George Duncan

Marketing copywriter/consultant, author

Come on, Rob, get real

From Watch Your Ads – A media memo by George Duncan

Come on, Rob, get real

Much as I enjoyed Rob Lowe in West Wing, I‘m disappointed now to see him make a fool of himself in the ads he’s currently doing for Direct TV. In fact, Direct TV’s ads haven’t been exactly ground breaking, and are even confusing. But here’s the hapless Rob, speaking for Direct TV first as himself, then as an alternate version of himself in a variety of roles; meathead Rob Lowe, “peaked in High School” Rob Lowe, crazy hairy Rob Lowe, each of whom admits that he watches cable.  Some of them involve putting Rob’s head on another body. Getting mixed reviews in Twitterdom, as well. Looks to me, sadly, as a guy on the backside of a career. He does have a movie of some sort coming up.

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So it’s hump day – so what?

I do get a kick out of GEICO’s Hump Day spot both the original with the camel stomping through the office cubes proclaiming “Hump Day” presumably on a Wednesday, and the pickup with the camels at the zoo and people yelling “hump day” at them. I still have trouble, however, making the connection to GEICO insurance under the tag, “It’s what you do.” “Is what what I do? Yell hump day at a camel? OK, let’s say that what camels do is walk around on Wednesdays yelling “hump day”.  How does that suggest that what I do is call GEICO to save 15% on my car insurance? Ads have about 3 seconds to make their key point. Any distraction from that, no matter how clever, and you’ve blown the deal. The viewer isn’t going to stop to figure out your brilliant metaphor. Creative guys never get that. Actually, in my experience, they may get it, but they don’t want it. You know, like climate deniers.

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Cutsie poo Subaru

Subaru has a string of ads out now. One shows a still youngish couple going for a picnic and swim and as they progress they morph into younger versions of themselves, returning to the adolescent waterhole they enjoyed back in the day. Cute. Another shows a dad tearing around a field in response to his kid’s model airplane controller when the original broke. The best, though, is the young couple necking in the car until “daddy” comes to the door and breaks things up. Pretty ordinary, except that the characters are all dogs.

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1+1 still = 2

Several leading credit cards have been offering 2% cash discounts with certain purchase amounts. Leave it to Citi Bank to put a typical Wall Street spin on their deal: it’s the Citi Double Cash Card. Sounds great, right? Double the cash discount of other cards? No. It’s 1% when you buy something and another 1% when you pay for it. I was never great at math, but I looked it up, and I found that 1% plus 1% equals 2%!  Yet they keep yelling “double”, “double”, “double” all through the ad.

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Wait, what?

What has to be the shortest ad on TV today is this seven-word exhortation from Fresh Books: “Remove all doubt. Just use Fresh Books” Well that saves 20 seconds, doesn’t it? Who and what is Fresh Books? Other than a blatant rip off of QuickBooks, who cares? Just remove all doubt.

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Who really won the Super Bowl?

The score, now a month ago, speaks for itself – if you discount the Seahawk’s last gasp decision to pass with 2nd down and one yard to certain victory – but the real winners, adwise, seem to be Facebook and Twitter with gazillions of  comments and tweets setting new records for social media. As one ad pro said, even at $4 ½ million per spot that’s exposure they couldn’t buy. There was also a ton of comments on the ads, of course, most of which you’ve probably seen and which is too complex for this space.

I did wonder why I saw no mentions of the Chevy Truck ad that darkened the screen for a moment shortly after kickoff. I bet it produced a momentary stab of fear in a lot of Nacho-and-beer filled chests. Good idea for Chevy? I’m not sure.  Also another Chevy Truck ad has a guy coming out of an elevator in an office building, walking to the curb where his Chevy truck is parked, getting in and driving away. Parking space directly in front of an office building? In your dreams.

Nationwide, as you’ve probably heard, screwed the pooch royally with an ad detailing the what-might-have-been dreams of a kid who, in fact, died in childhood as the result of a domestic accident.

For what it’s worth, the Katy Perry whatever-that-was was incomprehensible to me.

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Here comes Grub Hub – duck!

If you order a hoagie (hero) from Grub Hub, don’t stand near the window. Their current ad shows a Grub Hub sandwich hitting folks and cold cocking them with the power of a mortar round. I realize they deliver but that’s ridiculous! An effective ad should be positive, not negative. Viewers tend to turn off, at least mentally, ads that depict negative situations.

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NYT Guide to Real Estate

The New York Times debuted their exciting new Sunday Magazine last month – with 3 covers, no less. I’m sure there were several interesting articles, but I couldn’t find them. I did latch on to a few $20 million condos overlooking the city but I decided to wait. You know these guys, in a few weeks they’ll be down to $29,000,995. I’m sure the .005% felt right at home.

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Not your Daddy’s Caddy

Probably the best campaign on the screen today is the new series from, ta-da- Cadillac. Titled “Dare Greatly,” it presents creative images of some who dared to take risks that led to greatness like Apple’s Steve Wozniak, designer Jason Wu and director of “Boyhood”, Richard Linklater. The tag line is “only those who dare drive the world forward.” Clearly an effort to revitalize the Caddy brand, which could use it.

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People I could do without

  • The lady with the transvaginal meshes, slings, arrows, etc.
  • Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel with their lame internet/Beamer i3 ad. BMW should be fined every time that ad runs –as it does every ten seconds. For one thing, the constant repetition of the question, “can you explain the internet?” even if it is a dramatized ad, makes them both look stupid after a while. Then, of course, there’s the ever faithful Alison, clinging to the phone for 21 years just to answer Katie’s queries!  That’s dedication!
  • The guy in the Discover ad who screams like a banshee when he discovers a goat in his house.

Overall, I think what’s happened in ad shops today is the creative have taken over from the marketing guys.

Speaking of “shops,” I’m noticing the phrase in use currently, “not in my wheelhouse,” or “that’s right in your wheelhouse.” Like we’re all captains steering our lives gallantly through foaming seas accepting or rejecting challenges on some who, me? basis. Reminds me of Jean Shepherd, a great radio monologist back in the day, who loved to tweak the ad guys (who paid for his show, BTW,) for their use of the word “shop” when referring to their offices. Shepherd would point out how the term conjured up visions of hard working blacksmiths or carpenters or some such, sweating it out day after day with nary a vodka martini to keep body and soul together.

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My 2c:

Say it ain’t so, Mitt!

As Mitt Romney decided he couldn’t fool all of the people even once let alone a third time, and withdrew his candidacy, his suggestion for an ideal replacement presidential candidate leaves plenty of room for head scratching – and maybe tells us how he really views the American presidency. Let’s see. Someone not well known, he said. So someone who has not held any notable office.  No experience working in the political environment…managing policy… negotiation…persuasion…research. What else? No national campaign experience. Good luck in today’s conservative knockdown, drag out primaries. A startup, Romney said. A blank slate. For the Presidency of the United States of America, the most powerful office in the world. Maybe, with his decision not to run, we’ve all ducked a bullet.

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Why not “barbarians?”

As the Republicans continue to berate President Obama because he won’t condemn all Islamists in his references to terrorism, I recall 1st year Latin and constant reference in Caesar’s Gallic Wars to the “barbarians” who were the terrorists of the day. Seems to me there’s not a lot of difference between ISIL and the Belgians, Celts, Gauls and Helvetians whom Caesar described: “The Belgae were the bravest because they lived furthest from the Province and merchants did not often come to them and import those things that effeminate the mind”. Interesting use of the word “effeminate.” Perhaps, if the world community would consistently refer to ISIS/ISIL as the barbarians, it would help to make them less attractive to young, disaffected Islamists and provide a clearer distinction between the terrorists and the Islamist community.

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Same ole, same ole

Republican reaction to the Obama budget amounts to their permanent solution to everything: cut taxes and spending.  Never mind how that plays out in terms of income inequality, education, stagnant lives for the middle class and tougher times for working families. It reminds me of the days when the medical “experts” firmly believed in bleeding their patients with lancets in order to release the bad blood. Many held that belief even into the early 20th century despite the obvious observation that the practice never benefitted the patient.

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P.S.: TD Ameritrade wakes up

Someone at TD Ameritrade must have read last month’s Watch Your Ads – or maybe not. In any case, they discovered their confusing copy in an ad, noted here, that they had two names for the woman featured in the ad calling her Sheila in the opening and Janet at the end. In the more recent iteration, Sheila has become “hey girl.” Still don’t care for the flippant, “whatever” at the end, but they don’t pay me.

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