Sunday, July 27, 2008

Problem behind adolescent, unfunny ads is about maturity rather than political correctness.

On 7/21/08 Bob Garfield of Ad Age posted an open letter to Omnicom President/CEO John Wren, telling him that three of his agencies - BBDO, TBWA and AMV BBDO, have produced homophobic TV spots, and that it's time for him to intervene.

Before going further , here are the three spots to which Mr. Garfield refers...

BBDO, Detroit, 2006, the spot for the subcompact Dodge Caliber (in his story, Bob refers to the vehicle as the 'macho subcompact' Caliber. Bob, I can assure you that thing doesn't have an ounce of 'macho' in it) It featured a burly tough guy snorting the words "silly little fairy" at a Tinkerbell-like pixie, only to be magic-wanded into a mincing, sweater-draped girly man.

TBWA, New York, 2007, the Snickers Super Bowl ad: two auto mechanics, chewing on opposite ends of a candy bar till meeting in an accidental kiss.

AMV BBDO, London, another Snickers spot, in which a butt-wiggling race walker is just too effeminate for Mr. T's liking, so Mr. T chases after the guy in a pickup and the terrorized wimp is mowed down with a candy-spewing Gatling gun and admonished to "Get some nuts!"

Okay, so now let's consider Garfield's charge of homophobia. He accuses Mr. Wren of being insensitive, shallow, mean. He wants the "dehumanizing stereotypes" and cruelty to stop. The article has yielded 88 comments so far, most of them blabbing on about whether Garfield wants the ad business to go down the PC highway.

I say the issue isn't whether spots like these are too politically incorrect. No, I say they are the unfortunate byproduct of an industry that has let it's standards slip. The real problem here is a lack of maturity on the part of the young creative geniuses who spew this stuff out. Now I'm the first to acknowledge that advertising targeted to young audiences for products that are consumed by young people is perhaps best developed by people who understand the younger demographics. Trouble is, the creatives who come up with this stuff, and presumably the account types who pitch it to the clients, just haven’t grown up yet. Apparently their sensibilites are barely above 15-year-old boys at summer camp. And I don't think creativity has to be sacrificed a bit when maturity is brought to the process.

My open letter to John Wren would say something like this: Unless your clients are specifically targeting 15-year-old boys at summer camp, Mr. Wren, I suggest you do some house cleaning. And Bob, once again you've done a great service to the industry by pointing out the stupidity of this kind of advertising. I think the clients at Chrysler and Mars Inc. who manage the Dodge and Snickers brands should be ashamed of themselves, and why not pen an open letter to them? It's not about political correctness, it's about maturity.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Can a 30-year old tagline move a brand forward?

In a June 9 ADWEEK story, Gregory Solman asked, Can a return to popular taglines of yore help restore a brand's luster?

Citigroup just revived its "Citi never sleeps" tagline, part of a new global campaign for Citi (formerly Citibank) launched last month.

The tagline was written in 1977 by the Wells, Rich, Green agency. The reason for its resurrection, according to sources, was straightforward: to remind consumers of more robust economic times and distance the bank from the recent spate of credit crunch-related bad news -- most notably, its declining revenue. Bob Moore, CCO of Publicis USA, the bank's agency, says Citi's CEO, Vikram Pandit, asked for the return of the old tagline.

The "Citi never sleeps" tagline "heralded a return to the brand's core value of customer service," says Moore. "And instead of being nostalgic was, in fact, a way to move the brand forward."

Solman points out that the dusting off of old taglines has accelerated in recent years. Other brands that resurrected taglines include The New York Times Media Group, Finesse and Red Lobster. Now I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I think these old taglines are being brought out of retirement because they make sense and they resonate with consumers. Somewhere along the way, marketers and their agencies got too smart, or too trend-obsessed to create simple, meaningful positioning lines that anyone can understand. Do we have to look back 30 years to find really good branding? Certainly not, but if a 30-year old tagline can do a better job of reassuring a bank's customers in these frighteningly uncertain economic times, then by all means bring it back.

Getting back to basics - that certainly is a good way to move a brand forward.

Season two of Mad Men is almost here - but has JWT missed the boat on this branding opportunity?

Season two of AMC's Mad Men is almost here, and I couldn't be more pleased to see the show being given a chance to find an audience. Now I here that JWT is running a branding spot on the Mad Men DVD set.

I can think of a lot of reasons why this is a bad idea for JWT. Who are they trying to reach? Are their potential clients watching?

On a positive note, however, maybe now that we have a TV series about the ad business that is actually believable and intriguing, more real agencies will want to hitch their wagon to Sterling-Cooper's stylish sixties ride. And that could be a good thing. Properly executed, a self-promo campaign from one of the big agency holding companies could remind consumers and business types alike that the advertising agency is not extinct yet.

Broadcast TV runs into trouble when it tries to program like cable

Broadcast TV networks are swimming in dangerous waters trying to develop and air high quality programs with compelling themes like the shows on premium cable networks such as Showtime and HBO. According to a recent Ad Age story, The CBS show "Swingtown" is, perhaps predictably, running into hurdles. "Swingtown," the CBS drama set in the mid-1970s is filled with characters who enjoy the occasional skinny dip, wife swap or threesome -- not to mention pot brownie or snort of cocaine.

I'd say they are, very predictably, running into some major hurdles - in the form of the predictable right-wing morality police.
The Parents Television Council, an advocacy group that rails against sex, violence and profanity in entertainment, has urged CBS affiliates to "pre-empt the raunchy new show."

The conservative cry babies all know the remote and its buttons were made to change the channel, but CBS should know, along with the other broadcast networks, that perhaps they should stick to the crime dramas. The more adult content is best left for the cable guys.