Thursday, February 21, 2002

Borrowed Interest

Special events television programming (like the Olympics, the Oscars and the Super Bowl) provides a platform for the nation's leading advertisers to showcase their best stuff. Some of the advertising on NBC's Olympic broadcasts has been excellent. The American Airlines ad about why the company is proud to call itself "American" recalls the great United Airlines advertising of the 1980s. The Budweiser ad about the guy buying the dorky sweater because some girls think its cute is both funny and, as the tag line says, true. And I get the BBDO stuff for Office Depot and Visa and GE. It's solid brand advertising.

But what is up with Mlife and Audi and Saturn and Chevrolet and Coke? The Mlife ads are embarrassing. Text messaging is so retro, it's almost over. Verizon Wireless featured it in an advertising campaign two years ago. When you watch the AT&T Wireless spots (urging you to have an "mlife," meaning a "mobile" life), you have the feeling that the people at AT&T just found out that people (particularly teen-agers) use their mobile phones as much for text messaging as they do for voice calls. In short, the ads lead you to believe that the people who run AT&T Wireless are clueless. This cannot be what they intended.

Audi, meanwhile, uses the borrowed interest of the American Beauty music score to sell its (superbly engineered) automobiles. Did anyone on the client side see the movie? It was about a guy who has a midlife crisis nervous breakdown and turns into a lecherous creep. How exactly does the borrowed interest of the movie enhance the Audi brand?

The Saturn ads are just creepy. Ostensibly designed to introduce a new Minivan/SUV called VUE, the ads feature a miniature model of the VUE being chased by a cougar and working its way through a small army of ants. What's that about? I drive a Chevy Tahoe and navigating through the ants has never really been a problem. I just drive over them. Saturn advertising used to be great; much better than the cars themselves. Now it's like the product.

As for Chevrolet, the only word is "pathetic." The ads feature guys plastering the Chevy logo on the backs of hockey players and other Olympic athletes. The Chevy guys are dorks and losers. Chevy actually makes some great product (like my Tahoe). Why is their advertising agency being allowed to diminish the brand?

The Coke advertising is the major disappointment of the Games. It's utterly pedestrian and oddly diffident, like they really couldn't be bothered. The only spot that works is a remake from the old Polar Bear series, which was developed back in the days when Mike Ovitz was a Hollywood powerhouse. The rest is just wallpaper.

Too bad. One of the most significant findings of that TIVO survey of its customers is that people will actually flock to see good advertising. There's not much to see on the Olympics this year.