Smart Critiques. Stupid Creates.

by johnmccreery

This is one of a whole series of ads created by advertising agency Anomaly for the Diesel Jeans “Be Stupid” campaign. If you’re looking for irony or exploitation of popular stereotypes, that is what you will find here. But, just as an experiment, let’s make an anthropological move. For the sake of argument, assume that there is more than a grain of truth in this advertising. What would be the implication for our understanding of education and its role in contemporary society?

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38 Responses to “Smart Critiques. Stupid Creates.”

  1. This is interesting. My inclination is to think of critique itself as dialectically creative, in the Hegelian sense of producing syntheses that both incorporate and transcend their antecedent parts. Following Wittgenstein on private language, I’m not sure how else creativity could happen. In this frame, ‘stupid’ is just the kind of pseudo-creation teenagers and other hacks produce because they’re not critically aware of the repertoire they’re reconfiguring, and education would involve developing that critical awareness and those reconfiguration skills.

  2. Carl, you have, if I may say so, demonstrated an academic habit. You tell us what you want “critique” to mean and, assuming your own meaning, blow off the possibility that “stupid” means something other than the “pseudo-creation” you ascribe to “teenagers and other hacks,” thus reproducing the putdown of the immature, irrational, primitive other with which anthropologists have struggled for years. Suppose you start over, keeping an open mind, and assuming that the proposition “Smart critiques. Stupid creates.” is meaningful in some possible world. What does that world look like from inside? And what might people embracing its premises say about the education they receive?

  3. Ah. Well, in the first part of your comment you describe the possible world I had in mind nicely. It exists, and it frames this sort of discussion in a way I thought might be worth articulating.

    On the topic of existing possible worlds, I notice that the form of the game you’ve set up here is the familiar one from many bad classrooms, where you in the role of the teacher propose cryptic questions and I in the role of the student am ‘stupid’ unless I ‘create’ the answer you had in mind. I’ll enjoy this conversation more, and maybe you will too, if you say what you mean rather than trying to get me to say it for you.

  4. I am not playing games. Nor, as far as I can see, is the question especially cryptic. It simply asks that you put aside your preconceptions and approach the headline as something spoken by a speaker to whom you give the benefit of the doubt, assuming that they have something sensible and important to say, given their own assumptions about how things work.

    Do I have my own interpretation? Of course I do. But, at this point, I don’t want to skew the conversation by getting my readers to argue with ME. I want to see what they make of the headline. If all goes well, we will wind up with several possible interpretations and open up the conversation instead of shutting it down.

  5. Leaving aside Henry Ford, what are the odds that someone told these entrepreneurs that it was stupid to drop out of school?

  6. Aw, John. I told you what I made of the headline. There is was, a possible interpretation. And, caught in the usual progressive anthropologists’ mirror trap in which the only illegitimate interpretation is our own, you shut it down and your own too, because it would be ‘skewing’.

    OK though, let’s see here. In the headline smart is educated in the rules of existing order. Smart cannot create because it is stuck in the rut of school-approved dogma. Therefore smart is parasitic on the creativity of stupid, which however it can only participate in negatively, by tearing it down. If Goebbels had made this ad, smart would be Jewish.

    Stupid is unfettered by book learning and cant. If smart is the box, stupid is outside the box. Stupid creates the new because it is unencumbered by the old. If Goebbels had made this ad, stupid would be Aryan.

    The ad rejects education as the imposition of dead culture on the youth. All in all it’s just another brick in the wall. And insofar as it’s not just a smart manipulation of youth romanticism and stigma management, it’s about the dynamic zones between stasis and chaos, where some things have to be in flux and some things have to be firm enough to push against, some people have to know how things are done and some people have to try it another way.

  7. Carl, may I remind you that it was you who wrote “My inclination is to think of critique itself as dialectically creative,” which, while certainly a reaction to the headline, is hardly to be construed as an interpretation of what it says. Now you have provided an interpretation, dripping with sarcasm, which appears to this reader to reject outright the possibility that there might be some truth in what the headline says. If anyone is stuck in a trap here, it certainly isn’t me.

    My view? The other’s? Either could be right. Either could be wrong. Either could be both right and wrong, to some degree as yet unspecified. In the case at hand, I am not ready to render a judgment. Could be some guys at a “hot” creative shop snowing the client into doing something wild to grab attention—how else are you going to sell jeans? Could be good idea, based on a genuine insight into the way the target consumers feel? If so, why should they feel like that?

    I like very much your notion that, “it’s about the dynamic zones between stasis and chaos, where some things have to be in flux and some things have to be firm enough to push against, some people have to know how things are done and some people have to try it another way.” Reminds me of a piece of U.S. Naval Academy folklore, according to which the first to make admiral never come from the top of the class. Why? They’re too “smart” in a rule-bound sense. Not the people you want in charge in the fog of war.

    It also reminds me of a story told to me by Anzai Toshio, a now retired but highly regarded TV commercial planner. A couple of famous copywriters had sweated for over half a year to come up with clever lines for a new campaign to attract tourists to Kyoto. At the end of yet another long, boring, fruitless meeting, Anzai said, “Look, the message is simple, Kyoto ikou, “Let’s go to Kyoto.” One of the copywriters said, Sou da, Kyoto ikou “That’s right, let’s go to Kyoto.” That became the line for a classic campaign that has lasted 18 years so far. Amano Yukichi, founder and for most of its forty years the editor of Kokoku Hihyo “Advertising Critique,” argues that the Sou da “That’s right” is effective because it is what Japanese say when they remember something that should be perfectly obvious but has been, for some reason, forgotten. When I suggest this to Anzai, he grins and rolls his eyes.

    To put this anecdote in perspective, it helps to know that copywriters start out working on print ads and are trained to think carefully about the proposition that they need to communicate and how to put it across in as compelling a way as possible. These were really important skills when newspapers were the major advertising medium and advertising catch phrases competed with editorial headlines as well as other ads for the attention of people reading papers. When TV overtook newspapers in terms of total ad spend, the focus shifted to the visuals, music, etc., by which a TV commercial grabs attention and the tagline copy at the end was just a way of locking down the non-verbal message. To Anzai, the TV guy, sweating the words, which only flash across the screen at the end of the 15 or 30-second spot seemed silly. Still does.

  8. Ooooooh, and now you don’t like my sarcasm…. 😉

    Just to frame my state of mind here by way of promoting the ever-desirable understanding, or at least thick description, of the Other: this post drops into a mid-term moment when I am engaging qualitatively with the intellectual products of about 80 introductory World History students, many of whom quite reasonably would rather be doing something other than figuring out Confucian parenting conventions and writing papers about them for our course. They are resisting my efforts to smarten them up in the usual ways, and if Diesel wanted to give them some free jeans they’d be fine with being called stupid.

    Most of these students are blessedly ignorant of the formal conventions of academic production, and they had no idea what Confucianism is before this course. I’m fine with both of those facts in particular. I can work with ignorance, having much experience of it myself. And I’m not doing any Taoism, Islam or utopian socialism this semester so I have to be ok with ‘important’ blind spots. What I’m not fine with in general is an attitude toward learning new things and developing new skills that measures their value in terms of immediate convertibility into cash or fun. I think this attitude is perfectly understandable as a reaction to consumer society, media overload and formulaic, test-driven mass education, but it’s also not what I’d call a thoughtful choice. I teach to encourage thoughtfulness in choosing. I also come equipped with the full range of self-ironies about this mission that the critical theory of the last several decades has made available to us, but since the students seem to enjoy their expanded repertoire once they’ve got it I don’t lose any sleep over it.

    My point here is that far from being refractory to the project you’ve proposed, John, I am actually immersed in it as my life’s work. Because I’m unwilling just to use lectures and tests to weed out the students who don’t already think like me, that is, I actually try to teach, I’m constantly thinking about how the target consumers feel and why they feel like that. It’s what wakes me up in the morning and sends me home exhausted at night. It involves listening carefully, one might say ethnographically, to what each new sisyphean batch tell me about where they’re coming from. And I’ve heard some version of ‘smart critiques, stupid creates’ hundreds if not thousands of times, usually not that articulately but in the form of a systematic skepticism that I have anything of value to offer and may even do active harm. And because I’m an intellectual / cultural historian I also know how to see it as a variant of the romantic celebration of energy, chaos and change that every generation has reproduced in various forms throughout the modern period in response to the protean dynamics of globalization and the capitalist market economy. That is, when it’s not a conservative defense of the bunkers folks have built against those dynamics.

    All of this, I know, makes me ‘smart’ (and emotionally invested) in a way that may be hemming in my ability properly to get the point here.

  9. As to the images, not the words, I like very much the constriction of creative possibility to turning at right angles within the box. That’s right, let’s go to Kyoto. What would it take to create a kind of creativity that isn’t ‘just’ a reconfiguration and redeployment of familiar elements?

  10. Carl, first an apology. Hail, Sisyphus.You and teachers like you are the best hope we have for creating the public that democracy needs to survive. My only excuse for recent bitchiness is an elevated pollen count (the Japanese Cypress loved the long, hot summer and are producing five times the usual amount) and a few days of cold, nasty weather; both have irritated my sinuses no end.

    Re your second suggestion, I am not sure that creativity has any place to start except the reconfiguration and redeployment of familiar elements. We hail as creative some previously unseen configuration of them that is unexpected and pushes us out of our usual ruts. The good news is that, given the mathematics of permutations and combinations, it doesn’t take many elements to open up an infinite range of new possibilities. Step one is the willingness to go there; to step outside the familiar boundaries and experience what—as a science fiction fan—I learned to call a sense of wonder.

    Perhaps critique’s problem is that it’s usually looking backward, conducting an exercise in risk management, looking for flaws. Creativity’s potential lies in looking forward with an innocent delight in the ridiculous, the beautiful and the sometimes sublime things to be found where we have not yet looked before.

    An image pops into my head. Critique is a fishmonger, filleting a piece of dead Halibut and noticing where it’s a bit off. Creativity is a kid with her nose pressed against the aquarium giggling at the clown fish and wondering, how could I make one of those.

  11. Just arrived at the office, re-read the last comment and realized that it leaves the conversation stuck in the same sort of polarized opposition as the ad does. The theory that works for me, one path to whose roots can be traced through Freud to Schiller, is that creativity and critique are dialectical moments in the same on-going process. In cruder modern terms, the way creative people work is to brainstorm and get a lot of ideas on the table, then sort through them in search of the golden needles in the haystacks.

    When I compare this process to the academic approach I acquired through my schooling, a couple of things stick out. First, I was taught to look at things one at a time: one book, one work of art, one piece of music, one mathematical theorem, one study, one experiment—it was always one at a time. Second, I learned to look for flaws before I looked for benefits; risk management, avoiding something “dangerous” was always more important than suggesting an alternative. I suspect that we can all remember wondering if we got the right answer or, if we got to graduate school, the passive-aggressive strategy of lurking in seminars until the presenter said something that let us put the knife in.

    Consider the difference in two approaches to teaching the Paris Commune. One provides an authoritative reading and the task is to critique it. The other provides some background information about the situation in Paris in 1871, including appropriate demographics, the issues on people’s minds and what people in different groups were afraid of. Students are assigned roles in a TV series set in this situation; the assignment is to develop scripts in which the people imagined by those roles get what they want. The revolutionary has to come up with a script in which the working class wins. The chief of police wants to keep order. The shopkeeper wants to keep his business open and make more money. The religious want this….the atheists want that….lots of parts to play here.

    The point is that everyone tries to imagine what would happen from a different perspective. Then everyone reads the authoritative book.

    Just brainstorming….but this is what comes to mind…

  12. Yes, that’s awesome, I’m totally going to steal that.

    I think you’re right also about the risk-management style of academic criticism. Kvond has made the same point in prior discussions, about the fundamentally conservative and obfuscating effects of defensive hyper-referential scholasticism. But I wouldn’t call that ‘critique’ yet, hesitantly referencing Hegel again here to say that an accomplished critique involves a full appreciation and a new synthesis rather than just cherrypicking fault. Marx after all thought capitalism was historically progressive, essential even. But as you point out, I don’t get to unilaterally declare what critique is.

    So then I further agree that our project moves forward only if we can bust out of the either/or trap the ad sets up. Oops, gotta go to class!

  13. The question that occurs to me is whether an accomplished critique as you describe it is possible except in retrospect. When I was teaching at Sophia, what shocked my marketing students was my up front statement that nobody could get better than a B by reviewing and synthesizing what had been done before. Why? Along with whatever mysterious talent may be involved, creativity takes the chutzpah to follow Wiley Coyote off the cliff and say, “Here’s your parachute.”

    To which we must add, I think, that the parachute isn’t normally a fully configured new synthesis. It’s a half-baked idea that needs a lot of help to develop. The Leonardo and Edison examples are very rare, indeed. Even Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak in the same garage when he was starting out.

  14. Late to the party. I’m a bit surprised that Graham Harman’s name hasn’t been invoked in the context of create versus critique, although doubtless my surprise reflects a parochialism reinforced by hanging out in only certain blog neighborhoods. There’s this from Graham:

    “My theory is that the troll is simply the predictable excrescence or repellent underside of an era of philosophy that values critique far too highly. Even university administrators praise philosophy mostly because it teaches “critical thinking” skills. In short, it is believed that philosophy teaches us to be less gullible, to believe in quantitatively fewer things, to stand at a transcendent distance from any particular personal commitment. The mission of philosophy is to debunk and tear down and to say: “no, I don’t believe it.” Against this attitude, I agree with Latour’s maxim that the point of thinking is to make things more real, not less.”

    And this:

    “The troll, however, is extremely abundant, and is a direct byproduct of the model of critique that dominates most modern conceptions of what it means to be an intellectual. If we were to choose one global intellectual bias whose overturning would do the most good, it would be the primacy of critique”

    Amd also this:

    “While analytic philosophy takes pride in never suggesting more than it explicitly states, this procedure does no justice to a world where objects are always more than they literally state. Those who care only to generate arguments almost never generate objects. New objects, however, are the sole and sacred fruit of writers, thinkers, politicians, travellers, lovers, and inventors.”

  15. That’s just silly. Everybody knows it, and nobody doesn’t know it.

    But since he disqualifies the entire critique class of objects with this critique object, I feel free to ignore him.

  16. Diesel Stupid Philosophy (from their website)

    Like balloons, we are filled with hopes and dreams. But. Over time a single sentence creeps into our lives. Don’t be stupid. It’s the crusher of possibility. It’s the worlds greatest deflator. The world is full of smart people. Doing all kind of smart things… Thats smart.
    Well, we’re with stupid. Stupid is the relentless pursuit of a regret free life. Smart may have the brains…
    but stupid has the balls. The smart might recognize things for how they are. The stupid see things for how they could be. Smart critiques. Stupid creates. The fact is if we didnt have stupid thoughts wed have no interesting thoughts at all. Smart may have the plans… but stupid has the stories.
    Smart may have the authority but stupid has one hell of a hangover. Its not smart to take risks… Its stupid.
    To be stupid is to be brave. The stupid isnt afraid to fail. The stupid know there are worse things than failure… like not even trying.
    Smart had one good idea, and that idea was stupid. You can’t outsmart stupid. So don’t even try. Remember only stupid can be truly brilliant.

  17. @ktismatics

    You’ve posted the Diesel stupid philosophy statement from the website. Do you agree with it?

  18. Reading the philosophy itself, I’m struck that stupid is an r-selecting strategy for creativity production and smart is a K-selecting strategy. Think tadpoles and grizzly cubs. Stupid pumps all kinds of stuff into the environment willy-nilly. Lots of random variation; most of it is clueless crap. Everyone says ‘that’s stupid’ and that’s the end of it. But every so often a happy accident occurs and something both excitingly new and actually functional shows up. Most times those get lost too because the creator is stupid and inattentive and hasn’t built a nest, but sometimes the stars align and one catches on. In contrast critique is a much less voluminously productive creator and tends to go with what works, since the level of material and social investment is so high. But the products are well-nurtured and defended against a crowded competitive field. Innovation does occur, but not without loads of beta-testing (to mix the metaphor again).

    It seems to me that Graham and Diesel want it both ways. I’m sure frogs do too.

  19. Still gathering data… “Smart critiques. stupid creates.” — Here are more slogans from the Diesel “Be Stupid” campaign:

    Smart may have the brains, but stupid has the balls.
    We’re with stupid.
    Smart may have the answers, but stupid has all the interesting questions.
    Smart has the plans, stupid has the stories.
    Smart listens to the head. Stupid listens to to the heart.
    Smart says no. Stupid says yes.
    Stupid is trial and error. Mostly error. (cf. Carl’s r-selecting strategy)
    Smart had one good idea and that idea was stupid.
    If we didn’t have stupid thoughts we’d have no interesting thoughts at all.
    Smart sees what there is. Stupid sees what there could be.
    Only the stupid can be truly brilliant.
    Stupid might fail. Smart doesn’t even try.
    Smart plans. Stupid improvises.
    Long live stupid.

  20. “Don’t make the mistake I always do of thinking too much before you act.” – Homer Simpson

  21. So, do I agree with the Diesel Stupid Philosophy? I agree that it probably resonates with the target audience for the product.

    I ran the philosophy and the slogans by my daughter, who’s a senior in high school and hence part of Diesel’s target market. She says that Julia, the kid who won the “most artistic” vote among her classmates, fits very well the Diesel image of what a creative type is like: emotional, spontaneous, kind of ballsy, maybe also kind of stupid. Now Julia’s fellow artists agree that, while she might not be the best artist in the senior class, she is very good. However, the other really good artists don’t fit the personality type as well as does Julia — they might be more reserved, more likely to plan their pieces, be excellent students, etc. The artists perceive themselves as representing a wide range of personal characteristics. Among the non-artists, however, the personality profile rather than the creativity of the output is what defines the creative type.

    In sum, the creative personality profile outlined by the Diesel ad campaign fits the stereotype of what the creative person is like — a stereotype that is neither endorsed nor necessarily embodied by actual creative people. If we assume that most of the consumers in the target audience in fact aren’t very creative, and if we also assume that they wish they were creative, then the Stupid campaign should be successful at selling jeans.

  22. @Carl

    Interesting observation. What most people don’t realize is how much of the creative process involves r-strategy. One of the first things I learned at Hakuhodo was the hitoban hyakuan (one night, one hundred proposals) approach to training new creatives. Most would be minor variations and at least 99 out of 100 would be thrown away. Thus, if several newbies were working on a project, several hundred ideas would be tossed.

    This brings me, however, back to Freud and Schiller. The oscillation between brainstorming and filtering that they talk about suggests a combination of r and k strategies, r for brainstorming, k for selection and refinement.

    @ktismatics

    I agree with your analysis of the probable advertising effect.

  23. @JohnD, Rachel identified immediately with your analysis. It’s a dumb stereotype and has nothing to do with art, yet that personality type is so expected by the arts’ publics that artists will regularly perform it just to qualify themselves for the audience (and each other!). It’s ironically the one set of expectations art cannot challenge.

    I keep getting hung up on the rhetoric of negation in the Diesel thing. It looks like a celebration but it’s all wrapped up in ressentiment against the ‘smart’ overlords. Of course this feeds right into teen angst, and it’s also as I’ve mentioned another crank of the romanticism handle. Those can be healthy as shocks to shake up decadent orthodoxies, although their actual contents tend to be purile throughout the revolutionary phase. But it’s also the kind of stuff fascists and nazis say. They too reject thought for feeling, head for heart. They too think their destruction is creative. Of course there are important distinctions to be made and I don’t want to be a drama queen, but it’s not a train of thought I can take seriously without a little shiver.

    Re: creativity and r-strategies, back when I was interviewing for jobs I’d sometimes be asked how I was innovative as a teacher and what stories I could tell about my triumphs. It’s an embarrassing question because in an important sense I’m not at all innovative as a teacher; I’m in a tradition that goes back to Socrates. I just look innovative if all you’ve got to go on for teaching/learning culture is the lecture mode, in which case Powerpoint also looks innovative. So because I wanted a job the question required me to be smart about the questioners’ stupid. The triumph question was no better, because it’s a K-strategy question. I’m an r-strategy teacher. I’m in interaction with my students (all of them, not just the stars); I’m throwing all sorts of stuff at them; some of it sticks and most of it doesn’t, although I like to think it’s ‘in there’ somewhere waiting to be activated, like a landmine. So I have a dozen little triumphs a day, dozens more failures, and no big epiphany stories to tell.

  24. Hello folks,

    Been following this particular add campaign for some time (it seems to have been replaced, by the way, by the powder/dirty campaign).

    so far as I can see, the stupid/smart relationship is seems to replay the Flaubertine critique of ‘received ideas’ (see the dictionary of received Ideas at the end of Bouvard et Pécuchet — some of the entries, end with the advice, ‘rail against it’). I take it that the ad campaign hinges on this kind of ‘hipster’ irony: the mutual framing of conventional smarts (street smarts, social mores, habit, etc), and the conventional counter-cultural response (bow-ties and carigans, skinny jeans instead of [what my friends] used to call ‘elephant pants’, etc). This ironic dissonance is even implied by the image above, which calls attention to its own photoshopped character (see the crushed paper coffee cup). The message of the add is therefore strangely universalist (if not also vaccuous): buy into the Idée reçue, or ironically affirm it….

    If there’s a stroke of genius here, it’s the inclusion of enough significant detail for this dissonance to become thematic….

  25. Hello old friend – you make a really interesting point. I don’t always give other people the credit for irony that they deserve, but I see it here now that you pick out the mutual framing of convention and counter-convention. Cool!

  26. if nothing is created; then what’s there to critique?

  27. How about what is taken to be fact, given in the nature of things?

  28. Inasmuch as this discussion was prompted by an ad campaign, I wonder whether there’s been research on the relative effectiveness of critique-based versus creation-based ads. E.g., a critique-based ad might point out failures in competitive products and how the advertised product is better than the competition, whereas a creation-based ad might emphasize the holistic wonderfulness of the product and by implication of those who buy it. John M, do you know of any research along these lines? The next time I watch commercial TV I’ll see if I can gather some data on the relative prevalence of these two ad styles.

  29. I have data! Lucky me, tonight on CBS was the Best Super Bowl Commercials show. In half an hour I got to see 26 Super Bowl commercials, interspersed with 18 regular commercials sponsoring the show. That’s 44 commercials in 30 viewing minutes — it doesn’t get much better than that. The show continued for another half hour, but I felt I had enough data to end the study.

    Here was my method. I ranked each commercial on a 0 to 4 scale. A “0” commercial is all critique, focusing on specific product features and benefits. A “4” commercial is all creation, focusing on general wonderfulness, image, and lifestyle. I assigned a separate 0 to 4 score for the words spoken and for the images displayed. I piloted this method on the commercials for the last 7 minutes of Wheel of Fortune, then sat with clipboard and yellow pad and pen during the program recording the results.

    The award-winning commercials were all about creation: an average 3.8 for words and a perfect 4.0 for images. The ordinary show-sponsorship commercials showed more mixed results. They averaged 2.0 for words, representing an even split between creation and critique. The images tilted much more toward creation, with an average score of 3.3.

    Clearly the commercials selected as “best” possessed the most entertainment appeal, and let’s face it: creation is more entertaining than critique. I don’t know whether they were also “best” in terms of selling product. Among the ordinary commercials, even the most information-heavy scripts were delivered to the accompaniment of entertaining creation images that often had little to do with the words being spoken about the product.

  30. You are, you must realize, reinventing the wheel. Ad evaluation and testing is a huge issue for the advertising industry and continues to be a perennial hot potato. There’s a library of stuff to read should you be so inclined. Don’t take this amiss, however. My hat is off to you for recognizing the issue and plunging straight in.

    A few things to consider.

    1. Your basic contrast between critical and creative advertising confounds what the industry usually sees as separate issues. Comparative advertising in its most direct form product A vs product B has historically been despised. It tends to appear when sales in a category have stalled, frequently due to a saturated market or stalled economic growth. The indirect form, product A (a known brand) vs product X (an unnamed competitor), is mainly used in demonstration advertising broadcast on daytime TV and directed at housewives. In either form, comparative advertising is only one form of hard-sell, listing or demonstrating product features and making an appeal to rational choice. Hard sell is contrasted with soft sell, a.k.a., image advertising.

    2. Which approach to take depends consumer involvement with the product. This has been analyzed six ways from Sunday but in one simple, relatively conventional approach, products are divided on two dimensions, low and high risk, and low and high emotional involvement. Consider, for example, a product like bug spray or bandaids. It is, for everyone except the people trying to sell it, a low-risk, low-involvement choice. Cars, houses, investments—all are high-risk, high-involvement. Addressing the involvement demands an emotionally compelling message; but the risk is high enough that the consumer needs the reassurance provided by facts that make the choice seem reasonable. For fashionistas, fashion is high-involvement; but, financially speaking, rarely high risk. The cost may seem high but for those with the wherewithal to be in the target segment, it’s not a huge part of their income. A purely emotional, image-oriented pitch, “Wow! Look like this” may be appropriate.

    3. Cutting across these sorts of considerations is the role of the advertising in question. Does it launch a new product? Does it help to enrich an established brand story? Support rising sales? Maintain momentum as the top of the S-curve approaches? Sell off inventory before a new model is launched? That sort of thing.

    4. Will ad do the job assigned to it? One famous Japanese art director describes a successful ad as one that overcomes five hurdles: (1) it is eye-catching, it attracts attention; (2) the message is simple enough to be understood instantly; (3) it has news, something new to say that the audience will find interesting; (4) it is memorable, not today’s news but gone tomorrow; (5) it adds value to the product or company in question.

    There are no recipes here. These are, however, the sorts of questions that go through advertising professionals’ minds when they evaluate proposals or assess finished work. Hope this is helpful.

  31. I’d have welcomed some advertising experts like you discussing what made those particular commercials supposedly so good. It wasn’t obvious to me: for all I know the selected brands paid the most product-placement money to CBS for the privilege of having their ads presented as content. In the show itself all we got was a string of commercials, interspersed with some playful banter among the show’s hosts and a couple of short behind-the-scenes making-of segments. From my handy-dandy metric one distinguishing feature is that the best ads offer less information about the product itself than do the run-of-the-mill ads. It’s clear that a clydesdale and a dalmatian frolicking together onscreen have nothing to do with the merits of a particular brand of beer. I’d have liked to hear the experts explore why such a commercial is made, deemed best-in-class, etc. Probably this sort of content defines a non-commercial program suitable only for public broadcasting.

  32. As this ad expert sees it, you have fallen into the trap of assuming that all ads are for launch campaigns that introduce new products to the market. Refer to section 3 in my previous message and ask yourself what is the role of this ad if not to sell a new product. A lot of big brand advertising—Budweiser is a classic example—is aimed at refreshing and renewing an established brand image and maintaining an emotional bond between the brand and its customers, especially its heavy users (the 20% who account for 80% of the sales). Budweiser’s Clydesdales are an advertising icon on the level of the Marlboro Cowboy, instantly recognized avatars for “The King of Beers,” invariably associated with an idyllic America to communicate the message “The King of Beers=The Best Country in the World.” If what you saw if the 2002 commercial that followed 9/11 you are seeing one of the greatest executions of this message. The horses emerge from their stable in some idyllic small town, they travel through an increasingly urban landscape, cross a bridge and are last seen with the skyline of Manhattan in the distance, where the World Trade Center towers are gone. When they kneel reverently toward that skyline, the emotional spark reawakens the patriotic fever that followed 9/11.

    Also, the message is only part of what’s going on here. The next question is the placement. Why the Superbowl? TV advertising is expensive. Superbowl ads are the most expensive ad buys in the world. Why would anyone spend tens of millions of dollars for a 30-second Superbowl spot? For Bud, the economic case is clear. What a Superbowl placement buys is (1) reach and (2) unpaid publicity. The 2011 Superbowl attracted 111 million viewers. Divide the tens of millions spent by a hundred million viewers and you are talking about messages delivered at a cost per viewer of less than a first-class letter. Note, too, that Superbowl viewers are a demographic heavily populated by Bud’s core target, patriotic, beer-drinking, working-class men on whom the messaging described above is likely to have a strong impact. Then, while you’re thinking of the cost of that one placement, add the free publicity. Given the role of pop culture in contemporary life, Superbowl ads are news! In the case of Budweiser, everyone who cares about advertising is hugely curious about what they will do for the next Superbowl. Previous examples are discussed with the reverence and in much the same conversational style as the Superbowl games themselves. And it isn’t just industry people. Good ones go up on the Internet and the YouTubes attract millions of additional views.

    Does this help?

  33. Remarkable. Cogent observations. If I watch the game I’ll see if anything from the ads catches my attention.

  34. It is also worth remembering that Superbowl ads are only the most visible peak of what may be elaborate and carefully thought out brand-building strategies. By accident I just stumbled across a really good example, for Kia automobiles.
    Check it out and tell us what you think.

    http://steponeportfolio.squarespace.com/storage/Kia_roadmap.pdf

  35. It’s like taking a good look under the hood, that Kia piece. It distinguishes between Message, Personality, and Icons in promoting brand. Then there’s the “Allison Fisher Purchase Funnel: at the top is Image adverstising — awareness, familiarity, opinion — then, farther down the funnel, is Tactical advertising — consideration, shopping, and purchase. In my makeshift criteria for classifying those TV ads, “Create” commercials focused the personality, the icons, and the image, whereas “Critique” emphasized tactical shop-and-purchase considerations.

    More later, but the MSU versus U of M men’s basketball game tips in 5 minutes. I know you don’t follow the sports of our alma mater, John, but the Super Bowl takes a distant second place in my viewing priorities for today.

  36. And MSU wins! Now back to your sponsor — Kia. It’s hard to remain emotionally neutral when confronted with the brazen candor of these remarks:

    The Kia brand personality consists of five traits: Hardworking. Humble. Honest. A touch of Humanity. And a sense of Humor… These traits made it easier for the minorities to be liked and accepted, without raising the ire of the majority. Valuable traits to be aware of when you’re an unknown Korean brand trying to capture the hearts, minds and pocketbooks of the American public.

    By religiously sticking to this brand personality the past five years, Kia has managed to create an emotional bond with the American consumer that has allowed us to weather many of the rational reasons they have to NOT buy a Kia: Hyundai’s previous failures; being last in the J.D. Power customer satisfaction polls two years in a row; and the Korean financial crisis. Despite all these hurdles, we’ve managed to drive showroom traffic and become one of the most well-liked car brands in America.

    None of the previous traits would be Kia without our sense of humor. It’s what makes people want to watch our ads over and over again. It’s what makes the brand likable. And as the Ogilvy & Mather Centre for Research & Development says: “People who like your ads are twice as likely to buy your products.” Sounds good to us.

    No one has stated the importance of our personality better than a researcher from Allison Fischer, one of the top automotive research companies in the world: “If Toyota had the Kia personality, there would be no stopping them.”

    In essence they’re acknowledging that, fortunately for Kia, personality trumps quality. Our cars kinda suck, but people like our image, so they buy. Clearly our schools need to step up in teaching critical thinking.

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