Category: Ad Industry

Super Bowl 2016: We’re All Losers

Papa_Payton Sunday, advertisers spent a collective $377 million to get their message in front of your eyeballs during Super Bowl 50. Was it money well spent? We can't say with any sort of empirical accuracy, so let's go ahead and conjecture.

Get Off My Television

We'll start with the ads we wish we'd never seen. Unquestionably, top honors here go to ads that focused on our digestive function. Sometimes it was too frequent (Xifaxan Diarrhea) or not as frequent as we'd like (OIC Is Different Opioid Induced Constipation), but either way we don't want to hear about it. In fact, the most effective thing these ads likely did was to bring a new raft of supporters in the anti-prescription-drug-advertising-camp. Syble was the lone voice of dissent in favor of the "OIC Is Different" ad, but I'm afraid to ask her what she liked about it, so her motivations will remain forever a mystery. Many people (myself included) would also put Mountain Dew's disturbing PuppyMonkeyBaby in this same category, but those people are probably unlikely to Do The Dew regardless. I think the Dew's marketing team knows it's demographic quite well. A Superbowl spot that disturbs that demographic's parents is likely to make young Dew lovers everywhere chug another can in solidarity/rebellion.

So Close Yet So Far

This year, this category is dominated by Kia. Their spot has nearly everything. Christopher Walken. An Everyman in a beige suit. Fancy, retracting walls. The only thing it doesn't have is an effective message. I watched the spot and thought, "Yes! I should buy socks that look like monsters!" My desire to buy a Kia was unaffected, leaving it at precisely nill. The "Movin' on Up" spot gets a dishonorable mention here as well. How can you mess up Jeff Goldblum on an ever-levitating piano? By lacking any kind of clear and appealing message. But, my personal favorite in this category has to go to Honda, for their so delightful, yet so ineffective Ridgeline introduction. We did all learn that Honda is bringing back the "Greatest Truck Ever Built That Nobody Wants to Buy", and I for one am a sucker for talking animals (and Freddy-Mercury-aping animals all the more). But we didn't learn anything about why we should be excited that Honda's bringing back the Ridgeline. Well, besides the world-changing feature of in-bed speakers to entertain our sheep. I genuinely liked this spot, as did Dea, but I'm not sure it's going to sell many Ridgelines. It's impossible to talk about "Almost-there" without bringing up Marmot's intra-species love-fest. I was 100% on-board with the Marmot as an anthropomorphized brand-ambassador, right up until the creepy attempted man-to-beast smooch. If you're trying to introduce your well-loved specialty outdoor brand to the general public, I don't think that starting off making them feel squeamish is the right way to do it. I'd be tempted to put Turkish Airlines beguiling yet confusing real-world/superhero mashups in this category as well, but my co-workers disagree. Mustafa picked these as his favorite ("if Bruce Wayne tells me to visit Gotham, I'm going to visit Gotham"), and Hayley was impressed with the depth of the online-aspect of the campaign behind the spots. I'm still not 100% sure if this offer is a real thing, or a clever parody, but they did pique my interest.

Not Bad, Not Perfect

Toyota tried something new with its extended story of a Prius-facilitated bank robbery. Convincing people that the Prius isn't a completely boring car is probably worth Toyota spending $10-million on, but I'm not sure that this was the best way to do it. Dea felt the police chase brought up uncomfortable memories from the events in San Bernardino just a few months ago, and the general awfulness of real-world police chases. I appreciated that Toyota was willing to admit to some of the car's stereotypes, (i.e. the surprised, "This thing's pretty fast!"), but I don't know if it did enough to contradict them. Still, even Dea admitted that she was impressed with the demonstration of the car's auto-braking function, and if you're the person who was already considering a Prius, this might help push you over the edge. The NFL's Super Bowl babies spots have been getting lots of reactions online. Some positive, some negative. I suspect that reaction comes across demographic lines. Parents probably loved them, and children were probably uncomfortable with the thought of their own origin story. Still, everyone has to admit that this year's NFL "Football is family" spots are far, far better than those horrible and insulting "Panthers/Buccaneers/Cowboys/Eagles" family spots thy were running last season. Buick's marketing campaign over the last few years could be summarized as, "Buick's aren't just for old people, no really, we swear." And this year's spot had nearly everything. A beautiful woman imitating OBJ. The actual OBJ. A Buick that looked like a car you might want to actually drive. Still, when the actor said, "I can’t believe that convertible’s a Buick," it didn't make me think, "Buick's are for young people." It made me think, "Oh, I guess that's a convertible for old people."  

Money Well Spent

Some people have been panning the Heinz Wiener Dog spot, but that's because those people are idiots. I was watching the Super Bowl with a number of 3-6 year olds who consume vast quantities of ketchup. They think of ketchup as not just a condiment, but as a welcome accompaniment to any meal, or a standalone right-out-of-the-bottle-when-dad's-not-looking snack. I didn't think it was possible to make these particular 3-6 year olds love ketchup any more. But Heinz did it. I disliked the Dorito's Ultrasound spot, but Carl and Syble put me in my place. Carl picked it for best of the Super Bowl, and Syble called it "brave, honest" and "a triumph for the emasculated dad." Come to think of it, I could go for a bag of the irresistible little chemically-engineered triangles myself right now, so maybe they're right. Dea picked Advil's straightforward and inspiring "we'll help you do more, with less pain" spot for her favorite, and I can't disagree. It helped move Advil from something you take when you're sick, to a performance-enhancing drug. I'm not sure what the L'Union Cycliste Internationale will have to say about that, but I'll bet it'll be good for Advil's bottom line. Nicole picked the SoCal Honda Dealer's Helpful Honda People campaign as one of her favorites. In case you were watching out-of-market like me, the campaign offered free rides home on Uber in the greater LA area after the game, in an effort to reduce drunk driving. The spot ended with, "No Matter What Kind of Car Picks You Up, It’ll be Honda that gets you home safe." And I have to agree that's straight-up-brilliant. I don't think of car dealers as altruistic people, but putting their money up to reduce drunk driving goes a long way towards changing that perception. I, and most of my coworkers, also liked Drake's spot for T-Mobile. It might be at least partially because when Drake said, "I love changes," he uttered a phrase that has never-ever been sincerely stated in a creative field. Big Pink's shots at other carriers may have been a bit ham-handed, but Drake and awful dancing saved it. Nobody had anything negative to say about Helen Mirren (and who could honestly say anything bad about the world's most attractive 70-year-old) and her anti-drunk-driving PSA. Though after Payton Manning ruined what should have been one of the most pivotal moments of his career by forcing in 2x Budweiser mentions, I think we were all annoyed with the beer maker that sponsored Hellen's PSA. Also, you'll notice that at the end of the PSA, Hellen almost-but-not-quite takes a drink from the Budweiser bottle in front of her. Some people might say that's because Budweiser has to follow laws in the United States that prohibit actually showing people drinking alcohol during beer ads, but I'm 100% confident that Hellen never has, nor never will touch the stuff. Because her tastebuds #GiveADamn. Both Audi and Acura's ads got plenty of love from our agency, and I loved them as well, but I think they were too similar to be effective. Acura promoted their supercar with the help of high tech materials and Eddie Van Halen, Audi promoted their supercar with the help of a depressed astronaut and David Bowie. I even heard the morning newscasters on my local radio station confuse the spots, and talk about how great the ad with the Acura and the astronaut was. I'd take either car, and I enjoyed both spots, but I'm not sure that either will do much to move the dial for either carmaker's bottom line. Hayley called out the Anthony Hopkins spot for brilliance. Her nomination is supported by an unexpected source. I had a satellite TV installer at my house this morning, and he walked in to my office while I was reviewing some of Sunday's ads for this article. He asked if I "just sit around and watch YouTube all day?" Then, unimpressed with my answer, he went on, "Yeah, whatever. That spot with the cannibal guy for that tax stuff was hilarious." Who am I to disagree?  

The Winner

Sunday, there were entertaining ads. There were effective ads. But nobody combined the two better than Hyundai. The automaker's night started off demonstrating their automatic-breaking system with the help of a world filled with Ryan Reynolds (that's the plural, not singular "Reynolds"), then showed off its car finder feature with an overprotective Kevin Hart and finally emphasized it's voice-activated-starting feature with the help of some hungry Grizzlies. The ads were fun, and combined, showed that Hyundai's building cars with innovative and (possibly) useful features. I first picked up on the fact that Hyundai knew their way around making vehicle at the LA Auto Show a few years back when I got a massage from the back-seat of an Equus.  That back seat felt more comfortable than the back seat of the S-Class I sat in that same night. Seems like the automaker's doing a good job of communicating that sentiment to the general public.

Or Are We all Losers?

When I canvassed the office for reactions to Sunday's $377 million spectacle, the first reply I got was from Mike. "Didn’t watch any ads. Too busy on my phone during commercial breaks to pay attention to the TV. Sorry advertisers." I'm not sure if Mike's making a point about the growth of digital media and death of broadcast, or crying out for help with his debilitating smartphone addiction. Either way, I expect he's not alone. Sorry advertisers.

Rockview Farms – Our Newest Client


Rockview Farms LogoEcho-Factory today announced that it has been named agency of record for Rockview Family Farms, a leading dairy products company operating facilities throughout Southern California and Nevada. Rockview owns its farms and cows and represents one of the last family-run and independently operated fluid milk plants in Southern California. The company offers competitively priced products with the highest quality ingredients and is set apart by its unique relational approach to customer service. (more…)

My Everyday Carry – One Digital Creative’s Indispensable Apps & Services

A couple years ago I moved to a part of the country where people take self defense and disaster preparedness very seriously. Here, many of my neighbors use the term “everyday carry” for the (usually large caliber) handguns they have on their persons at all times. Handguns they feel they couldn’t live without, and which they plan to deploy in the event of a terrorist/bear/zombie attack. (more…)

Want to Control the Conversation? Make It Easy for the Media

(article written for CSQ Magazine)

How to capitalize on the overworked, understaffed world of journalists and bloggers

    When Lumber Liquidators stock (NYSE:LL) plunged 60 percent in late February of this year, it wasn’t because of aBloomberg or Wall Street Journal investigation. It was because 25-year-old UCLA dropout-turned-investor Xuhua Zhou had a suspicion that the company’s CARB compliant products weren’t actually CARB compliant. He paid for an independent lab to confirm that suspicion, and published his findings on a blog, Seeking Alpha. (more…)

Are You ‘Killing’ Your Creatives?


collage illustrating unhappy creatives

Your Leadership Style Could Be Your Company's Ultimate Demise

Are your deliverables becoming the duckface selfies of the ad world? Is your stuff leaving a smile-frown on your clients’ faces? It could be that your leadership style is killing your company’s mojo. To succeed, your creative agency must operate like an organism healthy enough to give birth to new ideas—and with great prolifery. That said, let me share with you the brutal truth: You will watch your agency die a slow and painful death if you fail to protect yourself from the fatal disease of micromanagement. (more…)

Building A New ‘Oz’ For Advertising Photography


Unlimited Usage Rights Are Forging A Golden Road To Better Client Relations In Advertising Photography

Photo, we're not in Kansas anymore — the yellow brick road of the digital age now leads us all to a land overflowing with digital visual delights. And it’s time the advertising photography industry got the picture. So listen up, Scarecrow. (more…)

Our newest client: Spiral Toys

Entertainment Tech Company Spiral Toys announced that they've selected us to lead their branding and marketing effort, which began with the transition of the name and Stock Ticker Symbol to Spiral Toys (STOY) Spiral Toys Logo Kids today are growing up in a purely digital age, a world where computers, tablets, game consoles, and smartphones have become an integral part their lives. Some five-year-olds know more about navigating the Web than their grandparents or even their parents. Where many adults a few years ago were trying to wrap their brains around connecting to the Web without an Ethernet cord, kids today can't imagine a world without the cloud and wireless technology. Technology has even re-shaped children's interaction with toys. cloudpets in a row They look like typical stuffed animals, but CloudPets are connected through the cloud to a mobile device application, allowing users to send messages back and forth between the toy and the app. Spiral Toys, a developer of innovative products in the mobile connected entertainment space that launched its Toy-Fi line last June, was acquired by Rocap, Inc. (formerly OTCQB:ROCP) last July. On Wednesday, the company announced the completion of the name and ticker change to Spiral Toys and "STOY." The company also said that as part of the re-branding effort, it has partnered with Echo-Factory, a full-service advertising and design firm. Echo-Factory has a pretty impressive portfolio, working with household brands, such as Mag-Lite and General Electric (NYSE:GE), and superstars like Taylor Swift as part of a promotion with Altura Credit Union. "Echo-Factory understands the space we're in, and they have the vision and talent to help us continue to build our brand so we can eventually own that space," commented Spiral Toys CEO Mark Meyers in a press release today. "We're excited about Mark's vision… and to be honest, the technology is just so cool, and that makes Spiral Toys a dream client for us," added Mike Schaffer, principal at Echo-Factory. Further, Spiral Toys said today that it has partnered with international toy distributor Jay@Play and On Demand Global to launch CloudPets on Direct Response Television on March 1, 2015. Jay@Play, a division of Jay Franco and Sons, is the distributor behind the popular plush animal brands "CuddleUpPets," "Hideaway Pets," "Seat Pets" and more, so the Spiral Toys look to be a natural fit for their distribution channels. Spiral Toys also says it plans to release CloudPets into mass retail stores across the U.S. this August. In a bid to gain exposure, CloudPets commercials will be airing on major kids television networks such as Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and Disney Junior. Spiral Pets has management with top-level experience in the business and has aligned itself with some marketers that can get the job done. Shares are moving the right direction in the past three months, from a low of 30 cents to 45 cents per share in Wednesday trading (up a penny on 14,000 in volume), equating to a market capitalization of only $18.6 million. Now, the company had better get some product in the warehouse.

The Feels Bowl 2015

SuperBowl_2015_v3 This year, the Super Bowl was dominated by ads that tried to make us tear up, and tried (perhaps less effectively) to make us better people. Toyota, Dove and Nissan all encouraged us to be better dads. The NFL reminded us to not follow the example set by of many of its players, McDonalds will pay us to be nice, and Coke reminded us not to bring our soda into a data center. I’m not really sure what American Family Insurance was trying to do, but apparently we were supposed to feel kindly towards a singing Norman Rockwell painting. I honestly don’t know if this year’s Budweiser commercial with puppies and draft horses is different from last year’s. Maybe the wolves are new? I don’t know. Anyway, puppies and draft horses are cheating, and I award them -50 points for further vilifying wolves when there are plenty of misguided individuals already doing that for them. I now want a puppy and a draft horse, but still don’t want a Budweiser. Also, how many times are we going to watch that cowboy lose the puppy?  Does the SPCA need to get involved? All of these were sentimental and sweet, but I don’t know if any of them will make sales rise, or actually make the world a better place. Always The Always (which honestly until this moment I thought was by Dove) #LikeAGirl campaign was far and away the best of the bunch, for effectively championing change and showing most viewers something I expect they’ll take to heart. However, it’s disqualified from being the best of the SuperBowl by virtue of being released in June of 2014.

The Best

My nominees for best ads go for ads that were very effective and making me think twice about things I would have otherwise dismissed. Carnival Cruising is, in my mind, the worst kind of vacation. You’re stuck on a boat with 1000’s of other boring lazy people, gorging yourself for a week while doing precisely nothing, and forgoing all of the challenges and experiences that make travel worthwhile. If Carnival had done anything like the typical “shots of families going down waterslides and snorkeling” cruse ad, I would have given them a pass. But they didn’t. They used voiceover of JFK introducing the America’s cup, and made cruising about much more than endless buffets. A very good, very effective ad that I expect will help them reach a new demographic. Fiat The second honorable mention in this category goes to Fiat’s blue pill ad by the Richards Group (who makes great commercials but hasn’t apparently updated their website in the past 5-years). I think the 500 is a great little car, but feel that all the oversized Fiat’s are ugly. In this spot, Fiat managed to be funny, tie their brand back in with their Italian heritage and make a positive association with the 500 as a 500x. Lexus As the owner of an ad agency, you have a choice between 4 makes of cars. Mercedes, BMW, Lexus and Audi. Dea’s somewhere out in left field with a Volvo, but Mike decided on a Lexus. After watching their great the remote control drifting spot, I can't blame him. It says, “buy a Lexus and you’ll have fun,” which is really what we all want from our cars.

Office Favorites

Stephanie had a shout-out to Budweiser’s live-action PacMan spot, and I have to agree with her love of GrubHub’s flying burrito. That’s mostly because there are few things I hate more than the forced interaction of calling someone on the phone. “…without ever having to talk to a human being” would sell me just about any product. Finally, someone gets me. Mustafa fell for the delight of Mountain Dew’s kickstart promo, saying, “something about showing a dog doing the booty dance will always make me laugh.” How can you disagree? Mike was a fan of "whatever car company tricked me to think my tv went out", but the fact that he can’t remember which car company paid for the spot means something. I do have to say I’m a big fan of the copy on that one. There’s something simple, straightforward and true about, “You know you want a truck.” I don’t need one, but yeah, I do kind of want a truck.

Most Improved

No question, but this award goes to GoDaddy. Since time immemorial and the dawn o the internet, GoDaddy Super Bowl ads have been crass, immature, sexist and fully cringeworthy. They did nothing but build controversy and name-recognition, and we’ve discussed their awfulness in the past. But this year, they went in an entirely different direction. GoDaddy’s core demographic is small business owners. People who have a DIY ethic, who work hard and for whom building a good online brand is a key consideration. For once, GoDaddy hit the nail on the head. It pains me to do it, but I have to give credit where it’s due. This was a great spot, and spot-on.  It's almost reassuring to learn that their tasteful and quite good commercial that actually ran was a replacement for a somewhat-awful original, pulled after complaints from animal rights group.

A Personal Favorite

I’m not sure it’ll be very effective combating Gorilla Glue’s ownership of the market, but Loctite’s spot was fantastic and hilarious. Mike loved it too. Sadly, I just went to the store this morning and bought Gorilla Glue, despite the undeniable appeal of fanny packs. Sales might have been boosted more by showing how strong the stuff is, but I have to take a moment to thank Loctite and Fallon for 30 seconds of pure entertainment.

Begrudging Admiration

I hate the entire Game of War ad campaign, but I have to admit that “Kate Upton being rubbed down in a bathtub with monsters and explosions” is pretty much 100% spot-on for the game’s target demographic of 13 year old boys. While it didn't do much to convince me to try Clash of the Clans, I do like watching Liam Neeson threaten his phone.


Weight Watchers Stephanie panned Weight Watcher’s food-porn ad, commenting that neither she nor “anyone who watched that commercial will be going to Weight Watchers anytime soon.” I thought it was awesome, and the “me vs. the world that’s trying to make me fat” attitude was on target.  Also, great job finding the George Clooney voice-alike who was doubtless cheaper than the real thing, and nearly as effective. Nissan Mustafa picked Nissan’s dad-racer spot as one of his favorites. I thought it was good, but there’s no way a Nissan factory racer is picking up his kid from school in an Altima. It’s no accident that Nissan seems to have dubbed the exhaust note of a GT-R over the Altima, because there’s no freaking way the real world version of that dad is driving anything but a GT-R.

Object Lessions in Near Greatness

Weathertech Last year, Weathertech had a great spot. This year, they almost had another one. It starts on all the right notes, blue-collar, made-in-america, then gets simultaneously too generic and technical. “Quality automotive accessories” doesn’t mean anything because it’s too generic, and and “laser-measured custom-fit” doesn’t mean anything because nobody knows how it benefits them. My guess is it’s a classic case of a client wanting to fit too many messages in a single ad, and the agency not having the ahem gumption to stand up and tell them no. Dove Dove’s #RealStrength dad-ad is an even better example of near greatness. A beautiful, moving montage of children saying “dad”, ruined by an ending featuring “the most generic and cheesy radio announcer guy ever.” It’s obvious the original spot ended with a much softer branding/logo fadeout, and the awful CTA was added at the last minute by, to put it gently, a fool who has no business in advertising. Without the ending it’s my personal favorite, with it it’s a case study in what not to do for advertisers everywhere.

The Worst

Far and away the worst of this year’s crop is Budweiser’s “Beer for people who don’t care what their beer tastes like and just want to get drunk” ad. (Alternate title: “Craft Beer is for Sissies.”) I didn’t take pride in the fact that I’d never actually drunk a Budweiser until that spot came on the air. Now it’s gone from a strange fact to a personal goal. I think anyone who’s ever actually tasted good beer would rather be at the table of guys “dissecting” craft brews than knocking back a cold one.

What You Think?

I know it's hard to imagine, but sometimes people disagree with us.  If you're one of them, let us know in the comments.

The Faux Resurrection of Branding

(Article written for CSQ Magazine)

Invest In Helping Your Customers Like You 

It has been announced that branding is dead, and perhaps has been for some time. Wired claimed it in 2004. Fast Company agreed to it in 2008. A bearded creative director confirmed it just this year. Consultants preach it. Commentators bemoan its loss. One book even goes so far as to suggest that branding is not only dead, but also an art only fit for cows. The apparent causes of its demise are many. Some attribute branding’s passing to a prolonged bout with transparency, often brought on by unprotected contact with social media. Others point to the more vague “digital age” as branding’s ultimate undoing, or SEO, or packaging (as though packaging were somehow totally separate from branding), or even the supposed education of the consumer class. It’s that last one that I find particularly hard to stomach. You only need to spend two minutes reading YouTube comments to realize we consumers haven’t come too far. But every consumer, even those commenting on YouTube, can recognize that branding is alive and well. When you look behind the “branding is dead” headlines, you usually find that what the author actually means is that the definition of branding has, or should be, expanded. But you and I both know we’re more likely to read an article titled “Branding Is Dead” than one titled “The Definition of Branding Has or Should Be Expanded Slightly.”   We’re all suckers for a punchy headline.   Branding Is Bigger Than Ever Branding has grown not just in definition, but in value. Interbrand, a branding agency that manages to maintain 33 offices in 27 countries despite the supposed death of its core offering, recently published its 2014 Best Global Brands report. This report lists the “contribution of the brand to business results.” It’s the closest we can come to quantifying the value in dollars of a brand, and those values are staggering. Perennial branding favorite Apple’s brand is valued at $118 billion. Another textbook branding case study, Nike, comes in at a $19.9 billion brand valuation. If you mention the word “branding” in a classroom at ad school, Apple and Nike are the first two words likely to be shouted back at you, so nobody’s surprised that their brands are thought valuable. But there are also plenty of less recognized branding powers that made Interbrand’s list. Ever thought about the power of a brand to absorb bodily fluids? Pampers gets swaddled with a $14.1 billion brand value, while Kleenex comes in at $4.6 billion. Brands are also plenty capable of planting stuff in the ground and moving dirt around, as evidenced by John Deere’s $5.1 billion and Caterpillar’s $6.8 billion brand valuations. All told, Interbrand’s top 100 global brands this year account for more than 1.4 trillion dollars, which is a lot of money. So much that it starts to lose its meaning. So let’s look at it another way. As the most valuable company in history, Apple currently has a $483 billion market cap. Interbrand estimates that its brand alone accounts for $118 billion. In essence, Apple’s brand accounts for about a quarter of the company’s value. Sound Investment Advice No one has ever accused me of being a financial wizard, but here’s some investment advice I’m confident standing behind: You’re probably not investing enough in your brand. Unless your name’s Tim Cook, you’re not at the helm of Apple, but your brand is probably worth more than you think. Or at least it could be. Branding is much more than just a logo and a tagline. Branding is anything that influences a customer’s perception of your company. And that’s a lot of things. When a customer emails your company, how long does it take to get a response? Is that response helpful? What does the response look like? What tone does it take? When a customer visits your website, how easy is it to find the information they’re looking for? Is your site pleasant to use? Does it look as good on their computer screen? Does it look good on their smartphone? When a customer reaches out to you on social media, do you respond? Do you have an active presence? Do you have something interesting to say on social media, or is it obvious you just have a profile because someone told you that you should? Branding isn’t magic. It’s just making sure that when your customers come in contact with your company, they like what they find. And chances are, you’re probably not investing enough in branding. If you do make that investment, I’ll bet that you’ll not only make your customers happier but also increase your company’s value. Not bad results from something that’s been the subject of more obituaries than I can count.