Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Bad Adverts: Nivea's Facebook Campaign and/or Existential Angst

I didn't rekindle my long-defunct personal blog with any particular agenda - just to see what I might blog about nowadays: to find out what interests me.

Apparently what interests me most is complaining about the billboards I see opposite the bit of the train station platform I stand on every morning at about 7:30 a.m. Who knew?

I just want to start this one off by conceding that, yeah, okay, this Nivea ad isn't the worst advert ever by any stretch of the imagination. And although billboards aren't quite clickable links yet (especially if they lack QR codes like this one), it does at least have a "call to action", which I gather is pretty big biz in the ad world right now.

Reminding one about a product or announcing a new line isn't enough; the in thing is to get your audience to do something.

As "your audience", there's nothing I resent more than the idea that I should be motivated to contribute to your ad campaign. I don't care how much you purport to value my opinion; I just want a memorable ad that I don't hate.

Unfortunately, Nivea's "100 Years of Nivea", "everything's great here in the future", "look at these insane women laughing" campaign is not that ad.

It presents a controversial (and somewhat depressing for a billboard) opinion about "closeness" (which is, I gather, an almost unbelievably tenuous connection to a product that makes your skin softer) - the sort of opinion proffered only by mad grannies who've alienated their extended families over years of intermittent neglect and neediness, and Douglas Coupland, who is universally ignored and/or derided by anyone over the age of 18 and beyond the year of 1999; who wrote a book called JPod and kept a straight face; who habitually writes lists for any websites that'll publish them about why everything will be even worse than it already is now by the time next year comes around.

Have your say. Defend us against this evil sentiment that directly contrasts with our brand values (for some obscure reason). Help us - the ad seems to say - reconcile a lifelong battle against the existential angst of the modern human condition with our range of anti-aging skincare products, because we sure as hell can't do it: it's impossible.

But it's not is it?

Afraid of growing old and dying alone? Use Nivea: it's like Facebook, but for your face.

There. I did it.

See how happy Svetlana and Maria are? They are positively manic. A little soft skin allows them to be so "close" to the world around them, in spite of the alienating influence of "the way we live" (whatever that means) that they sport what can only be unfortunately referred to as shit-eating grins whenever they walk down the street - even though, based on the evidence of this picture, they don't even know each other, or anyone else around them, and are just sauntering down the same street at the same moment, close to... death? orgasm? a nervous breakdown?

Svetlana and Maria are the poor infected extras in the backdrop to a stop-and-stare panel in a particularly grim Grant Morrison comic; some dystopian societal casualties frozen in a false and hollow ecstasy from which they long to escape. If they could talk, they would whimper "kill me".

In fact, they could be dead already; they could be the grinning corpses left by The Joker's victims in the darker Batman storylines.

Or, or, or... (I'm enjoying this) Edvard Munch's Screams having been reanimated and informed of the hilarious irony that they'd been appropriated for the branding of a godawful chain of failing student pubs.

Also, they're not even close: there's nothing about their skin going on here, or the skin cream; this is a Facebook advert. A Facebook advert calling on Nivea fans to defend Facebook from the sort of people who think Facebook is rubbish and cold and soul-sucking and false. Or, rather, to get people already on Facebook to like Nivea's page on Facebook so they can send them more adverts that will, presumably, contain at least some content that isn't entirely based around soliciting an undesired opinion on a topic far too complex to be dealt with on Nivea's Facebook wall - something like Rhianna in various states of undress (which, to be fair, you don't need to sign up to Nivea's Facebook page to have the exclusive rights to).

As I said, this isn't the worst advert ever, but I maintain that it's bad, because it's a transparent lure into a trap baited with nothing more than the promise of more ads. There's not even any bribery. The only discernible promise is that you can "have your say".

No doubt Nivea have some idea what they're doing online as well as off, (check our their weird and meticulously managed Wikipedia page), but this seems shallow to me, and a bit wide of the mark.

"Some say we're just not close anymore".

Nope - you're way off: "all watched over by skin creams of loving grace" just doesn't ring true.

Yours, wrong as always,

Alexander Velky


What seems to be George Pringle asking Douglas Coupland some questions not about moisturising (tenuous, I know, but it does reveal Doug would be a fan of the font in the above advert):

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Bad Adverts: Stella Artois' Cidre (Not Cider)

Back when I used to watch adverts on TV I seem to recall Stella Artois had pretty good ads.

They were stylised, filmic, narrative-based ads that - while never ringing true to the product I knew and didn't particularly love - had a classy feel to them: depicting scenes of French cinema heavily reminiscent of Claude Berri's excellent screen adaptations of Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources - despite those stories being set in rural Provence: about 1,000 km south of Stella's Flemish homeland of Leuven.

And they traded - very successfully, it seems - on one of Stella's many weak points: its relatively high price.

"Reassuringly Expensive" was the memorable slogan, and it was used as a punchline to the many slightly disturbing vignettes of Français screwing each other over - lying, cheating and stealing - all to get a crisp, refreshing, delicious pint of Stella Artois: which - in the microcosm of that protracted ad campaign - was convincingly superior in taste to all other lagers: be they supermarket bulk-buys, or amber nectar foaming from the taps of rural French taverns.

Nowadays, having conquered the UK with the worst possible indication of what Belgian beer has to offer, Stella Artois are making a half-arsed play at the booming UK cider market, and - judging by the above billboard and others that preceded it - doing so with a cack-handed mix of their previous traditional French (because nobody understands Belgian identity, including Belgians) credentials, with a dash of misplaced superiority and/or condescension thrown in for good measure.

There's a woman riding a bike with a basketful of apples attached to it - exactly the kind of woman who would never ride a bike with a basketful of apples attached to it; she has teeth. There are arrows. Why are there arrows? Arrows are not an accepted form of punctuation. Other than this the design is pleasant and free from blame.

Moving on; Belgium and beer go together like European unity and bureaucracy. But if your brand primarily trades on masquerading as a culturally dominant neighbour - which it does, even if not consciously, even if those classic ads were set or filmed in Flemland - I would advise against playing on the perceived misplaced arrogance of said neighbour in relation to their increasingly un-international language.

French is only "the fourth most widely spoken mother tongue in the European Union"*, and is on its way out as the 2nd language of English schools up and down the country in favour of German (more akin), Spanish (easier) and various dialects of Chinese (more useful).

Basing your campaign around the fact that you've spelt the English word "Cider" using the French form "Cidre" and seem unduly delighted about this completely uninteresting and undoubtedly-not-unique element of the dubious product you've magicked into existence is surely not a way to win over an audience (you, the British public) who are already over-subscribed with Magnerses, Gaymerses, Bulmerses, Strongbows, Blackthorns, and - for the even less discerning customer - Frosty Jacks, White Lightnings and Woodpeckers.

Come to think of it, obviously anyone who actually likes cider (or cidre, for that matter - I am aware they make shed-loads of it in Normandy and Brittany, although Belgian Trappist Cidre is not on my radar...) will not go near a Stella Artois branded attempt on its life with a six foot punt. And for those casual pub drinkers who go for the pub-peddled pints from the above list (be they bottled and iced or whatever), is there any need for further choice anxiety? A Stella (beer) drinker is unlikely to drop his reassuringly expensive gas-and-hops-and-piss for gas-and-apple-and-piss, so it must be that market they're trying to pilfer.

So this bad advert of aborted Franglais, with its presumably-equally-bad accompanying TV campaign that I haven't seen, is aimed squarely at the casual British cider lout, who is, as we all know, a massive racist. Good luck winning them over with caricatures of the historically-derided arrogance of their natural enemy, the French. Good luck trying to convince a demographic who don't want to be part of your continent that "continental" is better than their green and pleasant "countryside"

This thing not that thing. Yeah, I get it: it's a campaign. You can build on it. Only problem is, it's shit; you'd as well try and sell Yorkshire Tea to Sarah Palin, Irish Moss to the Irish, or golliwoggs to yardies.

Or Stella Artois (beer flavour, or cider flavour) to me.

They can't even decide how much French to use; there's obviously been a conversation about whether people will know "c'est" or "pas", and if not, whether they'll be able to guess from context, so a decision has been made to opt for:
"C'est Cidre ---> Not Cider"
A sentence nobody - French, English, or some unholy union betwixt the two - would ever use, with or without the bloody arrow.

Your irate billboard noticer,

Alexander Velky


Here's some Franglais I do like:

* Wikipedia - truth magnet.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Bad Adverts: Volvo's Sexy Cars

Saw this at the train station on the way to work this morning.

There's nothing good about it, obviously, but the greater part of the blame must lie with Volvo's copywriters.

"There's more to life than sexy cars. Wait a second, no there isn't" sounds like the sort of inane babble a cluster of sub-par 80s marketing men would exchange around a large plastic table long after the inspiration (and coke) had run out: that they thought was so great - such a eureka moment - that they simply had to let the public in on it.

It reads like placeholder text - vaguely summing up the message they want to send, but obviously not in its finished form yet; sorry, it's been a really hectic afternoon, &c., &c. It's the Red Toupée of Volvo ads.

(By which, non-Al Stewart fans, I mean it's a text composed of temporary doggerel allowed to slip through the net due to the writer's fondness for what they perceive to be its quirky charm. So sort of like what I said before, except that Al Stewart is an entertainer, not a salesman.)

On closer examination, the thing is inane, obtuse, stupid and depressing as well as lazy.

"There's more to life than sexy cars."

For a start off, this is a lazy, hackneyed phrase.

Secondly, who even said this? Nobody. For adverts to set up a counter-argument that doesn't exist without attributing it even to some imaginary voice is perverse. And don't even get me started on "sexy cars" - the phrase has no right to exist outside of pointed satires of maleness in the modern age, or, as I gather one particularly popular example of such a barbed and biting work is known, Top Gear.

Wrong! Volvo are apparently using it here without irony to describe the spotlit hunk of crap on the poster: the antithesis of "sexy", if, admittedly, probably, a car. It looks like it's about to burst into song: some sort of faux-opera; you know, like they have in the cartoons.

Even the sort of damaged individuals for whom the compound noun "sexy cars" does not induce confusion and/or nausea are highly unlikely to identify a Volvo as a likely culprit. Presumably this is an hugely unsuccessful attempt at a rebrand? Unless I've had Volvo pegged wrong all these years, which is entirely possible if this advert is indicative of the quality of their brand positioning.

"Wait a second, no there isn't."

Shit. My life is completely empty. Cars - which are meant to represent freedom and modernity and adventure and my cock, and all the rest of it - are simply another "sexy" accessory to my otherwise completely vapid and meaningless existence. Like a 12-bladed razor, or an X-rated tamagotchi.

"Wait a second, no there isn't" is the biggest kick in the nuts to the would-be Volvo buyer imaginable. This is it: this is the best you can do. A Volvo.

Not sexually attracted to this car? Well, good luck endlessly wandering the arid tundra of the rest of your life looking for a sense of belonging that is merely an illusory figment of your warped and deluded brain.

I'd love to hear from someone for whom this advert has worked (well, obviously I'd hate it - and they're probably too busy touching themselves up in the back seats of Volvos to comment - but hear me out), because to me it seems to be a half-baked, ill-judged, creative black hole misfiring blanks into the bemused faces of middle-aged commuters everywhere.

(But specifically in Poole in the case of the above billboard.)

Yours, doubtfully,

Alexander Velky


Bottom right corner: "Volvo. for life". Lazy to the point of arrogant, and blindingly obvious when naturally and immediately compared with its opposite (Volvo. for death), and nobody's going to dole out awards for linguistic innovation just because you felt you had the right not to capitalise that 'F'.


What sexy cars might sound like: