Today’s Stars in Pre-Fame Television Commercials

A slightly younger and thinner Jack Black pitches Pitfal (the 10-pixel video game)

It’s hard for stars to hide from cheesy pre-fame television commercials when there’s YouTube, right?

Let’s enjoy a few of their early advertisements, which I’ve spent most of New Year’s Eve compiling for you (winner that I am)

  1. Jack Black doing Pitfall! (best ever)
  2. Lindsay Lohan in a Jello commercial in around 1996
  3. Keanu Reeves doing Kellogs Corn Flakes in 1980s.
  4. Seth Green doing a Nurf ad in 1992 (my favorite)
  5. Dick Van Dyke for Kodak film
  6. Greg Benson’s montage before Mediocrefilms/RetardedPoliceman fame
  7. Ronald Reagan Chesterfield cigarettes (photo not video)
  8. Miranda Cosgrove (iCarly) in Burger King ad
  9. Tom Selleck sponsoring Right Guard
  10. Brad Pitt in Pringles ad (shirtless of course)
  11. Dave Spade and Chris Farley doing DirectTV (not exactly pre-fame)
  12. Jack Benny doing Texaco (too early of a reference for ya?)
  13. Leonardo DiCaprio doing Bubble Gum ad in 1988
  14. Ben Affleck doing Burger King delivery
  15. John Travolta doing a Safeguard soap commercial and promoting Tokyo Drink in this 1980s commercial (obviously he had already established some fame by then)

And two bonuses. Some actors better known for their television commercials than film or television careers. And David Letterman as a pre-talk-show weatherman.

Sources: Commercial Breaks (AOL), LiquidGenerationTube,

Who is the Target Lady?

Maria Bamford helped turn our anxiety about the holiday rush into a playfully self-aware celebration of the insanity we call Black Friday.

Target’s Black Friday campaign staring Maria Bamford spawned loads of “word of mouth,” and captured AdAge’s attention by ranking #2 on the AdAge Viral Chart with more than 1.5 million views in a week. Sure that’s still far below my definition of “viral video” (I’m thinking the new definition is 4 million views in a few days). But the campaign, by Portland, Oregon agency Wieden & Kennedy, clearly has become more than a 2010 footnote. Here’s Target Lady’s highlight reel, which culminates in the fantastic shot of her running through target wearing a parachute to slow her down.

Naturally Steve Hall (AdRants) hate’s it, but TV Critic Roger Catlin gave it a “an hail Target ad lady Maria” review. AgencySpy was most impressed with the Rocky IV tune. But the real surprise, to me, was when my wife said: “wait- look at this…everyone’s raving about it on Facebook.” According to ClickZ, some sponsored ads fueled that Facebook fire.

Click here to see YouTube’s Target collection, ranked by most-viewed.

Some of these spots are good enough to stop you from fast forwarding TiVo. Maria Bamford has a wonderfully crazy and self-deprecating style that makes even ME feel sane. She’s not new to Target — check out her subtle “Target” reference in this video from years ago (below). She’s funny in standup (effinfunny.com), but translates even better to web video and was a perfect fit for this wonderfully insane Target campaign.

I hope to see her back, since I think she’ll appeal to Target’s target customer. We’ll still need our “cool” target ads, but this is distinctive and fun, and a refreshing departure from me-two department store ads (wow we’ve got deals… zzzzz). I could honestly see the Target Lady pulling a mini Old Spice video-reply campaign with personalized videos… the mad rush for holidays is far from over, but there’s not likely time for a new campaign. Hey Wieden & Kennedy- if she’s answering questions I’d like to know how many cups of coffee she drinks a day and how many hours of sleep she gets. I’d also savour, like fine wine, some behind-the-scenes outtakes from the commercial shoot.

If you like Target Lady, write WK agency (contact information) or be sure to write Maria’s mom. Mothers need affirmation sometimes, and maybe she’ll let Maria out of the attic to reward her. Or heck, pick up a piece of no-soap made by her dad.

Advertisers Like “YouTube Safe” Content: So…

Advertisers like safe content, and it won’t be long before media buyers restrict certain YouTube ads to “safe” videos to protect their marketing clients and brands. So now that mama Google allows YouTube partners to note that the video is “safe” (no drugs, no violence, no sex, and no drugs), I’d urge you to code yours accordingly.

I just found my three most-viewed videos representing 50 million of my 160 million views (one is a scary prank, one is “funny“, and the third is “cute“). Then (see below) I rated them “safe” via the content-rating tool YouTube rolled out recently.

YouTube allows advertisers to target videos to ensure ads aren't displayed near strong language, nudity, sex, violence or drugs.

Are advertisers yet targeting content, and serving higher “CPMs” (the cost per impression metric that is the lifeblood of YouTube) around these videos? Don’t know yet, but it seems inevitable. And it took just a few minutes.

I can’t hurt since I am not so ambitious as to stray from generally family-safe content… I think I’ll survive if I just lost some high-CPM preroll ads featuring porn and crack ads. Yes I just said crack.

Hey this post will be good for search-engine discovery. Watch it become one of my most-f’ing viewed posts.

Yahoo Begs Marketers to Put TV Commercials Online. I Puke But Understand.

(Half the fun of this post is the hyperlinked videos to punctuate the copy).

Below is an ad from a trade magazine, where Yahoo let’s advertisers know their television ads can move online. My immediate reaction (after I puked and rinsed my vomit) was that Yahoo is basically teaching advertisers and brands to annoy its users. Not a good long-term strategy.

Hey, marketer. Hey, marketer. Hey, marketer. Send us your TV spots and money. Hey, marketer.

Then again, Yahoo has long shown it knows its REAL audience is not the silly fools who visit the site, but those that give it money. Yahoo has partnered with larger content providers, fetched large integrated advertising dollars like Fagin’s army of orphans, and countered You “animal farts” Tube with promises of advertising-safe content not user-generated content.

So Yahoo goes after the path of least resistance. It’s not an entirely reckless move. If you’re an online property and see the vast majority of marketing dollars going into television… why not be “an online television set”? It’s easier for marketers to understand, and for lazy media buyers to spend without a lot of work.

No seriously. Prerolls make me obsessed with brands.

Consider the mind of the marketer:

  • My VP keeps asking me to shift dollars to online. I don’t want to hassle with a dumb ass branded Facebook page.
  • Wait- I don’t have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars customizing my content for the medium?
  • I can just have my “Agency of Record” account lead tell his production people to send the Yahoo people a compressed version of our :30 and :60 spots?
  • Then I shift some of my budget allocation? Sign me up. Yey prerolls!

Meanwhile, the consumer is silently skipping or indulging the ads with despise (even the dumbest online site won’t measure or share data on how prerolls have negative impact on brand sentiment). The hapless user/viewer is forced to watch television ads before and during the content they want. Suddenly they start drifting away from Yahoo, and looking for less obnoxious ways to get content and entertainment.

It’s a smart, strategic way to spur a shift of media dollars, even if it comes at the expense of Yahoo’s other target audience (the users and viewers).

Will it work? It might bring some fast revenue, but its sustainability requires a) the non-ad content being so incredible that Yahoo viewers tolerating this, and b) if Yahoo can use this approach as a buyer “hook,” then quickly adapts the ad content to make it engaging (something the ad promises, but is not as easy as repurposing television spots).

A more sustainable approach would be to partner with firms that can create “branded entertainment” (whatever that means to you), or set up rich media entertainment with non-intrusive but inviting ads (the Seven Echo model). But really… does Yahoo have the time or patience for that?

Best Super Bowl Ads of 2010

Last year my video roundup of the best Superbowl ads was seen more than 7 million times, so I kinda had to make a sequel. Since this year’s theme (for both aired videos and those banned) seemed to be about guys being gay or wearing underwear, it felt right to use “I Wear No Pants” (used in the Shazam Dockers ad and written by The Poxy Baggards).

Want to see how the ads were rated? Check out USAToday’s Ad Meter, see Advertising Age’s Report, or watch them all at YouTube’s AdBlitz channel.

A New Model for Producing Television & Online-Video Ads

Okay get a coffee and sit down. This is one of my important posts. You’ll learn in this one post more than you learned in that stupid communications major (the sender sends messages, and the receiver receives them). I switched majors the day I realized half of the women in my Freshman 101 communications class wanted to be the next Oprah.

Now traditional advertisers and commercial production shops don’t much like the notion of online video ads (especially consumer created) because they prefer to shoot $500,000 commercials in lovely locations. It’s one of the perks of selling your soul to agencies. And I’ve got friends that bemoan the future of television spots as they adore the romantic trip to Europe (to film a pool that looks remarkably like one in a New Jersey suburb).

Alas, advertisers and their favorite commercial directors need not fear online video! While we marketers may request fewer $500K commercials, we’ll still need good content. Lots of it. Instead of one Superbowl spot, however, we’ll want an assortment of creative ads that appeal to our various and fragmenting audiences. So we need to get our cost-per-produced-minute down by 50% or more. And I’m not talking about amortizing the shoot by rotating three actors: a white guy, one hispanic gal, and a slightly overweight Asian transgender.

We ideally want to tailor the ad content to the medium. I was thrilled to see V’s debut (the television show) with a character on YouTube’s homepage that actually mentioned YouTube. Hey, she belongs here. Check out this Louisiana hot sauce spot by pro-amateur Jared Cicon (embedded below), and if you drool over it like I do… check out the rest of his reel. Is it Superbowl material? Maybe not, but it would cost about the same as a single ticket to the game. And I think if Jared (who conveniently puts himself in most of his spots) would probably have just the same Q rating as the best-looking transgender Asian your talent agency could find.

We have two important forces at work: advertisers need MORE video content to participate in the 30-40% growth of spending on this channel. And we have lower-cost options like Jared that do damned good work. So what’s the solution? Wel you have three choices:

  1. First, large production shops — with pricey directors and overbaked sets — can dial down their costs for the medium. I’ve talked to at least 5 production companies that are adjusting their model to bring budgets down (on a shoot for a magazine ad photo, I was happy to see wardrobe with 90 clothing options from Gap that they’d return the next day for a credit).
  2. The other option is for advertisers to put work “out to bid” to a new swarm of directors with minimal costs but talent (that won’t impact the veteran directors, is awesome for the noobs, and probably scares the hell out of the rest). Use a clearinghouse like Poptent.org, or go direct to people like Jared.
  3. Finally, advertisers can run a contest. However I don’t like to see online ads for contests like the Dove blitz. I feel like the advertiser should be selling the product not wasting it on reaching those of us that enter video contests (although they get points for trying to engage the audience). Ultimately most contests get minimal participation, and why not just reach out to ringers — especially if they have an audience online.

Mind you, Jared or PopTent offer advertisers low-cost but remarkable production quality via amateurs. What you won’t get, of course, is an audience. That’s why Hitviews, who contracts with “weblebrities” who already have an audience, makes more sense for some… you get a decent video, and fairly guaranteed views. Or, as I wrote about yesterday, you could bid for product placement on Placevine or Zadby.

By the way, I like an online-video contest that rewards the cat who drives the most views or votes, and Jared likes the ones where quality actually matters to the judges. He’s got talent and I have an audience. In the end, Jared always wins and I get a free f’ing Slurpy coupon.

In 2010 smart advertisers will commission work for less than the cost of an agency dinner. And here’s the part you say “hooray!” First, we can skip 45-stages of market research, and just flight the damned partially executed concepts and learn from them. How’s that for a dislodging that kidney stone? Maybe “ready, go, set” is better than “ready, ready, ready, ready, set, set, set…” Second, we can finally determine if the ad worked because of the messaging or the creative… because we can test multi-varied approaches.

What the hell do I know about research? I’m not even sure I used multi-varied approaches correctly. But I can tell you that I spent an assload of my employers’ money to test three sets of creative, and still wonder if we’d have been better off with a different execution of one of the alternative campaigns that died in market research maybe because the headline or image didn’t resonate with those pretend consumers that spend 50% of their life behind a two-way mirror for cash.

Can I hear an AMEN!?

Now you’ll flight 20 ads online, and take the crappy half out to pasture. See? Maybe we can finally kill that stupid quote: “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, but I don’t know what half.” It’s about as cute as “Hang on Baby, Friday’s Coming.”

P.S. Some of you will love this ad, and some of you will hate it. But good news. Some day Google will save you the trouble of ignoring an ad or moaning over it… you’ll only see the ones you love.

Ad Blindness and Online Video

Google Eye TrackerThe more we surf online video the more savvy we become about content versus advertising.

A marketer recently told me he was pleased by the impressions he got from a YouTube homepage advertising buy, but…” I finished his sentence for him.. “your featured video didn’t get a lot of views.”

I told him we’ve been trained that the YouTube featured video is an advertisement, and he said he was working on ways to produce a more provocative headline or thumbnail. This “learned ad blindness” (I just coined that) was true with Revver ads, where virgin viewers would click the end-frame ad out of curiosity while the regulars learned to move to the next video. Revver is now adopting overlays jam packed with what appears to be Google Adsense Ads. Meanwhile, Adsense itself is under performing. Jason Lee Miller of WebProNews wrote recently about performance declines of Google Adsense, and one of his theories is:

“People are ignoring ads at a higher rate, and this has been evidenced by eye-tracking studies, especially when the ads appear in the places they expect them to appear.” (Note: to reinforce Miller’s point, I’ve displayed an image tracker of where eyes go when viewing a Google search-results page… hot in the top of organic area and rather cold on the ads).

So what’s the solution? Is it constant rotation of ads so they masquerade as content or perpetually innovative ways to interrupt, arouse or tantelize?  YouTube’s “videos being watched right now” is a combination of sponsored videos and popular ones. They’ve changed the name of this section several times, but I believe it remains an advertorial blend.

YouTube ads versus contentThat’s not the answer long term. Your most trusted sources of media (television, print, radio, web) usually make it abundantly clear what’s an advertisement and what’s content. Google pioneered this delineation by giving a color to ads while some engines continue to advantage advertisers in the “organic” listings with something called “paid inclusion” that creeps me out. The “advertorial” game, where advertisers sponsor what appears to be objective articles, is for the bottom feeders.

My first job after college was for a small Georgetown newspaper where the editor literally put a small white fence between the editorial and advertising department. I proudly stood on the content side, and the newspaper went bankrupt in 9 months. It was what prompted me to attend business school and move to the marketing side. I’d need to shower more frequently, but I’d at least have some control of my destiny.

The solution to “learned ad blindness” (copyright Kevin Nalts) is making ads that appeal to viewers and targeting people based on relevancy. If I’m in the market for a car, I want your car ad. If I’m not, it better have dancing clowns, hot models and site gags. If watching videos about the new overpriced talking parrot toy in late November, I’m probably ready for a 20% Toys-R-Us ad. See my next post (Cherry Chocolate Rain) for an even better example of when advertising does indeed become content.

Initially advertisers were terrified by technology that would block ads — from FireFox plugins to TiVo remotes. I’d content the greater barrier is the technology of the human mind, which learns quickly to discriminate between valued content and noise.

Like my old boss used to say, “even an amoeba learns by repetition.”