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Commercials: Monday’s Quarterbacking the SuperBowl Ads

February 7, 2011

SuperBowl Logo

The game may be over, but the points are still being scored on the SuperBowl’s famous TV ads.

As always there were thrills (VW’s Passat: Young Vader) to head scratchers (Mini: Cram It in the Boot). The SuperBowl is, well, the super bowl for commercials, too.

This is the one time of year advertisers pull out all the stops. Some ideas are beautiful in simplicity (Doritos: Pug) with the dog running in super slow-motion like a great replay of a linebacker down field, determined to get to his Doritos. And it even had a great zinger of an ending: the pug knocks down the glass door to the backyard in its eagerness to get to the Doritos.

Other ads leave you with a sense of “What were they thinking?” (, which went from normal to somewhat bizarre in seconds. If the point was to sell deep discounts online for local services, I think that fact was forgotten quickly by the butch guy morphing into a statuesque redhead in under 30 seconds. What did that have to do with great discounts? Zilch.

For all the money spent on creating, producing and broadcasting these product promotions, it can be a wasted effort if the advertiser misses targeting the right audience, is too mysterious in delivering the message, and fails to sell the product. Symptoms of these mistakes can include:

  1. Making the message too clever to understand what they’re selling;
  2. The product gets mentioned too late in the commercial, or it’s too unrelated to the story being told, so it’s forgotten two seconds after it’s over;
  3. Not enough repetition to stick in the conscious mind; and
  4. Other elements of the commercial are so busy, the viewer is too distracted by them to remember anything about the product itself.

Many of the commercials did not make these mistakes. At the top of the vote list:

  1. VW Passat: Young Vader – I highlighted this commercial in a blog post last week (scroll down) as one of the best. Simple message, engages the viewer and keeps her. No distractions.
  2. Doritos: Pug – Mentioned above, Doritos scored a number of hits (and a few misses) through clever ideas simply told. Their repetition with several commercials helped cement their brand image.
  3. Bridgestone: Karma – What can I say? I’m a sucker for a cute animal story. (This is why the VW Beetle commercial also did well.) I applaud their originality in this story for safety and a nod to karma with the beaver saving the driver at the end.

These are but three of the top vote getters online for best commercials during the game. My personal favorite was the Chrysler 200: Eminem piece. It was a daring piece in that it’s a 2-minute commercial, rarely seen when every second of air time costs a fortune during the game. The narrative storytelling in this commercial was original and top notch. Visuals remained simple enough but familiar of our past, even beautifully patriotic in a Lee Iococca kind of way. And the “Imported from Detroit” slogan made it brilliant. As a successful attempt at bringing back pride in the American Car, they couldn’t have done better.

If you’ve been trying to remember these great commercials while reading this, and you’re lamenting I didn’t include YouTube links, I thought you might simply prefer to view them at your leisure here at the end. FoxSports nicely put all the SuperBowl ads up on their website, so you can see them all and vote for your favorites. You’ll see buttons for Most Good Votes and Most Bad Votes. (And you probably won’t be too surprised at which ones folks didn’t care for.)

A round of applause is due to all those who put together the best of their creative ideas. There’s some truly brilliant marketing going on from the creative and art directors across the land, from selling cars, to food, to soft drinks and beer. After all, that’s what the commercials are for: to sell the stuff. It’s the American Way!

Alternate link:

May the Force…Make More Sales

February 4, 2011

Ah, the beauty of social media and instant everything! Just as soon as I get an e-newsletter off the launch pad and into inboxes (soon hopefully once the server’s back online) on this very topic (but not this specific commercial), I see yet another fabulous commercial from folks at Volkswagen (via my stepbrother’s Facebook post). Check out some fine marketing at work:

What’s it all about?

Target market: Suburban, well-to-do families. (After all, they can afford a fancy Darth Vadar costume for the kid!) Message: The Passat is powerful. More cleverly than that simple message are an array of messages rolled into the ad: Look how powerful Dad is because he can make magic (the ‘force’ of keyless engine start) with the push of a button. Mom is powerful because she’s got the kid completely under control. He may be running all around the house, but she’s calm as a cucumber. Little Vadar is adorable – making this car a big appeal to women because the kid’s so cute!

Let’s not forget some fine details that really show off the crafting in this commercial: The camera angles and editing choices are dead-on matches to the original Star WarsTM movie, from the sterile white hallway walls to the wave of the black cape as the boy walks.

Finally, it’s great storytelling. In less than a minute you see a happy boy (amazing to glean that from his body language even though we never see his face) go from excitement over his newfound powers (when he put on the costume) to dejected as the powers don’t work again and again around his home. At the last minute, his spirit is renewed with the sound of his dad coming home in the car.

And is he happy to see his dad? No, he waves off his dad’s greeting in anticipation of his magic working on the Passat. Miraculously (to the boy) his powers do turn on the car’s engine. He is astonished at his skills. (Have we ever seen Darth Vadar look surprised?)

Lastly, I just wanted to mention that without John Williams’ amazing score to Star WarsTM, the original, as well as this homage, would have been vastly diminished. The music absolutely sells the car.

Mindset: Don’t Fumble the Copywriting Ball

January 24, 2011

Since my last post on copywriting I’ve passed this issue back and forth so many times I was certain I’d lost a lot of yardage.

In a recent newsletter I sent out on this topic (sign up over there in the right margin or here) I cited the example of a certain trash bag commercial where they make the customer (you or me) look like an idiot because we had the audacity to buy the wrong brand of garbage bag. Further, not only did I buy the wrong trash bag, but then I was so stupid I picked it up too fast and everything burst out the bottom – as if I had the intelligence of a two-year-old (and honestly, the little tikes are probably plenty smart because they don’t even have to take out the trash at all).

Can you tell this commercial rubs me the wrong way?

Each time I thought about writing about ‘what sends your audience away,’ it made me feel, well, negative. And I didn’t want to do it because I’d just feel worse and worse while writing about these mistakes. So I wouldn’t finish the post – veritably running away. (Not much of a mindset, eh?)

Then I had a bit of an epiphany: Make it short and to the point how to avoid driving away your audience, and then we won’t be wallowing in negativity. So here we go.

A headline’s job is to engage the reader, not turn her off. For example, you want to sell a new energy drink or product. It may even be “natural” and “good for you!” You begin brainstorming on engaging headlines:

Never Feel Tired Again!

Sure, it is engaging. But it just made me feel bad. It just reminded me I could use a nap. I wasn’t even thinking about being tired until this headline brought it up! And so it’s pissed me off. Instead, try this:

Want All the Energy You’ll Ever Need?

This has my attention at the get go. It appeals to my sense that more energy means I can get more stuff done, have more free time, live the life of my dreams. Get it? This headline puts me in a good mood, and that translates into keeping my attention because I want more good mood. It puts a smile on my face.

So here’s a simple checklist of questions to ask yourself to get in the right mindset when you’re trying out headlines (not to mention the product copy throughout your material).

  1. Does the headline/copy make me feel happier or sadder?
  2. How much does my audience’s exact mood affect my sales?
  3. Am I reminding the audience of too many negative things/problems if they don’t buy the product? (Nagging sure doesn’t help!)
  4. Can I make the same points by only discussing the benefits – the good outcome — of the product (and dropping all the negative references)?

You may be thinking, “Yes, but I need to remind them of their problem – the negative – so that they see the benefit of my solution.” Yes and no. Tone of the delivery can make a huge difference in closing the sale whether it’s getting them to phone you or visit your website for more details. But delivery by sledgehammer can send the reader running the opposite direction.

When Apple began their TV commercials with the “Hi, I’m a Mac” and “I’m a PC” campaign, it was laced with light humor and delivery. So that when they got to the PC’s Blue Screen of Death reminder of why folks migrate to a Mac, it was with a light touch, making the benefit of the reliable Mac obvious.

It takes great skill to remind the reader of the problem you can solve without inducing stress, fear, sadness and all manner of negativity in a heavy-handed way. They already remember the frustration, stress and anger without us reintroducing the full-blown problem all over again in their face.

Remember, if reading your own copy makes you sad, angry or stressed out, perhaps you should rethink your approach. Your success will be much greater with your campaign if you leave the iron fist in the drawer this time.

Sell solutions, not the problems.

Mindset: The Good Copywriting Zone

December 20, 2010

What’s the magic formula? How do you know if your writing is ‘in the zone’? Great storytelling isn’t enough if you’re missing the target. No one cares about a great story if it doesn’t relate to them. And that’s the crux of the issue: In copywriting, the magic formula is ensuring that every word and phrase is all about them.

Sure, you’ve heard it before. “Talk about the benefits, not the features.” But every time I hear that awful phrase I can’t help but think about health plan benefits. And we all know there’s absolutely no fun, no excitement, no interest in hearing about those. The material is about as dry as the Sahara Desert.

Let’s look at it another way. The purpose of bothering with any display ad (with brief copy) or brochure (with longer copy) or web page is to sell the client’s stuff. Right? I’m not suggesting that the different mediums will generate the same results. In general the “sale” made by a print or online display ad is to get the prospect one step closer to engaging with you. The “sale” is a click through to your website. The “sale” is to pick up the phone to ask you for more details about your service. It’s one step closer to connecting you with your prospects.

In order to engage your prospects, good copywriting interrupts whatever it is they’re currently thinking about and appeals to a desire. Customers all buy based upon subconscious decisions. (That’s another, separate blog post.) Sure, they might claim to evaluate product features, reviewing what is best for them – all conscious activities. But in truth, the decision to move forward is based upon an emotional appeal. Folks like to feel good about themselves.

During the holidays, the emotional motivation for many purchases isn’t because ‘Joey will really love this thing-a-ma-jig.’ The emotional motivation is that because Joey will love this, he’ll love me. (We’re a terribly selfish lot, we humans.)

In the B2B world, the emotional motivation for buying a service or product is NOT because our customers will love this. It’s NOT because our customers will buy more of our own stuff if I get this. And it’s NOT because ‘my boss will think I’m a genius.’

A business purchase is made because we believe that if our customer loves it, more customers will buy; AND my boss will love that; AND he’ll give me a raise; AND then I’ll be able to take that vacation in Fiji. It’s still a selfish motivation.

Getting into the “Good Copywriting Zone” means appealing to the prospect’s positive emotions in order to engage their interest. How does the product or service make the prospect feel?

Indeed, it is the old “What’s in it for me?” perspective. But remember, the answer to that question isn’t a list of features or old-fashioned benefits (save money, time, peace of mind…), it’s the feeling created by having it. Saving time or money is meaningless unless you can tie it to having more time to spend with your kids, having more money for that vacation.

If your copy doesn’t grab their emotions right off the bat, chances are they may not read any further. Make sure you’re always talking about them and not about you.

They don’t care if you’ve completed a hundred hours of specialty training. They don’t care if you got three new certifications. Those are mere features. But if the hours of training translate into a guarantee you can solve their problem and make them happy, now you have their attention. If the new certification means you’ve got the fast track to get them into the home of their dreams in half the time of the other guy, then you’ll have their attention.

Talk about them.

This is Part 2 in a series of posts about copy writing. Next up: Don’t fall into the pit. What will send your audience running away.

Mindset: The Essence of Good Copywriting

December 8, 2010

I’ve been writing a lot of client copy recently. Whenever I dig in on these projects I get many ideas swirling around in my head, and it’s quite exciting. I thrive on the journey of extracting all those ideas down to very clear, hit-the-nail-on-the-head messages.

When I sit down to write I review my notes from a discussion with the client. In general, we’ve ranked the key points to convey in our conversation. Sometimes the client has needed a great deal of guidance about what the most important parts are to communicate to their target audience, and sometimes the client is already extremely focused on their message.

Usually the client would like to squeeze in a lot more information for their target audience than is reasonable for the space available. We often forget that the target audience simply isn’t interested and/or won’t remember multiple messages. (It’s the old ‘kill two birds with one stone’ thinking. There’s a sense you can deliver multiple messages in one space and the audience will select which one they want. But the result is the opposite: They’ll look at the clutter and ignore ALL of it because it looks confusing at first glance.)

The most successful print or display ads have very simple, laser-focused messages for their audience. Brochures, depending upon length and purpose, often allow for multiple messages. …But will they read it? If you’ve been reading my blog posts for any length of time, you’ve noticed I’ve been tinkering with the length of a post’s message.

In this medium some bloggers post a few sentences daily; others posts thousands of words bi-weekly. Again, it all depends upon your audience. What will they stick around for?

Here’s what I’ve noticed about my own writing habits for clients: First, I try to incorporate everything they’ve requested, knowing I will edit it down for space and the attention span of the audience. It’s like working your way in from the outer circle of a bull’s eye target down to the small red circle in the middle. And for some clients I actually have to prove that I’ve attempted to squeeze in their messages I absolutely know will not fit the allotted space, but they have to see it with their own eyes to believe it.

When I write out the first draft words and phrases float into my head and onto the page. It fuels my excitement; but I also know that they may get the axe on second pass. I don’t want to give up what I see as a really cool turn of phrase.

Next, I have the luxury of testing the fit to the space immediately. Is it too short? (This almost never happens.) Or is it too long? (Almost always!) This is one of the great advantages I can offer my clients since I do the graphic design of the ads or brochures myself. There’s no waiting for typesetting and layout.

Writers who submit copy to an advertising agency to fit to a piece may have to make more adjustments to the copy not knowing the art director’s planned visuals. On the other hand, I already have a sense of how much time and space to devote to copy. Usually it is less than the client expects since they have so much information they’d like to convey to the audience.

So now that the copy shows up as inevitably too long (no matter how much I tinker with fonts, point sizes, leading, etc.), it’s time to take a hard look at the verbiage. This is where the quality of the writing either floats, like cream, to the top, or it sinks like a lead balloon.

What are the factors that affect the final outcome? Ironically, I find it has everything to do with my mindset. I must be in the right emotional space, focused on the goals of the piece. When I am ‘in the zone’ it is easy to see what phrases and ideas, while sounding lovely, may not serve the goals well enough.

Just like we love to hear ourselves speak, writers love to see their words on the page. It’s easy to love what we write. But if those words are superfluous, if they don’t serve the goals, I have to give them up.

When I’m in the right mindset, it’s easy to see the cuts to make. It’s easy to see what phrases are tangential to the main theme. My mind is open to new concepts and approaches to the copy. Sometimes it’s a complete shift in the voice that I suddenly see as ideal for the material.

If you’re not in the right mindset, every cut feels like a sacrifice. Every strike of the red pen feels like you’re cutting off your right arm. Then you can’t be certain you’re on target in the first place. You’re not truly focused on the goal.

When you’re in the right mindset, the process of whittling down feels like great progress because the copy is getting better! And it’s better because it’s more succinct, increasing the chances that more people in your target market will read it. After all, that’s the first goal, isn’t it? You want folks to read it!

This is Part 1 in a series of posts about copy writing. Next up: Determining the goals of the copy. How do you know you’re on the right track?

Get SEO as part of your SEM or your business may be SOL!

December 1, 2010

Does it seem to you that everyone and his brother is on the SEO bandwagon?

In case you missed the memo, SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. (It never ceases to amaze me that all the technobabble has long, complicated, must-have-a-MBA-to-understand type names.) All of these names get reduced to silly acronyms that techies make sure you feel like you’re from the Stone Age if you don’t know what NVIIDLE stands for. (And I just hit random keys on the keyboard to make up that one!)

Recently I seem to be bumping into jillions (literally) of people who have jumped on the SEO bandwagon. They’re all working as SEO specialists or sales specialists for the SEO companies. Now really, we can’t all be on the first page of every organic Google search results page. We can’t all be #1 at the front of the line. And we can’t all hire other people to buy us, or coach us, into that #1 position. In fact, I’m willing to bet that not everyone even wants to be in that hot seat all the time. Does it guarantee your business will explode in growth? No. A little bit? I should hope so!

What’s my point? SEO right now is like the Rubix cube, the Pet Rock — the next hot thing. I’m not saying it’ll practically disappear like those former flashes-in-pans. And I’m certainly NOT poopooing the necessity of doing what’s necessary to get your business the most and best exposure to the widest target market. Indeed, I encourage that. In fact, SEO has gotten so big that it’s spawned a whole new spinoff: SEM – Search Engine Marketing. Gaining the greatest visibility on the internet can be crucial to many businesses, so SEO may be quite important to your company.

If your business is 100% online, deriving every last penny of revenue from having the greatest exposure online, then you’d better be strategizing with a true expert in Search Engine Marketing to analyze your leads and sales to the nth degree across all known search engine sourcing.

But I don’t believe that every Tom, Dick and Harry can be an expert – can guarantee (as most do) – that your company will be headlining in Widgets All Over the World – on every Google or Yahoo screen across the land. That’s just silly.

Yes, the pendulum is still swinging. Like our Universe, we’re still searching for the edges of the Internet. Where does it stop? When do we fall off? If I market my widgets on beyond Pluto, will I make zillions in sales to the Andromedeans? (But how will you ship them there???)

I digress. Marketing on the new frontier continues to expand. We’re still on the Oklahoma land rush out in the ether, taking new ground, staking new turf. That’s well and good. But if you get a five-acre spread with views until the cows come home for just pennies on the dollar, does it make a lot of sense if your entire family is back on the East Coast. If your target market still actually reads bits of snail mail, flips over a postcard, answers the phone, shops at a grocery store (where they place ads on the little kiddie flip seats and cart backs). If your customer may ride a bus, go to the movies or the ballet, flies a plane…well, you get the idea. The old media isn’t dead. Sure, much of the old world media has shrunk dramatically. Much of it remains still transforming into something else yet to be determined. But folks are still there. So don’t abandon the old, traditional marketing venues wholesale.

While the Oregon Trail is but some fading ruts in the dirt in much of the Great Plains now, it was once heavily trafficked. The stampede for #1 on Google’s search results is surely a worthy goal. But look how many chose to plant their roots along the way to the Gold Rush in California? They’ve led happy and successful lives and businesses from Missouri to Oregon. In your rush to reach the top of Mount Google, have you forgotten about a perfectly good target market that isn’t parked on Facebook all day?

Will your business truly be Sh*t Out of Luck if you don’t blow your entire marketing budget on SEO or SEM? Probably not. You’ll still be standing. And you might even see a whole new market (or one you’d almost forgotten) just waiting for your products or services that you wouldn’t have otherwise recognized had you not taken a moment to step back and appreciate the entire, old and new marketing landscape. Sure. SEO is important, but it isn’t the be all, end all. There are LOTS of providers out there. Review their offerings carefully and compare before buying. Remember the old adage: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket – at least, not all your techno-acronyms!