This Too Shall Pass — but you’ll want to watch it a few times

Thanks to @DaveWaite for passing this along. All the ingredients for a viral video: unpredictability, humor, authenticity… and senselessness. Wow.

Her karma crushed his dogma

Tonight after a client meeting in Olympia I just made it back to Seattle in time to watch the end of the Oscars at Biznik’s party. It was actually the first time I’ve ever seen the show live. What a treat. Fremont Studios was certainly an awesome venue … what a glorious hi-def view in their theater.

I’ve seen Avatar twice, and frankly expected it to walk away with most of the honors. Not that I wanted it to. There’s no question it’s a technical tour de force, with amazing visuals and stunning music, but I described it as “stereotypes in stereo”.  Yes, I must go on record as admitting that the story is genuinely entertaining, and that the visual artistry is the seminal work of a certifiable genius…. but I also have to admit I’m a reluctant admirer of the movie, because my idea of a good director (which I aspire to be one day) is a collaborator and listener and above all, a storyteller — not the sort of person I perceive James Cameron to be.

I once worked with a Hollywood veteran who had been on set with Cameron in several movies, and my friend described Cameron as the most arrogant director he had ever known. He observed that Cameron seemed to take pleasure in making people crack. He would pick out a person in the crew, and would scold, taunt, and ridicule them to tears. My friend said everyone who worked around Cameron was either afraid of him or disgusted by him. Yahoo’s directorial biography documents that Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio had vowed never to work with Cameron again. My friend stated that Cameron was so far over budget on Titanic that, in spite of its unprecedented commercial success, Cameron had to forego his paycheck and lost out on all the residuals he might have made, had he reigned in his artistic ego during the filming. And thus the guy who had made some of the most successful movies in history –  Terminator, Aliens, Terminator 2, True Lies, and Titanic — couldn’t get a studio to back him on another movie project for over a decade.

Tonight, Cameron was the presumptive winner of best director and best movie Oscars, just as he had been with his last top-grossing epic. But to the visible surprise of Cameron, and the stunned silence of most folks at Fremont Studios tonight, his ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow won both of the top prizes.

It feels like poetic justice to me.

On one hand, a woman who is praised for being a great collaborator, directs a simple but emotionally taut movie… and walks away with top honors. We watch her accept the award with dignity and humility. Anyone can see the sincerity in her thankfulness toward her crew and financiers and writers … and the people whose story she told.

Meanwhile, a man who has certainly been a collaborator in many important ways, and who in Avatar has perhaps done more to advance the cinematic arts than anyone else in the last decade … is still not a person who wins our affection.

Tonight, we watched as a guy who might be best known for burning his friends while impressing his audiences  — and who celebrated his own Oscars by holding them above his head and shouting, “I’m the King of the World” — was unmistakably upstaged by one of his ex’s.

Tonight the “last man standing” was a woman who told a three-dimensional story of courage in the midst of complex realities. In stark contrast, we saw a man who impressively used 3D to tell a one-dimensional story of courage in the midst of simplistic fantasies. It was a tale of two stories, and two storyteller value systems; and the better of both won.

When karma comes up against dogma, karma wins. Wasn’t it a good Oscar night?

Green screen state of the art

This jaw-dropping green-screen mashup reveals the how-to (or at least the what) behind a lot of relatively normal-looking location shots. The key, of course, is the quality of the background plates…. these shots demonstrate that you can focus on your foreground action with your actors, and then assemble the other elements in a virtual world, offline.

Adding snow, helicopters, explosions, reflections, background traffic, sky shots, etc. can all be done days before or months later… although the most common scenario will simply be to shorten the day by reducing the complexity of each shot. This allows smaller tech crews to get background plates while the talent can be spared from having to do retakes simply because a car in the deep background missed its cue.

By doing some tough action shots first, directors can make note of background action that occurs just before a closeup, and be able to cut to the closeup with the action still tailing out in the background of the closeup shot. By dedicating one of the cameras to the upcoming closeup shot, the background action can thus be compressed in screen time, while the talent enjoys a much better chance of getting their take right. They don’t have to be “on” at precisely the instant something happens behind them. Safer actors, more relaxed directors, more intense time-compression in editing. (Although the whole process just makes the “authenticity” bar that much higher).

Green screen for “normal” shots also means that setups involving kids can focus on the kid shots to meet stricter day length restrictions, then embellish the action afterwards.

One particular challenge, which also has a special effects solution, is the thickness of the air or apparent sharpness between the foreground elements and background. The eye of the effects house is critical here. I felt like the Times Square shot had a little too much contrast between the foreground guy and the background… and the actor’s performance seemed a little disconnected from the “reality” that was superimposed after the fact. But these were probably first takes, and no doubt the final print was a lot more believable.

By the way, I always keep a green screen 8 foot flex backdrop in my van so that any interview we do can be superimposed over any background plate we’d like to envision.

Thanks to Jeff Morin who told @GarryTan who put it on his Posterous blog, which I follow!

Marketing to women begins after the sale

I wish I had said that. I found it in a great blog I just discovered by Holly Buchanan.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

After reflecting on the Super Bowl ads this year, I was struck with how dumb so many of them were. One of the dumbest, by the way, was the Inferno video game ad… featuring a breathtakingly beautiful woman who seduces a would-be rescuer, who then swirls to the depths of the inferno to defend her. Guy bait. The original final tag, which probably got voted out by a couple of sensible women on the committee, was “Go to Hell.”

In my own comments on the Dodge Charger ad , I mentioned how insulting that whole spot was to women… and really to men as well. What, I’m supposed to feel henpecked because I eat healthy, shave, listen to my wife, or carry her lip balm (not that she’s ever asked me to). Give me a break. What I learned from living with 5 women (one wife and 4 intelligent, sensitive daughters) is that women want shared understanding. They like to express themselves, and they aren’t satisfied unless they feel heard. Here’s an example of the daily tutelage I gained:

or, native male stupidity on the female need for understanding

This is an iPhoto snapshot of a photo I keep framed  in my office. We were having our picture taken, and some direction I had offered to Lydia, my youngest had struck her as a tad insulting. Something like that. So Shelley, her bigger sister, is giving “that look” … “How could you be so insensitive, dad?” Meanwhile Emily, Becky, and Beth are saying to themselves, “He really IS from Mars, isn’t he?”

So back to Holly and her article on marketing to women. She points out that “women have a more deliberate decision-making process.” Boys are simple. Sex and cars. (please don’t flame me for exaggerating) :-)  Women often want to know what we’re doing to make the world better. (please don’t flame me for stereotyping!) :-) But seriously, as Holly Buchanan points out, women are more risk averse, more cautious, I would say more practical and more empathetic. They are better at thinking through how this thing we’re considering would work for them, for their children, and yes, for the man of the house too. They’ll also consider its impact for good or ill on the neighbors. Women are wired for empathy, and men need a lifelong relationship with a woman or two to even start thinking that way.

While I could get in trouble for making impulsiveness a gender issue, my experience makes me think that it is. My gut says that men tend to go with either the high or low bidder out of ego-driven impulses. It follows the economic wiring of the guy: is he the type who is proud of how much he paid, or proud of how little he paid? Either way, it’s an ego thing. I’m sure some women have similar tendencies… but their reasons tend to be more complicated than simply the prestige of price or the satisfaction of savings. They want to know how it will wear, how versatile it is, whether there’s a place for it in the garage.

Shopping for me has always been something I prefer to do alone, rather than run the gauntlet of my wife and kids’ questioning of every buy. They are all terrific shoppers … value conscious, frugal, and with tremendous delayed-gratification instincts. They can thank me for that, of course… I’ve never provided enough for them to get to splurge. I’m the one who is much more likely to drown his sorrows in a shopping spree. Always had pretty much the camera I wanted or the computer I “needed”. And I suspect that I’m not the only guy in the forest who acts that way.

Another distinction I think Holly correctly makes is that women tend to value transparency more than men. She says, “One of the most important things that defines your brand in the eyes of women is how you handle mistakes and address concerns/objections.” An example from my business experience: when my first business failed after 9 years, the guy who was running it had not admitted any fault … and he wanted me to sign a non-compete before he would agree to buy the video assets at a discount.

It was weird, really. I hired him for fiscal management; he runs it into the ground without telling me. Yet he doesn’t trust me when I offer to let him buy the assets in a fire sale. Bottom line, I still trusted him; my wife and (female) bookkeeper did not. They saw that his lack of transparency was evidence of lack of trustworthiness on his part.

In hindsight I was suffering from a common male problem: I couldn’t admit that my judgment had been bad all along. By agreeing to his “deal”, and disregarding my wife’s correct intuition, I put our family through the greatest trial of all our lives … because sure enough, he defaulted on the purchase and other promises, and I was left with all the debt that had been run up under his management. It took me 7 long years to emerge solvent again.

But I did gain one thing: I learned to trust feminine intuition … the fair sex’s demand for transparency in all business dealings, and their nose for who to trust and who to walk away from.

And then there’s the issue of loyalty. As Holly points out, women are much more tuned to the faithfulness of a brand. The character behind the claims. I can’t improve on what she says:

Loyalty is a two-way street for women.    The best way for you to show your loyalty to her is in your behavior AFTER the sale.

I love my dentist for many reasons, but one of the main ones is that he genuinely cares.   I had some oral surgery – and that night he called me at 9 pm to see how I was doing.  Not an assistant -him – the owner of  the practice.   He was clearly at home, but wanted to check in on me.  We will be together until I”m in dentures.

My cleaning service calls once a month to ask specific questions about the performance of their employees and my satisfaction with the service.

My favorite clothing store regularly invites me to special nights open to loyal customers only where I get to enjoy a special reception, see the brand new styles and get a valued customer discount not available to the regular public.  Once, when I was in there, the clerk told me to hold off buying the blouse I wanted until the next day because it was going to go on sale for half-price.  How cool was that!

Degrees of empathy, impulsiveness, loyalty, feature-shopping rigor, desire for transparency. These are the major fault-lines where distinctions can be observed between men and women in the marketplace.

And the winner is… (best car Super Bowl spots)

I missed most of the Super Bowl, and had to watch the spots afterward to get my annual taste-test of advertising trends. There’s Adweek’s great coverage, USA Today’s ad meter, Ad Age’s Bob Garfield rundown, and many other opinions if you want to compare impact and effectiveness. Most agree that Go-Daddy captured the flag in an aggressive Bob Parsons assault on Worst Damn Spot (didn’t Lady Macbeth have something to say about that, like “Out… OUT!”) It’s got me looking for a new hosting provider … daddy’s going away from Go-Daddy.

I mentioned before the event that I really liked the Sonata paint spot … which came in next to last on the (humor-biased) Ad Meter but I still feel was strong in building actual brand knowledge and respect.

I chuckled at their Brett Favre spot, too, but didn’t comment on it before now.

Thanks to Carsdirect.com for compiling a scientific comparison of the actual benefit of Super Bowl car spots this year. This is worth 10 minutes of your time to compare and get an analysis based on actual brand-specific traffic.

The summary of the effectiveness ratings is as follows:

  1. Hyndai: Sonata, Favre, and spots — 1.51 rating, traffic change +155% after, +24% during
  2. Kia Sorento: 60-second Sockmonkey spot — .93 rating, traffic change +56% after,
  3. Audi A3 TDI: Green Police — .78 rating, traffic change +47%
  4. Honda Accord Crosstour: Animation of inside space — .53 rating, traffic change +14%
  5. Dodge : What men sacrifice — .40 rating, traffic change +24%
  6. VW: Super Bowl Punch — .22 rating, no brand-specific traffic change, but up 13% during the Super Bowl

Here are the spots, ranked in order of effectiveness according to Carsdirect.com. My comments on each ad follow. Mostly, I agree with their analysis, which you can read here.

In my opinion the Hyndai Favre spot suffered from a case of directorial fear — the writers were obviously worried that no one would get it, or would react angrily — so they stayed on Favre too long, explained the joke too much … and pulled the punch. I’m guessing it was client/agency fear of tapping into volatile Favre reactions. This was a case where the celebrity’s brand was bigger than the automaker’s brand … and they didn’t want to sink with a guy whose fortunes are so complex right now.

I would have spent less time on Favre — cutting the line, “When you’re older than most of the players, coaches, and fans, it’s tough to take orders from people.” Huh? Why’s that in there? Just go from “29 years.” to “I should probably retire after this.” Then, introduce the Hyundai warranty, and with the right script connections it could intercut with Brett’s “I don’t know” line to make the joke stronger and the certainty of a Hyundai future clearer by contrast. The focus needs to be on the amazing Hyundai brand promise, not Favre’s vacillation and age.

The Sonata spot is worth repeating. “Because beautiful works of art are meant to last”!

Bottom line, I agree with Carsdirect.com that Hyundai wins overall in the race to get noticed and investigated on the web, because the spots combined audience appeal with substantive claims that support the brand.

2. Kia Sorento spot

I think the visual storytelling approach in this spot holds attention and builds the brand whether you relate to the Sock Monkey phenom or not. Because it’s so catchy musically, random visually, intercut with strong product shots, and punctuated by the one-button start at the end, it supports the branding proposition: that Kia is going to surprise you if you look into it.

3. Audi A3 TDI “Green Police” spot

This one is entertaining to a progressive, Puget Sound guy like me and the folks who made it. Not sure how it plays in Peoria. Then again, Audi probably doesn’t sell many cars in Peoria. It needs to appeal to Eurofriendly, green-thinking intellectuals on the northern reaches of both coasts. For them, it’s funny to envision getting in trouble with the government for buying incandescent bulbs or setting the hot tub too high. But I also know how Midwesterners think, how Appalachian and Smokey mountaineers think… and I see a spot like this generating more heat than humor there. Methinks it mixes the brand into the brewing category 5 storm over energy/economy.

4. Honda Accord Crosstour – Squirrel animation

Now we’re hitting spots that really represent bad stewardship by an ad agency. What’s the point of spending millions on a surreal animation of the cargo space of a car most folks haven’t heard of yet?

5. Dodge Charger – Man’s last stand

This reminds me of the Burger King campaign for young, unhealthy, stupid, Type 2 diabetes-destined males… which they now admit was equally aimed at old, unhealthy, stupid, Type 2 diabetes-afflicted men and women. When are ad agencies going to learn that just because you have the power to say stupid things, you don’t have to? Is this just a cynical confession that fast, gas-guzzling machines are soon going to be a dinosaur? Why not at least do what Cadillac did and let the woman share in the ego-driven escape from reality?

6. VW PunchDub spot

Carsdirect panned this one, but I think it deserves to be ranked 2 or 3. The result was skewed because there was no specific brand to track on the Carsdirect.com site.

This VW spot is brilliantly cast and directed… a tremendous variety of people, cultures, ages. Lots of humor and excellent acting by the cast (policeman, old man with grandson, etc.) Watch it 4 times and you’ll keep seeing new things… like how well they caught flashes of each car from shot to shot, establishing continuity from scene to scene. So it’ll hold up well and help bring brand history up to date. I guess I’m a sucker for VW spots in general.

Here’s the Carsdirect summary on Hyundai, which won hands down:

Hyundai Sonata Super Bowl Commercials

  • Hyundai Super Bowl Traffic Change*: +24%
  • Sonata Super Bowl Traffic Change*: +166%
  • Seconds Advertised: Three 30 second ads plus in-game sponsorships
  • Effectiveness Index: 1.51

Hyundai featured three 30 second ads during the super bowl, the most memorable of which was for the Hyundai Sonata and featured Brett Favre in self-parody mode (seems to be his new M.O. these days). In the past, Hyundai’s ads have usually gone for a more serious tone. This year they took a more humorous approach with their Brett Favre super bowl commercial. The ad featured Favre winning the 2020 super bowl MVP and pondering retirement (once again). While at first glance it may seem like the ad didn’t draw enough of a link between Favre and their brand (I didn’t even remember which company that he’d been advertising for), it seems like the collective good-will towards Favre (as well as in-game sponsorships) translated into an effective overall Hyundai Super Bowl ad campaign.

Note: Traffic to the Hyundai Genesis, which Hyundai targeted in the 2008 & 2009 Super Bowl was up 50% despite no ad coverage. The Hyundai Super Bowl 2010 ad seems to have helped it out tremendously.

PS:

Adweek reported on a parallel survey of internet metrics by Autometrics Pulse. It reports the same first five as above, leaving out VW which did not feature a single car. Thanks to @JeffSexton for this info.

The banned Super Bowl spot I really like

Until the punch line, you’ll never guess what this ad is selling…. but it’s a great way to make a case for their product! I’m not sure why it was banned in 2006.

Window into mystery

This X-shaped comet was caught by Hubble a few days ago. Wow. Read about it here.

Comet looks like space ship

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