I just got back from another work trip. Spending time in a plane and lonely hotel allows time for critical thought of the forces that put me there.
Advertising hasn’t just been TV and print for a while, but now there seems to be an obsession with new media and making websites for ad campaigns. Traditional TV is dying, magazine’s are getting smaller, fewer people get their news from papers–it makes sense to start focusing on the infoweb. But why does a brand of soap need it’s own site? How much more to soap is there than the ingredients? Why do all deodorants promise getting laid and being a real man through use of their product? It’s just deodorant, for goodness sake. Has soda become such an abstract idea that it can be promoted by lifestyle alone? Does spending $500, 000 on a fancy website cause an equal spike in soda sales? And if not, isn’t it a loss in principle.
Maybe I just don’t get how a company could spend so much money on something without it being the coolest thing it could possibly be. Why go through so much effort to not say anything new? The Internet specializes in practical information, pornography, crazy/violent/or amazing clips, music, games, and social interaction. It’s logical that consumer goods fit into the practical category, but they try so hard to emulate the other appealing content.
But this is disingenuous.
Everyone in this manipulation circle seems bent on reaching out to college age kids by advertising in Myspace, Facebook, Youtube and other popular youth destinations. The possibility of reaching millions of viewers is enticing, but the methods to do so are pretty limiting within the structure of the sites. And default ideas range from idiotic to intrusive. Making a Myspace profile for Burger King’s “King” seems like a fresh idea until every other marketer starts copying you (And not too many can touch the creepy-cool quality of this monarch crafted through millions of dollars of traditional advertising). A far greater number of corporate profiles are desolate. And even worse, they suck away as parasites to their host. Every corporate made profile or video is by default chipping away at the form’s credibility. And most just make company seem pathetic. A banner ad on a site is expected. And I don’t object to banner ads mainly because they are easily dismissed. They are supposed to be lame. But there is nothing lamer than an ad that tries to be viral and isn’t. It ‘s like a rich middle-aged dork who buys a sports car thinking he’ll become cool. But it’s not the car that makes the man, and it’s not the format that makes the video.
One of the more interesting projects undertaken by the agency I work at was producing a half hour television show for Powerade. Called Sportsblender, it was intended as a showcase of alternative sports from around the world. All of the pieces were there for it to be special: direction by Napoleon Dynamite‘s Jared Hess, a crazy set, a good cast, and an entertaining and weird subject. It was made and aired on MTV for a month. Then silence.
The following criticism is not of the creative effort in getting this show made (or the quality of the show itself); that was an achievement. But I regard this show as a failure in a few ways: Foremost, the effort taken over more than a year by the amount of people involved could surely have been put to more varied and creative uses. There was an excessive amount of wasted energy trying to get this made, not to mention the hardship of all the fighting and false starts. The show cost millions to make and air. What would have happened if the millions of dollars were put to commissioning however many people you could for $5K to see what kind of irreverent ideas they could produce in Powerade’s name. You could bankroll at least 1000 people. If the whole point of the show was to create the impression that Powerade was the underdog, irreverent sports drink maker, wouldn’t the unique visions of 1000 people make more of a splash than one 25 minute show that’s aired for a month never to be seen again (Because of various contractual issues, the entire show was never put online in it’s full form. This the is least that could give the show any hope of being popular.)? But Powerade would never take this approach. It seems to risky to do something outside of the traditional realm of advertising. But the control of the process they gain by working within the traditional industry is offset by how mucked up everything gets by the PROCESS. Chattering back and forth about strategies and market share and focus group results makes everyone more comfortable with spending all this money, but it doesn’t make a better ad. To indulge another bad analogy: a person can spend a lifetime keeping track of all the different trees he sees and still miss the beauty of the woods.
The viral clip I posted a few days ago is an example of tackling new media in the wrong way. It was conceived as being a viral but it was made like a low budget commercial involving too many people at the shoot, client approval processes and edits. Few, if any of the popular clips on Youtube have gone through this kind of bullshit to make. And you can tell. Honesty is something you can’t fake.
If a corporation really wants something to be viral, it needs to let go a little and see what happens.