Thursday, January 22, 2015

Advertising Critique - Chevrolet: Driving to a Different Tune

My previous blog post in which I critiqued a television commercial quickly shot up to my most-viewed blog post of all time, beating out a post I wrote in 2011 about RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 in a matter of days. One of my goals for 2015 was to write content less focused on myself and more geared toward entertaining a general audience, which it seems my latest blog post did. I'm going to try it again, because I love you and want you to love me back.

Chevrolet - Brag All You Want, I Still Thought You Were Ford

In case you didn't know, the Chevrolet Colorado won Motor Trend's 2015 Truck of the Year award. I'm no car guy, but even I'm vaguely aware that Motor Trend's awards are taken pretty seriously, mostly because the winners are always running commercials to remind us of their success.

To celebrate the win, Chevrolet commissioned this 30 second TV spot that shows off just how awesome they are:
Did you see that?! Did you see just how cool that guy at the end was?! Way cooler than the lame guy driving the sedan and listening to The Carpenters! Cool Guy doesn't listen to The Carpenters; cool, no-tie, fluffy-haired, young, trendy-suit guy drives a truck and listens to hip, new bands like AC/DC! Cool Guy is so cool that he even catches the eye of the older and wiser blond lady he passes as he exits the elevator. "I don't know where he's going to lunch," she thinks to herself, "but I bet he goes there in a black, sexy, award-winning truck."

Wait for it ... waaaiiit foooor iiiiit ...

This commercial is a clear-cut example of Chevrolet bragging with mostly style and little substance. Granted, winning "best truck of the year that's barely started" says a lot in a few words, so anyone looking to buy the best truck on the market learns everything they need to know ... at the end.

What bothers me the most is that we have no idea what this commercial is for until exactly half of it is done and gone, and over half of that half is spent listening to The Carpenters! If Chevrolet wanted you to be bored by The Carpenters' 1971 soft rock classic "Rainy Days and Mondays" (not just one, but two different types of very, very sad days), then they succeeded; I'm really, really bored.

Even after having seen this commercial a few times, each time it came on the television I found myself wondering "what the hell is the point of this concept? Why is the music following these guys everywhere they go?" The Carpenters' song starts out boring, then gets more boring with each version of it you hear, and AC/DC's otherwise epic introduction notes to "Back in Black" sound not just boring, but outright annoying when covered by an elevator muzak group and unemployed street folk group performing on Aladdin's magic carpet while peddling their likely worthless albums. It's only when the real AC/DC saves you from this crime against our eardrums that the commercial gets us pumped up enough to notice that it's trying to sell us something.

And exactly what is that something again? Perhaps the worst thing about this commercial is that, due to how hastily they mention the actual product, immediately after seeing it on TV, I wrote a note reminding myself to write a funny blog critique about "that one Ford Back in Black commercial."

Okay, so maybe I'm not a car guy who knows very much about Motor Trend, but the fact that I confidently mistook this commercial for a competitor's brand immediately after viewing it has got to say something about the commercial's ability to get its point across, right? The point I got from this commercial is that someone back at the advertising agency, who has never heard of an iPod, thought it would be cool if your music followed you.

The Takeaway

  • Quit bragging
  • Stop boring me
  • Get to the point already
  • Make it abundantly clear who you are

Agree? Disagree? Let me know below! And don't forget to sign up for my email list to get updates about my new posts right to your email!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Advertising Critique - Speechless

As a student of advertising and professional advertising copywriter, I find myself mocking many of the ads I see on television, the internet, and in print. My wife will gladly tell you just how often this happens; when I see a commercial on TV that I find to be stupid, I can't help but call it out and pick it apart. Instead of just going on about this to her, I thought I'd try to express my feelings about a recent commercial to you, the entire internet-accessible world.

NO MORE - Admirable Goal, Stupid Commercial

I expect to get a bit of flak for this one, but let me plead my case.

As stated on their website,
"NO MORE is a public awareness and engagement campaign focused on ending domestic violence and sexual assault. Using its signature blue symbol to increase visibility and foster greater dialogue, NO MORE seeks to break social stigma, normalize the conversation around domestic violence and sexual assault, and increase resources to address these urgent issues. NO MORE is aligned with hundreds of organizations working at the local, state and national levels on prevention, advocacy, and services for survivors."
As you can see, NO MORE is at the forefront of ending domestic violence and sexual assault. I very much encourage you to check out their website, specifically the section called "take action" where you can learn about what you can do to help end domestic violence and sexual assault.

In 2013, NO MORE started a three-year PSA campaign (created by Joyful Heart Foundation) including a series of television commercials which aim to increase awareness for domestic violence and sexual assault and direct you to their website where you can learn more about the issues and what you can do about them. The campaign features over 50 celebrities and public figures speaking out against domestic violence and sexual assault.

Because the commercials are meant to create awareness, they are a bit lacking on content and useful information. The first few are attempting to reach out not only to the general public but also directly to the victims of domestic violence and sexual assault by featuring celebrities taking turns stating common excuses by victims and their friends such as "he was drunk," "boys will be boys," "she was asking for it," or "he said he was sorry."
These ads are great at getting the point across. The celebrities set against the blank background are frank and eye-catching, the dialog pulls no punches, and at the end you're left reminded that there are people out there living your nightmare; or if you're living the nightmare, that it's not alright, people are working to help you, and that there is a way out. Once these commercials run for a while and enforce the idea that something is wrong, I expect future iterations to start including more information on how you can help.

Where They Lost Me

More recently, I've noticed a new series of commercials airing on television that feature the same cast of celebrities from the original series staring at the camera, pausing, gathering their thoughts, psyching themselves up, or otherwise being moved to speechlessness. Here's an example:
No doubt this is sending a powerful message, right?
Wrong. Especially without the proper context.

Firstly, this commercial is breaking one of my biggest pet peeves about commercials; it's too damn quiet. "But isn't that the point?" I can hear you asking me, and while it is the point of this particular advertisement, you should ask yourself: what is the purpose of any advertisement, whether it be printed, on the radio, or as a video?

The simple answer is: to use any and all available resources to get your point across. The (paraphrased) point of this particular series of commercials is "domestic violence and sexual assault are bad, and you can help us end it by going to our website." Now I want you to play the above video again, but this time close your eyes and tell me what it's about.

Do you see my point? You've just experienced the commercial as thousands of others have; whether blind, in another room, looking away, or half-asleep, many commercials, believe it or not, do not get watched the way that the advertisers would like them to be. Television is a fantastic medium because it offers the ability to use animated visuals combined with complex audio to get a point across. In this ad, NO MORE is essentially throwing out half of the resources available to them; it might as well be an animated gif.

Secondly, the message this particular commercial is conveying is a poor one.
"Domestic violence and sexual assault are hard subjects for everyone to talk about. Help us start the conversation."
No. Just no. One of the fundamental rules of advertising is that nothing can ever be hard to talk about. Why? Because YOU, advertiser, are the one who has the resources to say whatever you want to millions of people. If you can't, with all your fortune, spend 30 seconds talking about how bad sexual assault and domestic violence is, then who will? It's the very purpose of NO MORE to tell us about how our world is affected by these issues, and they're wasting 30 seconds of my life and an unknown amount of cash and resources by instead showing us that "awe, these celebrities have emotions just like the rest of us!" which is just about the most pointless way to convey their message possible, especially since it won't work because none of us, try as hard as we may, will ever be able to comprehend these celebrities as real, tangible people with complex lives and issues. And on that note, good luck getting us to care about these faceless victims, who likely are living in absolute fear every day, by showing us just how sad these millionaires feel.

Zombieland copyright Sony Pictures

Now in all fairness, I did some research on the ad and found out that none of the performances were scripted, and the commercial itself was never planned to be created, as stated on the NO MORE website:
"“Speechless” was not planned. It was an unexpected byproduct when emotions ran high while shooting other scripts previously aired. The spots are stark, spare visually and use only ambient sound. “Speechless” was designed to shed light on how difficult it is to talk about these taboo, hidden and painful subjects. The spots reveal the depth to which we are all affected by these previously unspeakable issues. They urge viewers to start a conversation about domestic and sexual violence with friends and loved ones."
So apparently the celebrities really did get choked up thinking about the terrible things going on in the world. That knowledge makes the commercial so much more meaningful (though still poorly crafted). How were we supposed to know that just by watching it? I don't even believe "real testimonials" on television anymore because I know they're all actors, so how was I supposed to know that these were authentic reactions? That would be a great point to make in the commercial, wouldn't it? Perhaps with a voice over for those who can't see it?

The Takeaway

  • Silence is an ineffective tool unless your entire audience is watching.
  • Instead of telling us it's hard to talk about tough subjects, be the voice that talks about them.
  • Give as much context as is needed.