advertising as content (revisited)

Back in March I wrote about the possibility for banner ads to carry content (i.e. The Office episodes), not ads. Back then I had this to say:

Picture this scenario: you are browsing yahoo news and you notice an ad that says something like, "Did you miss the last episode of The Office? Click here to watch it". You click on the ad and a player pops out and starts playing the episode of The Office that you missed. You can either watch the entire episode in full screen or leave it on in the background as you continue to browse the web.

This seems like a winning scenario. It's useful to consumers, the Studios get folks watching their programming and they make money off of every view, and advertisers make it all happen by running a few ads during the content.
I then stated that Hulu was closest to making this a reality with their "embed" functionality, where people can take an episode of a show, a movie, or a clip and embed it on their blog, website, etc, which allows the content AND the advertising to go beyond a static website.

Well, it now appears that Google is also attempting to make this scenario a reality. In a recent press release Google announced that they will be partnering with Seth MacFarlane to distribute his newest creation, Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy. The way they will do this is what is most interesting as they will be distributing the content across the Internet using Google's Ad Sense Network. So instead of needing to visit a website to view the content, the shows can be viewed from some of the most popular blogs around the Internet in the same place as where the ads are usually displayed.

This is interesting to me and raises a few questions:
  1. Will people pay attention to this new form of advertising / content distribution?
  2. Do people want to watch shows or clips as they visit / read their favorite blogs?
  3. Will they allow themselves to be interrupted?
  4. Will this cause more people to pay attention to the ad space on websites, rather than ignore it?
  5. Will the episodes carry ads with them or be advertising free?
  6. Will Google allow people to view the episodes in full-screen or embed it on other sites?
I'm sure there are many more questions, but this is a start.

Creativity vs. Co-optivity

This is a larger topic than this post has room to do justice to. The question I raise is not a new question in the arenas of art, popular culture and commerce. When artists, and I’ll use this term broadly enough to include rap/hip hop artists and even “advertising artists”, borrow or pay homage to or include a reference to the content of another piece of art, or include the actual piece of art, as happens very often in music, particularly rap music, and as also happens constantly within advertising, is this creativity? Or is it simply what I term “co-optivity”?

Of course, as is maddeningly true of any question of this sort, we immediately sink into a dark grey semantic sinkhole—what do we mean by “borrow”, “creativity” and so forth?

And the answer, if there even is one, will wind up somewhere in the middle, and totally case-dependent.

Nevertheless, the question bears asking because the simple act of raising the question may help quell the everpresent tendency to cross whatever the line is between borrowing and stealing, between paying homage and plagiarism, and ultimately, between creativity and co-optivity.

Let’s consider just two old examples that I can’t seem to shake:

Beck has a song called “Devil’s Haircut” from the Odelay CD, which is built on the defining riff of an obscure song by Van Morrison’s formative band, Them. It’s not just built on the riff, however, it is built on a faithful reconstruction of that riff, as it was executed in the Them song, fuzz guitar and all. Beck took a key piece of another artist’s work and created a different song built on this same piece. Never mind the legalities, how much of another artist’s work are you allowed to steal, and how little do you need to change it, and still be able to claim that it is your creation?

While he didn’t sample the actual recording, such sampling is a common practice, and while these samples are often used as seasoning for some musical piece, there are those who compose songs around them, which is just taking what Beck and many others have done one step further.

Last night I heard a musical piece by a “mashup” artist with the moniker, “Girl Talk”, in which he peppers his composition with several samples of others’ work, each playing a fairly prominent role. I didn’t recognize all of the samples, but his composition begins by leaning heavily on a sample of The Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin’”. So here we have an entire musical genre, or sub genre, that feeds shamelessly off the creativity of others, pretending to share authorship.

The textbook example of co-optivity in advertising is when the Budweiser creatives at DDB Chicago lifted the characters and schtick from an independent film and more or less re-created them for the purpose of selling Bud. The “Whassup” campaign was critically acclaimed and showered with accolades. It was as if these creatives had actually thought of the idea or something. Is this what creativity in advertising consists of? The audacity of theft?

Advertising seems to be increasingly Simpsonized, where the power of advertisements relies on pop cultural references, which is a practice that already skirts the edge of co-optivity. But when allegedly creative people don’t simply make a reference, but, rather, resort to ripping out entire chunks of someone else’s creation and claim them as their own, how is it creative?

I loathe intellectual dishonesty, especially when it’s not me doing it. And I submit that co-optivity is inherently intellectually dishonest.

I told you that this topic is too large to do justice to here.

inverse relationship

I have a theory. I'm not sure whether it matters, but I find it a bit funny and potentially true.

Tom's theory:

companies that are hiring ad agencies to help them "innovate", or become more "digital", are companies that are doomed to insignificance and lackluster performance


companies that are hiring ad agencies to help them create advertisements are companies that are innovative, significant and delivering a superior product or service
It is all very counter-intuitive and ironic, but I think it's true.

Collateral Damage

Let’s make a list of things that have been ruined forever by advertising, shall we?

Talking animals;

Countless pieces of great music, from pop to classical, most recently, Daydream Believer;

Talking babies. Granted the Etrade baby is, at times, inspired, nevertheless, the whole talking baby shtick is toast;

Our respect for artists who prostitute their art by allowing it to be bastvertized, starting with Dylan, the Beatles, The Who, the Rolling Stones, Springsteen, and we haven’t even touched on visual artists;

Countless one word punchlines such as:

“What?” (in response to being stared because of having done or said something stupid or outrageous)


Children talking like adults;

Impossibly clueless people who are dumbfounded or rendered speechless by the news of a benefit of some product or service, (see the new National City Bank campaign.);

Many special effects and other manipulations of reality. For example,


abrupt changes back and forth between normal speed to fast motion to slow motion;

Large objects (cars, pianos, wrecking balls, etc.) falling unexpectedly into frame, crushing a person, a car, whatever.

The credibility of many iconic cultural figures, when they become aadvertising pitchmen, i.e. Robert DeNiro. Bob Dylan, Spike Lee, Bill Curtis,

This, surely, only scratches the surface of stuff that advertising has beaten to death, thus severely diminishing or outright ruining the original intended effect, along with stuff like great art, music etc., that simply ought not to be cheapened/diminished/ prostituted for the purpose of selling banking services, soda pop and so forth.

I invite you to add to this list. It’s not only good therapy, but it might turn into a useful list of “don’ts” next time you’re conceptualizing. If we compile a long enough list, it could become a book, in which case we could all split the royalties.

Do something good, jerks!

Most days we sell crap to people who don't need it. Every now and then we do something good for humanity.

These isolated cases we praise in our industry publications and awards shows. We then get back to our day-to-day grind.

I keep hearing that advertising has some of the brightest people in the world working in it. Theoretically we could change the world.

But, we don't.

A friend of mine here in San Francisco (not an advertising guy) just planned a fund raiser based on people bringing pies and paying a few bucks. It's a simple idea, but it's doing something good. Why don't agencies come up with stuff like that more often? We're brilliant supposedly, why don't we put just a small percentage of our minds towards making the world a better place?

Big praise to Droga5 for setting a good example.

less and more

--choice is good, but leads to more, which creates complexity
--simplicity is good, but can limit choice, which is undesirable

i suggest choice and simplicity as the model. the tension between the two is helpful in:

  • creating a strategy
  • writing copy
  • art directing
  • client management
  • web design
  • etc.
the phrase less is more should be rewritten to be less and more

In praise of the Dos Equis radio campaign

I’ve praised the Dos Equis “Most interesting man in the world” radio campaign previously. (The TV extension of this campaign is okay, but the radio campaign is the gem.) But I feel compelled to revisit this campaign in light of a couple of new spots I’ve heard recently.

The spots from this campaign are the only radio spots I can recall laughing out loud at in recent memory. Even the “Real Men of Genius” campaign, in its early days, evoked smiles, not out loud laughs from me.

The writer or writers of the Dos Equis spots are funny and inventive in a way that we seldom hear. It’s almost as if whoever the agency is (Euro RSCG? Which office?) put their “A” team on this assignment.

For those who aren’t familiar with the campaign, it consists largely of a series of one liners providing instances of why the most interesting man in the world is the most interesting man in the world, or consequences of being the most interesting man in the world.

Allow me to hopefully not butcher just three of the lines in these current spots that made me laugh. Each line carries an implied “He’s so interesting that . . .” (I’m pulling these from my addled memory, so I may not be precisely word for word):

Alien abductors ask him to probe them.

He is the only man in the world to have aced a Rorschach test.

Many years ago, he built a city out of blocks. Today, 600,000 people live and work there.

As you may be able to tell from this brief list, it is the cumulative effect of several of these grouped together that makes the spots so funny, and, of course, they are meant to be read out loud by the very well cast voiceover guy, rather than read in a blog post.

The reason I’m spending all this time adoring this campaign is that it is a graphic reminder of just how lame and un-funny almost all presumably humorous advertising is. It doesn’t have to make you laugh out loud to be funny, it might simply bring a smile. But SO MUCH of the stuff I see and hear that is intended to be funny is just not. It is failed humor. Humor-like in structure, form and pace. But devoid of actual funny content.

It’s only on the rare occasion when we experience genuinely funny ads that it becomes apparent how bad faux funny advertising (namely, most advertising) is. And how invaluable genuine humor can be to a brand. I’d love to know how Dos Equis sales have been going over the last couple of years. Anybody know?

Open source oops: Timing is everything

A while back, I wrote about open source advertising. While I had the idea for more than a month (two, actually), I sat on it, because I had other topics that I wanted to write about. But I finally got around to it.

As soon as I published my post on open source advertising, I got a comment that Pepsi was already doing what I had described. Then I got a comment from an individual who had just opened an firm dedicated to providing open source advertising. And, on the following day, I found a recently published book called The Open Brand.

While written in a semi-joking tone to make fun of the conventions of the industry, all three of my points in my article were predictions: a corporate title, a specialized agency, and books (and eventual trade show) keynotes.

If I had published my post when I thought of the idea, I might have been leading the way. Now I was just following fast.

My obvious lesson is don’t sit on an idea—not even for a few weeks. When the time is right, more than one person will get the idea. And just like the rest of advertising, it’s not just the idea; it’s also the execution of the idea. And, it’s how quickly the idea can be executed.

Now if only I could learn my own simple and obvious lesson. After all, I got the idea for this follow up post weeks ago and I am now finally getting around to publishing it. But maybe my failing to post this sooner will remind you to not wait with acting on your ideas.