I've been talking to ad people who say that advertising can no longer be "linear," as it was in the days of Bill Bernbach and David Ogilvy. In other words, ads shouldn't be so presumptuous as to sell the product directly and straightforwardly. Instead, advertising's new role is to show that your product shares the same values as your target consumer. One ad guy told me his son likes the "Miller Time" ads because they're "weird," and presumably he likes the ads because he likes weird things.
Nike and Levi's are two marketers that can pull this "shared value" thing off, but few others can. And I'm not sure how long they can keep doing it. I don't know how you feel, but I am not overly fond of Nike's Tiger Woods spots. The initial one took a militant, almost angry stance, saying that there were golf courses he wasn't allowed to play. The latest ones have Tiger proclaiming, "I am lucky." No wonder the poor guy is having trouble figuring out who he is.
Levi's also is encountering the occasional bump in the road. No lesser light than TV director Joe Pytka, in an interview with Anthony Vagnoni, editor of Creativity, a sister publication of Advertising Age, doesn't think pure entertainment is the way to go.
"I think you're treading on dangerous ground here. The entertainment part has to do with the product. Why is Levi's changing that [Wide Legs] campaign if it's so successful? You can entertain and entertain and entertain, but it has to connect with the product. I would venture that a lot of people who see that ["Doctors"] commercial and are entertained by it haven't the slightest idea of who it's for, whereas everybody knows what a Pepsi spot is," Joe said.
I know the argument. Younger people are cynical about advertising, so you've got to wink your eye at them and tell them that you share their cynicism and you're not going to insult their sensibilities with a real ad, so you'll make fun of advertising and share the joke with them and congratulate each other on how hip you both are.
"There's a great shift taking place," contends DDB Needham Worldwide's Keith Reinhard. "Consumers are responding to more expressive values instead of status. They are responding to achievement and rejection of authority; they want to associate with brands that recognize their individuality-that say, `Let's have some fun and be honest with each other,"' Keith told Fortune.
It's as if advertisers are atoning for their past sins. Our old advertising might have been a bunch of crock, but because we're making fun of our ads now, at least owning up to the way it really is, we deserve your business. That certainly seems to be the message from United Airlines these days.
I also think that too much of today's advertising is designed to win awards-and the client, for some strange reason (maybe he or she doesn't want to appear unhip), is a willing co-conspirator.
Nina Cohen, the new marketing VP of Norwegian Cruise Line who just fired Goodby, Silverstein & Partners and dumped the award-winning "It's different out there" advertising, told me that the previous management at Norwegian "went hand in hand into the creative sandbox" with Goodby. Ms. Cohen said that "once you start discussing what you want, everybody at the agency was nodding their heads. But that execution was near and dear to their hearts. I can't live with it."
Nina Cohen is my hero. She said the "It's different out there" ads were "obscure, avant garde, slightly elitist and intimidating. People were going to their travel agents and saying, `Put me anyplace but where I have to be naked.'*" Besides getting naked, the ads also talked about learning a new language and making love in the afternoon and were downright "scary" to most of the cruise line's customers.
She acknowledged Goodby did award-winning work, but "God, isn't it over for `award-winning work?' Somehow, it's been decided award-winning work is effective." But, she added, what Goody did "was not relevant to our customer."
Like I said, Nina Cohen is my hero. She's the first-and I fervently hope not the last-to say the emperor isn't wearing any clothes.