Author: Arnie DiGeorge, Executive Creative Director

Art vs. Commerce

There is a new film – Wonderland – that features commercial directors talking about the difference between true creativity/art and commercial work. Bottom line from the film is that they find commercial work to be anything but artistic.

I have worked with a number of directors on commercials. Many of them went on to do feature films. Others were doing feature films when I started to work with them. From my experience, the best of these directors treat commercial film the same way they would treat an artistic film. The ones who didn’t did boring, lifeless commercial work. The ones who treated it as a piece of them and gave the endeavor their artistic soul always made better work.

Is a commercial work purely creative? NO, of course not. Many times in Wonderland they talk about the restrictions that clients and agency people put on the work. They talk about the money behind the work and how that affects it. Basically, they talk about how they can’t do whatever they want and how that differs greatly from artistic work where they decide what the subject and tone of the work is.

Having read both Coppola’s biography and numerous stories about Orson Wells and other film directors – I can tell you that projects with complete creative control do not always come out better than those where studios dictate a number of the decisions. Directors such as Woody Allen and Spielberg tend to have more control than other directors – and their films do feel more like art than some other films. But I am not convinced that having less control – they won’t make great work. They are great directors. They made great work when they had less control … they just didn’t like it as much. It is harder. It is frustrating. But if they didn’t make great work in the first place with studio collaboration, they would have never had the control the have now. So what comes first – the chicken or the egg?

It is easy to say that when it’s someone else’s idea, there is no art in it. Art comes from the heart and experience. It’s something that garners emotion from the viewer. Commercial work is not that different. … Commercial work comes from a brand heart. The experience is that of the brand and the creatives, while the emotion is felt by the consumer. And make no mistake – creating an emotional tie to a piece of work is extremely important for a brand. Without the emotion, there is no relationship with the brand. And that is basically what a brand is – the relationship with the consumer.

There is a reason why creative directors hire film directors to work on their commercial endeavors. They want art infused into their commercial piece. This is no easy task. The voice of the brand and the client are always repeating rules and strategies even in the most creative creative directors. There is no way around it. But when you add that voice of the artist to the project, you get a voice more concerned with the emotion than the voices in their heads. The best film directors will fight with the creative director to make that art. And the best creative directors will let go of some things and fight for others that he/she knows are necessary for the communication. In the end, the project will become a commerce/art collaboration.

Sometimes the balance goes more toward commerce and sometimes more toward art. Sometimes, the emotion that comes from the art transfers to the brand and sometimes the brand overshadows the emotion created by the art. The best of these collaborations gives you both a brand communication and emotion.

If you look at the two ads below, you will see both art and commerce in them. “Stiff Upper Lip” is as close to some modern art as you will ever get in a television ad. It is mysterious, weird, and definitely pulls different emotions from the viewer like any modern art piece. There are those who don’t understand it, those who love it and many who hate it … but they can’t stop looking at it. And I would say the commercial is art until the commerce ending. I would say the same for the POM Wonderful spot. If you turned off the sound and cut off the product at the end, it’s a very artful piece of film. The composition, beauty, interest and emotion are all there with a product at the end or not.

Also, the digital landscape has opened up the creative avenues tenfold. Think about it. … Now there are brand films where artists are asked to interpret the brand. They are given more freedom because the cost of such films is less and a certain freedom is expected on the Web that isn’t expected as much on television. And, of course, Web films need an authenticity to be shared – and that authenticity means more art than commerce.

Then there is the whole definition of what art is in the first place and how it came to be. Art from the beginning was not always meant to be art. As a form of expression, it has changed with the times. And often, great art was commissioned from great artists. How is getting a portrait of yourself painted different from having a commercial done for your brand? There are obviously rules for both subjects. The artist can’t paint a portrait of someone else when you paid for a portrait of YOU … although a portrait from Picasso might look like someone else – depending on your perspective. The beginnings of art come from telling a story, almost a journal, of early man’s adventures during hunting season 30,000 years ago. These early paintings on caves could well have been advertisements. “Check out Mogu. … He is best at finding meat. He has big weapons. He has a cool cave. Wild animals and women fall at his feet.” Painted by Gred. Gred lives outside Mogu’s cave on a rock. But he paints a mean story about Mogu.

The first artists lived by a set of rules as to how they painted subjects. When they broke those rules, then the needle of art moved. And along the timeline, more rules were broken and art moved again. This is very close to the commercial world, where the rules are continually broken and changing – especially with the advent of a digital landscape that continues to evolve commerce and art as well.

This excerpt says it all. …

“… the lessons of Egyptian art had not simply been discarded and thrown overboard. Greek artists still tried to make their figures as clear in outline as possible, and to include as much of their knowledge of the human body as would go into the picture without doing violence to its appearance. They still loved firm outlines and balanced design. They were far from trying to copy any casual glimpse of nature as they saw it. The old formula, the type of human form as it had developed in all these centuries, was still their starting point. Only they no longer considered it sacred in every detail.” – E.H. Gombrich, The Story of Art

That is what a great director does for a piece of commerce. They don’t regard a brand’s rules as sacred in every detail. They are still working from the strategy. They are still trying to get across the right message for the brand. … But the things you hold onto as sacred about your brand … are not in the mind of that director. If he’s good, he’ll try and get you to break some sacred cow that sits in your mind, grazing away at the grey matter. Once that happens – anything is possible. …

 

Politics and marketing make strange bedfellows

If you talk to any good creative they will tell you politics and good marketing don’t go together. They will tell you that there are too many formulas for political advertising … and that it is tough to be really creative. I have seen both sides. Some really creative political work; lots of formula work; and some really bad work (especially in the last election). And in my career, I have done all three. In the new movie NO, a desperate situation leads to creative marketing with almost a Pepsi-like political campaign. When Chile is faced with the daunting task of ousting its longtime leader, the powers that be decide they have to take risks. So, they do. And, surprise, it works. By taking risks, I mean treating the candidate or party like an agency would treat an actual brand. It doesn’t happen very often. Political marketing people think they are building a brand but, for the most part, they are just using formulas, like putting him or her with the family, showing them with the right peeps and reacting to what the other candidate or party does. And, of course, counting the lies. That is pretty much a proven route to at least a reasonably close campaign.

Obama did it right in his first election by creating the CHANGE brand. His platform was as intriguing as he was. The second time around, his brand was basically, I AM NOT ROMNEY. Which worked also because he was on the right side and he had very sophisticated polling methods. Sometimes that’s all you need. Well, that and a talking horse. You really can’t go wrong with a wealthy talking horse ad.

Ad So what about when brands pick sides? We just did a piece for our client (the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority) that played off of the NSA controversy. The ad is featured here and did pretty well, garnering more than 10 times its cost in earned media. That is media earned from the publicity – not from paying to have something placed in media. Afterward, I listened to an interview with Stuart Elliott from The New York Times where he intimated that as long as it’s a one-time thing and Las Vegas doesn’t pick sides … it’s cute and fun. I may be putting words in his mouth, but he seemed to be saying that brands like Vegas can have fun with current events but not become an active part in them – at least a brand like Vegas.

At R&R, we pride ourselves on Building and Protecting the brands we work for. And there are no other agencies in the country that have a marketing arm and a political arm that are both successful in what they do to the level we are. But even around here, it’s an interesting argument. Can a brand pick a side on a public issue and ride with it … or is politics too serious and a brand like Vegas too fun? Will some of that serious issue taint the brand or will the issue turn and the brand suffer? Or are big issues just to negative and a brand like Vegas too positive? It usually makes for a really long meeting.

It’s a tough one. The truth of the Vegas brand is Adult Freedom. That is what led to What happens here, stays here® and most of what happens with the brand. That puts Vegas clearly on the side of privacy and all the freedoms that allows. Vegas is a place where you can do and be what you can’t at home – and no one will judge you. Seems pretty clear that Vegas is on the side against the NSA, whether it’s done in a fun way or a more serious way. Of course, the NSA has its own WHHSH aspects. I recently read a piece where a man tries to get a record of the information the NSA has on him through the FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT. The NSA responded by telling him that they can’t send him that information because they can’t reveal that they have it. That would be a risk to national security. Vegas is kind of the same way … if you tell on one person, everyone is in danger.

Comedians don’t stop until it’s not funny anymore. I use The Daily Show and The Colbert Report as a measure of what still has play and what doesn’t. But you could really use any late night talk show. Or you could just do a Google search, watch the chatter on Twitter. There are a million ways to see if something is still a story. Later this month, the head of the NSA is speaking here … so really the story is just building and building. So there is still play in the NSA.

whathapOne of the tweets I continue to see on Twitter is “What happens in Vegas, stays in an NSA database.” This is being passed around continually. It might actually be gaining momentum as a tweet meme. And some would argue a tweet like that is dangerous to the LVCVA brand. Whether you like it or not, social media erodes What happens here, stays here. That’s why we came up with the #knowthecode campaign in the first place. With so much being shared online, the whole WHHSH claim seems suspect. Las Vegas has to protect that … R&R has to protect that. But is there a cost to going too far in the real world versus the marketing world? Or is there any difference anymore? Has the social media world brought the two so close together that there are fewer lines between them? And is there a danger of a brand looking like it is taking itself too seriously

This isn’t really new. We have done this sort of thing before. When Biden said something he shouldn’t have, we commented. When Obama said something detrimental about Vegas, we shot back. We defended Prince Harry. But we didn’t go too far. We stayed in the brand’s voice and made it a short blast and not a continued effort. And we aren’t the only people doing it. A lingerie brand played off the NSA thing with a message to Snowden … again, pretty much a one-time shot. And a number of brands are defending the LGBT issues in this country … Oreo has done a fantastic job of this.

And in Brazil, protesters are picking and choosing brands to use against the government by their slogans. “Come to the street,” a Fiat slogan used to celebrate the Confederations Cup soccer championship, and “The Giant woke up,” a slogan for Johnnie Walker in Brazil, have both been seen on signs and on Twitter.

What if we do go too far? I guess there is always the danger of going so far that we are all arrested and put in a very dark cell where no one will ever find us. It would be hard to put the whole city of Vegas in such a cell, but certain R&R folk could disappear and no one would be the wiser. I am always looking over my shoulder. Then there is the danger of Vegas seeming un-American. What is more American than total self-gratification for a weekend? Nothing. I know this from personal experience as an American who does a lot of selfing. And there is the risk of losing U.S. government conventions and meetings that are held here. Nah … politicians enjoy selfing way too much.

I would love your opinion on this. Are brands separate from the issues of the people? Is there a responsibility to become part of the conversation? Is it dangerous for a brand to speak too loudly on an issue even if it fits the truth of that brand? Let me know … I am listening.

This message was brought to you by THE COMMITTEE FOR A FREE LAS VEGAS.

The Season

Powerful ads during the Big Game were remembered by some, but just a little more than a week after the game, most of us have forgotten most of the ads. Even with the power of social media and the YouTube Ad Blitz after the game, some brands scored bigger than others. Which poses the question: Is the game a platform for brands to kick off a campaign or a platform for one-offs.

The most forgotten spot is Audi’s Prom. It’s also one of the most conceptually sound spots in the Big Game. Who hasn’t thought back to that prom or dance where they did or didn’t grab that moment? The brand that lost its way was Coke. Coke is supposed to bring happiness to everyone. Making happiness a dog-eat-showgirl competition is not their brand. The best ads were Mercedes Benz Soul and Miracle Stain. They both had everything I need for a great commercial … a great epic story line, fantastic performances, and a communication at the end that seals an emotional tie to the message and the brand. Still, with all that money and talent, a tweet got the most play.

One note … even the worst advertisers during the Super Bowl reap the benefits. For many brands, awareness is a win-win, even if the ad is being touted as a disaster. Century 21 gets talked about for two weeks before the game and gets Web and customer traffic to make just being in the broadcast worth it even though the ads end up at the bottom of most lists. There are many other brands that feel the same way. Look at Audi. They had a pretty good ad and believe that a TV buy in the Super Bowl is the best way to go year after year … because it works.

It seems that, unlike the game itself, for most brands, the Super Bowl ad competition doesn’t end at the final whistle. Brands are clearly hopeful that their campaign kickoffs lead to long returns with their consumers.

Super Bowl Ads for 2012 – Poop-less Baby Time Machine Edition

THE WINNERS

Chrysler “It’s Halftime, America”

OK, I have to start with Clint. I mean, he is Clint after all. First off, he is walking around in some really dark places in Detroit, or was he at the game? Looked kind of like Detroit. I know he could probably go all Dirty Harry on any trouble, but still I worried about him in that tunnel. Equating Detroit with the rest of America makes sense since the rest of America bailed out Detroit. And I do believe it is halftime in America. One of the most TRUE things Clint says is, “All that matters now is what’s ahead.” And that is very TRUE at halftime. One of the weirdest things he says is, “This country can’t be knocked out with one punch.” One punch? One punch really puts a false spin on years of greed; mismanagement by those very car companies; and the very real budget, unemployment and housing issues this country still faces. But I guess America is a lot like Clint – faced with adversity, we always seem to have one last bullet. “So you’ve got to ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”

VW “The Dog Strikes Back”

As soon as I saw this fat dog, I was in. Come on. Everyone has a fat dog. I have a fat dog and I love him. And America is fat. And it’s halftime, America. Get off your asses and get in shape. Then chase a VW into the future where there’s a Star Wars’ bar and Darth Vader. OK, that’s where I got a little lost. So I went right back to thinking about the fat dog trying to get through the dog door and I laughed.

Camry “Reinvented”

This is the kind of concept spot I have always liked. They don’t show a thing that has been reinvented for the Camry, but you get the feeling that they’re always looking for innovation. And innovation is full of lofty dreams like poop-less babies and rain that makes you thin. Hopefully, Toyota will back it up with some cool stuff like heated cup holders or cars that run on baby poop.

Chevy “Mayan Apocalypse”

This ad looks fantastic. If you’re going to do the end of the world, you should spend the coin to do it right. And the song is great. But poor Dave. He drove a Ford. You always take a chance when you go straight at a competitor. Especially a competitor that has the money to come back at you like Ford, but I think in this case it was worth it. And even if Ford does retaliate with Dave ruling the Tunnel People in his Ford X-150 or whatever, a Twinkie will make it all better.

Honda “Matthew’s Day Off”

There was a lot of chatter among ad folks that this ad sucked. I liked it. One of the main things ads do is to capture an emotion that can be attributed to your product. Revisiting Ferris Bueller brings back a host of emotions if you’re a fan of the film. Even though the ad didn’t live up to the movie, I still felt like taking the day off and finding some crazy stuff to do instead. If an ad can infuse a sense of whimsy and freedom to your product – you win even if it is a mini-SUV with a somewhat stunted personality.

Doritos “Man’s Best Friend”

I thought the ad was fun but not really great. However, I did enjoy the edge of it. Dogs whacking cats works for me and obviously for America. And it seems it is worth $1 million from Doritos. So that makes it good. Doritos has found a great identity for their Super Bowl spots and has really grabbed the attention away from BEERS.

Seinfeld “Acura Transactions”

Seinfeld is funny, but it’s very inside funny. If you love the show, you probably loved the ad. But I don’t love Leno and I’m not really digging the premise of the spot. So others worked better for me. Still, the ad got a ton of play before the Super Bowl so it probably worked.

THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD

Samsung’s “Thing Called Love” seems like a phone with a pen. At least they are trying and the ad was kind of fun.

Bridgestone’s “Performance Ads” were interesting, but I feel like they have done better. I want one of those tire footballs though.

“Happy Grad” for Chevy was a funny performance, but I have to agree with a friend of mine who said, “The client could have directed that. They love it when someone in the ad is screaming for their product.” It looks like crowd sourcing is really helping clients get the ads that appeal to them that they may not be getting from agencies.

KIA “Dream Car” was a pretty good ad. It was fun to watch and I will remember the girl waving the flag. But sometimes, ads are just missing something. I felt this last year with KIA. But this year was better.

M&M’s “Naked” was a big fan favorite. It was good, but I wasn’t thinking of it as much of a Super Bowl spot. It just lacked import. It was funny, but just a good ad.

Bud’s “Wego” was a fun dog-gets-us-beer spot again. I feel like I have seen a lot of dog-getting-us-beers spots. But the dog was fantastic.

Pepsi and Elton. It just didn’t live up to my expectations for Elton.

THE LOSERS

Century 21. I am biased here but I think they really blew it. I see the point they are trying to make with their agents, but they did it in a way that couldn’t be more phony. People are still in a tough spot with their homes in America. Sure, they are looking for superheroes to help them. But instead of looking like superheroes, the agents tended to look like cartoons, especially when helping Trump and Sanders. Also, the way the ads are shot is just way too slick. There isn’t a home in America that can live up to the color alone in those ads much less anything else. The tone of the ads is all wrong. It’s matter of fact and carefree when consumers are still anything but. They don’t take the Century 21 brand seriously, so why should we.

E*TRADE has been a winner for years in the Super Bowl. They have a rich history of bringing home the bacon in the big game. This year was their worst performance ever in my opinion. It would have been better if they had skipped the competition. They lost face.

Bud’s “Prohibition” was a nice idea but it was so boring. History lessons are not good commercials unless someone gets killed Boardwalk Empire style. They should have whacked the Coors guy trying to move in on their territory from Denver.

COMMERCIALS WITH SEXY WOMEN AND MEN

Go Daddy. Wow, they just get more and more idiotic as time passes. But it seems to work in the big game. The ads are not good though. It’s hard to tell what they’re even communicating other than – please come to the website. I love beautiful women but have never been to the website – ever.

Teleflora’s “Give and Receive.” I hate to tell them this, but she is going to need far more than flowers. She looks really high-maintenance. Flowers and a car may do it. Flowers and a summer home. Flowers and a 20-carat diamond. You get the picture. Still, the ad was memorable for obvious reasons.

H&M’s “David Beckham.” Women watch the game too. And this would be the part they actually watched. So good job David Peckham, I mean Beckham.

USA TODAY’S AD METER WINNER

“Baby Sling” was shown to me by the director in a sound-editing suite along with some other ads he was entering. There was another ad I thought was much better called “Dog Heist.” I still like it better although it looks like “Baby Sling” has a great chance to win the USA TODAY AD METER and a prize of 1 million bucks. I don’t know why though. I could see that baby coming from a mile away. He would never get my Doritos.

PARTING THOUGHT

There are those who didn’t like the fact that Super Bowl ads were put out early on YouTube and corporate Web pages. The companies that do this are smart. The ads need time to get press and social momentum. With the price of a Super Bowl spot and the money it takes to produce one, buy rights to songs, pay celebrities and put together any other parts of a program that may be needed, it’s important to get as much play as you possibly can. The day of the game and the three days after are not near enough.