Bob Garfield is back with another ad review column and, though he hasn’t had any grievous errors of fact like he did in his last column, he is in the mix with the classic Garfield Column-Filler-Outer strategy of finding the smallest flaw in an otherwise excellent spot and flogging said flaw to death until he has reached his word limit.
This sort of writing (a limp imitation of journalism crossed with commentary) drives me up the wall because it is short-sighted, unreasonably negative and completely tangental to the actual value equation of the spot. It is so short-sighted that I went line-by-line through it adding my own commentary.
Yawning Production Flaw Keeps Ad Half a Second From Genius
I hope that Garfield doesn’t write his own headlines…that pun is more shocking than the time I saw that picture of Donny Deutsch in a Speedo.
This will be about a new spot from BBDO, New York, that is almost a masterpiece but also monstrously flawed.
When Bob Garfield leads with a line like this, you know that he is going to find a nit-picky “flaw” that he will flog to death before saying that the spot is otherwise genius, thus hedging his bets and allowing himself to say that his review was right no matter how the business does.
It’s easy to be “infallible” in your ad reviews when you so successfully hedge your bets (or, in the case of the Wendy’s red wig campaign, comment on the spot after the campaign has been killed and use made-up sales figures to back up your reason to follow the Wendy’s marketing team and pan the campaign, too).
First, though, a brief trip down memory lane. Go back a dozen years
Or go back ten years. Not that facts are important.
to the famous Pepsi ad “Security Camera,” in which a Coke delivery man sneaks a can of Pepsi from a convenience store, only to be caught on video as the entire contents of the Pepsi refrigerator case spill onto the floor.
That was a great spot, thanks for reminding me of it.
It was very nearly a perfect TV commercial — 3.5 stars in AdReview — compromised by one tiny detail. For whatever reason, the sound of full soda cans weren’t dubbed over the actual sound of the empty cans used to film the spot.
From a professional perspective, that’s a little annoying because you want every detail to be perfect. But if it doesn’t affect the spot, does it matter?
Only if you need to write a column and don’t have anything original to say.
The tinny, hollow result slightly, but noticeably, undercut the illusion.
It undercut the illusion if you are an ad critic focused on finding something, anything wrong with an ad. It did not undercut the illusion if you are a regular consumer and are busy laughing at the spot, and anyway aren’t intensely poring over a thirty-second spot looking for flaws because THAT’S NOT WHAT CONSUMERS DO.
Because I am scientifically rigorous here at the Daily (Ad) Biz, I did a study using ten out-of-industry friends…who, even when pressed, did not recognize that the cans were empty.
My friends may not be the brightest bulbs, but they absolutely know what an empty can sounds like when it’s dropped on the floor. I know that they know this based on last weekend’s ski trip, where empty cans hit the floor with admirable regularity.
That June the ad still fetched a Cannes Gold Lion
And it fetched said Cannes Gold Lion because, despite your silly complaint, it was a damn good spot.
but it also got us in dutch with a liquored-up (now former) BBDO creative executive, who came lurching across a French dinner table to inquire about our parentage.
I like the use of the “now former” in parentheses as if to say that this altercation was the reason that he is no longer at BBDO. Don’t fuck with Garfield!
As the little fellow was being restrained, AdReview was more bewildered than angry.
The “little fellow”?
I am glad to see that you don’t hold a grudge (and why would you – you were more bewildered than angry, right?).
Why, we wondered, was he mad at us? And, by the way, why did they record empty cans?
He was likely mad at you because you gave a bad review for a pathetically small and meaningless reason to an exceptional spot that deserved only accolades.
There may have been any number of reasons for recording the empty cans, a few of which I will list below:
1. Because they used empty cans and were recording sound on set
2. Because when they laid in the music track and adjusted the levels, the music drowned out any obviously tinny sound for all except the one person who viewed the spot multiple times in a row while frantically looking for flaws
3. Because nobody thought that even now, ten years later, someone would hard on this tiny detail that doesn’t even matter to the integrity of the spot
Memories of the episode came spilling back this week, like so many Pepsis
But were they empty Pepsis? Because if they were empty, it’s absolutely unforgivable. Just in case they were, I am going to give this sentence a mere 1.5 Biz Medal Star Power Ranking Things.
as we watched BBDO’s extraordinary TV spot for Monster.com.
The use of “we” when you mean “I” just tickles me pink. It’s like I am reading a column in the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times by a real journalist who is bound by style rules, when I am really just reading Garfield’s column in AdAge.
It, too, is based on a simple, powerful idea. It, too, is exquisitely produced, in realistic animation reminiscent of the movie “Happy Feet.”
Bob, this is Reason calling. You said something smart. Please stop your column right here.
And it, too, is compromised — more than slightly — by an unaccountable failure in production.
Goddammit, Bob! You always do this. I am Reason – you will have to listen to me sometime…(sob)…please listen to me. Even just once…
Due to nothing more than an editing detail, this beautiful, arresting, almost-poetic 60-second tale basically makes no sense. At least on first viewing. And, in our case, third.
(Garfield kicks Reason in the face Chuck Norris-style and stuffs him into the trunk of his car)
Here’s the synopsis: a stork braves darkness and storms, harsh geography and predators, blazing desert heat and freezing Alpine cold to deliver its precious bundle — a gorgeous baby boy — to a California doorstep. In the next scene, the same stork peers into a cluttered, dingy office where a fatigued white-collar worker is burning the midnight oil. The working stiff and the stork make eye contact, whereupon the bird lowers its head and flies away.
Let me get this straight…you struggled to make sense of the spot but are able to immediately place the doorstep on which the boy lands in California?
Truly, your Shaolin-style ad review powers are strong.
Then the super: “Are you reaching your potential? Monster.”
So, what have we witnessed? Well, come to discover the loser in the office is the infant, 30 years later, and the stork wonders why he went to all that trouble only to see his charge rubber-stamping sales contracts or whatever. Which is, indeed, a brilliant idea — a moving and wholly unexpected bit of storytelling about human (and avian) disappointment.
We have come to discover that the guy in the office is the infant thirty or so years later. Some of us even got that on the first viewing.
We got it on the first viewing for many reasons, not the least because there are only two people in the spot – the baby and the office worker – and those two people are connected by the yawn. It’s a technique you may have seen before in movies and other commercials and stuff.
But we missed that, because we never registered the transition that was supposed to connect the baby with his adult self — namely, a baby yawn butt-cut onto the office-workers yawn.
Did Comcast cut out right at this critical moment in the spot or something?
Let me repeat. There are only two people in the spot, the baby and the man (and the stork, but birds aren’t people). The spot opens on the baby, then, as the baby yawns, it cuts to the man yawning. The stork returns to shake his head sadly at the plight of the man.
How is the confusing?
This may, of course, have to do with our own personal obtuseness.
On the other hand, we daresay most TV viewers don’t hang on every frame, one playback after another, the way AdReview does. We may be a halfwit, but we are an extremely attentive one, and as wowed as we were by the visuals and as sucked in by the narrative, we still failed repeatedly to get it.
I am completely unqualified to say or even imply that I am smarter than Bob Garfield. Or that all of those who commented on your review are smarter than Bob Garfield. And I would definitely hesitate to say that my eight year-old cousin is smarter than Bob Garfield. But somehow this spot made sense to all of us on the first viewing and Bob Garfield repeatedly failed to get it.
Maybe we got it quickly because we aren’t looking for a flaw in the spot to blow up into what passes for an ad review column. Just maybe. I wouldn’t want to get all ad hominem on you Bob, but it is a possibility.
Because the baby’s open mouth wasn’t wide or prolonged or obviously yawn-like (vs. coo-like) enough to be understood as a parallel to the adult yawn with which it was juxtaposed. A half an inch, a half a second, or half an overdubbed baby yawn would have done the trick — and if not that, in worst case, a super that says “30 years later.”
One of the reasons that this spot works so well is that the narrative does not need to be spelled out to the viewer with long shots of a yawn or with supers. In fact, lingering too long on any one scene kills the flow. And an explanatory super would ruin the animated movie-esque feel of the spot.
I can’t even believe that there was the suggestion of an explanatory super. Art is, in many ways, subjective, but I can state with complete confidence that if I suggested a super on this spot there would be a chance that I would get fired. Or at least put on less creatively-demanding projects.
This ad is one tweak from a Gold Lion. Till then, baby, it just isn’t reaching its potential.
First, I hate puns. They are the refuge of the uncreative and the 19th Century dinner party bore.
Second, potential is a hard thing to quantify because if means different things for different people. Gold Lions, however, are easy to quantify. You either win them because your peers, actual advertising professionals as opposed to critics without an ounce of experience, think that your work is the best.
BBDO won before despite silly ninny nit-picking by Garfield, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they do it again.