These are the blog posts I wrote for ad lag before the site was repurposed. 

But What is it Called?

So little Selena Gomez has a perfume and a sexy new television commercial for it, and God, I’m getting too old for this. 

Don’t worry, she’s almost 20, so you don’t have to turn yourself into the authorities after watching that. It           just feels that way.

Yeah, yeah, child star acts sexy to remake her image to get adult roles. We know the routine. This ad does a    great job of that, no doubt about it. But it’s also supposed to sell perfume. Perfume that is called “Selena” by the way. The commercial doesn’t bother making that clear, but there’s sure to be a huge Selena Gomez display in stores, so that’s fine.

So what’s the message of this ad, perfume-wise? Selena Gomez is sexy. Wearing this perfume will make you sexy too. Not empowered sexy, not confident sexy, but innocent sexy, objectified sexy. Watch the ad again. She’s being the kind of sexy that only exists to be looked at. She doesn’t look like she has sexual fantasies of her own. Instead, she looks like she’s waiting for you to come along and project your own fantasies on her. Sex object instead of sex subject.

Now, I’m not saying this about Selena Gomez herself, but the part she’s playing in this ad. She isn’t being sexy while on her way to the beach with friends, or on her way to her glamorous Hollywood job. You can’t picture this character going to do anything else. Sexy is her entire shtick. This is not a woman who will bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan and never let you forget you’re a man.

Why can’t we have a perfume that promises to make me smell smart? A perfume that will make my co-workers take me seriously? A cologne that will give me the confidence I need to march into the boss’ office to ask for a raise, and actually get it? Hell, why not a perfume that will help me negotiate a higher starting salary in the first place?

The heart weeps. 

Dame Edna’s Tummy

I liked one of my college professors so much that I took more than one of my classes. A friend of mine loathed the same professor because she took a poetry class that he was required to teach and he spent every class discussing what was wrong with each and every poem. But when Dr. K. loved the subject matter (Victorian English Lit, in my case), he was a delight. In that spirit, I’m going to try to discuss this Jenny Craig commercial without digressing into an anti-dieting industry rant, lest I become your personal Dr. K.

For starters, how can I hate anything with Dame Edna

Bless her lavender wig, she had to lose some weight before going on her farewell tour and managed to get paid for it by landing a big sponsorship deal. Clever girl. And it’s a delight to see an After picture in a dieting ad of someone with more than 5% body fat. She lost a reasonable amount of weight (8 kilos, or 17.6 pounds) in a reasonable amount of time (3 months). This is an achievable goal, unlike the “results not typical” success stories these ads usually feature.

And then we have the dialogue that makes me want to kick whoever wrote it. Dame Edna does a lovely job of  selling it, old pro that she is. But, oh how our intelligence is being insulted. So much talk about taking control by signing up for Jenny Craig, a program in which you eat nothing but pre-packaged food. It’s the middle-class equivalent of Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef and personal trainer. This is a dieting plan where customers give up control over what they eat. And this goes for any diet or eating program, from Weight Watchers to the grapefruit diet. Letting someone else decide what you’re going to eat is not taking control. It’s giving it away.

I’m also annoyed about the talk about if your tummy is “bigger than it should be,” as if there are universal standards for tummy size (which can be tested by patting? I guess?). Dame Edna’s tone implies “bigger than you’d like it to be,” which is much gentler and less fat shaming, but that might be my interpretation. The thing is, Dame Edna isn’t the typical person. There sort of is a limit to how big her tummy should be. Because she’s a man in a dress. And men and women carry their fat in different areas. If you’ve ever seen a paunchy cross-dressing man, you know that’s just not a look that works. But he only needs to maintain this weight loss           through the end of the farewell tour. Which is good news for the good Dame, because diets don’t work in the long term.

So we have a lovely ad for a service that doesn’t really work. But that’s the fault of the industry, not the           specific advertiser, so I’m at a loss trying to decide how I feel about this commercial. It sort of reminds me of Gene Kelly’s performance in Xanadu. Terrible movie. But goshdarnit, he smiled through every song like he was making another Singin’ in the Rain. 

Michael Jordan – Still Sexy

Hanes men’s undies are now tagless and how better to let us know than by showing us Michael Jordan ripping off someone’s annoying tag? 

I love how this ad shows show obnoxious those scratchy tags are. Because they really and truly are. But I find it interesting that when children can’t tolerate clothing tags, it merits a diagnosis of sensory integration  disorder. And when women can’t stand their clothing tags, they just cut them out. But when men are annoyed by clothing tags, a company designs a product to accommodate them. Male privilege must be awesome. Not that I’ve never owned a tagless tee, but no company ever made an entire line of women’s tagless clothes and then went out of their way to let me know about it.

Anyhoodle, years into his retirement, Michael Jordan is still the perfect spokesman for an underwear           commercial. Men still want to be him and women still stop and marvel at what a fine looking man he is. I mean day-m.

Jordan does this great little aerodynamically-impossible move throwing the tag into a soda way over on the other side of the movie theater and gives the ad’s everyman hero this great look that says, “I got your back.” Michael Jordan is so amazing that he will make sure that strangers’ dates don’t get ruined. The subliminal message is that Michael Jordan, and by extension Hanes underwear, will help you get lucky. It’s the same exact message as a Victoria’s Secret ad, but conveyed in much less time and with much more class and           subtlety.

Not that Hanes hasn’t done ads with loads of people walking around in their underwear. Their early Michael Jordan campaigns showed us just that. But I still think this ad is more effective because it uses cleverness. Besides, those tags are so annoying, that you could do a commercial that says “No tags – yay” and you’d sell a lot of underwear. It’s a product that could sell itself, but they didn’t get lazy and made a creative ad anyway.

Bungee Genius

I absolutely love Fujifilm’s new ad for their digital cameras. It starts out like so many commercials do, with atruck driving somewhere rugged. Then we see people bungee (or bungy) jumping. And then, well see for yourself.

Which, by the way, is closer to bungee jumping than I would get in real life. So kudos to our hero for finding a way to get the souvenir of the experience without actually having to jump. But it’s not just the hero of the commercial who’s being extremely clever here. Raise your hand if you take all your photos with your phone. Owning a digital camera that you bought in 2005 that lives in a drawer and only comes out for vacations that involve an airplane doesn’t count. And yes, my hand is sheepishly raised here too.

So what does Fujifilm do here? They remind us what their real cameras can do that camera phones can’t. Zoom. They do a lot of other things, but zoom is the one that most photography civilians are going to care about. Yes, you’ll probably use Fuji’s 30x zoom to capture the detail on the top of the Palace of Versailles instead of faking a skydiving trip, but it’s still a pretty cool feature. Your Instagram and Hipstamatic and Gorillacam can do a lot, but they still can’t do as much as a full digital camera. And on another level, this ad is reminding us that our photos and videos are our mementos of our experiences. Don’t you want some of your memories to be captured in higher quality than your phone can handle?

I do feel like marking points off for the rugged truck opening of the commercial. It only lasts a second or two, but it’s such a car ad cliché, that I started to tune out when I saw it on television. It was only when I saw that he hadn’t actually jumped that I actually started paying attention again. But I guess that’s OK. The actual message of the ad is strong enough that you can skip the setup and still get the point. 

Wait, what?

Check out Geico’s latest series of weird, creative ads: 

This is just one of several ads with a setup that should be familiar to any veteran of the 1980s Cola Wars. (I was solidly in the Coke camp, btw. Classic, of course – if anyone tells you they actually liked New Coke, either they’re lying or their memories of the entire decade are a bit fuzzy.) In this series of ads, Geico is proving the supposed superiority of their car insurance through a blind taste test. Wait, what?

Some AdWeek commenters have complained that this is too much of a disconnect, even for Geico, which is saying a lot. But every single Geico ad that you can name off the top of your head (and there are many), have the same message/theme. Hey, those cavemen are dressed like preppies – wait, what? Hey, look at the cute talking gecko – wait, what? Hey, check out the creepy stack of money with eyeballs – wait, what? Geico’s been around for 75 years – wait, what? (Yeah, I never heard of them before 2000 either, but they were founded in 1936. If you actually knew they existed pre-gecko, please speak up in the comments.)

Geico’s advertising strategy is to grab your attention and then once they have it, tell you that they can save you money. This is so effective that Allstate and State Farm run commercials pointing out the perils of discount insurance, and suggesting that maybe this is one thing you don’t want to save money on. Geico is driving the conversation. Just by doing weird commercials to get attention. Don Draper would be proud, even though next season he’ll probably invent the taste test commercial format that Geico is lampooning. 

But What If I Want to Attend My Own Funeral? 

DirectTV’s Don’t Attend Your Own Funeral ad shows us what happens when you get bored waiting for the cable guy to show up.

You casually look out the window, see some mafia guys stuff a body in a trunk, somehow evade the mafia guys long enough to fake your death because they didn’t come straight up to your apartment, but they know who you are. Or something. Then you dye your eyebrows (which is actually a little dangerous, so don’t do that) and attend your own funeral where no one recognizes you because grief makes them incredibly           unobservant. Because, obviously.

But they make it look like so much fun. Even his grieving parents are weeping comically. It looks almost asmuch fun as the fake funeral April Fool’s prank Improv Everywhere pulled a few years ago. If DirectTV really wanted to convince me that cable will destroy my life, they should’ve shown the guy spying on his girlfriend being comforted by that guy who always liked her and is now totally going to be there for her until their relationship evolves into something so much more. And then show the alternate reality where he still has his life and girlfriend because the DirectTV guy showed up promptly.

But the message of this ad isn’t that DirectTV won’t keep you waiting for appointments, or that their appointment windows are less than 8 hours long. If it was, the ad would include some pithy text at the bottom of the screen proclaiming their awesomeness. The message of this ad is “DirectTV is fun!” So much fun that of course you want to switch to them. Even though they don’t produce any entertainment content, beyond their ads of course. Clever devils.

And just look at how bored the future Phil Shifley is while he’s waiting for his cable appointment. I’m assuming he can’t watch TV because his cable is out. But doesn’t he have a book or magazine? Maybe a videogame console attached to that TV? A cell phone with Angry Birds installed? He’s clever enough to escape the bad guys and fake his death, but not clever enough to amuse himself without a television. Really?

DirectTV’s Don’t Attend Your Own Funeral ad is funny enough that the lapses in logic don’t really matter. So it’s OK. I’ll stop overthinking it. 

What Would You Do For an Audi Car?

As I’ve said before, Job #1 of any creative television ad is to be visually interesting enough to get viewers to stop fast forwarding through the commercials and watch. And who wouldn’t stop to see what’s happening when they see a man climb out of his car on the highway and onto a nearby car carrier? 

What’s happening is that luxury car drivers are leaving BMW, Lexus and Mercedes behind, and to buy Audis instead. Business is booming, so Audi has the numbers to back up their claim.

Audi’s car carrier ad is more than just eye-catching. It shows how far drivers are willing to go for an Audi. Sort of a “What would you do for a Klondike bar?” for rich people. My first thought was that luxury car owners would never dream of doing anything undignified for a luxury car (or a Klondike bar). And the ad knows that. Just listen to the classical music and read the completely straight legal disclaimer.

But who am I kidding? Rich people aren’t rich because they’d rather pay for an ice cream treat than cluck like a chicken. They’d trade their dignity for a delicious snack just like the rest of us. Of course, they didn’t get rich by being stupid and reckless enough to start climbing between moving vehicles on a highway, either. But they probably would’ve loved to be in the middle of the action in the highway scene in The Matrix Reloaded just like us hoi polloi.

I love how this ad knows its audience. It’s a luxury product and even though it features a dangerous stunt, it’s a classy stunt. Heck, it’s the most dignified stunt I’ve seen on TV in ages. You can tell from the stuntman’s suit and the music that this isn’t an ad for off road trucks. It’s funny without getting its hands dirty.

But now I’m totally picturing a Klondike bar-spoof ad for Audi. 

Oh, Victoria

Bra commercials have changed so much over the years. If you watched TV during the 1970s and early           1980s, then you saw bra commercials featuring a woman wearing a bra OVER a turtleneck. No, really. Back in the day, you couldn’t show a woman wearing only a bra from the waist up on television. Then the powers that be changed their minds, and advertisers kept pushing the envelope until we got Victoria’s Secret models strutting around luxurious locations clad only in bra, panties and high heels.

Consider the online extended cut of the latest Victoria’s Secret commercial for their VS Knockout push up bra.

It’s a far cry from a woman wearing an industrial-strength Mad Men-style support garment over a sweater and talking about how well it lifted and separated. If I remember correctly, back in the day, they didn’t even say WHAT was being lifted and separated, but the full frontal chest shot made it obvious. Here, don’t take my word for it. Check out this 1980 JaneRussell ad for Playtex. The support garments are shown on mannequins and the still gorgeous aging star talks about what the product actually does:

Now, with the Victoria’s Secret push up bra ad, it’s fairly obvious what the product is supposed to do. It’s a bra that pushes up…a lady’s assets. Alas, we don’t get to see what these models look like in other bras, so we have no idea how much we’re seeing is thanks to the product and how much is due to the models’ natural buoyancy. But once they’ve enticed you into going to the store to try one on, you’re likely to buy something.

It’s no secret that Victoria’s Secret models appeal to men even more than they appeal to women. They don’t televise the Victoria’s Secret fashion show on a major network so women can check out the new product line. Yet no man who valued his life would buy a push-up bra for his wife or girlfriend, implying that she could use some enhancement. The sexy models are in this ad to convince women that this bra will make them look like the models in the ad. And now we’re in the territory of unrealistic and impossible ideals. I have no doubt that Victoria’s Secret’s new push up bra does exactly what it says on the package. But there are more shots of shapely legs and flat stomachs than of breasts in this ad, even in the shorter version that airs on television. Yes, an ad that was nothing but shots of women’s chests would be vulgar, but Victoria’s Secret is flat out overpromising here. A bra isn’t going to change your appearance above the neck or below the waist. You can diet and exercise all you like, but you’re not going to look like a Victoria’s Secret model unless you won the genetic lottery like Heidi Klum and company did.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t miss the utilitarian undergarments of the 60s, 70s and early 80s. I love that Victoria’s Secret and technological innovations such as the miracle that is Lycra have given us pretty underwear. But I do miss ads that don’t insult women’s intelligence or needlessly assault women’s self           esteem. Make and sell a bra that will make my chest look great, and I’ll buy it. Parade sexy models around while the camera lingers on their legs and stomachs and some women will be too depressed to head to the mall to buy your product. And others will spend their money elsewhere. 

Oh, That Alec Baldwin

It’s gotten to the point that if you see a bunch of Vikings on TV (actual Vikings, not the football team), you know automatically that it’s a Capital One credit card commercial. Capital One has been using these merry marauders in their ads for so long that they’ve even changed sides. Remember way back when the Vikings symbolized Capital One’s competitors? The whole concept was that other credit cards had so many hidden fees it was like a horde of Vikings invading your bank account.

But the Capital One Vikings were just so darned lovable that they couldn’t keep standing in for the enemy. So now they’re Capital One customers. Because Vikings have a great need for credit cards, apparently. I guess this particular group of Vikings isn’t meeting their monthly raiding and pillaging quota, so they need to rely on credit to buy those extra livestock they didn’t steal. Or something. I don’t know why I keep expecting logic. Regardless, I’d hate to be the guy who has to make them pay their bill at the end of the month.

Just when the Viking were starting to seem a little blasé, Capital One has defied our expectations. 

You expect a bunch of Capital One Vikings doing a Braveheart-style speech about the Capital One Venture Card. But then they get interrupted by Alec Baldwin, who wants to do the speech himself. There’s something either incredibly profound or incredibly snarky to say about Alec Baldwin (a celebrity known for unfortunate recorded conversations) stepping into a scene that spoofs something so closely identified with Mel Gibson (a celebrity known for astoundingly unfortunate recorded conversations. I just can’t quite put my fingers on it.

At least Alec Baldwin has a sense of humor about himself and his public embarrassments, though jokes about his getting thrown off a plane for playing Words with Friends are starting to get a bit stale. I have to say that overall, I’m impressed by this ad. Long after I’d stopped paying attention to the Capital One Vikings, they found a way to tweak the concept and keep it fresh.

What I do find interesting is that Baldwin is donating his salary from these commercials to arts funding since he supports Occupy Wall Street, and therefore is somewhat opposed to Capitol One’s corporate mission. Yes, it would be better (or more honest) to donate the money to OWS, but he’d probably lose the job entirely for that. It might be even more honest to quit and donate his time to doing commercials in support of OWS. But if every actor agreed 100% with the ethics of every company they did advertising for, there would probably be a lot less celebrity spokespeople. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. 

Hey, Dummy

Lately, Allstate has been grabbing my attention with a heavy dose of Hey, It’s That Guy! In this case, the guy is Dean Winters, who played Liz Lemon’s lousy live-in boyfriend, Dennis Duffy (aka The Beeper King) on 30 Rock. His character always greeted Liz with, “Hey, Dummy,” so that’s what I say whenever I see him. It’s one of those associations that are locked in my head and therefore, I think they should be in everyone else’s brain, too. Whether or not you think “obnoxious guy” whenever you see, he’s the perfect guy to play whatever annoying mayhem is going to mess up your life (thereby creating the need for good insurance).

Here he is as a raccoon: 

And as your car’s blind spot:

But I kind of have to wonder about Allstate’s wisdom in selecting certain obnoxious sources of mayhem.

Like a toddler in the back seat.  Or the beloved and trusted family dog.

Yes, a toddler pitching a fit in the back seat is definitely a dangerous distraction. But have you ever tried saying anything negative about a child to their parent? While trying to sell them car insurance? Being funny and right will only get you so far.

And you and I know that your neighbor’s dog would be useless against burglars, even if they didn’t distract him with a juicy bone. But try telling your neighbor that. Are they seriously trying to sell car insurance by telling people that their dogs aren’t perfect? Good luck with that.

But overall, this series of ads is smart and on message. They get your attention. They’re funny. They remind you that bad stuff happens. They point out how much worse things are when you don’t have good insurance to help you out when you need it.

And how much fun must they have filming these spots? I kinda wanna play raccoon now. 

Oh, MiO

A couple of weeks ago, I found this ad for MiO water enhancer in Entertainment Weekly. It stood out because it’s on cardstock, heavier than the paper the rest of the magazine is printed on. I ripped it out and set it aside, not because I was going to follow the instructions to immerse it in water. But because I thought it was a product sample that might cause a problem if it ended up at the paper recycling plant with the rest of the magazine. In my defense, there’s a red spot on the top back of the page that looked like it was imbued with product. Some cosmetic ads include makeup samples, so it’s not beyond imagination.

As this video shows, I was mistaken, and the magazine ad is quite clever. 

I think this ad didn’t grab me initially because it’s not aimed at my generation. It’s clearly aimed at Millenials, who are all over anything interactive. In contrast, we Generation Xers are so anti-authoritarian that we made alternative music so popular that it became mainstream. I’m not going to stick an ad under water just because it tells me to.

Of course, that was the first thing I did after viewing the above video, but I’m only human.

Unlike the spokesbeasts in MiO’s latest tv spots. 

This spot is very attention getting because the animals look so unusual—nothing at all like the critters you see on shows aimed at children, for example. It’s nicely on message, tying the gossip about plastic surgery to the product. Not only does it explain why you’d use the product, it gives you permission to allow yourself the indulgence. What distracts me about this ad is that it takes place in a location where no one would use this product. At least not without getting kicked out. You don’t go into a bar, take over a table, order two glasses of water and then add your own flavoring. At least order some hot wings. Now, an office where you have nothing but a water cooler for sustenance—that’s where I imagine someone using MiO. But we’re talking about an ad with computer-generated talking animals. I should probably get over my expectations of plausibility.

Eye-Catching Beauty and Stupidity

I once had a boss who would present problems to the team by saying, “We have an opportunity for excellence.” When the DVR gave TV viewers the ability to fast forward through commercials, some advertisers saw this feature as a disaster, assuming no one would ever watch their ads again. And others have risen to the challenge, creating ads that make you stop and watch instead.

I like to fast forward through commercial breaks at the slowest speed, waiting to see what grabs my attention. This week, during a single program, I stopped for two ads, for two very different reasons.

The first was Jaguar’s “Machines” ad: 

The vintage and contemporary images create so much visual interest that I had to find out what I was seeing. Maybe it was the color story, or the elegant design of the ad, but I was reminded of Apple’s 1984 super bowl ad, which is so iconic that it feels like blasphemy to compare anything to it. This ad tells you nothing about the technical specs of the car, which of course anyone would research before buying. But what it does convey is how astounding beautiful a Jaguar auto is. This ad gave me the same feeling of “wow, that’s beautiful” that I get when I see a Jaguar on the street. You expect a lot of work to go into the design of a luxury car, and the amount of thought that clearly went into this ad mirrors that.

I sped through the second ad until the tagline at the end stopped me cold with its unapologetic offensiveness. I don’t know what astounds me more—that Dr Pepper Ten has continued this campaign since October 2011 despite objections across the blogosphere, or that anyone thought this was a good idea in the first place. Dr Pepper wants men to drink their new diet soda, and instead of taking a gender neutral approach that would encourage everyone to buy their product, they’re actively discouraging women from buying it because men don’t buy the same things that women do. Or something. The logic simply isn’t there. I guess they want to be the drink of choice for aggressively butch men who like sweet, fizzy drinks, which seems like it would be a pretty small niche. The moment when the actor looks directly into the camera and says, “catchphrase!” is inspired, so I know there are clever minds behind this ad. The problem here is in the concept, not the execution.