User-Car Seduction Beyond The Big Game
A long week has passed since Super Bowl Sunday assaulted our sensibilities with all manner of virtue and villainy for and against advertising.
If you read last week’s screed, I joked about Vroom.
I stood and applauded them for a commercial that delivers both mirth and message.
Then, 12 hours later I couldn’t recall what they do.
Well, now I remember. And you know why?
That combined with a potent message.
They’re running those commercials like crazy. There’s the spot from the big game, and now I’ve seen another.
The formula is brilliant in its simplicity.
They set up a relevant joke.
For instance, a guy is being held captive in the car dealership from hell.
The salesman looks like the vile antagonist from a Roger Corman B-movie.
He jokes that the customer can leave any time he wants (as he chortles and taps together the clamps from a pair of jumper cables that spark and sizzle).
Then, the scene flips 180 degrees.
The beleaguered car buyer is back home in the sunlight of his front yard with his wife.
He’s enjoying a beverage as Vroom delivers his newly purchased used car on the back of a flatbed.
CAR BUYER: “Wow, that was painless.”
ANNCR: “Never go to a dealership again. Go to Vroom dot com, buy a car, and we’ll deliver it, contact-free.”
The setup is funny, showing the dark side you don’t desire.
The payoff shows the alternative to the conflict as the easiest, best possible sunshiny day.
And that USP? So good.
“Never go to a dealership again.”
The Vroom tagline is almost invisible. It’s part of the logo.
That’s good, too.
In funny advertising, there’s a often a disconnect.
There’s a vivid demonstration of the bad because the bad is funny.
There’s never an equally vivid illustration of the good.
Nothing makes you say, “Hey, I want that!”
Vroom does it right.
“The bad sucks. Ha! See how much more desirable we are? Phew!”
And that’s the key: you can see, richly, vibrantly, intensely in mere seconds, how much better the hero advertiser really is.
In a jam-packed, affecting and arousing 30 seconds, Vroom hits all the right emotional notes.
Vroom turns the key to start the engine on a psychologically charged buying process.
They make themselves desirable.
And they are buying frequency well beyond the Super Bowl.
For Vroom, the Big Game is just the beginning of the long game.
The naysayers love to tell you Super Bowl advertising is a waste of time and money.
Here's an advertiser who knows how to make it honey.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
LIGHTNING BRANDING ON AMAZON
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ARE WE A DAY LATE AND A DOLLAR SHORT?
Depends on how you look at it. The faithful subscriber to the screed knows: we almost never talk about the Super Bowl commercials the week after the Super Bowl.
We wait a week or two, then examine the fallout.
Who ran a commercial that was especially useful for the small-business marketer looking for a scalable idea?
What commercial was such smart advertising that a marketer can say, "I could do that."
And here, two weeks out, we have winner.
No, it's not 84 Lumber and their sprawling, calculatedly heart-tugging, pro-immigrant message.
It's not Peter Fonda half a century after the anti-establishment, anti-materialist idealism of Easy Rider driving away from a bunch of bikers in a $100,000 car.
It's not Audi's debatable "Daughter" commercial or Budweiser's Horatio-Algeresque, immigrant saga "Born the Hard Way."
THE WINNER IS E-COMMERCE AND CLOUD-COMPUTING EMPIRE, AMAZON
Were they the funniest commercials in the big game? No.
Were they the most entertaining or the most poignant? Hardly.
What they were was salient--and they used one of the single smartest tactics in the advertiser's toolbox.
Amazon gave an engaging demonstration of the product as a problem solver, and did so with frequency.
Yep. Sounds really un-sexy.
But again: we're not talking million-dollar stunt commercials, of which the Super Bowl offers plenty.
WE ARE TALKING ABOUT A TEMPLATE FOR THE COMMON MAN
We're talking sensible creative executions and strategy that make sense no matter what's in your wallet.
A big problem with the Super Bowl commercial paradigm as an example of good advertising is it's an aberration.
It's a stunt.
Rarely is does a big-game advertiser think, "This message will make people race into our stores."
Instead, the typical advertiser who spent $5 million on a single 30-second spot that cost a million bucks to produce is looking for what the Big Guys call, "Brand Lift."
UH-OH--SOUNDS LIKE JARGON
No matter. It is what it is and, for our purposes, is arguably as silly as a $5-million spot buy.
Brand Lift refers to improving how an audience perceives a brand.
For instance, 84 Lumber's story about a Mexican woman and her little girl trying to reach the United States and being blocked by a giant wall is not designed to make anyone think, "Look at that wall! Wow, they have good building materials!"
It's designed to make the viewer feel something else entirely. It is political, polarizing, and might even piss people off. So it goes.
It's still going to make a lot of people feel good about 84 Lumber.
It is not driving traffic for a specific product or service. It is not a sales message. It is an institutional message calculated to make you feel a certain way about the advertiser's behavior.
SO, WHAT ABOUT AMAZON?
An especially good question if you know that, several years ago, Amazon pulled much its marketing budget out of advertising.
They took the money they were spending on production and media and put it into free shipping.
It also paid off huge! Huge!
But obviously, they're still advertising.
And for the big game, they were advertising a specific product: Amazon Echo.
"ALEXA, WHAT IS AMAZON ECHO?"
As I was writing this, I thought, "Let's ask her that question."
She replies, "Amazon Echo is a device designed around your voice that can provide information, music, news, weather and more."
Not as much as much fun as asking her, "Alexa, what do you look like?"
Her reply is, "I look like lots of ones and zeroes."
So anyway, if you don't know the product, Amazon Echo is what they call a "smart speaker." It's a cylinder about 9 inches tall. And via the internet, Echo connects to Amazon's voice-controlled intelligent personal assistant, Alexa. She's a little like Siri. Only, she sounds prettier.
AND ALEXA WAS STARRING IN THIS YEAR'S SUPER BOWL NOT JUST ONCE, BUT THREE TIMES
Generally speaking, one spot is not usually enough to have an impact on a prospect vis a vis getting a sale.
A salient, surprising and evocative message delivered frequently is how an advertiser penetrates the prospect's psyche.
Which is probably why, instead of seeing a single 30-second spot for Amazon Echo, you saw three 10-second spots.
One was called, "Buster."
It's a single take of a shot of a coffee table.
The table is filled with a vast spread of game-day food. In the middle of it all is a Boston terrier, standing in the guacamole and chowing down. Off camera, a guy with a Boston accent yells, "Buster!" He sighs. "Alexa, ask Pizza Hut to place an order." Alexa says: "OK. What would you like to order?" Cut to product shot. Graphic: "Amazon Echo."
NOT GENIUS--BUT AMUSING AND MAKES A RELEVANT POINT
Alexa can solve your sudden dog-in-the-dip problem.
Another commercial was called, "My Girl."
It's another single take. Shot of a guy sitting on the sofa with his young daughter. They're watching a football game.
The girl looks frustrated and says, "They're relying on the blitz too much."
The guy looks at his daughter, then looks off screen. "Alexa, play 'My Girl." Alexa says, "OK." We hear the strains of "My Girl" by the Temptations. Daughter gives the barest hint of a smile. Dad nudges her with his elbow. Cut to product shot. Graphic: "Amazon Echo."
OK, THAT MIGHT TUG AT THE HEARTSTRINGS OF THE FATHER OF A DAUGHTER
The third commercial might be repellent.
It's called "Finger Lick."
Sound of the game on TV. A close-up shot of a mouth licking orange dust off greasy fingers.
Cut to shot of the guy committing this egregious act sitting next to a woman on the sofa. He finishes licking and digs his hand back into a bowl of chips.
The Woman looks askance and says, "Alexa, re-order Doritos from Prime Air." Alexa says, "OK."
Cut to shot of product sitting in a window. Alexa says: "Look for delivery soon." A drone with the Amazon logo flies into the shot. Subtitle: "Prime Air not available in some states (or any, really). Yet."
IS THAT BUZZ YOU HEAR THE SOUND OF A DRONE?
More likely, it's the sound of people eagerly anticipating Amazon Prime Air delivery.
Gross-out photography and mastication audio is usually a bad idea.
It's hard to ever excuse it.
That said, viewers paid attention.
There was a whole lot of online buzz about this commercial even though drone delivery seems a long way off.
And all three of these commercials are simple storytelling with a theme of problem solving.
They are frequent and consistent in their delivery of the message.
And this model neither began nor ended with the Super Bowl.
AMAZON HAD ALREADY CREATED MORE THAN 100 SIMILAR MESSAGES
Most of them have appeared as online videos.
Overhead, subjective camera shot of a guy loading up a plate with dozens of chicken wings. "Alexa, how many calories in a chicken wing?" Alexa: "A chicken wing contains 88 calories." Guy hesitates, and puts back one chicken wing. "Anyone know where the potato salad is?" Product shot of Echo. Graphic: "Amazon Echo."
Inexpensive to produce, clear and mildly amusing.
Close-up on frustrated man: "Alexa, ask Uber for a ride. For Todd." Cut to wide shot of a group sitting on a sofa in blue jerseys. Behind them, Todd is in a red jersey, jumping and pumping his fist. "YES!" Everyone else looks annoyed. Alexa: "There is an UberX two minutes away." A guy throws a jacket at Todd, who leaves. Product shot. Graphic: "Amazon Echo."
LONG BEFORE GAME DAY, AMAZON HAD ALREADY PENETRATED THE ZEITGEIST
These messages have been out there and making themselves known.
They've even been part of the advertising landscape during NFL broadcasts. Their first "Alexa Moment" aired in a game last November.
The commercial is called, "The Break Up."
It's about a sappy father using Alexa to comfort his teenage daughter over a break up with a boyfriend.
Then (SPOILER ALERT), he uses Alexa to turn his home's sprinkler system on the offending boyfriend.
THESE ARE SIMPLE MESSAGES DELIVERED CONSISTENTLY
There's a good chance they will not win any major advertising awards.
That's not what they're for.
They're for creating interest in a product that people are now buying in record numbers.
They are simple, relevant stories told with relentless consistency.
If you can take away anything from any Super Bowl advertising campaign, this is the one: stories, simplicity, relevance and consistency are your friends.
EXPENSIVE STUNT ADVERTISING IS NOT
For the small-business marketer, it makes little sense.
The sprint race of blowing a huge amount of money on a one-time ad message almost never pays off.
A marathon does.
Running the marathon with simple, relevant stories told with relentless consistency in an affordable medium usually pays off for the marketer with the patience and perseverance to commit.
To see the Amazon "Alexa Moments" campaign, including the Super Bowl commercials, click here. Or copy and paste http://tinyurl.com/zv592yl
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
WHAT DID YOU DO WITH YOUR 2-MILLION BUCKS?
Yes, it's that time of year. We're all busy vacuuming up crushed, salty corn products while lauding the winners and savaging the losers among the Super Bowl commercials.
But here in the rant, the critique for last weekend begins next week. We always like to take a week for the dust to settle and get back some reports on how it all shook out.
In the meantime, we're going to look back at the arrogance and the apathy.
Yes, it's the Super Bowl Advertising Hall Of Shame.
And perhaps the saddest advertising maneuver of all comes not from Groupon and Timothy Hutton diminishing the plight of Tibet for great restaurant deals, nor from GoDaddy and its endless parade of medically manipulated stripper cleavage, but from a business you have never heard of, and probably never would have heard of, were it not for this little screed.
REMEMBER SUPER BOWL XXXIV?
It was played on January 30, 2000. It's also referred to as the Dot Com Super Bowl. The dot-com bubble was blowing up big. Many of the commercials aired during the big game included companies whose names you simply cannot remember today.
One of those companies ran this commercial:
OPEN ON A YELLOW SCREEN.
PLAYING UNDER IS A BAD RENDITION OF CHOPSTICKS ON A LOUSY PIANO
TITLES THAT ARE WRITTEN IN A BLACK, SMEARED COURIER FONT, AS IF FROM AN ANTIQUE TYPEWRITER, BEGIN APPEARING OVER THE YELLOW.
"This is the worst commercial on the Super Bowl.
"But it might be the best thing you see tonight.
"We send highly personalized emails on topics you ask for. Free.
"How can we do this for over 7.5 million members?
"We're information experts. (geeks).
"But we don't know diddly about making ads.
"OF COURSE! LIFEWONDERS! HOW COULD WE FORGET THEM?!"
No, not Lifewonders. Lifeminders.
"Lifemenders! How could we forget them?!"
Not Lifemenders. Lifeminders.
"Lifewinders! How could we forget them?!"
Never mind. Don't know diddly about making ads, indeed.
What is Lifeminders?
Funny you should ask. I played the commercial for the Fabulous Honey Parker. Her first question was: "What do they do?"
THAT SHOULD NOT BE THE FIRST QUESTION SOMEONE ASKS AFTER SEEING YOUR BUSINESS TO CONSUMER MESSAGE
Especially not after you spent over $2 million to place that message one time on national television.
To find out what Lifeminders was about, I did some research.
After reading several press releases, I still had no idea.
Finally, in a release issued about three months before the big game, I learned that they offered email reminders.
You'd fill out a profile with your interests.
They would send sponsored emails to help you manage your life.
IN OTHER WORDS, IT WAS OPT-IN EMAIL INTRUSION
Can you imagine managing your life with email today?
You need a full-time assistant just to manage your email.
My in-box is flooded with spam about dating hot, lonely Russian women, or commanding me to browse psoriasis creams, or how it's time to learn how to talk to my cat. (Which would be a fool's errand. He doesn't listen.)
Anyway, how did Lifeminders decide they needed to be in the Super Bowl?
Hard to know. Maybe it had something to do with lots of venture capital. People will tell you that VC and egos go hand-in-hand.
But not long after the Super Bowl, with a stock price of $90 a share, a 12-month sales figure of $14 million, a 12-month income of almost $33 million, assets totaling almost $71 million, and liabilities of just over $10 million, how bad could things be?
"BUT WHAT DO THEY DO?"
Well, yes, there's that question.
But here's what they decided they didn't want to do: they decided they didn't want to be in the Super Bowl.
They'd bought the spot and later wanted out.
But then, they couldn't unload their $2 million investment.
So, with two weeks to the big game, they turned to their advertising agency, the illustrious Fallon Worldwide (then known as Fallon McElligot), and said, "Hey, we need to produce a Super Bowl commercial."
You can probably hear the riotous laughter echoing in the halls of Fallon's Minneapolis HQ. But they were probably very polite when they turned back to their client (whose account was worth an estimated $50 million or more to the agency) and said, "Ah, afraid we can't do that."
SEND IN THE FREELANCERS!
A big-agency freelance team known to the VP of marketing was called in, and the self-proclaimed "Worst commercial on the Super Bowl" was produced.
Further research reveals that about a year and a half later, Lifeminders.com was sold to Cross Media Marketing Corp for more than 68 million bucks.
And about two years after that, Cross Media Marketing Corp filed for bankruptcy.
Yes, you can hear the sad sound of dot coms circling the drain.
But back to the Super Bowl commercial. Big-money meets big arrogance for a big flop?
Again, hard to know.
Because Lifeminders did try to pull out. When they couldn't, they tried a Hail Mary.
And they eventually sold their business for a staggering amount of money.
Still, when you're spending two-million bucks on one advertisement, isn't a little clarity a good idea?
WHERE IS THE THINKING BEHIND THE MESSAGE?
Who was it for?
What was it trying to tell them?
I still have no idea.
And I'm guessing the freelance team (which had a big-agency pedigree) also wasn't sure. If they'd spent their careers working on creating big-brand advertising, and had never worked in direct response, it's entirely possible they never considered who they were trying to reach and what the specific message might be.
Or maybe they didn't even have the time to think that hard.
Or maybe the client wouldn't let them.
Whatever. It's all conjecture and nothing more. Monday-morning quarterbacking on this is impossible.
It's just tragic that, with a $2-million buy at hand, the best that could be done was a message that makes a savvy professional ask, "What do they do?"
AND IN A PROPHETIC NOTE FROM THE SAME SUPER BOWL...
We get another commercial.
The infamous chimpanzee dancing on a spackle bucket.
Two rhythm-challenged dimwits are sitting in a garage on lawn chairs. The chimp runs up, tunes the radio to a cha-cha, jumps on an upside down bucket, and starts dancing--while wearing an E*Trade T-shirt. After 20 seconds of this comes the message in two graphics:
"Well, we just wasted two million bucks."
"What are you doing with your money?"
ANNCR: It's time for E*Trade, the number-one place to invest online.
It's almost advertising art imitating commercial life.
SO, WHAT'S THE TAKEAWAY FOR THE SMALL-BUSINESS MARKETER?
Beware arrogance in advertising creative decisions. That big idea of yours might really be bad enough to fail.
If you've got pros around you who have a track record, listen to them. If you don't have any pros, find some.
Don't be fooled by bright lights and shiny keys. Being in the Super Bowl--or anywhere else--is not a goal for your advertising. The goal is for your advertising to generate results.
We literally know local advertisers who've said, "But they gave us a spot in the Super Bowl!" And if you ask what good that spot did them, they can't tell you.
We also know a guy who runs a venture capital investment company that specializes in funding tech start-ups. He says that routinely, companies who come to them are spending huge amounts of money on Google ads.
The ads aren't producing any results.
BUT THAT DOESN'T STOP THEM FROM WRITING $30,000 CHECKS EACH MONTH
Dude, you're spending someone else's money without having a plan of attack, without a strategy or tactics, and with no idea of how to craft a salient, resonant message that generates response. What are you doing?
We've worked with tech companies, and the ones who Get It are a joy to work with.
The ones who don't get it don't work with us because we aren't hip enough and we certainly aren't smart enough. How could we possibly be smart enough? They know tech!
Look at the company that inadvertently started the Super Bowl of Advertising.
Go back to Super Bowl XVIII in 1984.
Yes, that's when Apple Computer unleashed its brand upon the world with a commercial called, 1984.
THEY DIDN'T TELL YOU IT WAS GOING TO BE THE WORST AD IN THE SUPER BOWL
They also didn't tell you it was going to be the best.
They just lit people on fire.
And to inspire that kind of conflagration requires knowing about something more than zeroes and ones.
It requires knowing that you're not necessarily smarter than everyone else.
It requires knowing that being resonant has nothing to do with the delivery platform, whether it's Google ads or Super Bowl ads.
It requires respect.
It requires understanding the emotionally resonant core of your customer.
It requires finding that core, and then knowing how to light it up.
And having a little clarity.
"Don't know diddly about making ads," indeed.
Don't be like Diddly. Be like Bo. Bo knows Diddly.
(How's that for a shameless mashup of a advertising reference you're probably too young to remember with a shameless rock & roll reference you're definitely too young to remember?)
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
YES, IT'S TIME TO TALK ABOUT THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION
If the selfie stick, Kardashian mania and a profusion of Iggy Azalea videos hadn't already convinced you of the gradual death spiral of culture as we know it, Super Bowl 50 (because Roman numerals are too difficult for the populous--how's that for irony?) should have convinced you.
Specifically, you should have been convinced by Mountain Dew's entry into the $5 million 30-second sweepstakes with the horrifying mashup creature whose tiny body dwarfs anything ever to come out of the mind of a glue-huffing Spanish surrealist monster-movie director.
If you and your children ran screaming form the den, unable to ever unsee the hell that Mountain Dew hath wrought, you are not alone.
Puppy Monkey Baby is now forever seared into our collective conscience as the vilest, most depraved and most cynically calculating commercial character ever to be released from the CGI vault of a major commercial production company.
In case you haven't seen it, you may want to watch it now by clicking here. https://youtu.be/ql7uY36-LwA
EEGAD, WHY IS THIS HAPPENING!
Lest you think we here at the Mountaintop Marketing Fortress are late to the party in our desire to skewer and roast the Puppy Monkey Baby, that it's last week's news, know that we've been doing our best to forget it even existed.
But it keeps cropping up.
In our media feeds.
In the middle of the night when we awake, wondering whether that cat sitting at the foot of the bed staring at us in the dark really uttered the guttural phrase, "Puppy Monkey Baby!"
And where is that infectious dance music coming from?
But really, all of this aside, there is perhaps no better example of how Super Bowl advertising is both acutely applicable and utterly irrelevant to the curator of a small business brand.
IGNORE THE CREATURE BEHIND THE CURTAIN!
There ya go.
Now you're going to forever have an image of the godforsaken, computer-generated spawn of a pug-head, monkey-body, baby-leg face licker lurking behind your living-room drapes.
Puppy Monkey Baby in many ways was inevitable.
Since Super Bowl advertising has become very much about social engagement, it's easy to imagine the conversation that probably led to this vile creation.
"We need a meme!"
"You know what happens whenever you try to create a meme--it flops on its side like a crippled minnow."
"What are the most popular viral videos of all time?"
"Well, the Oogachucka Baby was probably the first."
"And people love pug dogs, especially the Super Bowl Doritos pug dog commercial."
"And Career Builder's monkey commercials, the Trunk Monkey commercials, monkeys have always been huge."
MASHING UP THE SUBJECTS OF THREE OF THE HUGEST VIRAL-VIDEO SUBJECTS EVER?
Is it a no-brainer?
Is it a huge mistake?
And really, what have they done?
Other than disturbing some of us into forever avoiding the soda aisle at Safeway?
Well, here's one theory.
They got people talking.
Depending on whose statistics you want to believe, Puppy Monkey Baby was the single most engaging commercial in Super Bowl 50.
Of course, a lot of those engaged were expressing their disbelief and horror.
BUT WHO WAS THE TARGET CUSTOMER?
Here's one safe bet: since the three guys in the commercial look to be in their early twenties, the likely target was teenagers.
After all, there's nothing an 18-year old is more interested in being than a 21-year old. All kinds of doors are suddenly (legally) open.
And are teenage boys watching this and thinking, "Ew, gross!"?
Of course not. That's what their mothers are saying.
Which makes the contrarian teen brain think Puppy Monkey Baby is even cooler.
And there is no shortage of coverage about how this is one of the worst Super Bowl commercials ever.
And you know what that means.
EVEN COOLER FOR THE REBEL CONFORMIST!
Because let's face it, that's pretty much how most of teenage rebellion works: finding a bunch of angry people who dress alike, dressing like them, and following them around. (No offense to the true teen rebels, some of whom I had the distinct pleasure to know back in the day.)
"I want to be different, just like them!"
And for the gross-out agers (younger kids who love gross humor and can legally buy an energy drink), this is a gateway product for getting them hooked.
Sorry, is that too cynical?
Here's the bottom line.
It doesn't matter how many pundits tell us this is an awful commercial.
WE HAVE NO IDEA ABOUT MOUNTAIN DEW'S STRATEGERY
We can make guesses.
But we are really, totally in the dark about what anyone there, at their $63 billion parent company or at BBDO New York was thinking.
But it certainly generated a media buzz for a soft drink that gives you a caffeine buzz.
And we can probably be guaranteed of this: everyone involved knew this was over-the-top borrowed interest. There is absolutely nothing about a Puppy Monkey Baby that is in any way relevant to Mountain Dew Kickstart. (You didn't even remember the name of the product, did you?)
This is exactly the kind of thing a good class in advertising creative teaches you not to do.
And they did it.
Gleefully, no doubt.
AND NOW IT HAUNTS YOUR DREAMS
But what does it have to do with small business brand marketing?
Not a whole lot.
Unless you're looking for an example of how to break the rules.
This is a hugely disruptive message.
It is not an enormously salient message.
But if we go back to the Trunk Monkey (something that was discussed here in the screed years ago), it's an example of how commitment to an irrelevant idea can ultimately lead to sales--especially if you're in a category where nobody has any idea how to differentiate themselves from the competition.
If you've never seen these videos, the trunk monkey is a dealer-installed option on Subaru cars. Push a button inside the car, and the trunk pops open and a chimpanzee pops out. The "monkey" does things like defeat car theft, deal with irate drivers in traffic, and administer first aid.
SEE ALSO: GEICO
The vast majority of GEICO's advertising has nothing to do with auto insurance.
But they've committed to their sense of humor, they always include their USP, and they spend horrifying amounts of money to make it work.
Borrowed-interest advertising--the use of an irrelevant creative idea to drive a sales message--is always pointless.
Until it isn't.
Could you make something as insane and pointless as Puppy Monkey baby work in your own advertising?
We would also never recommend trying.
But if you're going to try, you better have a strategy, tactics, and a seriously strong stomach. Because you're going to need it.
Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.