Dominic Purcell keeps the hangry at bay with Yoplait

Yoplait: Dominic Purcell from Daniel Musto on Vimeo.

Remember Prison Break? You know, that show about a genius brother intentionally getting himself thrown in prison so that he might break out his framed, death-row-bound older brother? Of course you do.

In that case, you’ll recognize the sharp dressed man above as Dominic Purcell, best known for his role as Lincoln Burrows in Prison Break. He’s the kind of guy you would never, EVER want to, let’s say, meet in a dark alley, or lose a bet to, or date his sister, or even simultaneously reach for the last gallon of milk at the supermarket. Because one look from Mr. Purcell is enough to make even the toughest of tough guys run and hide.

That’s why Yoplait’s newest campaign starring Purcell is so strangely wonderful.

The creative boffins at Wieden & Kennedy’s Portland office cooked up this brilliant and funny tough-guy yogurt idea, and it’s so simple and unique that I can’t stop watching it. In the spot called “Hunger,” Purcell’s opening question, “You see this look on my face?”, makes you answer him in your head, like, “Um, yup. You look pissed.” But he knows what you’re thinking. You’re obviously wrong, and he’s going to tell you. He’s not angry. He’s hungry.

Then, he pulls a tiny spoon out of his chest pocket, lifts a Yoplait yogurt cup from beneath the camera, and says he’s going to have a snack to make him feel better. This is the part that makes the whole spot so ironic. The script is written in a way that’s almost mockingly happy, as if rainbows and unicorns are going to burst out of the yogurt cup the minute he opens it. But his delivery is so serious and stoic that it confuses the viewer’s emotions. The end result is a spot that’s unlike any other yogurt commercial out there.

It’s hilarious, and interesting, and strange, and creative, and ultimately, it’s smart. They could have taken the easy way out and featured a smiling woman reciting a script about staving off hunger cravings. But they didn’t, and there are two more ads in this series called Yummy and Texture that are just as unique and funny. Now, Yoplait has a unique and refreshed image unmatched by any other yogurt company.

Thank you, Wieden & Kennedy, for chalking up another win for creativity.

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Why Chevy’s new anti-aluminum truck campaign is painfully bad

 

It’s been a while since I’ve called out an ad for being absolutely terrible. Recently, Chevrolet decided go full playground bully and focus their new ad campaign on how their trucks are still proudly made from “high-strength steel” — pointing their crosshairs directly at the all-new 2015 Ford F-150, which features a new, all-aluminum body.

So, instead of creating a better product, Chevy decided to stick out their tongue at Ford in a stereotypically GM manner, as if to say, “Yeah, well, aluminum’s stupid. So there.”

In the ad with the bear, a stereotypically masculine, bearded man wearing a Carhartt jacket asks questions to focus group members (who apparently aren’t actors) about the words that come to mind when they think of steel. Predictably, they say words like durable and powerful. When asked about aluminum, they say (again, predictably) that it’s easy to bend and light. Then, when the stereotypically manly man releases a bear into the room, they (ugh, again, predictably) run to the big, steel cage to hide from the bear.

The worst part about this campaign, and the part that still leaves me perplexed, is the fact that Ford’s “military grade” aluminum alloy is a stronger alloy than carbon steel. It’s science. The aluminum alloy used in the F-150 is stronger, lighter, and far more resistant to corrosion than steel. In other words, the body of one of these aluminum trucks won’t rust for as long as you own it. In fact, it simply won’t rust at all. Ever.

So, is Chevy straight-up lying in their new campaign? Well… not really.

The only reason this ad isn’t misleading is that it uses the focus-group members’ perceptions of steel and aluminum to mold their message instead of scientific facts. They can’t come out and say their steel is stronger than Ford’s aluminum alloy, but they can say that people think more positively of steel than aluminum.

Which really amounts to nothing, and still chalks them up as the proverbial playground bully. More specifically, the “point-and-laugh-because-I-know-you’re-better-than-me-and-I’m-insecure” variety.

But as the playground bully inevitably learns, pointing a finger and laughing at the smart kid for acing a math test won’t make him any smarter. In the same way, this kind of comparative advertising has been proven ineffective time and time again.

And yet, we still see so many brands using comparative advertising to try and shoot holes through the competition. Typically, this kind of mudslinging only teaches their audience about the alternatives to the advertiser’s product.

In the end, people are smart. If another product is worth bashing, then it must be a threat to that brand. And therefore, it must be pretty good. Then, people go out and buy the competitor’s product instead.

Okay, that’s it for the logical side of this argument. Now for the rant.

I’d like to make something clear, if I haven’t already: This review blames Chevrolet for their lazy product planning and marketing strategy — not its advertising agency. Because, look, I get it. Chevy’s the kind of client that probably walks into an ad agency and says, “We want you to help us increase sales with an ad campaign. We are open to your suggestions as long as they look and sound like this. Actually, exactly like this.”

Ads like these are the inevitable result of what happens when big, corporate marketing directors get pressure from big-time product line executives to create a marketing campaign to justify their poor decisions, and they won’t be talked into anything different. They might as well walk right into creative, grab a copywriter by the scruff of the neck and sit him down for a one-on-one brain dump. I can hear the conversation now:

Copywriter: “Hey, so, I read the brief and I have a few ideas, but I wasn’t expecting to see you until the mee-”
Scary marketing director: “Don’t give me any of your artsy-fartsy crap.”
“Um… what?”
“Are you deaf? I don’t want to hear your new ideas.”
“Then why did you hire u-”
“What’d I just say? Jeez. Call the fire department — we got a hot head in here.” (Laughs at his own joke.)
*Copywriter looks around to make sure everyone’s witnessing this.*
“Hey, quit squirming and shut up. Listen. Ford’s making us look like we’re old-fashioned scuzzbags and we don’t like it. So, we’re going to make them look stupid for using aluminum instead of steel. We’re going to need a focus group of randos, one steel cage, one flimsy-looking aluminum cage, and a 700-pound grizzly bear.”
“I don’t like where this is going.”
“That’s cute. Because I really don’t care. Get writing, Shakespeare.”

And then, they made an ad campaign together. Isn’t that exciting?

– End rant –

ANYWAY. I realize that truck advertising is tough, but is this really the best way to do it? Unless they’re buying their first truck, truck buyers are typically very brand loyal. I’m not convinced a campaign with such a weak message could possibly sway customers in this market. Either way, truck sales will eventually tell if their mudslinging proved successful.

What do you think? Is this campaign on point, or totally off base? Leave a comment and we’ll talk about it.

AD_VICE: Strategies to unlock your creative thinking

Tubs of paint litter the table while you lay out your brushes for an afternoon of creative freedom. Taking careful attention to organize each brush by size and use, you adjust them all so they’re perfectly straight and make your way to the hallway closet, better known as the Closet of Forgotten Things.

Wrestling through winter coats and neglected outdoor gear, you locate your easel behind some boxes at the back of the Closet of Forgotten Things. Abandoning the loving precision used with the brushes, you toss the boxes aside and gain access to your cherished easel, tearing it from its dark, dusty prison.

Finally, you set up your easel next to your paint-supply table, place your new canvass on it, sit on your stool, and pick up your favorite brush and mixing palette.

You stare at the canvas. And the canvas stares back with its pale, apathetic look of white, pasty blankness. You can paint anything you want. Anything at all. So, deciding what to paint should be easy, right?

Wrong. The power of the blank page is mysteriously strong. It’s the bigness of it all. The infinite possibilities of the blank page hang over you like the look on your girlfriend’s face when she realizes you don’t remember when her birthday is. Sure, there are plenty of possible answers, but there’s only one with a happy ending.

And this brings up the reason I’m writing this post and how it relates to advertising: What can you do to force your way through the creative constipation, throw some hypothetical darts in the dark and land on a great idea?

I have a few strategies.


 

1.) Look out a window, or go outside.

This one seems obvious, but I’ve done some of my best brainstorming while outdoors. If you’re brainstorming ideas for an ad campaign, it almost always helps to expose your thoughts to the unpredictable possibilities of the world outside.

I usually try to relate products to different things around me. It can be anything; in fact, the more random the item or place, the more interesting and creative your ideas and connections tend to be. For example, try to come up with all the ways your product is like a tree. Does it provide protection? Maybe it’s strong, stable or stoic. Does it selflessly provide something special, like a tree selflessly gives its fruit to a passerby? There’s totally an idea in there somewhere.

Let’s say you pass a hardware store. Try thinking of all the ways your product can relate to something you’d find in there. The resulting connections can be pretty interesting.

2.) Play “The Wikipedia Game”

For those unfamiliar with The Wikipedia Game, it’s a game where people attempt to reach a certain Wikipedia page in five clicks or less using the hyperlinks on other Wikipedia pages. For example, one common version of this game is called “Five Clicks to Jesus.” Not kidding.

I find that if I play the game when I’m having trouble coming up with ideas, it mixes up and refreshes my thinking. Sometimes, you land on a page that relates to your product in a really weird, interesting way, and WHAM. An idea is born.

3.) Take the ideas you already have and flip them on their heads.

I learned this trick while enrolled in the Milwaukee Portfolio School. The teachers of the class, both experienced creative directors at ad agencies in Milwaukee, called this trick, “Spite Can Be Right.” The strategy is simple: Take the ideas you have and think about what they would look like if their roles were reversed. This usually generates some great ideas with some interesting attitude.

For example, let’s say you have an idea for a brand of moisturizing lotion. Your idea involves showing a lotion-using woman with healthy, glowing skin. If you introduce Spite Can Be Right, the idea could ask a different question: What would happen if you didn’t use the lotion?

Suddenly, the model in the shot becomes a man, and now you’re showing a close-up of his hand. He’s trying to put on a glove, but his skin is made of tiny fishhooks, simulating the feeling of putting on a glove with terribly dry skin that catches on the fabric with its rough and scratchy surface.

Now, the lotion targets an entirely new demographic and contains a much more interesting visual. All because you introduced a little Spite Can Be Right.


 

These three strategies help me free up my thinking and discover more ideas quickly. But there are lots of different ways to ignite the creative spark.

What works best for you? What are your personal strategies for jump-starting your ideas? Leave a comment and we can talk about it.

AD_LIFE: How writing health insurance copy prepared me to work anywhere

I’ve spent the last one-and-a-half years working in the marketing department at a health insurance company as a copywriter, and it’s taught me a lot about what it’s like to be a creative person working in the results-driven world of business.

I’ll give you a hint. It’s intense.

Creating marketing campaigns for a health insurance company might not seem all that glamorous, but it poses some unique challenges most other creative teams wouldn’t normally face. Here’s how it prepared me to take on any challenge at any job, anywhere.


 

1. Services tend to be more difficult to sell, since there’s nothing tangible to write about.

It’s even more difficult with health insurance, since consumers don’t normally use it unless they’re sick or injured. So most of the time, they feel like they’re paying for something that isn’t doing anything for them. It’s a problem solved by objective thinking, taking a moment to open your mind and feel what it’s like to be the people you’re trying to communicate with. Then, take these thoughts, and craft some interesting and relatable copy.

2. Government regulation forces employees to think outside the box.

Which would you say is a bigger accomplishment:

  • A creative team produces an extravagant, expensive campaign. They had a massive budget and ample time to meet their deadline. They have free reign to unleash the full gamut of their creative freedom.
  • Another creative team produces an interesting, integrated media campaign under tight deadlines and a limited budget. An overbearing legal department limits their creative freedom, but they manage to make an attractive, creative campaign based on solid strategy.

My answer is the later. Without boundaries or budget limits, of course it’s possible to make the most extravagant health insurance marketing campaign this world has ever seen. But there are boundaries, and there are strict budget limits. It’s more challenging, but nothing feels better than the moment you finally land on a big idea that’s creative and on strategy.

3. Health insurance companies are conservative. Really conservative.

Leaders at health insurance companies aren’t always comfortable with taking risks. So, you can imagine how they feel when you present them with new ideas, or better yet, ideas that would stand out and get noticed.

To say they’re a little apprehensive is an understatement. Let’s just say, they need some delicate persuasion to get behind ideas that are a little beyond their comfort zone.

Sure, you get shot down a lot. But you also learn how to get up, brush yourself off and go do it all again.

4. Writing health insurance copy in a way that’s simple and easy to understand is the ultimate copywriter’s gauntlet.

Deductible. Coinsurance. Copay. Out-of-pocket maximum. Major medical. Preventive care. Network. Lump-sum payment.

These words cannot be used in any other context. They are specific to the insurance industry. Insurance companies invented them to describe how their plans work in as few words as possible. It’s up to the marketing team to provide the everyday customer with a frame of reference to help them understand what any of this means. Simplify EVERYTHING.

5. Health insurance copywriters have to write copy for both consumers and sales agents. That’s B2B and B2C marketing in the same job.

In one moment, you’re writing copy for an email you’re sending to sales agents promoting a product they haven’t tried selling yet. The next, you’re writing a brochure promoting Dental insurance to customers. If you’re not flexible, you’re going to fail. But if you can handle it, you end up getting some great experience in a fast-paced work environment, and you get to learn from some of the smartest people in the professional world.


So, next time you see a health insurance company on an applicant’s resume, give them a shot. They’ve been through the trenches, and they know how to solve some serious problems with strategic, creative thinking. There’s no telling what kind of difference they could make for your business.

Who knows? It could even be me.

Ad_Envy: The jaw-dropping headlines of The Economist

In 1984, Britain was in financial trouble. In a panic, the majority of companies started dumping cash into television advertising, convinced this flashy and prestigious medium would turn their troubles around.

And then, while everyone had their TV blinders on, the London-based weekly newspaper, The Economist, turned to a man named David Abbott and his agency, Abbott Mead Vickers (now ABVBBDO), for help.

Abbott didn’t even want to take the job — The Economist had to talk him into accepting their meager billings. But he did, and by doing so, he locked in a spot at the table of advertising’s greatest minds.

A complete lesson in simplicity, the resulting poster campaign consisted of an intelligent, witty headline on a red background. That’s it.

It was brilliant. Abbott’s headlines conveyed a message of sophistication and superior intellect, capturing the essence of The Economist in just one or two lines. It’s a timeless campaign that still inspires copywriters everywhere.

My favorite? “In real life, the tortoise loses.” No words can describe how jealous I am of that line.

I mean, wow.

 

Ad_List: The Five Real Winners of Super Bowl 49

On February 1, 2015, the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots met in Glendale, Arizona to mutually swap permanent brain damage. And to the dismay of many Americans (including myself), the Patriots took home the Lombardi Trophy. Isn’t that exciting? Yay, sports.

On the upside, an average of 114.4 million people were watching the game, setting a new record for the most-watched program in American television history. And what program, do you think, was the previous record holder?

You guessed it: Super Bowl 48.

The largest brands in the world burn through obscene amounts of money every year for the chance to get themselves in front this massive audience. So, who spent their $4.5 million per 30 seconds of airtime the wisest? Find out by reading my list of the top five ads of Super Bowl 49.

 

5. “When Pigs Fly” — Doritos

Doritos has managed to keep their advertising wild and fresh ever since they started the “Crash the Super Bowl” contest/campaign in 2006. Today, “Crash the Super Bowl” is the largest online video contest in the world.

This spot took second in Doritos’ video contest, but it resonated more with me. It makes you laugh and puts a spotlight on the smart kid, which doesn’t happen nearly enough in advertising.

 

4. “Lost Dog” — Budweiser

Puppy gets lost. Horses save puppy from big, scary wolf. How can you go wrong?

 

 3. “Boston Tea Party” — TurboTax

This may be the most underrated ad of the Super Bowl. It aired right after kickoff, right away in the first quarter. So perhaps that’s why people haven’t been talking about it nearly as much as other spots.

But, it’s done by Wieden+Kennedy, the agency behind legendary spots such as “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” for Old Spice, and Nike’s tagline “Just Do It.” Basically, they know what they’re doing.

“Boston Tea Party” features a story with an ironic twist on the historic protest. Not only was it really entertaining, but I learned I can file my taxes with TurboTax for free.

Like, free-free? Well, all right, then.

 

2. “Newfangled Idea” — BMW

In a stroke of genius, Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners (KBS+) used a clip of the Today Show from 1994 where Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel attempt to make sense of an internet address. Simple things we use every day such as the “@” sign and “.com” were totally foreign to them. When the scene jumps to present day, Katy and Bryant are having the same discussion, but this time, it’s about BMW’s new carbon-fiber electric car, the i3.

Well played.

 

1. “Like A Girl” — Always

Advertising doesn’t always get the opportunity to influence positive change in society. In this case, Always challenged us to rethink what “like a girl” really means, and why it ever became an insult. Then, they teach us what “like a girl” should actually mean by asking young girls what they think it means to do things “like a girl.” The results were profound.

Leo Burnett’s offices in Chicago, London and Toronto pooled together their collective brainpower to create this piece. They did not disappoint, and “Like A Girl” certainly gets my vote for the best ad of Super Bowl 49.

Ad_List: The Naughty and Nice Christmas Ads of 2014

Holiday advertising. It seems like a simple recipe. The just-add-water cake in an industry satisfied by nothing less than a hand-made crème brûlée. Mix snow or Santa Clause with ribbons and smiling families, throw in a reindeer, add Bring Crosby, snap your fingers and BAM. Instant holiday happy.

In that sense, then, holiday ads must be the easy, quick-hit projects of the advertising industry.

Um, well. No. Not really.

There is clearly a right and wrong way to do a holiday ad. So, out of total denial for the end of the holiday season, please enjoy this list of the NAUGHTY and NICE Christmas ads of 2014.

 

NAUGHTY

3. “Magic” — Kohl’s

Starting off the naughty list is Kohl’s with their spot called “Magic.” It opens with a cliché moment of a father trying to connect with his tuned-out son by taking him to a place his father took him as a boy. They arrive somewhere remote and get out of the car. Some dirty, disheveled bearded man feeds a bunch of reindeer (is that supposed to be Santa?). Then, one of the reindeer makes some sort of telepathic connection with the boy and flies into some fog.

Why is the dad walking away at the end? His son finally gets excited about something that isn’t his cell phone, and instead of sharing the moment with him, he walks away wearing some smug, knowing grin. Granted, the kid catches up with him right after, but still. It just didn’t feel right.

 

2. “Santa Karma” — Infiniti

Infiniti takes second place on the naughty list this year after their less-than-inspiring ad called “Santa Karma” for their holiday sales event featuring a black Q50. Watch, and be disappointed.

Okay, we can learn a lot about Infiniti’s target market based on the curly haired man. Apparently, Infiniti customers are successful, self-righteous businessmen who help others as a means to satisfy their own, personal goals (in this case, kissing up to Santa Clause). And since they’re clearly such good people, they deserve to reward themselves with a new Infiniti Q50 this year. Because they earned it by doing so many good things. Because they’re so good.

It’s just sad. If advertising mirrors society’s values to stay relevant, then what does this say about us? When I saw this for the first time, I think I rolled my eyes more than Red Foreman on That ‘70s Show.

In the spirit of fairness, and trying to look at this objectively, the ad probably resonated with its intended audience fabulously. They clearly know their demographic, and I’m sure it made potential Infiniti owners smile and feel inspired. The copywriter in me understands why they wrote it this way.

However, the idealist in me was annoyed.

 

1. “Alice in Marshmallow Land” — Target

The most bizarre Christmas ad of 2014 has to go to Target with their spot called “Alice in Marshmallow Land.” This one is almost painful to watch.

This ad does nothing for people with any real buying power. Target walks viewers through a cliff-notes version of Alice in Wonderland in just one minute using a cute kid, made-up toys and drugged marshmallows — and then it ends. Viewers watch the entire spot without learning anything interesting about Target, and that’s a problem.

A Christmas commercial has one job: make an emotional connection relating to tradition or family. It can appeal to humor, love, happiness, adherence to cherished traditions, and more, but it has to make a connection. This story is shallow, showing little effort to make any connection on a deep, emotional level, and that’s why it fails.

 

NICE

All right, have your excuses/tissues ready, because the following ads did exactly what the Target ad couldn’t do. They make you feel.

3. “The Hoop” — Dick’s Sporting Goods

I can’t remember one commercial for Dick’s Sporting Goods, but I’m going to remember this beautiful one-minute spot called “The Hoop” for years. It effortlessly tells the story of a father watching his daughter grow up by focusing on the one activity that brought them together the most: basketball.

The lyrics are weaved perfectly into the story as well, especially that moment when, “I wish I had held her longer,” plays right as she embraces her parents, wishing them goodbye before she heads out on her own.

The father sinks one last shot as the ad comes to a close, and it’s a touching moment that drives home the whole story. He bought the hoop so he could teach his daughter how to play. And by simply buying the hoop, he created more memories than he ever thought possible.

 

2. “Monty the Penguin” — John Lewis

For the second-nicest ad of the 2014 holiday season, we have to take a trip across the Atlantic. It’s a two-minute spot for John Lewis, a chain of upscale department stores located in Great Britain. “Monty the Penguin” may not win the top spot on my list, but it definitely wins a gold star for being the cutest and most creative ad of the holiday season.

Nothing beats the impact of that shot when the reality of Monty the Penguin is finally revealed. The whole story seems like a tale of fantasy right up until that point — the moment when a mental switch clicks from “doesn’t get it” to “gets it.” The boy’s imagination tells the story right up until Christmas morning, and then, we finally get to see Monty through Mom’s eyes. It’s fantastic.

But it loses to my number-one pick for one reason: it’s an amazing story, but it barely includes the brand. I’ll remember this ad as, “that awesome commercial with the penguin,” not, “that sweet John Lewis ad with the kid and his pet penguin.”

 

1. “The Song” — Apple

And now, the winner of the nice list goes to Apple and their total cry-fest called “The Song.” If you haven’t seen it, prepare yourself. It’s wonderful.

The adorable story is only a piece of what makes this ad so fantastic. Apple makes its brand bigger than the stylish manufacturer of electronics we’ve all come to know. They demonstrate how it’s possible to immortalize a memory that’s been locked away in obsolete technology, and use a myriad of Apple products to do it. It weaves the products into the story to the point where it wouldn’t have been possible to create the girl’s thoughtful gift without them.

Put simply, it’s brilliant. And it absolutely gets my vote as the best ad of the 2014 holiday season.