Blog sounds off on advertising

June 29, 2006|By JESSICA BERTHOLD | JESSICA BERTHOLD,THE MORNING CALL

If you pitted "Got Milk?" against "You're Fired!" it'd be tough to judge which phrase is better known.

For better or worse, advertising is as much a part of pop culture as anything else in the media. Yet while film and television critics abound, there are few who make a career out of scrutinizing advertisements for content, theme and stupidity.

That's where blog Adrants (adrants.com) comes in.

The site gives short, punchy descriptions and saucy opinions about new ad campaigns, as well as news and commentary on the industry itself. Even if you're the type to press the "mute" button during commercials or use TiVo to skip them entirely, Adrants ensures you'll still be in the loop when people tell you to "Just Do It" or ask "Can You Hear Me Now?"

Adrants publisher Steve Hall, 44, lives in a Boston suburb and is a former ad agency employee. He says he's living proof that a person can make a decent living by running a blog -- and support a family of four to boot. Do you like most ads you see and hear?

Most are really bad. It's like anything in life, like movies and music and magazines. There are a few good ones and the rest are "eh."

What's a bad one you've seen recently?

There's a print ad for Right Guard deodorant set at a female roller derby with two scantily clad women attacking a third. The problem is: Who is the ad talking to? Is it an ad for a guy's deodorant or a woman's? I mean, as a man, my eye's going to it ... but is it supposed to?

What's a common mistake in ads?

Most advertising is trying to do more than it is designed to do. Everyone wants to say how much it costs and what it looks like and what it's made of, but you can't deliver that in 30 to 60 seconds. You just need to get people interested.

What about ads that have nothing to do with the product?

A lot of that is coming from a desire to keep things entertaining. Everyone is trying to cut through all the media clutter out there, so they put some outrageousness in the mix, some gerbils being shot from a cannon for no reason, to catch people's attention.

Is that a good tactic?

I think entertainment value is taking a little bit too much control over ads. Another thing that's going on is that the people making them really just want to direct a movie, so they go out and create something fancy and it wins an award, but it doesn't sell the product.

Advertisers are now using MySpace pages. Will that work?

I have mixed feelings, but my initial reaction is no. Marketing and commercialism usually destroy the natural state of things -- once they try to co-opt something cool, it's not cool anymore. Partly that's because they are so slow to react to pop culture.

Why are advertisers so slow to react to trends?

Egos, power structure, delegation ... all of those things that are common to any structured business. The approval process slows things down. Also fear, because if you take a risk and it doesn't pay off, you could lose your job.

Is the whole idea of creating a fluid "identity" for brands here to stay?

Yes, it's permanent, because we have this whole category of social media, with Web logs and forums and uploading videos to YouTube, and people are using those to react to advertising, to create their own spoofs of commercials, etc. People are now used to marketing being a conversation, not just a one-way shouting match, and advertisers need to respond to that.

What's a good ad you've seen recently?

I like the Volkswagen crash commercial they are running right now. The camera is in the car with these people talking and you are keying in on that, when suddenly another car comes and smashes into them. It was a real accident using stunt people, with airbags deploying and everything.

Why do you like it?

It's daring stuff, and it gets people talking. Some people don't like it because they are upset by the shock value, but it seems to be working. Apparently, someone from VW said sales and traffic to the dealers are up since that commercial started airing.

Jessica Berthold writes for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa.

ADRANTS.COM

In a word: Pithy.

E-candy for: People who watch the Super Bowl for the ads. People who hate ads but want to stay current about who "Mr. Six" is, what "The Freshmaker" does and why they should "Do the Dew."

In sum: Advertising news and opinions with attitude.

This blog as a person: Roger Ebert, demoted to the ad beat.

Sample topics: Clever and idiotic ad campaigns, viral marketing, industry research and trends, demographic shifts that may influence ad strategies.

Classic post: "Those Europeans sure do love their football and this massive and unique outdoor board from Adidas placed over a bridge construction site is a clear representation of that love. The board features German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn making a killer save. If Americans displayed their love of things this way, we'd have a gigantic image of Tom Cruise jumping over a highway shaped like a couch." (May 30.)

Making it happen: Steve Hall, 44, an ad agency veteran.

Created: March 2002.

Updates: Several times a day.

Writing: Short and smart.

Design: Clean, though Web ads between posts are annoying.

Comments allowed? Yes.

Popularity: 20,000 visitors/day.

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