Smart Cup or Empty Vessyl?

On Comedy Central’s Colbert Report last week, Stephen Colbert questioned the marketing strategy behind the new Vessyl Smart Cup produced by San Francisco-based startup Mark One. Designed by Yves Behar of fuseproject, the Vessyl is a digital cup with molecular analysis sensors that display the exact content and calorie count of the beverage within. In terms of attractive design and ingenious technology, the Vessyl is spot on. But to Colbert’s point: is there really a mass market need for it, especially at a cost of $199 per cup? Market research is a critical pillar of product development; without it, what you end up with is a geeky “parlor trick” that draws ooohs and aaahs, but few sales.

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Brave New World for Cats

If cats were 13th century cartographers, this is probably how they would map out their known world. Or so it is suggested in this series of print ads for Whiskas pet food, created by AMV BBDO in the UK and illustrator Dave Hopkins. The vintage-style maps were drawn from a cat’s perspective, with feline significant names given to landmarks in the Living Room Plain, the Garden Outback and The Kitchen Valley. Ottoman Overlook, Settee Ridge and Magazine Mound are key features called out in the living room. Toaster Volcano, Sore Paw Crossing stove zone, and Shelf Highlands are marked in the kitchen, and in the garden, the area beyond the Great Wall is labeled “Here There Be Monsters” with two unfriendly dogs stationed nearby. The compost heap is named Pew Gardens. The sepia-toned maps are a delight to study, and they are presented with confidence that viewers are sophisticated enough to know the Whiskas brand and a fair amount about typical cat behavior. The only real branding in the ads is the Whiskas name in its familiar logotype set in a shield that vaguely looks like a silhouette of a cat’s head. The signature purple color of Whiskas packaging is completely absent.

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UK “Crime Bosses” Teach Emergency CPR

Public service announcements (PSAs) mean well, but often times they play on people’s fears, guilt or soft-heartedness to get viewers to pay attention. That’s why these PSAs from the British Heart Foundation are so refreshing. Produced by Grey London and directed by Steve Bendelack, the new Mini Vinnie CPR ad is a sequel to one done featuring British actor/pro football player Vinnie Jones. Embedded in the spoof are some valuable tips on how to give hard and fast hands-only CPR in an emergency. These entertaining ads follow in the tradition of the British Heart Foundation’s PSA, starring British actor/playwright Steven Berkoff on how to identify the symptoms of a heart attack. They are all about stayin’ alive.

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Evil Zombie Snowmen No Match for Nissan Rogue

The weather was reportedly mild when TBWA Canada filmed this 2014 Nissan Rogue commercial in Toronto last fall, so it seems prescient that they so accurately recreated the monster blizzard that would assault the Northeast this winter. Who knows, maybe in the brutal whiteout conditions of the recent Polar Vortex, real zombie snowmen were angrily roaming about wreaking havoc. This 60-second spot, which plays like a trailer for a sci-fi thriller, was directed by Mark Zibert, with production by Sons and Daughters, post-production by The Mill, and TBWA executive creative direction by Allen Oke.

And the 2014 Super Bowl Winner Is…GoldieBlox

Unbeknownst to most sports fans was a completely different Super Bowl competition being played out on the sidelines. Sponsored by Intuit, maker of QuickBooks, TurboTax, Intuit and Quicken software, the contest drew 15,000 small business contenders who vied for the chance to win a free 30-second spot during the big game last weekend.

And the Intuit winner was GoldieBlox, a startup that offers construction toys strictly for little girls. A Kickstarter-funded project, GoldieBlox was founded by Debbie Sterling, a Stanford-graduate engineer who was disturbed to learn that 89% of all engineers in America were men. Taking a walk through a toy store, Sterling noted that the “blue aisle” was lined with construction toys and chemistry sets, while the “pink aisle” had lots of princesses and dolls. Sterling vowed to redecorate the “pink aisle” with construction toys to send little girls the message that they could pursue a career in science, engineering, technology ad math too. San Francisco-based Sterling developed an interactive storybook series with a companion construction kit. The book’s heroine is a girl named Goldie who likes to invent mechanical things and seeks the assistance of the young reader to build them using pieces from the project kit.

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The Marketers’ Anthem

Dedicated to “consumer whisperers, mother targeters and brand guardians,” this video by Toronto-based Open Creative Company satirically celebrates the feats of advertising marketers. It was made as a call for entries appeal for Strategy magazine’s Marketer of the Year. The words and sentiments in “The Marketers’ Anthem” are all too true, but the male voiceover, dripping with tongue-in-cheek gravitas, pokes good natured fun at the achievements of men and women who “moved us to vote, follow, share, pin, tweet, retweet and like” everything from underarm deodorant, cookies, toilet paper and shampoo. The video taps into the bipolar reality of marketing people who are both proud and a bit embarrassed by what they do. On the one hand, they know their marketing campaigns are the engines that drive the economy. On the other hand, they know that their days, months, years are spent debating how to express the exceptional softness of a brand of toilet paper, or the virtues of one floor mop over another, or the desirability of frozen pop-tarts. No one has yet won a Nobel Prize for market advertising, so it is good that the industry hosts its own awards. Only a jury of your peers can really appreciate the monumental accomplishment of making a cleaning product stylish and exciting. Bravo.

Mercedes-Benz’s Poultry in Motion

Luxury carmaker Mercedes-Benz demonstrated how its amazing Magic Body Control suspension system offers passengers a smooth ride through the use of placid chickens funky dancing to Diana Ross’s “Upside Down” disco tune. For those of you who have never met a chicken that wasn’t already baked, grilled or fried, you should know that live chickens have the natural ability to keep their heads perfectly still even when their bodies are moving. For German ad agency Jung von Matt/Neckar Stuttgart, this chicken analogy seemed like a much more memorable and fun way to explain how Mercedes’s suspension system offers awesome motion stability. Daniel Warwick directed the dance number. No CGI was used in the making of this video; the chickens did it all with a few helpful hands.

Nothing Cheesy About These Ads

These commercials aren’t selling what you think they do. They were created by London-based John Nolan Studio/Robot Factory, which boasts an impressive portfolio of film assignments including “Dr. Who” and “Where the Wild Things Are.” The Nolan’s Cheese and Nolan’s Nuts brands don’t exist, but John Nolan’s animatronic design and FX services do, and the videos show off the firm’s talent and capabilities quite effectively – little wonder that they went viral online. The cheese video came out first, and a nutty variation of the idea followed.

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OK… Not This…But Close.

This skit by the British comedy team David Mitchell and Robert Webb from Channel 4’s “That Mitchell and Webb Look” sketch show kinda feels like the circular discussions that many of us sometimes have with clients, creative directors and team leaders. OK, not quite like that, but kinda like this. OK, the talk isn’t about fictional heroes, sex or killer sharks, but swap out the sex and killer sharks with marketing lingo and brand positioning and it’s almost identical. Well, not identical, but close. The free-association constructive criticism has the same baffling effect. Maybe not, but you know what I mean. If you don’t feel like that, just ignore this and enjoy the video for what it is. Or not.

Obsessively Funny Addy Promo

Convinced that advertising creatives see everything myopically through the lens of their craft, the Dallas Advertising League chose the theme “Obsession Has Its Place” to promote its Addy Awards in 2012. TM Advertising developed nine hilarious scenarios of singularly focused ad men and women dealing with everyday life situations. Jeremy Bartel of Liberal Media Films directed the videos, Jason Burks directed photography, and Charlie Uniform Tango did the post-production. Here are just two of the videos. To see the rest, go here.

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What Makes an Ad Go Viral

Sports and beer were meant for each other. If you watch beer commercials, that’s the impression you get. The beer- sports fan theme is an advertising cliché. Unfortunately, most of the ads are so interchangeably similar that one brand name on a beer bottle could be photoshopped out and replaced with another and no one would know the difference. Most of these commercials feature attractive, young people with bottles of beer in their hands, yucking it up in a crowded sports bar. When you’ve seen one beer-in-bar commercial, you’ve seen them all. Which brings us to the Carlsberg Fan Academy spot, created by Fold 7 agency in London. Like most videos that go viral, this one has a story line that holds your attention and is fun to watch. It’s a comedy sketch, with actors not models, and the brand message for Carlsberg comes through strong, but doesn’t stomp over the entertainment value. The viewers’ delight in getting amusement from an ad, makes them feel good about the brand and want to retweet it to share with friends.

Gist of the Message

Ottawa-based McMillan Agency got straight to the point in this direct mail piece. Recipients first read how the creative agency would help clients stand out from the crowd, and when they unfolded the sheet, they could read a lengthier discussion about the challenges facing companies today. Attention-grabbing. Succinct. Minimal production costs. Great idea.

Advertising Made Complex a la Rube Goldberg

Over the year, Rube Goldberg-type devices have popped up in a diverse array of TV commercials, from a promo for the “Elementary” mystery series, an ad for Beneful dog food, and the 2003 classic “Cog” film for Honda Accord. Unlike commercials that demonstrate or tout the product outright, these get their message across in the most tangential way. There is no story line, no spokesperson pointing out product features, not even a lot of voiceover commentary. But the viewer’s attention is riveted to the commercial and the product it is trying to sell.

Just who was this Rube Goldberg? And how did his crazy inventions inspire 21st century advertising creatives to design TV commercials to market their products so circuitously? Let me introduce you. Rube Goldberg (1883-1970) was an engineer-turned-cartoonist whose primary cartoon character was one Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts, an inventor of gadgets that accomplished the simplest tasks in the most complicated, elaborate roundabout way. For those unfamiliar with how Goldberg started a chain reaction of copycat inventors, here’s an example. Goldberg’s cartoon above explains Professor Butts and his Self-Operating Napkin, which was activated when a) the soup spoon was raised to the mouth, pulling a string, b) which jerked a ladle, c) tossing up the cracker inside, d) past a parrot, e) causing the parrot to leap for the cracker, f) thereby, tilting the perch, g) which tipped a bowl of seeds into a pail, h) which, due to its added weight, pulled a cord, i) which ignited a cigarette lighter, j) setting off a rocket, k) which caused a sickle l) to cut a string, and m) freeing a pendulum and causing an attached napkin to swing back and forth, wiping the diner’s mouth.

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Nice Idea, Try Again

This skit from “Burnistoun,” the comedy sketch show broadcast by BBC Scotland, reminds me of all the devices that, at first, seem like marvelous inventions, but still need work. An example is a recent exchange with that annoying automated iPhone twit, Siri. She keeps calling me “Del-fiend-E,” even though I’ve corrected her multiple times. Last week I asked Siri for the cross street of Gump’s, San Francisco’s venerable luxury home décor and jewelry store. Everybody in the Bay Area knows the 150-year-old Gump’s — except Siri. She said, “There are three dumps in San Francisco, which one do you want?” I enunciated more slowly, spelling out G-u-m-p-’s. She ignored me and started telling me the addresses of the local dumps. I finally asked a passerby for directions.

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