From the darkness to the light

This one is a month old, but I suddenly chanced upon it again today and wanted to share it over here. 

To see what I’m talking about (the video below is nice but the effects don’t come through as they are supposed to, probably because it doesn’t work when it’s embedded), you’ll need to watch the original video on the Vimeo page over here. Let me know what you think. 

A look at the changing media landscape..

There has been a lot of noise recently about advertising needing to re-invent itself to stay afloat in today’s times. Advertising nowadays has to work much harder for my attention, as it probably does with a lot of people, just because there is so much of it. I subscribe to the logic that necessity is the mother of invention – and from that point of view, the financial crisis seems to be bringing out the entrepreneurial side in some (such as Hank Leber and Agency Nil, about which I wrote recently for PSFK).

Not completely related to the recession but still interesting are the advertising methods employed by a few brands, such as the US TV channel Showtime, who are using Amazon’s Kindle as an altogether different way of advertising by making the pilot script of their to-be-premiered series ‘Nurse Jackie’ available for free download for a limited period. That’s a first for that medium. And a few days ago I read in Campaign the news of an Israeli advertising agency that used last week’s Champions League final to superimpose a medical product ad at a relevant time for the brand during the match. Whenever a player fell down and got injured or otherwise experienced pain, the ad for Optalgin would flash across the screen. That kind of manual synchronising of ad placements (the agency worked with Israel’s Channel 2 to capture what they thought were the ‘most effective shots of fallen players’, apparently, as insensitive as that sounds!) is definitely not very common as far as I am aware. Here’s a clip:
I’d probably be irritated if ads flashed across the screen during a television serial that I was watching (Jimmy Choo ads during Sex And The City, anyone?), so this kind of ad placement needs to be meticulously planned and researched – repetition of a potentially irritating ad can be a death knell for a brand, and I’m sure that while it may have been accepted in Israel, something like that will not go down too well with British football fans AT ALL!! Priyanka, that’s you!

O2 Robots : Good graphics but ambitious brand message

This rather cool ad is at once ridiculously simple in essence and very ambitious in its aim. Simple because the premise on which this ad is based – the fact that people get pissed off as hell when they listen to those automated messages when they call a service provider – is so true its stupid. And it’s ambitious because if O2 can’t execute on this promise they make in the ad, they are in big, BIG trouble. 

But I like those animated robots. They’re cute. Nice touch, VCCP Berlin.

Similarities, differences and what could have been

On January 15th, 2009 T-Mobile (OK, their agency Saatchi & Saatchi) filmed a group of people in a supposed flashmob-style event at Liverpool Street station in London to reflect the tagline ‘Life is for sharing’. Lots of opinions floated around the interwebs following its debut on TV that day, mostly positive, from what I gathered. 
On February 6th, 2009, a bunch of people, almost 13,000 strong, performed a silent disco (I don’t think it was very silent, from what I can see from the video, though!!) at the same venue. They got together based on information circulated in a Facebook group, many reports declaring that they created havoc for commuters who were trying to get home because the station was too jammed. 
There’s been some debate about whether the latter was ‘inspired’ by the former – CNN says outright that it was, in this article. I can’t find any information to the contrary, but personally I don’t think so. For one, flashmobs aren’t a particularly new concept – they began as early as 2003. The T-mobile commercial merely took the concept and used it to their benefit. (Apparently there were constant flashes going off and cameras/cameraphones filming the event, which was what the whole point of the stunt was – unless even those people were actors). T-Mobile will probably go down in history as the first brand to create an ad based on the concept, good for them. But if you think about how spontaneous it was (and this is where the ad has faced criticism), it seems to suddenly lose lustre. It’s like you were cheated out of your money because the brilliancy of the whole idea was no more than a performance by some people who were paid to do their job. The Facebook flashmob, on the other hand, was a great example of the power of social networking – here you had 13,000+ people who were alerted by no other means of communication than Facebook, who came together on their own and clearly had no monetary motive. Where they fell short, in my opinion, is in the execution – I’d rather watch the T-Mobile ad than the Facebook flashmob – you can’t have a ‘silent’ disco with people screeching all around.
What makes any act of this nature special is summarised beautifully in the words of Charlie Todd, founder of the New York group Improv Everywhere:

We get satisfaction from coming up with an awesome idea and making it come to life. In the process we bring excitement to otherwise unexciting locales and give strangers a story they can tell for the rest of their lives. We’re out to prove that a prank doesn’t have to involve humiliation or embarrassment; it can simply be about making someone laugh, smile, or stop to notice the world around them.

Improv Everywhere were behind the Grand Central freeze, one of my all-time favourite conversational topics. Technically though, they claim their events are not like flashmobs at all. (CNN slipped up in this article – more about Improv Everywhere’s philosophy here). So if comparisons are being made, I’d compare the T-Mobile stunt to the events organised by Improv Everywhere – but with one crucial difference. People who participate in Improv Everywhere’s events aren’t paid – they simply do it for the fun of it, whereas the T-Mobile actors probably were. I can’t say this for sure, but I’m pretty much certain. Then I started thinking – does that one fact make a difference to me? I completely agree with what Charlie Todd said, and that’s what makes those kind of events strike a chord with me. So if I had to strip the T-Mobile ad down to its bare bones – yes, it does make a difference, even if I give them full marks for execution. If the people involved in the ad weren’t paid, however (highly unlikely!), then I guess my vote goes for it 100%. Similarly, I loved the *idea* of the Facebook flashmob, but wish they’d gone about it better. 
Moral of this story: Know exactly what you want to do, and what you’re doing it for. Improv Everywhere doesn’t do ads for this reason. People won’t buy it. The Facebook flashmob could have done something else (a sudden faint, a human chain, a mass huddle) in that venue. Or they should have made sure that not one person opened their mouth, which actually may have been a sight to see. But with 13,000 mostly teenaged people, that’s tough to control. And T-Mobile could have asked people to do something for the fun of it, and publicized that fact to their advantage.

Thinking about online advertising

I was sniffing away last week, recovering from the flu, when I noticed ads for Lemsip and Strepsils on TV. It was as if they were being shown just for my benefit. I was on Facebook later in the day and there I noticed an ad for Ugg Boots on my page, almost as if Facebook could read my mind and knew that they were something I’ve long been coveting. Even if TV ads are about seasonal products to match the weather (Google was clearly on to something with Flu Trends) and Facebook ads are about targeted ads to match your personality, I think you can look at the situation like this: advertising, thanks to technology, is becoming increasingly more intelligent in its deployment and online at least, is weeding out ads that we’d consider useless or spam. In other words, it is saving us time and mindspace. I find this quite interesting. However, every now and then I find myself wishing I saw something completely unexpected on screen. There need to be those WTF days that make you laugh out loud. Won’t advertising become expected and boring otherwise?

Toshiba timesculptures

I chanced upon Toshiba’s latest ad today. It lays claim to being the first ever timesculpture commercial. For those of you who aren’t quite sure what that is, it basically takes the bullet time technique (two words: The Matrix) and improves upon it by manipulating moving time snapshots with Toshiba’s latest camera that uses its upscaling technology. 

That’s when the actual detail of it struck me: 200 Toshiba Gigashot HD cameras used in filming, 20,000 GB of video data and over 336 hours to process. If I didn’t know all that, the ad would have remained just another ad that I THOUGHT used computer graphics (it doesn’t, apparently). If only Toshiba could let everyone know that.