Category Archives: bad creative

This Esquire download should take only 5 minutes


Picking on the new Esquire augmented reality cover is a bit too easy. Sure, we could laugh at the idea that consumers will carry the physical magazine over to their home office, boot up the computer, spend five minutes downloading software, and then hold the magazine cover up to the web cam to get an enhanced experience. Of course it’s crap, a 2009 rendition of the 1990s’ :CueCat barcode reader that Forbes and Wired tried to get you to use at the tail end of the last internet bubble. Remember that? You plugged a device into your computer, which took about five minutes, and then held the magazine up to the device to get an enhanced experience …

The :CueCat bombed, of course. Wikipedia rattles off the disaster: PC World called it one of “The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time”; Jeff Salkowski of the Chicago Tribune wrote, “you have to wonder about a business plan based on the notion that people want to interact with a soda can.” By 2005, a liquidator web site tried to unload 2 million of the ugly plastic devices for 30 cents each.

So here we go again; a national magazine asking people to jump through hoops to connect a print vehicle with a web communication. Why are we repeating history, the mistake of interactivity for interactivity’s sake? Magazines, like books, have their place in life, and no one wants to hold one channel (Esquire) up to another (a computer) to get an enhanced experience. The augmented-reality chore is like walking into a restaurant and having the waiter give you a burger sans bun, and then inviting you back to the kitchen to help the cook finish the ensemble.

It’s not a facelift, it’s a positioning strategy

Esquire is not led by dummies. They know they are asking too much, that augmented reality is a fad that will too pass, and that most users will never see the super-web-cam result. (Someone said risque women posing as elves are involved, but that’s just hearsay.) Esquire’s editors also realize print is under pressure — the once uberhot Maxim magazine recently shuttered its print edition in the UK, and Esquire’s total ad pages booked are down 24% year over year — and anything they can do to differentiate themselves in the marketplace helps. So Esquire is rolling out a series of physical gimmicks (such as the recent E-Ink cover), all good for PR, which generates buzz among readers, which gets advertisers to consider pushing media budgets Esquire’s way.

Sure, we don’t want to hold magazine covers up to web cams any more than we want to build hamburgers at a restaurant. But Megan Fox can only go so far. Esquire, all we can say is well played — you’re resonating with a stupid technological gimmick that makes us view you differently in your competitive set. No, we won’t head for the web cam … but we may just sign up for a subscription.

Motrin: Hell hath no fury like a mother scorned

Yikes. Motrin misfired this weekend with a tongue-in-cheek video targeting new moms who carry babies. Apparently moms got really ticked off at the suggestion that carrying a baby creates pain that requires popping a pill, and soon the chatty site Twitter was filled with complaints. By 9:30 p.m. Sunday the official Motrin site was down, inundated with angry traffic (or perhaps the curious, like us). Scott Monty, social media guru at Ford, quipped Motrin may have to make like Tylenol and call in the crisis comm plan.

Reminds us of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award guys, who once hypothesized that most customers are apathetic, so the ones you have to manage are the hating folks on one side or the fans who love you on the other. Ardent admirers, as we read in the Tipping Point, can cascade into word-of-mouth and tons of sales (think Razor Scooter Year 2000). Hateful customers, unfortunately, can create a cascading mess that soon requires millions on PR.

The Motrin ad really isn’t that bad — but the perception online now is Motrin is insensitive. The buzz is echoing even as we forget the message. Going viral has a downside, too, and stopping that message may require a big pain killer.

The woman who is Intel’s ‘That Guy’


We were reading a cheerful Bloomberg forecast about the U.S. ad industry being pummeled by recession until 2010 and noticed a banner ad for the Intel “Don’t Be That Guy” campaign. It’s a clever comparison of obnoxious colleagues with obnoxious non-Intel computers.

Problem is, the “That Guy” in the Intel ad is a woman.

We raise this not to suggest Intel is sexist but rather that the English language is still damn awkward when dealing with modern diversity. Anyone who has suffered through a college writing class or AP Stylebook knows the tangles of talking about a hypothetical individual and how he or she needs to do something. Generations of language use have bred iconic sayings, such as “Don’t Be That Guy,” but now the singular subject of course may be a woman, who isn’t a guy at all.

Humans seem to need to tag things simply; Barack Obama is termed black while he is really half African and half Caucasian. Somewhere we read a study that 20% of whites living in the United States have a recent African ancestor. Geneticists have determined that all of humanity was the offspring of a single woman, called Mitochondrial Eve, who lived in what is now Kenya, Ethiopia or Tanzania. If you do the math, today’s diverse humans are all closely related — go back 30 or so generations and you have more great-grandparents than people who lived in the world at the time, meaning we are all each other’s cousins.

Our simple terminology tags must now include multiple variables, recognizing the sensitivities of modern diversity. The unfortunate result, Guy, is ad copy that makes no sense.

Godless ads and boogersnots

Why does this type of ad work? Elizabeth Dole got carded by the press for unfairly hyping her opponent as taking money from godless Americans, but it’s only one of thousands of negative ads from both Dems and Repubs attacking their opponents with canards and shaded lies.

We mean, say we were competing with you, and so we told everyone that you ate green boogersnots for breakfast. At the last second would voters look at your name on a ballot and recoil just a bit at the idea that you have dried gobs of nasal mucus in your teeth? Of course not everyone would believe it. But the ads don’t have to be trusted by everyone; if only 10% of the population believes them, that swings the middle of the vote, and we win!

There are three reasons why voters respond to attack ads. One is the basic theory of loss aversion, proven in studies, where people feel much more pain losing $100 than joy in gaining $100. Faced with a choice of avoiding a bad thing or getting a good thing, people respond much more strongly to leap out of way of the bad. Boogersnots? No thanks, I’ll avoid that loss choice.

The second is human survival. We all still recoil from snakes in the grass or giant spiders (um, did we say “we”?), because humans are conditioned by evolution to avoid things that could poison or kill them. Political correctness aside, when you see a person with a big pimple on his face, you want to avoid him — because a few centuries ago blemishes weren’t just acne, they were a sign of the pox. Our slavish affection for beauty is simply genetics longing to produce a healthy survivor. When we meet ugliness or the unknown, we want to move away, because our cave ancestors did, didn’t get infected, and survived.

And the third is memory. Humans transfer information from short to long-term memory during periods of heightened emotion. Think back to the biggest fight you had with your spouse or lover, and you probably can describe the paint on the wall. Attack ads bring up strong feelings, and are thus perfect messaging missiles to sink into your political-wearied brain.

Thousands of generations of conditioning make us respond well to things that are unwell. If it looks horrible, don’t get near. Which is why we now have godless TV ads and will never, ever elect someone said to eat green boogersnots.

Why Microsoft’s $300 million ‘huh?’ isn’t so stupid

You’ve probably heard this ad sucks. Microsoft began calling reporters Friday to try to explain this spot with Jerry Seinfeld, launched with $300 million of ad fanfare to make Microsoft seem hipper (and cover up the mistakes of the Vista debacle). The ad was produced by Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

Seems few people got it. Or did they?

Crispin is one of those agencies with a knack for mind-bending, meta-self-referential type images that kind of bother you when you watch. Geez, clowns selling shoes, strange banter about leather from a retired comedian, a software executive wiggling his bottom in a parking lot … sounds like the setup for a Stephen King novel. The ad doesn’t mention Microsoft until the very end but you can’t help watching, mesmerized at what looks like an acting train wreck. Like bizarre spots for the Burger King “King,” Volkswagen’s demonish voice-in-your-head Fast, Wrangler’s dead floating woman or Scion’s murderous little deviants, the message seems to squirm around in your gut.

Many years ago we watched the 1989 cult movie Communion, in which Christopher Walken meets space aliens/has a mental breakdown. The images were eerie and disturbing. Brilliant moonlight that might be beams from alien spacecraft. Little goblins at the foot of the bed. Glowing black eyes within masks, sneaking up on Walken in the reflection of a computer screen as he begins to write his meta, self-referential novel. We couldn’t get it out of our mind.

Sort of like Bill Gates taking a shower with his clothes on.

Orangina’s beastly ad shakes up UK

Noah never saw this coming. Orangina’s hyper-sexed ad, featuring animals lap-dancing until juice explodes, is drawing protests in the UK now. Parents say it’s a kids’ drink so how could owner Dr Pepper Snapple Group think this is appropri…

Oh, wait. Got us again. This is yet another example of dual-standards advertising, in which a company seeking online buzz pushes too far in the mass media, then protests — what? offensive? we’re sorry! — while the blogosphere latches on and amplifies the message. This approach seems especially effective for brands trying to reposition themselves to the teen/young adult market, most likely to send the message viral.

Don’t believe us? The Orangina ad ran in France in 2007 and quickly was scorned by Adweek as a freakiest ad of the year. Now, eight months later, it’s rolled out in stalwart England?

Recent players in this whoops-don’t-watch-but-please-pass-along space include Calvin Klein, Burger King, JC Penney, and Miley Cyrus. Though no one beats Cadbury back in 1969.

Haha! London Olympics logo stinks! Except, wait, we didn’t mean it …


Sounds like fun. The logo for the 2012 Olympics in London is so bad that designers are holding a contest to see if you, or anyone else, can do better. Fire up Word or Paint. Send it here. See if yours wins!

Except designers should beware the boomerang. Think of it. Thousands of artists will now pile on, whip up brilliance for free, submit it via a blogging tool to a web site for others to vote on … and you can almost hear a business model slipping away. London organizers paid almost $800,000 for the logo — which worked out to about $400,000 per magic marker — but they’d have been better off holding a free social-media competition.

Keep it up, critics, and you’ll put yourselves out of business. Via MTLB.

Why Wrangler, we can barely see you


We’re torn over whether this works. Sure, Wrangler’s new TV spots, pointed out by our friend Kelpenhagen, are damned unusual. Could get noticed. Can see the couple on the couch now: “Look, honey, before you change the channel at the break, let’s pause and try to figure out what the hell that spot is about. A new alien flick?”

Subtleness is often loved by talented creative types, who dig nuance because it signals intelligence, sets them apart from loud car salesmen, and often wins awards. Subtleness is also defined as the state of being so delicate that you are difficult to understand.