How the Titans Have Fallen

I found this ad for the Nokia Lumia Windows phone fascinating.  The setting is interesting: Nokia and Windows were both titans of the previous decade, but both have falled behind other companies in software (Apple, Google) and hardware (Apple, HTC, Motorola, etc).  Clearly this ad was designed to convey one central message: this is one cool phone.  The indie dance music and the flowing cinematography clearly convey that this phone is on the cutting edge.  Yet the use of flashing colored squares recalls an earlier era, reminiscent of the dance floor of Saturday Night Fever.  Likewise Apple’s much dissected advertising campaign for the iPod, which involved solid white dancers on a monochrome background. it is clear that companies are trying to convince consumers that their products are simultaneously advanced and simple, impressive and intuitive.  This is a new stage of consumer empowerment, where we can personalize our technology, much as we can personalize our presence on Facebook

– Eric Sobel


Trailers as Ads…and more!

The topic for this post came to my mind as I was on Youtube yesterday. A giant ad banner for the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the new David Fincher adaptation of the Swedish bestseller, was flashing on the home page, and I quickly succumbed to the temptation of watching the two movie trailers.

Trailers can be considered as advertisement – after all, like any ad, they’re here to sell their product by making it look good. But trailers are also governed by more specific laws. They must give a good idea of what the movie is about, without giving away too much of the plot. Some take these rules very seriously: a woman recently sued the company distributing the movie Drive because she found the trailer too misleading!

On top of all that, I’ve always thought that trailers, kind of like music videos, are an art form in themselves, with different conventions and styles. Trailers vary greatly according to genres: we all know for instance what the typical trailer for a typical romantic comedy is going to look like (and therefore we can deduce what the movie will be like): cheesy pop/piano song, male voice-over or text outlining the plot, etc. etc.

Trailers can also vary across countries. Take the French movie Tomboy for instance: the French trailer does not have text, and does not structure the plot in the same way than the US one does.

Trailers also vary a lot in structure, and the Girl with The Dragon Tattoo trailers are good examples of two extremes:

The first one is what I would call a montage-like trailer, a rapid succession of shots that flash too quickly for your eyes to process everything, in sync with the music. This trailer doesn’t explain anything at all about the movie.

The second one is a micro-movie: this trailer keeps the exact same narrative structure of the movie, only cutting out the end.

And now, the crucial question: which one is the best? I have to admit that I prefer the first one (I mean, c’mon, it’s so badass!), but since we’re dealing with ads here, the right question is probably which one is the best for whom? Indeed, I suspect that the use of two radically different trailers is an attempt to target two different populations: namely, those who already know the plot, and those who don’t. The second trailer leaves you hanging and makes you want to know what’s next, but if you already know who’s the bad guy from the beginning, the first trailer will convince you to go watch the movie for the visuals and the feel of it, not the plot. Such a strategy seems pretty justified when dealing with such a famous book, since so many people have read the book or seen the Swedish movie. We can observe a similar phenomenon with the trailers for Watchmen, the adaptation of the famous graphic novel (montage-like and micro-movie).

However this hypothesis does not seem to explain everything: the Harry Potter movies, for instance, have some pretty classic, “linear-narration” trailers, when one would assume that most viewers already knew the story. I guess that in this specific case, with such a famous and beloved franchise, people don’t care about what the trailer (or the movie…) looks like, and will go watch the movie anyway (the same could be said of the Twilight series).

But in my opinion, more than a simple commercial strategy, the decision to use montage-like trailers stems from an aesthetic preference and a desire to communicate a specific mood or ambience rather than a simple plot. The (only) trailer for Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut is a good example: very short, no dialogue, no plot… if you ask me, it works great!


Beyonce’s web presence and the artist-fan relationship

According to this Ad Age article, Beyonce does not feel that her brand website represents her diverse interests (in “fashion, travel, photography and art”) and is entertaining proposals from various ad agencies in hopes of change it. While the content feels rather impersonal and the blog format and arial fonts do seem a bit amateurish for an artist of her stature, it is odd that in order to accomplish her aims of personalizing her website, she is employing an external corporate entity.

In any case, this seems to be another example of the shift toward artist-fan intimacy, where she is now using her web presence to develop relationships with fans (by revealing herself as an individual—tastes, likes, dislikes, etc.) rather than the impersonal promotion of products associated with her brand (i.e. taped concert materials).

– Nima Hassan

More on Ads and Entertainment Content: When is a song just a song?

When we consider the integration of advertisements with entertainment content, we usually think of painfully transparent product placement—of Paula Abdul sipping from Coca Cola merchandise during American Idol. The insertion of branded goods into television programs often feels forced—as something highlighting rather than destabilizing the distinction between advertising and actual entertainment content. But the advertisement of a good with inherent entertainment value—such as music—presents a more naturalistic application of the technique.

Apple produced a commercial featuring the song “Lose Yourself” by Eminem for the rapper’s best hits album, “Curtain Call.” The work certainly functioned as an ad in that it caused sales of the promoted good to increase, but it also functioned effectively as ‘entertainment content’ by being consumed and enjoyed by audiences. Evidence of this is the popularity of the clip on YouTube—the commercial has been viewed 70,449 times as of November 2011. YouTube user TomateFarcie posted a revealing comment, writing, “I love this piece! That’s what I call a great iPod commercial. Eminem used to do great stuff before he became commercial…”

It is incredibly ironic that the product of a national advertising partnership with a major multinational corporation is being characterized by some viewers as a “[non-]commercial” artistic work (particularly signified by TomateFarcie’s use of the term, ‘piece’). The statement is testament to the degree to which the (already fluid) line between advertising, art and entertainment is becoming even more blurred.

– Nima Hassan

It’s a Yaris! It’s a car.

This is one commercial from Toyota’s latest ad campaign for the Toyota Yaris. There’s no substantial information here about the car itself, but I find it inexplicably hilarious–as I do with the rest of the campaign–and thus, infinitely more memorable than the typical car ad that just spouts off a random reel of numbers and facts. Solid work, Toyota advertising team.

Just thought I’d share this for a laugh! Check out their other commercials from this campaign if you have a minute to kill.



Big Ads Are Watching You

People spend more time than ever on the Internet. Therefore, advertisements must also be more present than ever on the Internet. They must follow where the audiences go. More specifically, in the name of efficiency, ads should be targeted towards specific audiences.

For the most part, it works. It doesn’t make much sense to put an ad for Viagra on the Disney Channel, or on he flip side, an ad for a Barbie on ESPN. Advertisers have been doing this type of targeting for ages, and generally both the advertisers and the audiences have benefited: the companies are more likely to sell their product to an interested audience, and the audience can hear about products and services that they actually care about.

Now, however, as more and more of us cultivate very real, very active online identities, we release more and more information about ourselves and our preferences into the network. And increasingly, we find that companies like Google and Facebook are using that information to further target an ad to each of us individually. This is a whole different ballgame from a Barbie ad on the Disney Channel. That is marketing to a broad demographic. This is using your personal information to create ads for you that are scarily specific and tailored to the picture of you that these Internet giants have pieced together from your activities online.

How far is too far? Personally, I think that we’ve already reached that point. Usually this information is implicitly rather than explicitly given: rather than Google knowing that you like baseball because you wrote it in a comment on a blog for example–that is, you knowingly released that information to the public–they know because you search for it often in their search engine. Google’s databases must hold millions of secrets and bits of private information unwittingly given and surreptitiously collected. Facebook’s information page for advertisers boasts that they can “choose your audiences by location, age, and interests,” among other details that you meant to share with your friends, not corporations.

Progress seems to necessitate an ever increasingly open digital world, but how much of our privacy should we be willing to give up?

What do you think?

[For a very interesting recent article about racial profiling in Google ads, read this piece by Nathan Newman in The Huffington Post]

–Michelle Chan

What does it take to make Scandinavian home furnishings as popular as “Lost?”

Cultural theorists have long predicted the integration of advertising with entertainment content. Often, advertisers do this by inserting their products into established, popular shows, rather than trying to build narratives and characters around the brand from scratch. However, we are seeing more and more commercial webisodes of the sort IKEA has produced for Youtube (see as well, Fresh Takes, Alicia Keys’ “micro-series” for the Dove Go Fresh campaign But how successful have these efforts been? ‘Fresh Takes’ appears to have had little impact and most of the episodes in the IKEA series above have only double digit YouTube views. Compare that to the million + views of many of Allstate’s viral Mayhem commercials (

All three productions were intended to have high entertainment value and prevent viewers from remembering they were watching an ad. So what explains the huge difference in their success? Is it an issue of commercial length? The ironic tone of the Allstate ads? Or merely a matter of writing quality?

– Nima Hassan

Banned Commercials

We watched an example of a banned condom commercial in this class. What I find interesting is how the internet has undermined the ability of censors to regulate media consumption, not only in industries like cinema but also in advertising. Companies now produce ads that they know cannot be shown on television but will attract millions of hits online. Nissan has an ad with bouncing breasts. Levi’s produced this commercial that has gotten over 24 million views and has probably sold more jeans than their mainstream advertising campaigns.


Eric Sobel


Go Big or Go Home

The goal of any ad is to capture the attention of its audience; if it fails to do this, it has failed all together. However, in the the modern age where flashing lights and sounds constantly buzzing by the ear are the norm, people are inured to the traditional attention-grabbing techniques that advertisers might want to use. So, ads must adapt: today, that means that they must make use of the new medium–i.e., the internet–or they must use the old mediums in a new, interesting way.

This particular Dutch ad campaign for a job placement company is of the latter camp. They caught my eye because of their creative use of existing, previously ignored spaces. Their ads depict people working in exaggerated drudgery. For example, one ad on the side of a coffee vending machine seemingly shows the inner workings of the machine: a woman laboriously making coffee for the unsuspecting, uncaring consumer. At the bottom, in Dutch, reads “Life’s too short for the wrong job.”

Similar ads were posted on the sides of other common machines: ice cream machines, cigarette dispensers, jukeboxes, ATMs. The hyperbole is acknowledged; however, rather than allow the ridiculous to overshadow the message that the company wants to convey, it draws attention to real world dead-end jobs and spurs the audience to consider what the company has to offer.

The ads had enough shock value to generate wide interest, and ultimately the creators of the ads had in their grasp the holy grail, of sorts, of advertising–the consumers themselves were disseminating images of the ads online and telling their friends, family, and various audiences (even now, I continue the chain). The campaign had gone viral. Thus, having made use of both old and new mediums, the success of this campaign reflects the new standards necessary for modern advertising in a media-saturated world.

Michelle Chan

Really, It’s Electric?

I find this commercial hilarious, not just because the guy needs to go to the bathroom. While many commercials seem to communicate little about the product, there is a class of advertising that finds a way to package important information about the good in a funny way that people will remember. Back in 1958, John Kenneth Galbraith argued that businesses create their own demand rather than satisfying society’s by creating a feeling of discontent through advertising.  I do not want to disagree with his point in general, but would find it very interesting to develop a theory of when companies find it worthwhile to create new demand versus providing information through advertising.

By: Eric Sobel