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Ads Watch: Kia Optima Blake Time Travels

19 Dec

Blake Griffin, pitchman, is so uncharacteristic in these ads, that it kind of flips all the way around, making him seem charismatic.

There are two versions of this commercial so far, and the model plays out so well that it would make a lot of sense to make a couple more; unlike the Aaron Rodgers State Farm commercial which came together on a number of magically impossible to replicate details, the formula here seems pretty easy to assemble.

In short, both begin with Blake Griffin using the fancy voice activated system for the Kia, which apparently controls, among other things, a time machine, to go back in time to a year in the mid’90s, and then, again using the voice activated system, puts on an appropriate period pop song.  He visits himself as a kid and impresses his younger self with his car.  He gives the kid an idiosyncratic piece of advice, and returns.

Let’s start with the 1995 edition for further detail.  The song, on the way back in time, is “This is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan, a perfect choice to epitomize the period of time.  He comes back and visits six-year old Blake, who’s hanging on the rim of a basketball hoop attached to his garage.  How did he got to be hanging on the rim?  Who the fuck knows.  He asks 2012 Blake who he is, and Blake responds that he’s himself from the future, and the kids asks if big Blake’s car is a spaceship.  Why in the world would a six year old think a car, that looks like any other car, is a spaceship?  Because it came through some sort of time portal?  I suppose, but still.  2012 Blake tells him that the Kia is way better than a spaceship, and I like how blunt and unhesitating he is; there’s no way a spaceship could be better than this car.  Blake shows a solid self-aware sense of humor in telling the kid to practice his free throws, and proceeds to fling a free throw towards the hoop and miss it badly.  (Where did the basketball come from?  I’ve watched this ad a dozen times and I still have no idea).  He doesn’t consider the fact that six-year old him is dangerously hanging from the rim, or the even more disturbing fact that flinging a free throw could dislodge the six-year old and cause a dangerous fall.  He just turns around, leaves him hanging, and heads back to the future as “This is How We Do It” returns and the screen turns to white.

The 1997 version functions similarly and is every bit as good, if not better.  He tells the car to take him back to 1997, and play jukebox, which here plays OMC’s “How Bizarre”, an equally appropriate choice to summon up memories of that year.  He shows up to find eight year old Blake playing football in the park and immediately instructs him, “Wrong sport” and punts the football far away.  Young Blake looks up confused, asks who he is, and 2012 Blake informs his younger self that he’s him from the future (apologize for the confusing pronouns but this is what happens when you have a future version meeting a past version of the same person) and tells him a little bit about his futuristic car; this part is the most ad-like piece of the commercial, but I enjoy that the Kia features he brags about really don’t sound all that futuristic.  He pauses and shares a sublimely awkward three second pause staring at his younger self, and then issues him the advice to “Stop Wearing Jean Shorts.”  When the kid looks down confused, older Blake says, “Just Trust Me,” and the screen turns to white, and How Bizarre resumes playing in the background.

I’ve mentioned some of my favorite parts in the descriptions, but I’ll sum them up here.  First, as I started up top with, Blake makes this ad.  He’s not charismatic, and he doesn’t even try, but his matter of fact, lack of inflection tone is simply perfect.  In that tone is his utter lack of empathy; he doesn’t try to connect with his younger self at all, and is, really, kind of a dick.  In the 1995 ad, he leaves his younger self hanging on the rim, and in the 1997 version, he boots his younger self’s football away from him.  Even his bits of advice are given entirely without emotion.  The song choice is absolutely spot on for both ads, and I still love that the five year old thinks the car is his spaceship.  All in all, it makes for the rare tolerable car commercial.  More, please.

Ads Watch: State Farm – State of Discovery (Ivy)

12 Oct

I’ve already talked about a great Discount Double Check commercial, a terrible attempt to replicate that commercial, and now I’m here to talk about a different, but again successful, Discount Double Check ad.

This ad returns to sports (baseball instead of football), but this time it’s a nice, concise, gets to the point one primary joke ad, but the joke is a good one.  It doesn’t have all the minute bizarre pleasures that makes the original Aaron Rodgers discount double check a hit, but what it does have is a well-constructed, well-executed joke, and in a 30 second commercial, that’s worth its weight, in, well, Super Bowl TV dollars.

Wrigley Field is the setting.  An insurance agent  (State Farm?  What insurance company is this again? – it is State Farm, but maybe it’s telling that I don’t remember before seeing it again) explains to Kerry Wood, as they walk near the warning track, from right field to left field, that State Farm does a discount double check to ensure that every person pays the lowest amount for their insurance, using the now famous Aaron Rodgers touchdown belt gesture.

Now things start to get good.  Wood explains that before each game, he did a similar ivy double check and begins to demonstrate, remarking how stuff tends to get caught up in the ivy.  The commercial is set up now for a classic rule of three gag – Wood’ll pull out two items that are progressively more strange, but ultimately leading to the third which will be the keeper; it will have to be the funniest and/or most bizarre for the joke to work.

Here’s the first of two places that make this commercial.  The first item Wood pulls from the ivy is already pretty funny, an outdated large cell phone, setting up the idea that things have been lost in the ivy for years and years.  The second item is a French horn, with no importance to the future of the joke, but just a solidly comically random item.  Third, then, Wood takes an extra second or two reaching into the ivy, as if he’s grabbing something particularly large or heavy, like a fisherman with a big one on the line.  The item, it turns out, is, as Kerry Wood says, quizzically, Andre Dawson.

Here’s the second important junction that makes this a fantastic commercial.  This is the combination of the physical comedy of Andre Dawson emerging completely horizontally from the ivy, as if the ivy goes back for yards and yards, as well the Hawk’s impeccably timed and intonated, “What year is it?”  Having Wood find Andre Dawson is already pretty brilliant, and just a funny idea.  But Dawson at least doubles the brilliance with his, “what year is it,” specifically bringing to mind the hilarious idea that he’s been trapped in the ivy for decades, aided by the squinty look he gives which makes it seem as if his eyes have not been exposed to light for some time.

The commercial then takes the perfect quick beat before going to the red screen on which State Farm explains their discount double check and I stop paying attention to the commercial.

Kudos, State Farm, for taking a brilliant commercial, ruining it with a terrible uncreative take two on that commercial by trying to replicate its brilliance, and then taking the same campaign in a new direction and having another success.

Ads Watch: AT&T Summoner or “Romantic Dinner”

2 Feb

I haven’t talked that much about commercials yet, but when I did I made points about how commercials, more than any other form (maybe sketch comedy is the closest), because they’re so short, are so dependent on tiny little quirks of acting and writing that aren’t always obvious until the whole thing is put together, but help raise the commercial up above the norm.   A perfect example of this is AT&T’s thirty second commercial called “Romantic Dinner.”  This isn’t conceptually brilliant by any means.  It’s pretty basic actually, and like a lot of these ads, it’s three of four different words or motions or looks away from not necessarily being awful (though it could be) but at least being unmemorable.  Instead, it’s good.  The two actors both play their parts sublimely in the ad, but the male especially makes the words “summon” and “summoner” minorly hystrerical.  But, we’ll get to that.  Let’s start at the beginning.

An African-American couple (maybe low 30s – I’m terrible with ages) is eating dinner at a classy restaurant.  The woman remarks how nice it is to spend sometime with just the two of them, and the man agrees.  The woman begins another sentence, seemingly focusing further on how they should spend more time together, when she notices the man glance quickly downwards.  She gives him an accusatory look and asks if he checked the game on his phone.  Here’s where it gets good.  The man gives the best line of the ad, responding  “What, no, what am I, like some kind of summoner who can summon footage to his phone like that?”  The best part is when his eyes grow large as he says “summoner” with a disbelieving look, as to show how crazy she is for even thinking he has this capability.  He then says, as he’s finishing, “come on,” in a perfect gimme-a-break manner.

Obviously the explanation was sufficient and clear enough to make the woman doubt her initial conclusions, and feel bad about them.  She says, “I guess I’m just a little oversensitive.”  Between “little” and “oversensitive,” the man makes a quick indecipherable shouting noise.  The women ignores and moves forward, “it’s just that you and I.”  At this point, the man exclaims a clearly decipherable, “Yes!” but then just acts as if nothing happens, continuing to look at his date as before.  There they stare at each other, with the implication that the jig is up, but the man makes absolutely no acknowledgement of it, until after a slightly awkward second, the commercial fades into a shot of the game streaming on the man’s phone, and then a white screen with some information about AT&T.

I admit this is a perfect example of where a written description ruins the magic, but let me try to emphasize the individual pieces that make it wonderful.  The accent from the man on the words “summon” and “summoner.”  The look throughout that whole line, particularly the large eyes, and the “come on,” at the end.  The way the woman is genuinely concerned she’s been overly sensitive, even though she’s completely right, and the way the commercial ends at exactly the right time, not going on any longer than it needs to to make it’s point.  Ending at the right the time can never be underestimated, and many a sketch can learn from it.

Ads Watch: Toyota Camry – Kelly Clarkson

30 Jan

As Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger races to the top of the charts, the song is prominently featured in a Toyota commercial in which Clarkson and three other luminaries in different fields enter a Toyota Camry located in a warehouse of some sort.  Clarkson, in the driver’s seat, hits a button on the dashboard screen and Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) starts playing, and the passengers and Clarkson all begin dancing to the song.

This commercial is remarkable for one reason and one reason only.  There is absolutely no common thread I can find between the four people who sit in the car, singing along, in this ad.*  I have no idea whether there’s one demographic which all four are supposed to cater to, or whether the makers of the car have figured that through these four people the can get at, by one way or another, every potential demographic.

*Well, I’ve solved at least part of the explanation by actually watching the full minute long commercial.  What airs most often is an abbreviated version of the commercial in which the four people simply get into the car and start dancing..  In the full commercial, each member of “The Crew,” as the commercial is titled gets a full screen featuring him or her and what he or she represents.  Still, I think these particular choices are interesting/strange enough to warrant discussion.

Let’s break down the four passengers of the car.

Chris Berman – ESPN personality, SportsCenter host, known for his inane nicknames and his constant bossing around of Tom Jackson

Seat location:  Front passenger seat

Commercial description:  “Get Sports Scores”

Identifiabily rating:  High – if ESPN, as a network, over the course of its over 30 years has a face, it’s Chris Berman.  While others have come and go, Chris Berman still has his face all over the network, and all over Monday Night Football, one of the most popular sports programs there is.

Dancing enthusiasm rank:  3 – Moves his hands up and down a couple of times, turns his head side to side, at one point appears to look behind him to see how much the guys in the back are dancing

James Lipton – Host of Inside the Actor’s Studio on Bravo, where he interviews celebrities

Seat location: Rear driver’s side

Commercial description: “Buy Movie Tickets”

Identifiabily rating:  Medium – Lipton was at his most famous 10 years ago when Will Ferrell was doing a recurring bit on Saturday Night Live as Lipton.  Now, many people still probably recognize him, but his moment has passed

Dancing enthusiasm rank:  4 – He slowly moves his head back and forth about every five seconds, approximately two and a half times in the initial dancing scene, though I can’t blame him because as I just learned (which blew my mind), that Lipton is 85.  I still don’t believe that.

Andrew Zimmern – Host of Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods

Seat location: Rear passenger’s side

Commercial description: “Make Restaurant Reservations”

Identifiabily rating: Low – he hosts Bizarre Foods on Travel Channel.  It’s certainly a reasonably popular Travel Channel program, but that’s all it is, a reasonably popular Travel Channel program.  Anyone serious about watching a lot of food TV probably recognizes him, but otherwise, unlikely.  On Travel Channel Q ratings even, he probably ranks somewhere after Anthony Bourdain and the guy who unhealthily stuffs himself from Man vs. Food (Adam Richman).

Dancing enthusiasm rank: 2 – Even though unlike Berman, he displays no hand movements whatsoever, he’s all in with his head, bopping around and appearing far more generally enthusiastic than the other guys.

Kelly Clarkson – Singer, first American Idol winner who has charted ten top 10 hits

Seat location: Driver

Commercial description: “Stream Music”

Identifiabily rating: High – Clarkson and Berman vie with each other for the spot of most famous person on this list, depending on gender and age demographics.  Clarkson has managed to avoid fading away, coming up with a hit or two off every album, and currently has the #2 song in the country with the song from this commercial.

Dancing enthusiasm rank: 1 – unsurprising, as she is the musician in the group and it is her song they’re all lip-syncing to.  She moves her whole body back and forth, moves her arms around, and even manages to use her hands while driving.

Ads Watch: Discount Double Check

13 Jan

I’ve been meaning to start writing about commercials here and there for a while and watching State Farm attempt to take a second crack at its moment of commercial genius with the Discount Double Check offered me an opportunity.

Among the major commercial food groups (fast food, cars, beer, banks, phones), insurance companies actually tend to have fairly decent commercials.  The Allstate mayhem commercials had their moment and before Geiko overdid them one thousand times over, the cavemen were actually inspired, which is admittedly hard to believe now.  No commercial was as on point in this past year as State Farm’s Discount Double Check.

Here’s the short and quick of it (actually long and not so quick) – an insurance agent shakes hands with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, presumably after having agreed on a policy.  A man and woman walk in, presumably husband and wife (they use the pronoun “us”) and thank the insurance agent for doing the “discount double check,” a motion that resembles Aaron Rodgers’ touchdown celebration, miming wearing a championship wrestling belt (the discount double check motion is performed a total of eight times in the commercial).  Rodgers asks what the “discount double check” motion is.  The agent claims it signifies when State Farm combs through their policies to make sure the client is getting every available discount, and Rodgers notes that the motion is his touchdown dance.

The female client asks if Rodgers is a “dancer” and shakes her hands in the air in a kind of jazz hands motion, to which Aaron Rodgers responds, with mild disgust, that’s he’s a quarterback.  The male client, believing the notion of Rodgers as a quarterback to be ridiculous, remarks sarcastically, “I’m a robot,” and moves his arms up and down stiffly in a robotic motion and while making robotic sounds, and walks past Rodgers.  The woman walks behind him, makes robotic sounds herself and gives Rodgers a little patronizing tap on the shoulder and she walks by.  After the screen flashes red with some words from State Farm, we’re back at the office, where an obese Green Bay Packers fan with a cheesehead hat bangs on the glass and shouts “Rodgers” (but it sounds more like “Rodjaaahs”) and screams “discount double check” and then does the motion.

Honestly, there’s no reason the commercial should work.  There’s absolutely nothing brilliant or innovative in its conception.  What makes it work are tiny little things that only come alive in the filming.  The way the woman shakes her hands when she calls Rodgers a dancer, and the way she pats him on the shoulder.  The robot sounds both the man and the woman make as they walk past Rodgers.  The slightly bad but not completely terrible acting of Rodgers when he says “I’m a quarterback.”  The way the fat guy at the end says “Rodgers.”

Unfortunately, State Farm made a terrible decision.  They decided to go back to the lab, to try and scientifically figure out what make the original Discount Double Check ad work so well, and reassemble all the elements, thinking that if they had the formula right, the new commercial would work just as well.  Wrong.  I can not emphasize this enough.  Wrong wrong wrong and I’m sure anybody who watches the ad would agree.

The new commercial features the same actors and the addition of Green Bay Packers nose tackle BJ Raji.  I don’t even want to describe it, because then I have to watch it at least half a dozen times and just watching it twice now to talk about it this much makes me sad.  Watch it and recoil in pain as it misses the mark entirely.  It just doesn’t work at all.  It’s so blatantly repetitive, and not in a good way, taking all the elements without any of the little subtle touches that make the first ad work so well.  Rodgers again remarking on the stolen touchdown dance.  The woman attempting to refer back to Rodgers being a dancer.  They even bring back the fat cheesehead just to scream, “discount double check!”  I just hope it doesn’t ruin the original for me.

It seems as if State Farm realized their commercial was an unexpected hit and then tried to quickly follow up.  The problem was that there was no magic formula at work here.  It’s impossible to explain exactly what makes this commercial tick.  Okay, that’s not exactly true, and I hope I’ve done a fairly decent job of explaining it above.  But it’s impossible to recreate it because honestly I don’t think they could have possibly known when filming it that it would work so well.  This happens in commercials more than in any other form of media.  It’s a thirty seconds shot of the absurd and your done.  It can be one actor’s smile, the way a car drives off in the background, tiny little details that upon repeated viewing make a commercial enjoyable.  Everything needs to go right for a moment of commercial genius.  It’s rarely possible to recapture that.  State Farm would have been better off to at least try a new setting and different actors.  To go back with the exact same people and scenario is hubris.

Generally, it’s better to leave people wanting more than to dip into the well one too many times (there are certainly exceptions, yes, and I don’t want to really break down this adage in detail right now).  It’s hard to remember as mentioned before that Geiko’s cavemen were actually genius when they first came out because they’ve been so beaten to death.  Get in, and then when you’re lucky enough to hit your mark, get the fuck out and try something new.