 1960s—to loosen its grip on the code. Morals were changing, and the public (and younger directors) wanted realism on the screen. European movies had long reflected an open and less restrictive genre, so the American studios began to relent. By the 1970s, TV shows came of age.

There was, however, one last vestige of the Hollywood code: the Family Viewing Hour, the first hour of prime time TV each night, that enforced similar rules. Established by the FCC in 1975, it felt it had to enforce “family-friendly” programming from 8 to 9 PM EST. But it didn’t last long. The Writers Guild sued, citing violations of the First Amendment, and won.

But what about censorship in TV commercials? I mean, the commercial above is not crude pictorially, but it is suggestive and more than repugnant to some viewers. Look what we have today in TV ads: erectile dysfunction, condoms, birth control devices, bladder control, IUD issues, catheters, etc. The medical industry loves all this. I hate seeing it, but there they are.

I know the Schick ad is about beauty and/or hygiene, but the way it’s depicted is a little out-of-bounds.

Apparently there are no rules. Advertisers are censoring themselves, keeping what they individually feel are within—or just barely within—moral guidelines.

I wonder what the commercials along this line will be like in another twenty years.

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Talking Boxes

I sometimes wonder at the ad world where we have animated objects speaking to us either directly or indirectly, as though a talking dummy or marionette has our complete attention. The idea has me thinking of Chuck and Bob from the 1970’s TV comedy, Soap. In that show, Jay Johnson plays Chuck, a ventriloquist, whose dummy, Bob, has the other characters befuddled with his sharp wit. The main actors find themselves (especially Billy Crystal) talking directly to the dummy.

And I think we are no more intelligent than those actors in that show listening to Bob. At least, some of the time.

There are a few more examples of talking boxes than the ones shown above, but these are the most prominent. I’m sure you’ve seen the Cologuard commercials. Here we have what appears to be the actual product kit—or at least a facsimile of one—speaking directly to us about the rather private process of submitting a sample for the screening of colon cancer. The box is personified by an unknown actor whose voice has a muted, understated quality suited well to the product.

The ad series was developed by Precisioneffect, whose nickname for the kit is “little CG”. A company called Exact Sciences produces the screening product, and according to their marketing director, the aim is to bring attention to a personal choice for addressing an important issue in a less confrontational way.

I’ve seen perhaps three different Cologuard spots. Each has a soft demeanor, and is instructional. So we listen.

On the other hand, the Progressive Insurance talking box is another story. Here we have what so far appears to be a series of around a dozen spots featuring this smarmy, conceited box which in a series of circumstances speaks about his ennui, his heartfelt travels around the world, his travails getting through airport security, and even his trouble finding speaking engagements while addressing elementary grade students at “career day”.

I have to say that this box is well-designed, and the facial expressions are dead-on, especially that wide angular mouth that spouts off anything the brain behind it wants you to hear.

The ads for Progressive are done by Arnold, the big ad agency known for many other TV commercials, including Jack Daniels and Ocean Spray. Here the box is personified by Chris Parnell, the comedian from SNL and 30 Rock, whose voice is highly suited for over-reaching personalities. He’s one of the best in television.

Nothing against Parnell, but only a few of the ads are funny and after several viewings they get boring and tiresome. Which is a shame because the production is well done mixing animation with real-life actors. Plus, we have no idea what the box is supposed to represent. One source I came across tells us the box is supposed to be the Progressive Insurance policy. (We’d seen scores of them on shelves behind Flo’s desk in previous commercials, and even then wondered if those were representing case studies as in a law library, but knowing how wacky Flo can be, throw that thought away.)

Which brings up another thought: Progressive seems to want to outdo itself buy promoting with Flo and her “working” cohorts and also with this goofy talking box. Do you feel the two series are competing with each other? Or do you feel that it can work, such as in the Geico series (caveman versus the gecko)?

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More Gimmicks

There’s a trend in recent TV advertising in which what you see onscreen does not necessarily have any significance to what the delivered message is. And Geico Insurance is using it. I believe there are a few other advertisers using a similar gimmick, although right now I can’t recall them specifically.

The ads run like this: two people in the space (scene 1 above is a commercial gym while in scene 2 below we have a painting classroom) are talking about the benefits of Geico Insurance, but in succeeding camera cuts there are changes occurring to the point of ridiculousness.

The ad at the top ran during much of 2016 and 2017, while the ad at the bottom is running currently. Most viewers have seen these two ads and probably have the same reaction I have—that what you see has no bearing on the message being delivered.

It’s just a gimmick.

My college roommate Howard often cited gimmicks in advertising. He would point one out as soon as he saw it.

Mascots are one such gimmick and have long been a staple in advertising since early in the 20th century. Morton Salt has had a girl walking with an umbrella while pouring salt (“when it rains it pours”) on their cardboard canister since 1914. Speedy Alka-Seltzer, the little character made from an antacid tablet that everyone saw on ’50s and ’60s TV is another. Mascots made the TV ads memorable because each mascot was different. Tony the Tiger for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes cereal is still being used today.

But of course times change. And sometimes advertisers will now take chances that they would not have done decades ago. Take for example the mascot used by Diet Dr. Pepper—the miniature character who comes on in any given scene, uninvited, to proclaim that whatever you’re doing can be aided by the sweet taste of Diet Dr. Pepper, saying in a falsetto sing-song, “It’s the sweet one.”

Why is he so small and why the falsetto? We don‘t know. But you remember it. And that‘s all that some advertisers really care about. It works for a soft drink because the product has little else going for it but taste, and because there are so many different ones to choose from, a little differentiation here goes a long way toward your memory of it.

In Geico‘s case, insurance is a pretty dry subject. Why not a gimmick?

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This Is Genius

I had to laugh the first time I saw this TV commercial. I wasn’t really laughing—I was snickering. And shaking my head—marveling at its genius. The name of Nectar’s ad is “Sleep Like a Baby”.

The Nectar Sleep mattress (“Sleep” in the name got me: what other mattress is there?) is a memory foam mattress that, according to the ad promotes you “sleeping like a baby”. Hence the ad whereby we see babies moving on the mattresses, but with adult heads.

This tends to make some viewers feel a little put-off. They look at it and are a little repulsed by it. But I like it. A lot.

From a simple design standpoint, the idea is right on message. The visual idea was probably a whim from the ad agency. They probably kicked it around for maybe a day, thinking and rethinking it, probably wondering if Nectar would be turned off by it.

People are funny about such things. The public gets conditioned by things they see in movies, and although I can’t immediately recall a movie with this kind of baby-adult juxtapositioning, the mere thought of such a vision might bring about nightmare scenarios in some people’s minds.

But none of the antics that the figures do in the TV commercial are devilish or horrific. They’re just as innocuous as a baby squirming and fidgeting on a changing table, because the bodies really are babies and the actors’ facial expressions reflect mere comfort, albeit in a very infantile way.

The fact that Nectar bought the idea was just as genius as the ad agency’s idea itself. It takes two to tango, as they say, but in the ad world it’s entirely essential. I’ve worked in ad agencies where we had great ideas the clients didn’t like, or more to the point, didn’t feel were appropriate to their marketing plan. To have a successful relationship, the arrangement has to be like a marriage, and like in a good marriage, both have to bring something to the party.

If the ad executive with Nectar sees endless possibilities of a promotion presented by the ad agency, good things happen.

A Nectar queen-size mattress, which allows a 365-day trial period, sells for around $795, although I have seen a site that has it for around a hundred less. Its construction is such that the top layer has memory foam stitched into it, plus an additional layer that wicks away the heat retained in most other mattresses of this type. It gets very good reviews.

And for such a simple and engaging idea, this ad probably took weeks to produce, in both pre- and post-production. I can easily imagine the hundreds of videos of babies moving around on the beds, and then finding the right actors whose facial expressions lent just the right emotive movements to marry with the babies’.

And the result is so damned enjoyable to watch. That’s what it is about good design: no matter how often you look at it, it’s always pleasing to see it. And each time you see this ad, a smile will come to your face.



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