Tuesday, November 30, 2010

From adman to auteur?

This is a cross-post with Osocio. For industry context and credits, start here.

We do a lot of our video production work in Montreal, and I've always been impressed with the passion and professionalism of the production houses there. But one thing that always takes me aback is when the one of the directors or producers — who also work on world-class features — refer to our 30-second PSA or government ad as a "film".

This video, for Moelle épinière et motricité Québec, takes the idea one step further. It is a film and although a short one, it takes itself seriously with opening and closing credits, and beautiful acting and production values.

People keep talking about the death of advertising. But they're just thinking of traditional media. The fact is, advertisers are having to give up on the idea that they can steal 30 seconds of a TV viewer's attention and get used to a now in which everything — including commercials — is on-demand entertainment.

One way I explain this to non-ad people is like this: "Let me guess... you record your favourite shows, or buy them on DVD,  so you can skip through the commercials. But have you ever clicked a YouTube link of a "hilarious" or "amazing" ad that someone posted on Facebook? That's the only difference. We have to earn your attention rather than ambush you for it."

This video earned my attention. Not only is it worth watching for the content, but the cause is one that got me emotionally engaged in the story. (Don't we all hate those kind of people?)

And that's why the new "advertainment" landscape is good for social issues marketers like us. When consumer advertisers get attention through a great and surprising ad, researchers often record a negative reaction when the product logo appears at the end. They feel like they're paying a price for having watched the ad.

But when the ad is for a sympathetic cause, the end is never a letdown. It provides a sense of relief because the call-to-action allows the audience to convert their emotions into positive action. It's where they go from being overwhelmed to empowered. If it's done right, anyway.

Let's assume this product placement was unintentional.

And the best part of free online media is that there is no hard limit to the video's length. It is mostly determined by engagement and the average viewer's attention span. Even with YouTube's 10-minute-or-so cap, you could create an interactive feature-length film if you wanted, just by linking the videos together.

Recently, a colleague was questioning my use of the word "video" when he thought I should call the project an "ad" or a "spot". I'm starting to warm to "film" now, even though most of these projects are digital from end-to-end. It seems more dignified, somehow.

Monday, November 29, 2010


On Wednesday, Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys and Kim Kardashian are going to "kill" their social media selves for charity.

Well, it's actually more of a kidnapping. And the ransom, to bring back Tweets like "It is a promising morning when your eyelash falls in your Folgers" is one MEEELION dollars!

But they're not asking corporations or governments for this ransom. They're asking you. And the proceeds go to Keep a Child Alive - an AIDS charity that provides life-giving medicines to afflicted kids in the Third World.

Wednesday, you see, is World AIDS Day. And this "Digital Life Sacrifice" is a way of doing something important.

Let's put the importance of the cause aside for a moment. (Don't worry - we'll come back to it with all due respect.)

I'd like to take you back 25 years, to a charity concert for African food relief called Live Aid. Remember that? It was cool.

But I also remember being struck by a article later written by American conservative humourist PJ O'Rourke, which was published in his 1992 book Give War a Chance. Ever since, it has popped up in my mind whenever I am trying to grapple with my cynicism over certain celebrity acts of charity:

"As an example of charity, Live Aid couldn't be worse. Charity entails sacrifice. Yet Live Aid performers are sacrificing nothing. Indeed, they're gaining public adulation and a thoroughly unmerited good opinion of themselves. Plus, it's free advertising. These LPs, performances, and multiform by-products have nothing in common with charity. Instead they levy a sort of regressive alms tax on the befuddled millions. The performers donate their time, which is wholly worthless. Big corporations donate their services, which are worth little enough. Then the poor audience pledges all the contributions and buys all the trash with money it can ill afford. The worst nineteenth-century robber barons wouldn't have had the cheek to put forward such a bunco scheme. They may have given away tainted money, but at least they didn't ask you to give away yours."

It's hilarious, brutal, and insightful. (Remember when right-wingers were actually smart and self-deprecatingly funny?)

I've written before about my skepticism around celebrity campaigns, and this is where it comes from. While not of PJ's political persuasion, I still wonder why celebrities don't just cut a big fat cheque to the charity of their choice, rather than telling their fans to do it for them - occasionally through questionable organizations.

"Stick it Where The Streets Have No Name, bub!"

But as someone who has worked on a couple of "celebrity" PSAs, I know that there is another side to this. Cynicism aside, celebrities' time is valuable. And that value depreciates. Fast.

Unless you're Mick Jagger, or the late great Leslie Nielsen, you can expect your star to start fading within a few years at most. You have a hit, or do something grand, and the world is your oyster. But almost immediately, your clock starts ticking. And the further you get away from your last hit or moment of excellence, the less people care.

The less people care, the less celebrity you have. So you are under pressure to spend your diminishing capital as wisely as possible, and just as quickly. Your agent manages your public time to the minute, squeezing every last penny out of it. And what you give to charity? He or she can't really get paid on commission for that. So your charitable time becomes even more valuable when you give it away.

And there you have it. Gaga is giving away a precious piece of her fame so that kids in Africa can get well. Sure it would be more impressive if she actually went over there on her own dime and distributed the drugs out of pocket rather than pledging to do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING online for a few days, but at the bottom line people still get what they need.

The remaining problem, however, is that fans do not have deep pockets. Whatever they give to this charity represents money they won't give to another. It's a sad thing to talk about in the cause marketing world, but the fact is they're all in competition for whatever you're willing and able to tithe yourself.

At least the Keep a Child Alive kids have this kind of fame monster on their side:

You'd hate to have it against you.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wonders of Ancient Advertising

We often like to crow to our clients how the latest digital tools let us access audiences in increasingly personal and customized ways.

But previous generations of admen were no less determined or innovative; the tools they used just involved a lot more hard work.

My Mom recently passed me down these two postcards, which her father had kept from the time when his first employer (a jeweller in Prescott, Ontario) received them in 1938. (Click images to see larger versions.)

The front of the first card is cool enough, with its epic 1930s illustration of one of the original Seven Wonders of the World. But it's the back that really intrigued me:

It's promoting a Shell garage in Prescott, to a small business owner in Prescott. That's simple enough. But Shell went to the trouble not only to personalize the message, but to have its stamped, sent and postmarked from Italy. In an era when international travel was prohibitively expensive (and dangerous, since World War II was brewing), this little piece of exotica that mentioned advertiser and recipient by name must have been extremely impressive. Easy for an international company to pull off, sure. But that was a more innocent time.

There was another one, too:

This was sent from Turkey, featuring another Wonder (and one that still exists, in part). It must have had a similar effect.

My Grandfather was a passionate stamp collector, so he probably kept these for their philatelical value. I can only assume the campaign was intended to include all Seven Wonders. (You'll note there was a booklet, too.) Whether all seven were ever sent remains a mystery to me. But I do know that within a few months, we were at war with some of these places.

A great reminder that nothing can stop a determined advertiser, and that there is nothing new under the sun.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


BoingBoing posted this great bit of ambient advertising, supposedly posted in the urinal of the bathroom at a jewellery store specializing in engagement rings:

Commenters say it's from Spence Diamonds in Vancouver, and that there's another sign on the door back into the shop that says "Good talk."

A beautiful example of long-form copywriting that we can all look up to.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The "Compassionate Adman" Gene

Today is a school holiday in Ottawa, and like many dual-income families, my wife and I were faced with a "take your kid to work" day. I brought our six-year-old son with me to the agency, and as he always does when he's at Acart, he started making his own ads.

If you read this blog, you know how I feel about many social issues. My son has similar passions. But right now, all of his efforts are focussed on science, nature, and especially fish. He has been known to tell off fishmongers for stocking unsustainable species, and piped up during a morning conference call with a supplier to deliver a rant about shark fin soup.

But when it came to his ad, he decided it was important to teach people about invasive species:

"Snakehead Fish: Very Bad"
Yes, I know his handwriting is atrocious. That's genetic too...

But his rendering of Channa argus, from MEMORY (no photo reference) astounded me.

What he really wanted to write as copy, before he decided to be more brief, was "Snakehead fish are very bad for the environment. If you capture one, give it to the Toronto Zoo". (I love that he doesn't even consider a deadlier cull...)

The Northern Snakehead is an aggressive freshwater food fish of Asian origin that was released into the waterways of the  Northeastern United States sometime before 2002. As a new top predator, it immediately began to displace native fish and colonize more and more bodies of water. Wildlife management efforts are underway to prevent it from entering the Great Lakes, where it could destroy the ecosystems and fisheries.

My son loves to keep fish, to catch fish, and to eat fish, so this is the kind of stuff that keeps him up at night.

The sad thing is that, in China, the snakehead is a valuable food fish. If we could only convince American anglers that Chaozhou-Style Steamed Snakehead or Snakehead Hot and Sour Soup were delicious, maybe unrestricted angling could give this voracious predator a taste of its own medicine.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Made in Japan

Pink Tentacle recently posted a really nice collection of vintage Japanese cause posters.

I'd like to share my favourites here:

Against the introduction of nuclear weapons into Japan (Kinkichi Takahashi, 1960s)

Hiroshima Appeals (Yusaku Kamekura, 1983) 

Goodbye whale (Mamoru Suzuki, 1994)

Anti-pollution poster (Kenji Ito, 1973)

Environmental pollution (Shigeo Fukuda, 1973)

Thought-provoking, simple, and beautiful. A great reminder that sometimes words fail us.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Smoked Turkey

I know my American readers are getting ready for their (oddly late) Thanksgiving tomorrow, so I won't hold you up. I just want to remind you, via this vintage ad from Sociological Images, that nothing goes as well with good food, good company and good times, like a malodorous and carcinogenic roll of burning leaves.

[click image for larger version]

Man, I'm sure the days of tobacco advertising that normalizes smoking as part of a hip and righteous lifestyle are over. Right Camel?

Or maybe not.

Take care, and have a happy and healthy day off.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Generation Sesame

That's really what they should call us, rather than "Gen X". After all, we were the first cohort to grow up with Children's Television Workshop as our preschool.

And CTW knows it. First they start appealing to us with our own generation's music, like Feist. Then they manufacture naughty outrage with the "banned" Katy Perry cleavage number. And then, of course, came the Grover "smell like a monster" parody of the already-ironic Old Spice Guy campaign.

Now they continue to cater to parents who were once Sesame Street kids with this amusing social media campaign (inspired, no doubt, by the grassroots Betty White movement) to get Cookie Monster to host Saturday Night Live:

It's a little slow-paced, but Cookie has a bit of a speech impediment. I'm just happy that he's back to being obsessed with cookies, rather than pretending he's still on a health kick. (He even makes a sly drug reference that would fly way over kids' heads.)

At 40, I guess I'll never stop being a Sesame Street kid.


Don't be that guy

Don't get me wrong. This is an important issue, and these messages need to be said.

But it's also scary for me to note that these same messages were pitched at me when I was a teen, more than 20 years ago. Has anything changed?

This campaign, launched yesterday by Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton, is intended to raise awareness among young men that intoxicated women cannot consent to sex. In other words, sex with these women is rape.

According to the campaign site, this is a new approach:
"Typically, sexual assault awareness campaigns target potential victims by urging women to restrict their behavior. Research is telling us that targeting the behavior of victims is not only ineffective, but also contributes to how much they blame themselves after the assault. That's why our campaign is targeting potential offenders - they are the ones responsible for the assault and responsible for stopping it. By addressing alcohol-facilitated sexual assault without victim-blaming, we intend to mark Edmonton on the map as a model for other cities."
The "Don't be that guy" campaign has already picked up blog coverage from AdFreak and others. But curiously, the full ads have not been made available until today, when they popped up on SAVE's Facebook page.

According to the first article I saw on the campaign, in the Edmonton Journal, there is also a third ad that appears only in men's washrooms at bars and reads: “Just because she’s drunk doesn’t mean she wants to f***.”  [UPDATE: Here it is...]

As I said, an important message. But why has nothing changed in two decades?

When I started university in the late '80s, there was a very tense environment of gender politics at Queen's. The "take back the night" and "no means no" campaigns were in full swing, and the sensitivity about sexism was so hair-trigger that a student group prevented the Barenaked Ladies from performing on campus, just because of the band's goofy name.

It was one of those times in history when the pendulum of political correctness was hitting an apogee. And I daresay that there was at least one life-destroying rape accusation that didn't stand up in court.

Like I said at the start, don't get me wrong. Men who purposely get women blind drunk to take relatively lucid advantage of them are criminal rapists. They're little better than guys who use roofies.

But there is another side to this issue, and that is the mutually drunken hook-up. Young men my age were terrified by urban legends of women who would go home with them willingly, only to regret it later and claim coercion. Magazines like National Lampoon joked about not having sex with someone without a notarized contract.

Do young men still have this paranoia? As much as I wish we could move on from our instinctive sexism that views women as gatekeepers of sex and men as the barbarians at their gates, I doubt we've made much progress. Women are still seen as having more to lose from a casual sexual encounter than men are, even with effective birth control. Why is that?

And that's the thing that gives me pause about this campaign. Women are prey. Men are the predators. Therefore, we must scare away the predators through the threat of legal action and social shame. And the women are helpless in the face of male pressure and demon alcohol.

Won't it be great when we can have a campaign about fixing that?

You can access, and freely share, all campaign creative here.

Everyone has a price - especially on Twitter

@MarleeMatlin: $217.65

Have an Oscar-winning actress Tweet your cause for just $217.65. Hell, you could have a former child star for $2,985.80 — or as little as $29.41!

The "Twinfluence" of Marlee Matlin, Lindsay Lohan, Danny Bonaduce, and many other celebrities (and cewebrities) is for sale at Sponsored Tweets, a property of IZEA. (link via Consumerist)

From the "about" page:

Founded in 2006, IZEA is the world leader in sponsored conversations. IZEA pioneered the sponsored conversation space and continues to create innovative platforms like Sponsored Tweets to help our customers realize their objectives.

There are some surprisingly high-priced Twitscorts available for outcalls:

Soleil Moon Frye, AKA '80s TV character Punky Brewster, commands a queenly $5,850.00 per tweet. Apparently Punky grew up to become a popular Internet celebrity. But I can't imagine why...

@moonfrye: $5,850.00

On the other end of the scale, Shavar Ross, best known to people my age as Arnold's friend Dudley from Diff'rent Strokes.

@shavar: $15.29

In pop culture circles, Dudley is known for his role as a victim of Gordon Jump's sexual abuse in a "very special episode" that freaked out a generation:

Poor Dudley, it appears, never gets a break. His Tweets are only worth $15.22 a pop.

@JERzi_LYNN: $3.46

But at least his stock is doing better than that of aspiring Internet porn star Jerzi Lynn, who gives her social media love away for a measly $3.46 per Tweet.

 So, what do you think your Tweets are worth?

Or, much more importantly, your self-respect?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Stop F---ing The Sharks!

And by that, I mean "Finning"...

I Believe in Advertising posted this ad from Grey Hong Kong that speaks out agaisnt the Chinese tradition of killing sharks just to add their (tasteless) dried fins to prestigious wedding soups. It's really kind of freaking me out, but I thought I'd share based solely on the urgency of the issue:

IBiA also posted this translation:

“Jaws never return
Shark killing tragedies. Showing every day.
73 million sharks are brutally killed every year. In Hong Kong last year, 4460 tons of shark’s fin were consumed. Experts estimate that in the next decade, most species of sharks will be exterminated. Your choice will determine the ending of this tragedy…
Rescue sharks. Preserve the ocean. Please stop consuming shark’s fin.”

I should add that, if you don't stop eating that stuff, my 6-year-old radical naturalist son will also kick your ass.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Great! But what exactly are they selling?

I Believe in Advertising posted these two entertaining ads:

They're part of See Film Differently, an outgrowth of Volkswagen's sponsorship of independent cinema in the UK. They've now turned their attention to Hollywood and other big movie locations, and will be hosting a number of screenings and events in classic locations like those featured in the ads.

Of course, there are two things to consider here: Is this really helping build Volkswagen's brand? (Not to mention the irony of the Nazi-born company associating itself with an NYC deli.) And what do these two 1980s blockbuster movies have to do with supporting independent film?

Oh well, at least they were worth a watch.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fly the way too "friendly" skies

Via BoingBoing

Public outcry against the U.S. Transport Security Administration's new "intimate" pat-downs has created a new meme —"don't touch my junk" — from the confrontation passenger John Tyner had with agents who he accused of sexual assault.

Taking the conversation further, activist organization Fly With Dignity has released these copyright-free images with a call for any interested or would-be art directors to make their own protest ads and sites:

Is it too much? Sociological Images, an academic site I follow, comments "Apparently when trying to make a point about being degraded or victimized, men don’t make suitable subjects."

This is a good point, as well as the fact that the style of the images almost fetishizes the woman's suffering, and thereby trivializes the experiences of assault victims.

How do they make you feel?

Personally, I prefer their approach to full-body scanners:

I had to submit to one of these scans for the first time just a couple of weeks ago. It was a little embarrassing, but I'll bet it was worse for the viewers than it was for me. At the same time, the scanners themselves have come under fire for their safety (from the pilots union) to privacy (over incidents of publicly leaked images).

My CATSA guy that day actually joked that I could see my pictures on YouTube that evening — thank God for his sense of humour!

However, next time I might return the favour by wearing a pair of these:

Via Animal New York

Update: Cancer Survivor Flight Attendant Forced To Show Prosthetic Breast During TSA Pat-Down

Update 2: "I didn’t really expect her to touch my vagina through my pants.” (I think — hope — that "vulva" is more anatomically correct, but anyway...)

Update 3: TSA Takes Nail Clippers From Gun-Toting Soldier

Update 4: TSA Molests 3 Year Old Child at Chattanooga Metro Airport

Update 5: Bladder cancer survivor was soaked by his own urine after a TSA agent broke the man's urostomy bag

Update 6: TSA Won't Grope [incoming U.S. House Speaker] John Boehner

Update 7: This is how Germans protest their country's body scanners (naked, obviously)

Update 8: Another amusing protest stunt: ‘Feminisnt’ Sex Worker Molests TSA Back

Update 9: Scientist: X-ray scanners deliver “20 times the average dose that is typically quoted by TSA.”

Update 10: On November 21, 2010, I was allowed to enter the U.S. through an airport security checkpoint without being x-rayed or touched by a TSA officer. This post explains how.

Update 11: TSA incalls on SNL: "It's our business to touch yours"

Update 12: Metallic ink on underpants makes U.S. 4th Constitutional Amendment (against unreasonable search and seizure) show up on your airport scan

Update 13: Work-travelling, breastmilk-pumping mom harrassed for wanting to bring her baby's dinner home on the plane. (video)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Never trust a princess...

Second City Network has just released the latest in their series, "Advice For Young Girls From a Cartoon Princess". This time, Snow White (played by comedian Danielle Uhlarik) gives the skinny on her platonic relationship with seven strange men, housework, wildlife, trusting old ladies and hooking up with princes:

To be fair, Disney's Snow White came out in 1937 and was based on old European fairy tales. But for 21st Century girls who experience her story on DVD or Blu Ray, the historical context is lost.

"You know you've made it as the prettiest person
when everyone around you wants to kill you..."

The first two in the series tackled more recent iterations of princesses, Ariel and Belle:

Hilarious and sad.

Change the Conversation

According to our client, the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, 81% of licensed drivers never drive after drinking. Those who do are clearly in the minority. So why are a third of road deaths alcohol related?

The problem is that we Canadians tend to be very tolerant of others, and shy about confrontation. Many of us are proud of doing the right thing for ourselves, but we pause before either letting other people know what we believe or speaking out against wrongs.

That's the challenge we faced when TIRF asked us to partner with them on the Change The Conversation campaign. Responsible drinkers are in the vast majority, and it is time that we do something about the hard core of irresponsible people.

Confrontational, and even aggressive in their look and message, these posters are here to get attention and invite people to join the conversation at the campaign site, changetheconversation.ca, a Facebook page, a Twitter feed (@changetheconvo) and an eventual YouTube Channel.

The campaign messaging and look are by Acart Communications, while and our longtime clients the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) led the partnership with Arrive Alive and The Student Life Education Company, for web implementation and PR. Brewers Association of Canada sponsored it.

What do you think? Would this campaign make you think twice before getting in a car with someone who  had been drinking irresponsibly, or letting someone drive home from your place after a few?

The rest of the campaign brings further challenges: Planning ahead not to drink and drive, not letting young drivers get distracted driving drunk friends around, and the career limitations of conviction.

The Facebook Double (D) Standard on Obscenity

I blog frequently about sexism, censorship, and nudity in advertising, and I am aware that some readers find my concerns to border on inappropriate. But my sister just sent me this note from a FOAF on Facebook to remind me why there is so much controversy and confusion about sex, nudity, health and motherhood:

 [One image not posted - it was too sick even for this blog!]

Now, you don't have to point out to me that Facebook is a private company that can do what it wants (within discrimination, libel and other laws). But at the same time, Facebook's brand is completely in the hands of its half-billion users.

Those users are from all over the world, but Facebook's rules about nudity are purely American. This is a country that can't decide if it loves or hates the boobies. But either way, the sexual obsession causes all kinds of bizarre double standards.

Basically, even partially exposed breasts are considered "nudity" and therefore in violation of the Terms of Use which state: "You will not post content that: is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence". However, because the community is basically self-policing, the moderators usually act when another user has brought something "offensive" to their attention.

And there you have the hypocrisy. Younger female Facebook users are known for posting questionable "cleavage" shots of themselves. Nobody complains. Men post semi-pornographic images in the lad's groups, and keep them to themselves.

But for some reason, breastfeeding seems to be targeted. I can't imagine what anti-breastfeeding people are doing in groups, pages and photo albums that are clearly intended for people who want to share — and advocate for — the natural feeding of babies. Who on earth is complaining about these pictures?

You also have to wonder if Facebook has some automated feature to search our suspected breastfeeders —like their alt-killing bot that automatically deleted the accounts of thousands of real female users because their user names seemed fake. Are they consciously persecuting these women?

Yes, it is a private business. But so is a restaurant or a mall. And in civilized societies, nursing women have legal protection from discrimination, harassment and exclusion when they choose to feed their babies the way nature intended. How long until these protections spread into social media?

For the time being, though, I'm just passing on the outrage from a FOAFOAF. I left her name in there because she asked people to share. Please do.