Category Archives: memes

If we just had another petabyte of data, we could totally crack this brief.

One of the most oppressive memes of 2013 surely must be “big data.” It has bubbled up out of the quant swamp and gone mainstream. This week’s Ad Age dubs itself “The Data Issue”—irrefutable evidence that big data’s moment is just about over.

The cover story is about “How Data Spawned the Geico Gecko” but a close read reveals quite the opposite. Here, in an interview, is Geico’s CMO Ted Ward:

 “The Gecko was “hatched” with absolutely no research or even the intention of producing a long-running, iconic campaign.  The fact is we analyzed results from running the first set of Gecko TV spots and liked the bump in business volume. We were able to attribute the increased business to the campaign and decided to move forward with additional Gecko executions.”

So…the idea was a lucky accident, but it seemed to be working so you decided to stick with it. That’s Big Data? Please. That’s advertising. That’s why there are still agencies around and not just server farms.

Data and analytics can help you spot an opportunity in the marketplace. It can help you understand your customer. It can tell you what’s working and what’s not. It cannot, and never will, riff “Geico” into “Gecko.” Why pretend otherwise?

I admire Mr. Ward’s Geico campaigns, and the team at Martin who produces them. Both the gecko and the Cavemen were felicitous one-offs that the marketing team had the good sense to recognize had more potential. The fact that both ideas happened on the Geico account suggests a good working environment and a trusting agency-client relationship. Luck, after all,  favors the prepared. Suggesting that sifting through mountains of shopping data takes the luck factor out of the creative equation is just magical thinking.

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Ferklempt for Clydesdales

crying into cups

We were maybe 5 seconds into the Budweiser Clydesdale spot on Sunday when the sobs started. “I love this ad so much,” my wife snuffled as the colt with the fluffy ankle hair gamboled in the field.

It took me another 45 seconds, but I too was all ferklempt by the end of the spot. And so, by most reports, was the rest of America.

What does this teach us?

People like stories. People like heart-warming emotion. People like traditions and symbols of authenticity. Always have. Always will.

And advertising agencies and marketing experts will always underestimate the degree to which these things matter. They want edge, they want snark, they want surprise. Ad people (me included) loved the Samsung Seth Rogan/Paul Rudd spot with its knowing references and cutting repartee. My wife looked at it with a McKayla-is-not-impressed expression. “Makes me anxious” was her verdict.

Some critics slagged the Clydesdale spot for being “manipulative.” Well, that’s a laugh. Advertising is supposed to manipulate you. It’s supposed to disarm your defenses, color your perceptions and guide your hand down to your wallet. Some ads manipulate with sex. Some do it with flattery. Some even do it with facts. This ad does it with an inter-species bromance but the plot line was already familiar by Homer’s time: love gained, love lost, love regained.

Works every time. You people working on that other Bud brand, Black Label, might want to keep that in mind next time around.

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Bookin’ funny


I found myself laughing like an idiot by the end of the new spot, helplessly ceding my critical faculties to a dirty twist on nameonics.

The :60 commercial is really 2 spots in one. The first 40 seconds are a mildly amusing if dutiful execution of a planner insight: travelers are terrified that the hotel they book online will turn out, upon arrival, to be a disaster. This worry is exacerbated here in the U.S., where our Draconianmarket-driven economy allows for far fewer vacation days than in Europe.

In the last 20 seconds, however, the spot goes crazily off the rails, with the VO announcer yelling : “It’s booking marvelous! Look at the booking view!” and so on, like a sportscaster at an English soccer match who’s had a few too many pints but is swearing faster than the censors can bleep him. Having spent a lot of time in the company of Scottish fishing guides who say “fooking” at least 3 times in every sentence, the riff had a special relevance, but I think it’s pretty hard not to get the joke.

It’s booking stupid and sophomoric. It also gets my vote for Next Big Advertising Meme. The spot comes from Weiden’s Amsterdam office, which explains a lot. I saw it on FX’s “Justified” which also explains a lot: a network for guys with grown-up discretionary income but the sensibilities of 14-year olds. Perfect.

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Stop trying to make “Egg McMuffin” happen.


Like the hapless Gretchen in Mean Girls who wanted nothing more in life than to create a word meme that would take hold with her cohort, McDonalds has run into the ruthless buzzsaw of reality with its widely ridiculed spot:

Making your brand name (or variant thereof) part of everyday language is a quest with a long history, a few successes  (“Fedex it”) and some spectacular failures, like this epic Florence Henderson spot from the 70s:

This approach reached its nadir in the 80s with Jordan Case McGrath, whose Jim Jordan was a proponent of “nameonics” (which is not only idiotic sounding but also a play on the word “mnemonics”–a reference that nobody but a dork like me would know, or should). During nameonics’ brief, disgraceful reign, we got classics like “Deer Park, that’s good water!” and “Renuzit Doozit.”

The rise of social media seems to be prompting a nameonics resurrection, as advertisers try to “go viral.” But it’s not a good idea, as it was not a good idea 30 years ago, and for the same reason: an advertiser may own his brand, but the people own the language. Come up with a branded product or service that’s so unique and indispensable that there is no synonym for it, and the people will add it to the vocabulary with no prompting necessary.

Don’t believe me? Google it for yourself.


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Occupy the storefront!

It was just a matter of time.

The folks at FishsEddy demonstrate how the 99% can become the 1% through the clever use of new cultural memes.

The handpainted headlines are an appropriate (and cheap) typography solution.

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The perfect killer meme.

Admit it. “Five Dollar foot long” is the last thing you hear in your head before you go to sleep and the first thing you think when you wake up.

It’s OK. You’ve been attacked and overwhelmed by a perfect storm of a meme, as has everyone else. We’re just mindless bots in Subway’s world, and if you don’t believe it, check the numbers. $3.8 billion in footlongs is a frikkin’ pandemic of footlong consumption.

Who came up with this killer mental tapeworm? Hint: not corporate, not the ad agency and it wasn’t heard first in a focus group room. A franchisee in Miami did it because he likes round numbers and it’s easier giving change on a $5 item than it is on a $10.

So much for the consumer engagement strategy.

So why, why, is “$5 foot long” so mercilessly effective? Let’s break it down.

First, it’s a jingle. The biggest dirty secret of advertising is that jingles work. No creative under the age of 60 wants to do them, the great jingle houses are all gone, but jingles are what everyone remembers.

Second, “Five dollar foot long” is an incredibly felicitous combination of sounds. It rolls off the tongue like it was coated with mayo, and the alliterative repetition of F sounds gives it that final touch.

Third, it’s amazingly and incontestably dirty, yet manages not to offend those whose minds don’t go that way…whoever they are. I mean, it’s a full 12 inches long! And only $5! That’s a lot of…value.

As Jessica Simpson said, in reference to full 1080p HD television, “I don’t know what it is, but I want it.”