Repetition as proof. Repetition as proof!

I’m not a fan of mindless formulas. But here’s one that works really well in TV (because it’s not mindless):

  1. State the premise.
  2. Show example after example that proves that premise.
  3. Show how that relates to the product.

Watch this brilliant spot by Lance Accord.

Here’s how this formula works:

  1. We understand that Molly is a brilliant inventor.
  2. Scene after scene we see proof that she’s a brilliant inventor.
  3. This is the kind of brilliance GE values and employs.

Here’s another one (full disclosure, I was the writer on this spot).

This is the formula at work with Henry:

  1. Henry stains carpets.
  2. Henry spills all kinds of things on carpets.
  3. LifeProof carpet is strong enough to stand up to someone like Henry.

Last one.

  1. Squares are boring.
  2. Squares are everywhere.
  3. The VW Beetle is anything but boring.

I’m not saying this is the only way to make a good TV spot. But it is one way. These are the things you need to keep in mind:

  1. I kind of went a little numbers crazy in this post. But the theme is repetition, so there you are.
  2. The proof can’t just be the same idea repeated over and over. There has to be something unique about each scenario. Molly has to invent cooler and more interesting things. Henry’s spills have to get more and more diabolical. Even those squares have to have a little surprise in them like the loading pallet or the sponge in the sink.
  3. The proof solidifies the strategy. These spots work because they’re strategic.

Chairs vs Sophie

Compare these two spots.

Both are from tech giants. Both have great production value. Nice writing. Well-directed. Good-looking film. But there’s a very different feel in how we connect with each.

One talks at us, the other shows us.
One tells us exactly what it is trying to say, the other invites us in.
One feels corporate (although it shows humans), the other is human.
One is ye old Manifesto. The other is a story.

What’s Wrong With This Chipotle Commercial?

The song is too sad.
Most of the spot focuses on the negative.
The animation style is weird.
It’s too long.
I don’t know what the product is until the very end.
There’s no strong call-to-action.
Where the hell is the food? You can’t have a food commercial and not show food?
People don’t like to be reminded that their food comes from animals.
Willie Nelson is too old for the target market.
Willie Nelson is too country for the target market.
It reminds us of what’s wrong with things.
It could be for any farm-fresh product.
There’s no voice-over walking us through Chipotle’s philosophy.
The cows in the good half are square. Square reminds me of boxes, which aren’t natural.
The length isn’t good for television, and if we don’t run it on television who’s going to see it?
The farmer is too fat.

I’m sure there are more. What else?

How To Lame It Up

I try to avoid rants railing on work that’s out there, but this one particularly rubbed me the wrong way. I would vote for the following story as one of the best, most charming stories from last year.

And then the other day I caught this on the tube:

Sometimes I like to imagine the meetings behind the work, but my brain can’t process the conversation in which someone says “Let’s take out the kids and replace them with three yuppy douchebags in an SUV. And let’s pretend they did this all with points from their credit card.”

It’s one thing to be topical and relevant. It’s quite another to blatantly rip off a cool story and repurpose it for lameness. On top of that, this Citibank campaign is supposed to be about true stories. Fail. And they act like they want a genuine conversation, inviting you to share your stories, yet when I try to post a comment on youtube, it requires approval from Citibank. I’m still awaiting approval of my comment.

Should I be shocked by any of this? Hardly. But I think there is a real lesson in the difference between real reality and lame commercial reality.

The Importance of Seconds PART 1

Here’s an idea for the media folks (feel free to take this and run with it): The 33-second spot. And as a corollary, you can do the :17. I’m serious. Copywriters across the country would be pitching in their own coin to help the client buy them.

But odds are, as brilliant an idea as that is, nobody’s going to take me up on it anytime soon. So here’s my advice, something I’ve learned through painful experience: TIME YOUR DAMN SPOTS!

Aside from a pen and paper, a stopwatch might be your most valuable tool. Get one. When you write copy, BEFORE you present it, read it out loud and use that stopwatch. If it’s over :30 cut it. Actually, if it’s over :25, cut it. Allowing for a decent pace and pauses will give it character in the end. And when you read it, don’t read it with the goal of hitting :30. Read it like you want it to be read by your announcer or actors.

I can’t tell you how many times a writer comes into my office with a half page of copy for a :30.

“How long is this?”
“30 seconds.”
“You timed it?”
“Out loud?”
“Well, kind of.”
I pull out my stopwatch.
“Read it. Out loud.”
They do. They read fast. As they get close to the end, they get faster and faster. They stop breathing and the last couple sentences come out like they’re speaking in tongues, “andforminationvisitourwesiteatredna dot com!”
“34 seconds.”

This is so simple to do, but it happens all the time. Or, maybe more often, they write a nice script that clocks in under :30, and when the client makes them add stuff, they’re so enamored with their original copy that they don’t cut any of it.

Cut it. It will be painful at first, but suck it up and get over it. Learn to love that pain. Half of good writing is good editing.

Believe me, there is nothing more embarrassing than being on a set, ready to roll, with actors and crew and client and a director all standing by, and having the script supervisor tell you that she keeps clocking your script at :32, and you having to edit your script right then and there. That’s pressure you don’t need.

Stopwatch, my friend. Stopwatch. Is any press really good press?

About a year and a half ago, my agency was approached by a company out of Omaha called Salesgenie to do Super Bowl spots. Apparently the CEO had picked us because he saw some of our work and liked it. Naturally, we were stoked. The whole creative department worked on the assignment, and we pitched several ideas to the CEO. He thanked us, said he liked the work, but his board wasn’t convinced that the Super Bowl was a prudent use of their budget.

Apparently, they changed their mind, because they did run an ad on the Super Bowl last year. It was written by the CEO himself, and was voted the worst ad of the 56 Super Bowl ads by the USA Today poll. Here it is:

Pretty bad. Offensive? Probably depends on who you ask. But they raise some interesting questions, I think:

1) What’s their deal? Salesgenie’s strategy is to intentionally do bad ads, as explained in this article. And if it makes the company a profit, that’s good, right? Are brands crazy for trying to get people to like them when all they have to do is get people to talk about them?

2) Is there no difference between being famous and being notorious?

3) The CEO of Salesgenie is an Indian man. Does knowing that make the first one less offensive?

4) Where’s the line between so bad it’s good and just bad?

5) The Superbowl’s audience is mostly American, and the country can hardly be held accountable for every ad our companies air, but I felt embarrassed and not proud at all for being in advertising, and even a little American when I saw these. Anyone else agree?