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Breaking News in Advertising, Media and Technology

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  • 03/27/13--10:15: Ad of the Day: Prada
  • High-fashion ads shot by celebrity directors usually amount to little more than pretentious, narrative-starved ad-sturbation. Prada, though, often delivers something more, something refreshing for the category—a cool sense of style mixed with (gasp) an actual sense of humor.

    We saw this last year in Roman Polanski's wonderfully witty short Prada film with Ben Kingsley and Helena Bonham Carter—a piece that was captivating, with a wink, while still embodying the brand's elegance.

    Now, we have a new Prada short film, for a fragrance this time, Candy L'Eau, directed by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola. Clocking in at precisely the same length as the Polanski piece—three minutes and 31 seconds—the film delightfully pays homage to French New Wave love triangles (à la Truffaut's Jules et Jim and Godard's Bande à part) and stars French actress and model Léa Seydoux as a beauty pursued by a couple of fashionable gents who happen to be best friends.

    The filmmaking is exquisite, which perfectly suits the brand's aesthetic. And the story is charming and self-deprecating, with no fewer than three explicit brand plugs—one for each of its mini acts.

    It's all in French, with English subtitles, but it should play well everywhere—even, despite Seydoux's obvious disdain for the place, in South America.

    Client: Prada
    Product: Candy L'Eau
    Directors: Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola

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    Here's a fun toy for obsessive baseball geeks: the new "Mission Control" installation at MLB's "Fan Cave" space in downtown New York. There, each year, a selection of the sport's most die-hard fans are paid to watch every game and crank out social-media content about the experience, part of a Lord-of-the-Flies-esque competition to get to the World Series. This year, the space also features a custom multi-screen computer rig, built by Breakfast, that's designed to pull in and display a wide range of data about the upcoming baseball season. The smaller screens on the left and right include video feeds of stadiums from American League and National League teams (even when the games aren't in progress). The toggles on the bottom calls up information like weather conditions and wind speeds at each location, as well as relevantly tagged Instagram and Twitter posts about the ballparks and their home teams. The dashboard meters measure stats like total games played and total number of hits for the season. The central monitor connects to a camera that can be used to record and broadcast video clips of the sports stars and other celebrities who stop by for concerts and other events, and of the "Fan Cave" marketing program's less famous participants. Why? Because all you've ever wanted since you were a little kid was to be a professional baseball commentator and astronaut at the same time. If that doesn't ring true, you're probably not invited.

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    Who From left: Executive creative director Steve Driggs, CEO Daniel Conner and chief operating officer Pauline Ploquin
    What Advertising, design and digital agency
    Where Salt Lake City headquarters

    It’s not easy creating branded content people actually want to engage with. So when Struck launched a new site for Jack in the Box, it put the focus on fun: Visitors opening an interactive zipper see animated .gifs or horoscopes. Easter eggs are hidden in the location finder, and when users search for “China,” “Bermuda Triangle,” “Stonehenge,” “1989,” “Canada” and “Easter Island,” visual surprises pop up. Additional elements will be hidden in other nooks and crannies on the site. Struck, with offices in Los Angeles and Portland, Ore., also works for marketers like DreamWorks, Quaker Oats and the Utah Office of Tourism. 

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    I've had way worse airline seatmates than the annoying, anthropomorphized, Jinx-playing serving of meat and mashed potatoes depicted in Energy BBDO's new commercial for Orbit gum. Beats getting stuck with ad-sales types ranting about CPMs, or bloggers with their sweaty palms and sad eyes. A second spot, set at a race track, features an outsized, whiny helping of nachos that would've been great as a '70s Dr. Who villain, intent on conquering the world by giving mankind indigestion. These latest helpings in the "Don't let food hang around" campaign are amusing—the costumes and makeup are, as always, fantastic—but they don't quite match the inspired culinary absurdity of that earlier spot in which a giant pita sandwich answers its cellphone "Falafel!" and ends the call with a deadpan, "Love you too." Classic! The challenge moving forward is to keep the campaign fresh, lest the talking-food joke repeats on you and spoils the fun. Credits below.

    Client: Orbit gum (Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company)

    Agency: Energy BBDO
    Chief Creative Officer: Dan Fietsam
    EVP, Head of Int. Production: Rowley Samuel
    Senior VP and GCD: Leon Wilson
    Creative Director, Copywriter: Miller Jones
    Creative Director, Art Director: Aaron Pendleton
    Senior Producer: Kevin James
    VP, Senior Account Director: Pete Ruest
    Account Supervisor: Brian Sisson
    Senior Account Executive: Niki Shah
    Print Producer: Liz Miller-Gershfield

    Production Company: Recommended Media
    Director: Chris Woods
    Executive Producer: Phillip Detchmendy
    Founder/CEO: Stephen Dickstein
    Line Producer: Darrin Ball
    Director of Photography: Neil Shapiro
    Production Designer: Alison Sadler

    Visual Effects: Legacy EFX
    FX Supervisor: Alan Scott
    FX Supervisor: Vance Hartwell
    FX Assistant: Lyn-Del Pederson

    Editing: White House Post
    Editor: Carlos Lowenstein
    Assistant Editor: Kenan Legg
    Producer: JoJo Scheerer

    Visual Effects: The Mill
    Executive Producer: Jared Yeater
    VFX Supervisor: Phil Crowe
    VFX Supervisor: Iwan Zwarts
    Flame Artist: Melissa Graff
    Flame Artist: Randy McEntee

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    Automobile test drives have been getting a bit more interesting lately. On the heels of the hugely popular Jeff Gordon video for Pepsi MAX comes this new campaign from Britain for the Renault Clio, in which unsuspecting drivers (guys in one spot, girls in another) get a sudden, unexpected dose of France when, prompted by the salesman, they push a "Va Va Voom" button on the dash. The interlude starts off romantic—a wheeled-in backdrop of the Eiffel Tower, lovers smooching, violins playing, roses and baguettes all around—but soon gets more salacious, as the drivers are treated to scantily clad hotties of the opposite sex gyrating around the car. Surprising everyday people during their mundane lives is all the rage in ads lately. This one certainly attempts to check all the boxes for virality. Scorch London and Unruly produced it. More credits below.

    Client: Renault
    Media Agency: Manning Gottlieb OMD
    Media Planners: Laura Quy, Lauren Fisher
    Production Company: Scorch London
    Video Distribution: Unruly

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  • 03/28/13--06:32: Ad of the Day: Gatorade
  • OK, so does everyone watch Game of Thrones? You all do, right? You know how Ned has those horrible nightmares about things that actually happen in the first season? This is kind of what happens to Kevin Durant and Dwyane Wade, who both have horrible, horrible dreams about Gatorade.

    Wait, no, they have horrible dreams about what happens when you don't drink Gatorade.

    Point is, Gatorade and G1 series chews give you terrible, terrible nightmares.

    Here's my question: Does Wade's dream include Kevin Durant's dream and his training regimen? Because if so, I want to know what happens when, I dunno, Chris Paul wakes up screaming, having dreamed both Wade and Durant's dreams and goes to his fridge and gets out a bottle of … POWERADE.

    Too serious a twist, probably.

    This is a clever ad. It's actually kind of bleak if you stop to think about it too hard, as I clearly have. Are these two men locked in an infinitely iterating dream battle? Will either ever emerge victorious? It's the Inception of salty-fruit-punch commercials.

    Speaking of Paul, man, these basketball guys do a lot of commercials, right? It took me a few minutes to actually notice, but wow, MJZ director Rupert Sanders and agency TBWA\Chiat\Day have done an incredible job staging a basketball game in this spot. The training montage is kind of vanilla, but the game is top-notch, and the music couldn't be better. Also, this one will air well internationally—doesn't require a single line of dialogue.

    And that's good, because you know what Americans are not thinking about right now? Professional basketball.

    Client: Gatorade

    Agency: TBWA\Chiat\Day
    Chief Creative Officer: John Norman
    Global Group Creative Director: Brent Anderson
    Global Creative Director: Jayanta Jenkins
    Associate Creative Director/Writer: Gustavo Sarkis
    Associate Creative Director/Art Director: Renato Fernandez
    Associate Creative Director/Art Director: Guto Araki

    Executive Producer: Sarah Patterson
    Producer: Katie Lambrecht
    Assistant Producer: Garrison Askew
    Executive Project Manager: Karen Thomas

    Managing Director: Nick Drake
    Group Account Director: Blake Crosbie
    Global Account Director: Caroline Britt
    Management Supervisor: Magdalena Huber
    Global Management Supervisor: Chris Crockett
    Account Supervisor: Kyle Webster
    Global Account Supervisor: Catherine Fishback
    Account Executive: Robyn Baker
    Sports Marketing: Lexi Vonderlieth
    Sports Marketing: Brynn Cameron

    Group Planning Director: Scott MacMaster
    Planning Director: Martin Ramos
    Planner: Rebecca Harris
    Junior Planner: Katie Acosta
    Junior Planner: Matt Bataclan

    Director of Business Affairs: Linda Daubson
    Senior Business Affairs Manager: KK Davis
    Talent Payment Manager: Vanessa Aniles
    Traffic Manager: Jerry Neill

    Production Company: MJZ
    Director: Rupert Sanders
    President: David Zander
    Executive Producer: Kate Leahy
    Producer: Laurie Boccaccio

    Editorial: Rock Paper Scissors
    Executive Producer: CL Weaver
    Head of Production: Angela Dorian
    Editor: Kirk Baxter

    Post EFX: The Moving Picture Company
    Executive Producer: Asher Edwards
    Producer: Juliet Thierney
    Supervisor: Paul O’Shea

    Music: Amber Music
    Original Composition
    Composer: Eugene Cho
    Executive Producer: Michelle Curran

    Sound Studio: Lime Studios
    Mixer: Rohan Young
    Executive Producer: Jessica Locke

    Sound Design: Barking Owl

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    Turning the Digital Into the Physical

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    Does winning take care of everything? Perhaps for Tiger Woods. Probably not for other some other athletes who've been on Nike's payroll. Here are some nicely done spoofs of the much-discussed new Tiger ad that put the sports marketer's controversial headline in less comfortable contexts. Two more after the jump—with Michael Vick and (though he was not a Nike endorser) O.J. Simpson. Via.

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    So, there's this British just-barely-science-fiction series called Black Mirror, created by a mad genius named Charlie Brooker (good interview with him here; he's also ripped into advertising fairly regularly), in which all of the worst and strangest things that are possible with contemporary or soon-to-come technology happen over the course of its (thus far) six episodes. It's gotten a lot of attention in the U.K., where it airs on Channel 4. One of the reasons people like it so much is that it's very well directed (which is not always the norm for British sci-fi, as anyone who watched the first couple of beautifully acted and largely well-written seasons of Doctor Who can attest).

    Anyway, you can't watch it in the U.S.—like, at all, because no network airs it, it's not on streaming, and there's no Region 1 DVD release. But you can see the incredi-weird promos on YouTube. And let me tell you, they are worth watching. How good are they? Consider that I feel duty bound to say the following to our extremely savvy readership: If a pre-roll ad pops up, make sure it's actually a pre-roll ad. "A future you deserve," indeed.

    Trailer for the current season:

    Trailer for the first season:

    Promo for a recent episode:

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    Hey, the Pillsbury Doughboy appears in The Martin Agency's latest "Happier Than … " commercial for Geico. I thought he'd done so a while back, but it turns out that was Eddie Money. Eddie's tunes are so poppin' fresh. In the new spot, the Doughboy giggles his way through an airport security check, illustrating that people who save money by switching to Geico are "Happier than the Pillsbury Doughboy on his way to a baking convention." It's a better commercial crossover than most—less strained, for example, than Mr. Clean and the Target bull's-eye pooch shilling for Xerox. Too bad Geico's gecko wasn't on hand to fight Doughboy to the death to determine which ad mascot is best. I guess that's something I'll only enjoy in dreams. Go on, smack him, gecko … bite his doughy ass!

    Client: Geico
    Spot: "Doughboy"

    Agency: The Martin Agency, Richmond, Va.
    Chief Creative Officer Joe Alexander
    Senior Vice President, Group Creative Director: Steve Bassett
    Vice Presicent, Creative Director: Wade Alger
    Senior Vice President, Art Director, Creative Director: Sean Riley
    Senior Copywriter: Ken Marcus
    Vice President, Agency Executive Broadcast Producer: Molly Souter
    Agency Producer: Samantha Tucker
    Agency Junior Producer: Emily Taylor
    Strategic Planner: Melissa Cabral
    Account Team: Chris Mumford, Brad Higdon, Parker Collins, Carter Crenshaw, Susan Karns

    Group Talent Director: Suzanne Wieringo
    Production Business Manager: Amy Trenz

    Production Company: Hungry Man
    Director: Wayne McClammy
    Director of Photography: Tim Ives
    Executive Producer, Managing Partner: Kevin Byrne
    Producer: Nate Young
    Production Supervisor: Steve Ruggieri

    Editorial Company: Makenzie Cutler
    Editor: Ian MacKenzie
    Editor: Dave Koza
    Assistant Editor: Carmen Hu
    Editorial Producer: Evan Meeker
    Director of Operations: Biz Lunskey

    Visual Effects: The Mill
    Executive Producer: Jo Arghiris
    Producer: Colin Blaney
    Shoot Supervisor: Tony Robins
    2-D Lead Artist: Randy McEntee
    2-D Artists: Tony Robins, Paul Downes, Jamin Clutcher
    Art Support: Rob Meade
    3-D Lead Artist: Kevin Ives
    3-D Artists: Billy Dangyoon Jang, Olivier Varteressian, Laurent Giaume, Justin Diamond, Sean Dooley, Joshua Merck, Hassan Taimur, Wyatt Savarese, Samuel Crees, Ross Scroble
    Matte Painter: Can Y. Sanalan
    Colorist: Fergus McCall
    Doughboy Animation: Topix
    Creative Director: Steven Hollman
    Senior Producer: Christina Lord

    Audio Post, Sound Design: Rainmaker Studios
    Engineer: Jeff McManus
    Music: "Happier Than" theme song by Adam Schlesinger

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  • 03/29/13--09:08: Ad of the Day: Samsung
  • Voice commands and hand gestures don't just allow you to control the viewing experience on Samsung's latest Smart TV. They help you tame marauding hordes of wildebeests, aliens, Roman centurions, Maori warriors, American footballers … and the wildest of the wild: cheerleaders.

    It appears Samsung has not engineered a cool advance in TV technology here so much as a complete revolution in warfare.

    The Smart TV is intended to give viewers a cinematic experience. So, of course, these two 90-second spots are themselves cinematic. Directed (separately) by Adam Berg and Romain Gavras—two guys who know their way around a grand production or two—the "King of TV City" and "Charge" spots from CHI & Partners in London couldn't be more blockbuster-y. They both feature groups of attackers ripped from every action movie in history, each charging headlong at a single Samsung-buying dude, who seems vulnerable but in fact couldn't be more superhuman himself.

    In a way, the bigness of the spots is a disconnect from the features that are actually being advertised, which are relatively subtle—hand swipes and audio cues, which take the place of a remote control. When these features are demonstrated in the context of each ad—both guys simply swipe away danger—it comes off as … well, kind of silly.

    This is why, of the two spots, Gavras's "Charge" actually works a little better—because it's more fun-loving and goofier, from the bouncier soundtrack to the often-comical jockeying for position among the legions bearing down on our hero, plopping lazily in an armchair on the beach. (Outside of video games, that's certainly not a fighting posture.) Berg's spot, meanwhile, remains more serious throughout, perhaps to its detriment. (The teddy bear is cute, but he's ditched pretty quickly when the extraterrestrials arrive.)

    Both spots are expertly produced. They are very much mini movies, visually grand with jaw-dropping flourishes (the T. Rex in "King of TV City," the car flipping over in "Charge"). And by all accounts, the Smart TV technology is indeed impressive, so it's not like this is the world's most elaborate dog, pony and dinosaur show. For a global campaign, it's probably just the right size.

    If you are set upon by hundreds of millions of years of antagonists, though, do not try this at home. Bring a sword or something.

    Client: Samsung
    Agency: CHI & Partners, London

    Spot: "King of TV City"
    Executive Creative Director: Jonathan Burley
    Art Director: Alexei Berwitz
    Copywriter: Rob Webster
    Planners: Anthony Cox, Oli Egan
    Agency Producer: Alex Nicholson
    Account Handlers: Christian Hinchcliffe, Ana Saffer
    Media Agency: Starcom
    Media Planner: Erica Chen
    Director: Adam Berg
    Production Company: Stink
    Production Company Executive Producer: Blake Powell
    Production Company Producer: Ben Croker
    Production Company Manager: Christabelle Stone
    Director of Photography: Mattias Montero
    Visual Effects: MPC
    Visual Effects Producer: Chris Allen
    Visual Effects Supervisor: Franck Lambertz
    Grade: Mark Gethin
    Audio Postproduction: Jungle Studios
    Editor: Paul Hardcastle (Trim)

    Spot: "Charge"
    Creative Directors: Jonathan Burley, Rick Brim
    Art Director: Jay Phillips
    Copywriter: Neil Clarke
    Planners: Anthony Cox, Oli Egan
    Agency Producer: Caroline Angell
    Account Handlers: Christian Hinchcliffe, Ryan Colet
    Media Agency: Starcom
    Media Planner: Erica Chen
    Director: Romain Gavras
    Production Company: Somesuch&co
    Production Company Executive Producer: Tim Nash
    Director of Photography: Benoit Debie
    Visual Effects: MPC
    Visual Effects Producer: Ian Luxford
    Visual Effects Supervisor: Rob Walker
    Grade: Aline Sinquin
    Audio Postproduction: Sam Ashwell @ 750mph
    Editor: Jono Griffith @ Hagon

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  • 03/29/13--09:35: Noooooooooooooooooooo!
  • Ads for indie film festivals are often quite brilliant. The movies are usually distinctive, so the advertising can be as well. Who can forget Geoffrey Rush as a potato peeler? Or John Malkovich getting all crabby at a cab driver's reaction to his latest film award. The Leo Burnett spot below for Portugal's IndieLisboa fits right into that great tradition. Screw Hollywood. Say yes to an indie movie instead.

    Client: IndieLisboa
    Product: 10th International Independent Film Festival
    Advertising Agency: Leo Burnett Lisbon
    Executive Creative Director: Luciana Cani
    Copywriter: Steve Colmar / Pedro Pinho
    Art Director: Thiago Cruz / Leonardo Pinheiro
    Illustration: Bruna Guerreiro / Silvia Rodrigues / Sara Louise Tucker / Mariana, a miserável / Fabio Santos / Douglas Cardoso
    Account Director: Tiago Reis
    Social Media: Vasco Mendonça / Joana Duarte
    Production Director - Agency: Cristina Almeida
    Production Company: Stopline
    Executive Producer: Francisco Saalfeld
    Financial Controller: Nuno Fonte
    Line Producer: Inês Marques
    Director: Pedro Varela
    Creative Assistant Director: Nuno Noivo
    Cinematography: Ricardo Prates
    Post-production Supervisor: Ricardo Montez
    Post-production Company: Illusion
    Audio Post-production: Dizplay
    Sound designer: João Rola
    Voice Over: Marcantónio del Carlo
    Original Soundtrack: Xavier Capellas
    Additional Footage: VMI/Corbis

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    Since every third ad has to be an Apple parody now, Carlsberg makes fun of Apple Store product launches in this TV spot for Somersby Cider from agency Fold7. Some of the computer jargon here works surprisingly well for drinking, but there's no forgiving the apple puns. While we're on the subject, "Less apps, more apples" doesn't make sense as a tagline since they're comparing different products. Apples and oranges.

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    Roaches, rats and other pests had the starring roles in Orkin's campaign from The Richards Group in recent years. And while those spots were amusing, in a creepy way, it's the Orkin man himself who takes center stage in the new campaign, which broke today. And a resourceful man he is. Each spot shows a different Orkin man in some kind of undesirable position—wedged into a crawlspace with rats scurrying around; hanging from a tree above a parade of ants; suspended halfway up a wall to see cockroaches inside an air vent. "To catch a pest, you've got to think like a pest," he says in each ad. And then, you pretty much have to act like a pest. As this campaign suggests, that's not something most people want to do, or would even be able to do. The tagline is: "Pest control down to a science," which makes it seem even less DIY—a sly way of getting people to call Orkin instead.

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    Gorn … but not forgotten! To promote a Star Trek video game launching this month, William Shatner and a guy in a lumpy lizard suit winningly reprise Captain Kirk's hand-to-claw struggle with the alien Gorn commander from the classic Trek episode "Arena." The updated battle takes place in Shats' comfy living room, where he flips his wig over the gameplay tactics of his reptilian rival. The joke here is that 46 years after their initial encounter, the combatants are, as Shatner pants at one point, "both too old for this kind of thing." Indeed, time has taken its toll. In 1967, only the Gorn was wrinkled and leathery. Today, octogenarian Shatner fits the same description. Well, OK, Bill actually looks great, his schtick is ageless, and the clip scores by deftly employing elements of the original fight's campy choreography. As dramatic Trek-like music swells, the creature hurls a couch cushion that looks about as dangerous as the polystyrene "boulder" it heaved at Kirk the first time around. Once again, Mon Cap-i-tain discombobulates the alien by smacking his palms against its earholes. When the Gorn bellows in pain, Shatner, Hollywood's quintessential ham, accuses his foe of overacting. I haven't seen "Arena" in maybe 30 years, but damn if I didn't remember the boulder-toss and ear-slap like I'd watched it yesterday! This ability to tap into our collective memory should not be underestimated. I didn't just enjoy this spot, I relished every second, as many Shatner and Trek fans will. I couldn't hit replay fast enough. There's palpable feel-good power at play here, transporting viewers to pop-culture nirvana at warp speed.

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    Can salad dressing be sexy? Well, Kraft will settle for zesty. A new campaign for Kraft Zesty Italian dressing from the Playa del Rey, Calif., office of Being features a shirtless male chef whose catchphrase is "Let's get zesty." Slyly suggestive and playful, the character feels like a cross between Old Spice's Isaiah Mustafa and the skillet guy from ads for another Kraft brand, Velveeta. In one new spot, the chef keeps adding Kraft Zesty Italian to a hot skillet, with flames shooting higher and higher each time. "How zesty do you want it?" he asks. "A little? A little more? How about a lot more?" The flames then consume his white V-neck T-shirt to expose smoldering abs and pecs. The sassy cook also will appear on Bravo's Watch What Happens Live as a guest chef and bartender. Other elements in the campaign, which breaks today, include a website, getmezesty.com, and electronic cards or "Zestygrams" that can be sent via social media platforms. A Kraft rep says the campaign is "targeted toward our salad dressings consumer, who we define as a mainstream foodie. They enjoy cooking and creative expression, and this campaign speaks to them in a way that recognizes she is an individual in addition to being a mom."

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  • 04/01/13--11:06: Ad of the Day: StubHub
  • StubHub’s unnerving Ticket Oak is back, and this time the arboreal altruist is in the throes of acute caffeine intoxication.

    As seen in a new 30-second spot created by agency of record Duncan/Channon, Ticket Oak overdoes it with the lattes, leading to a frenzy of “leaf”-shedding and eye-goggling. “D- d- d- do you wanna sit in the dugout?” the overstimulated oak asks his cackling human foil, before offering passes to the local Shakespeare festival.

    After manically rhapsodizing about an upcoming reggae concert, Ticket Oak effectively vomits a torrent of empty paper cups onto his human companions. While coffee is clearly the tree’s drug of choice, the wobbling eyeballs and his “I can’t feel my bark!” lament suggest something darker. (Cocaine hydrolysis? Walter White’s Blue Meth?)

    The bug-eyed tree’s offer to hook up his pals with Shakespeare and reggae ducats is of a piece with the brand’s desire to transcend its status as the premiere secondary ticket market for sporting contests by developing an exchange for passes to cultural events. 

    Kooky is Duncan/Channon’s stock-in-trade and this spot dials it up to 11. “We think the popular success of the Ticket Oak comes from the fact that it’s just wonderfully weird,” said Parker Channon, executive creative director of Duncan/Channon. “So our goal for this year’s effort was simple: Take the weird and crank it up even higher to ensure our audience gets the discovery message in the most memorable way possible.”

    That message is going to reach the far corners of the media universe, as the StubHub spot will appear all over the TV dial, and across all dayparts. Buys have been made across an array of broadcast and cable networks, including ABC, NBC, ESPN, Adult Swim, AMC, Comedy Central, E!, FX, NHL Network, TBS, TNT, USA Network and VH1. The spot will begin airing today.

    As StubHub has formal relationships in place with Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League, April is an ideal time for the eBay unit to launch a new spot. Not only is today Opening Day of the 2013 MLB season, but both the NBA and NHL are gearing up for their respective playoff showcases.

    In terms of specific program buys, look for the Ticket Oak spot to appear during ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, TBS’s Sunday afternoon game and in TNT’s first-round coverage of the NBA playoffs. StubHub has also bought time in NBC Sports’ presentation of the NHL playoffs, which begin April 30. The spot will air through the Eastern and Western Conference Finals (mid-May).

    One can only hope that Roger Sterling doesn’t get an eyeful of the new Ticket Oak spot. The last time we saw the silver-haired advertising exec, he was on an LSD-fueled voyage of self-discovery. This new ad, which is set to air on AMC during the April 7 Season 6 premiere of Mad Men, could prove to be a bit too much for the Sterling Draper Cooper Pryce senior partner.

    Other outlets set to carry the spot include all four of NBC’s late-night franchises: The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, Last Call With Carson Daly and Saturday Night Live. The ad will also air during upcoming installments of Jimmy Kimmel Live on ABC.

    Version 2.0 of the campaign, which first launched in May 2011, looks to build on its early success. Last April, StubHub’s traffic increased 53 percent versus the year-ago period, while visits in May grew 60 percent.

    Along with its aggressive TV campaign, StubHub also will run full-page Ticket Oak ads in Rolling Stone, ESPN The Magazine, Sports Illustrated and Entertainment Weekly.

    Last year, the company invested $31.9 million in measured media, down 22 percent from 2011. Per Kantar Media data, StubHub’s national cable spend was $8.16 million, up 49 percent from the previous year, while broadcast spend was $6.18 million, up 45 percent.

    StubHub in 2012 sharply curtailed its online spending, reducing its display spend 75 percent ($3.31 million), while cutting back of search by 25 percent ($4.62 million). The company also drastically reduced its radio and outdoor investments.

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    While never a particularly enjoyable time for consumers, tax season has become fascinating from a marketing perspective, as do-it-yourself software brands have made an aggressive play for customers of the big brick-and-mortar chains.

    Though the category has been competitive for some time, 2013 is turning into an especially nasty year. In the fight for market share, the gloves are off.

    Intuit-owned TurboTax threw the first punch on Jan. 21, with TV spots featuring a ditsy fashion model and Bob the plumber, both of whom moonlight at the “tax store.” The ads don’t name a specific competitor, and yet H&R Block felt the finger in its eye and filed for an injunction, one that a Missouri district court judge ultimately denied.

    An H&R Block spokesperson told Adweek: “We will continue to pursue all legal remedies available to fight... the disparagement of our tax professionals.”

    Meanwhile, H&R Block fought back with “Second Look,” a series of spots featuring its own tax preparers promising to review customer returns from past years for overlooked deductions.

    “H&R Block believes there is power in a tax professional sitting with a client,” its spokesperson said, noting that 60 percent of taxpayers still seek a person to help with their returns. “They want more than just questions answered—they want peace of mind.”

    The physical stores could use some peace of mind of their own. Their market share is down to 19 percent, per the National Retail Federation, and more than 37 percent of Americans have turned to software. (TurboTax just reported a 26 percent increase in sales versus 2012.)

    “Tax software and online tax preparation are the fastest growing choice of taxpayers,” said Intuit rep Julie Miller. “It’s a tailwind for this business.”

    Don’t tell that to the folks at Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, which inked a deal to open outlets inside 2,800-plus Walmart locations. Hewitt upped its game this year by offering to file its customers’ 1040EZ forms free plus $50 off its services for anyone who defects from another preparer.

    Did TurboTax’s lampooning of the tax-prep chains threaten Jackson Hewitt? “No, it did not,” said CMO Michael Williams. “Our preparers are trained professionals,” he said, rattling off a list of financial and ethics classes they must pass to qualify.

    Meanwhile, in the tax-prep skirmish, even the IRS itself has climbed into the ring, offering free software for those who earn $57,000 or less.

    “The industry is going through an interesting period,” said Dale Schmidt, an industry analyst with IBISWorld. Might we see the day when the human tax preparer might disappear? “Disappear is a tough word,” said Schmidt.

    But one thing’s for sure, he added, “The heyday of the tax storefront is behind us.”

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    You’re waiting for the elevator in an office building, minding your own business, perhaps lost in thought. The door slides open and, wham! You’re confronted by a scene of intense violence as two men grapple on the floor of the cramped car, fists flying. One combatant slips a cord around the other’s neck and pulls it tight, choking the life out of his adversary.

    Surprise! These men are actors, and the scene—and more to the point, your reaction—is being filmed by viral marketing agency Thinkmodo as part of a headline-grabbing stunt to promote the movie thriller Dead Man Down.

    In another such scenario, some dude’s phone chirps at 3 a.m., rousing him from a deep sleep. His best friend informs him he’s lost $400 in a back-room poker game and needs him to come downtown with the money, now, or else he won’t be allowed to leave (maybe not ever). Arriving at a decrepit building in a scary neighborhood, the friend makes his way past burly bouncers and a cockfight to drop off the cash. So far, so good. Once he’s tossed the dough on the table, the setup is revealed to be Duval Guillaume Modem’s latest promotional prank for Carlsberg beer. In the end, everyone raises a glass to true friendship—the campaign’s theme—as the cameras keep rolling.

    Such marketing stunts are nothing new, but lately, brands seem to be taking the tactic to a new, extreme level, engineering increasingly sophisticated, hair-raising scenarios to break through the clutter, confusion and complexity of modern media to titillate consumers and generate free media coverage. These stunts involve, to varying degrees, average people who often have no idea at the outset that they’re taking part in the making of a commercial or a video designed to go viral. Such efforts blur the lines between artifice and reality, fusing fact and fantasy in ways that can be invasive, sadistic and potentially risky. “The level of ‘over the topness’ has definitely risen,” says Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University. “Agencies are desperately trying to get people to pay attention in a desperately crowded environment.”

    Staging outré pranks that generate massive amounts of attention has become the specialty of Belgian agency Duval Guillaume, whose “Push to Add Drama” campaign for cable network TNT is easily the boldest and best known example of this new wave. When passersby (not professional actors) pressed big red buttons deployed on city streets, overblown, blockbuster-movie-style gun battles and mayhem broke out. The first clip in the series garnered more than 44 million YouTube views in less than a year, and its sequel got 8 million views over a few months. Duval’s Carlsberg poker video, unveiled March 13, is more visceral and provocative. It earned 1 million views in its first four days online.

    Such stunts are expensive to stage and logistically complex in terms of extra staffing, pre-production and execution. Yet many execs say it’s impossible to draw direct correlations between stunts and sales. Most clients seem satisfied with generating high levels of social sharing, with online views providing substantial savings compared to paid media.

    “From our perspective ... it will more than pay for itself in earned media and ‘share of conversation.’ That, in turn, translates into brand worth, which in turn drives sales,” says Thomas Moradpour, vp, global marketing at Carlsberg. “We won’t be able to track a direct bump—too many variables—but we’ll measure the impact on brand health and equity through our brand trackers in all of our key international markets.”

    Prankvertising: A Risky Business
    Contemporary prankvertising echoes Allen Funt’s Candid Camera, notes Michael Solomon, industry consultant and professor of marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. The show pre-dated the reality TV craze by almost 50 years, incorporating unsuspecting subjects into oddball scenarios in public places.

    The difference today, Solomon says, is that marketers are staging “pranks on steroids,” upping the ante in almost every imaginable way and probing darker territory—with the sponsor’s name attached. Scenarios that trade on fear, death and danger test the limits of personal privacy and social acceptability. The genre, he says, represents “the dark side of the constant drumbeat to enhance consumer engagement.” The Dead Man Down elevator prank is an especially potent example. “We engaged people by putting that strangulation [a plot point in the movie] into a real-life setting” and challenging folks to examine their own reactions when coming upon such a scene, explains Thinkmodo co-founder James Percelay, who stages wild marketing stunts with agency partner Michael Krivicka.

    Using nonprofessionals involves real risk, because reactions can, of course, be unpredictable. What if someone draws a weapon and charges into an elevator? What if someone suffers a heart attack? Mary Hutchings Reed, an attorney with Chicago law firm Winston & Strawn who specializes in entertainment and media issues, says, “There’s a lot to worry about: the liability during the event, intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

    For example, a California woman sued Toyota and Saatchi & Saatchi for $10 million, claiming she was terrorized by unwanted and upsetting emails and unable to eat, sleep or work following her participation in a 2008 online campaign. A fictional “soccer hooligan” seemed to be stalking her, at one point claiming he was en route to her house. She even received a (fake) bill from a hotel manager for a TV set the no-goodnik supposedly smashed. (“The matter has been resolved to the mutual satisfaction of the parties,” according to Saatchi.)

    Thinkmodo’s Percelay is mindful of the pitfalls. “We go to great lengths to ensure that our videos feel spontaneous and unrehearsed,” he says. “However, we don’t expose our clients and their brands to undue liability.”

    For Dead Man Down, the agency generated a bogus call for focus-group subjects. Staffers vetted respondents, and a select few were instructed to take the elevator. “Once people saw the ‘crime’ and started to react, we had a team standing by to intercede,” says Percelay. “The two actors in the elevator also were instructed on when to reveal that they were not really fighting. There were no incidents, and the participants all enjoyed the experience. They were compensated afterwards for their increase in heart rate.”

    Thinkmodo is also responsible for a recent stunt promoting the DVD release of horror flick The Last Exorcism Part II in which the agency tricked out a beauty parlor’s mirror so it would flash chilling images of a “dead” girl featured in promotions for the movie.

    But are pranks selling tickets? “Measuring a specific ROI from a high-profile stunt campaign is not a simple thing in our business,” notes Matt Gilhooley, vp, interactive of CBS Films, which produced The Last Exorcism Part II. “Box office is the result of a wide variety of well-aligned tactics and circumstances, and the goal of a stunt, such as our beauty shop scare, is often to earn attention versus buying attention with an audience. When it’s successful, the attention you earn greatly exceeds the cost of buying an equal amount of exposure with that audience.”

    Percelay says that after about a month in the marketplace, the campaign received some $1.6 million in earned television media, on top of significant online coverage and view counts. The film, he adds, will be quite profitable for the studio, raking in more than $12.5 million in box office to date off a $5 million budget.

    Clouding Reality
    When it comes to outrageous ad stunts, consumers and industry professionals often question the veracity of the footage, convinced in some cases that a prank simply cannot be real. Indeed, the level of “reality” varies widely depending on the nature of the stunt in question.

    Last October, LG designed an elevator prank in Amsterdam to tout the lifelike colors of its IPS monitors. The car’s bottom was fitted with the hi-res screens, and riders were made to believe the floor had suddenly fallen away beneath their feet. “We had a back-up plan for when we did not get the right responses, including a handful of acting extras,” says Rogier Vijverberg, founder and cd of SuperHeroes, the agency that produced the stunt. “Some, not all, made the cut in the final edit. The rest is real people.”

    Reality’s even scarcer in a prank this past February from The Weather Channel that had rain unexpectedly falling inside a Miami bus shelter. The stunt, via marketing shop Iris, touting TWC’s Android app, was almost entirely faked but no less effective for using actors in a controlled environment. “We couldn’t just film unsuspecting consumers sitting in a bus stop and soak them in the hopes they would understand, thank us for the opportunity and sign a waiver, so we ended up hiring actors,” says Matthew Eby, TWC’s senior director, digital product marketing. (That said, the actors didn’t know exactly when they’d get drenched, so their reactions were genuine.)

    Sweating It Out
    This fusion of real-world experience and multimedia elements has led to some seriously surreal executions, and no recent stunt goes further than Felix & Lamberti’s airport ambush in Hamburg, Germany. Filmed in January, the prank was designed to tout Stress Protect, a deodorant from Beiersdorf’s Nivea brand.

    Here’s how it went down: Once subjects arrived at the airport, they were secretly photographed, and then those images were flashed on televisions and plastered on hastily printed faux newspapers. The headlines screamed “Suspect on the Run,” while bogus newscasts identified the “perps” as “dangerous and unpredictable.” The PA system reverberated with physical descriptions—height, hair color, clothing—and the urgent message: “The following person is wanted … notify airport authorities immediately.”

    The prankees grew increasingly confused and disoriented as the deception unfolded, then appeared mightily relieved when the punch line was revealed. “Everything was under control all the time,” says agency founder and cd Felix Schulz, noting there were no fainting spells, outbursts, thrown punches or serious complaints from those subjected to the Candid Camera-meets-The Fugitive scenario. “We hired friends who lured their best friends to the airport so that we could be relatively sure that we would get their OK to be broadcast later, but they were totally clueless. This was a risk, but it was worth it because we got the real emotions you wouldn’t get with actors.”

    Not everyone agrees that these stunts are harmless, or that taking certain precautions absolves clients and agencies of their moral obligations. “Just because the ‘victim’ went home happy doesn’t make it right,” says Bill Green, strategy chief at Noble Mouse and an influential industry blogger. “‘Any PR is good PR’ has been replaced by ‘the end justifies the means.’ Was everyone in the airport in on it? If not, imagine strangers thinking you were wanted. Is that really worth it to the brand?”

    “You don’t want your brand associated with some outrageous level of mayhem and tragedy,” adds Syracuse’s Thompson. “Although it may get people’s attention, this scary-violent material … seems to have a greater potential for backfiring, if not in litigation, then in the greater possibility of seeming offensive or in bad taste.”

    And yet, the public’s seemingly endless appetite for being part of the show enables stunt makers to push the limits of acceptability. “In this age of anonymity, many people probably feel a perverse sense of flattery for being singled out,” says SJU’s Solomon. For some, just being part of these marketing campaigns becomes a fusion of flesh and pixels, the ultimate augmented reality.

    That’s something marketers are eager to exploit. So, expect the outrageousness—and possibly outrage—to get ratcheted up as they seek to snare an increasingly distracted, cynical and fragmented audience. “Each one will need to be more outlandish than the one before just to break through,” as blogger and ad exec Green puts it.

    Says Solomon, “I’m guessing advertisers will continue to push the envelope until some litigation throws cold water on the fire.” 

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    IDEA: Most brands are liars—fabulists, fabricators, tellers of half-truths and falsehoods, terrified of disclosing their real agenda (to take your money). In beer ads, the lies are legendary. The beer will get you the girl, make you cool, give you the best night of your life. All that, says Newcastle Brown Ale, is bullshit—or in the British brand's native slang, bollocks (conveniently, a more broadcast-friendly term). For its second year, Droga5 has fine-tuned its "No Bollocks" campaign for the brewer by taking the kind of pithy, comically frank one-liners it's honed on Facebook over the past year and building snappy, visually simple 15-second TV ads around them. There are five spots so far, with more on the way, all poking holes at deceptive beer advertising, and portraying Newcastle not as the more upstanding marketer but at least the more honest one. The idea came from the no-nonsense attitude of working-class Newcastle itself, but it's also, of course, a sly challenger-brand positioning. "We're a very good beer. We're also a beer with a personality," said brand director Charles van Es. "But I'm not going to lie to you. It's about having more people talk about us and buy a lot of Newcastle."

    COPYWRITING: The ads pair wry voiceovers with still photos. "In 1927, Colonel James Porter handcrafted Newcastle Brown Ale. But handcrafting was a nightmare. So now we handcraft the same delicious beer with huge, giant machines," says the voice in one, as old shots of brewers stirring a batch give way to those of a modern factory floor. In another, the voice says: "Great times guaranteed. Unless you're having a crap time. Then we can't guarantee much at all"—as happy bar scenes take a turn for the worse. "Sometimes you do have a fight with your girlfriend, or you're sitting alone at the bar, peeling a logo off a bottle," said Droga5 copywriter Ant White. "To have the confidence to show that was really refreshing." "We use ourselves as an example of what's wrong with marketing," added group strategy director Tom Naughton. "It would be naive of us to say, 'Everyone else is doing it wrong, and we're perfect.' But we're going to tell you how we're doing it."

    ART DIRECTION: Droga5 hired nine photographers, gave them a general sense of what to shoot, and let them loose. The agency now has a bank of 25,000 photos to use for future ads and Facebook posts. "It's still photography, not moving image—very basic, all shot in a realistic way," said van Es. "We don't put supermodels in our ads. We show the people who drink the beer. We visually represent what we stand for." There is no director—the creatives work with an editor to piece the spots together.

    TALENT: The voiceover is Ralph Ineson, who played Finchy on the British version of The Office. "He was the guy who told it like it is to David Brent," White said. "He got it instantly. He's like the guy who'll sit next to you at the bar and say these one-liners to you. That's what we were looking for."

    SOUND: The same goofy, polka-style song plays in all the spots: "The Gonk," by Herbert Chappell, best known for having been used (with zombie moans added) in Dawn of the Dead. "We were using it as placeholder, but we couldn't beat it," said White. "It's this repetitive, almost confident sound. It has no ending, either, which is quite funny. It's like, 'Here we go, we're telling a one-liner … and we're out.' "

    MEDIA: TV and online. In-bar materials include The Best Coaster in the World (a ludicrous beer coaster that's socially networked) and a tap-handle QR code that promises to find the nearest Newcastle. "There it is," your phone says after scanning it, as an arrow points to the tap.



    Client: Heineken USA, Newcastle Brown Ale
    VP of Marketing, Dos Equis, Amstel Light, Newcastle Brown Ale and
    Strongbow Cider: Matt Kahn
    Brand Director, Newcastle Brown Ale: Charles van Es
    Agency: Droga5, New York
    Creative Chairman: David Droga
    Executive Creative Directors: Ted Royer, Nik Studzinski
    Copywriter: Ant White
    Art Director: Karen Land
    Photographer: Paul Mcgeiver
    Head of Integrated Production: Sally-Ann Dale
    Agency Producer: Sarah Frances Hartley
    Art Producer: Maggy Lynch-Hartley
    Chief Strategy Officer: Jonny Bauer
    Group Strategy Director: Tom Naughton
    Strategist: Matthew Gardner
    Group Account Director: Nick Phelps
    Account Director: Lauren Solomon
    Production Company: Webber Represents, Ny
    Photographers: Jenny Heuston, Magdalena Wosinska, Mark Peckmezian, Scott Pommier, Will Mebane, Peden & Munk, Jane Mcleishkelsey, Chris Searl. Getty Images, Age Foto Stock, Ian Dobson Archive
    Senior Agent: Tom Claxton
    Editorial: Cut & Run
    Editor: Gary Knight
    Assistant Editor: Stacy Peterson
    Post Production: The Mill
    Colorist: Fergus Mccall
    Senior Smoke Artist: Jeff Robins
    Music: "The Gonk" by Herbert Chappel
    Sound: Sonic Union
    Mixer: David Papa


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