351. The Ad Awards of LA. Noire. 
Aug 10, 2011 at 02:15PM
jj

First things first, or as the headline on every restaurant's drink menu across the US reads: Thirst things thirst. (Ugh. You know I'm right.) Anyway, I think I have found my dream job. Now let me state for the record that I'm perfectly happy with the job I do have, in the rare case that one of my bosses actually reads this drivel. (An unlikely scenario, I assure you.) But I think I've indeed found my dream job. It can best be described as Virtual Creative Director and the job description would center around creating fake ads for video games. Yep. Think about it. You not only pick the best creative you can conjure up, but you can actually make-up the best (fake) products too. Talk about total creative control, it simply could not get any better than that—concepting and executing an entire new world of advertising without any regard to actual market research, planning, client, agency or budget realities. You just create. And here's the kicker, everybody: somebody has this job. Or at least had this job for a time.

First, some background information.

Rockstar games has been putting fake ads into their titles for quite some time. Now, I can understand why a large company might not want to be associated with Grand Theft Auto. Or maybe even Red Dead Redemption. But when they released L.A. Noire earlier this year, they provided a great chance for a real-life, large advertiser, like P&G or Frito-Lay, to literally buy all the ad space in 1947 Los Angeles. In case you don't know, the game involves being a detective and solving cases throughout the city as you work your way up the police ranks. The city is a big cast member of this drama, since you have to drive all around to do your job. And like real life, you are subject to a whole bunch of advertising, some of the radio, but mostly outdoor and in the windows of the neighborhood shops and markets.

Imagine if Coca-Cola would have purchased the rights and simply inserted a selection of their vintage ads into the game, it would have felt perfect. (A major tobacco company would have been even better, but we all know why that didn't happen. Darn kids, they ruin everything.) P&G makes sense because they have a ton of different products and the ads would never have to repeat themselves. But like I said above, Frito-Lay also would have been a great option, not only because of the variety of products in their lineup, but also the target demographic. I think video-game playing and snacks go hand-in-hand, no?

Perhaps because of the producer we are talking about, and their past titles, (or maybe because no agency thought of this in time), the real advertisers stayed away. This gave someone the wonderful job of making it all up, and stealing my dream job. So when I got the game I was pretty excited about the seedy urban canvas that the game would be played on, but also because I'm an advertising, design, and cultural nerd — I was pretty excited to see the ads. You know your life is pretty lame, if you get excited about watching not just advertising, or fake advertising, but fake advertising in a video game. However, I know I'm not the only one, so I thought I would put the L.A. Noire advertising scene on display. I'm writing this perhaps in the hopes of having someone from Rockstar games read this and sign me up to develop the campaigns for the next update of this game. One can dream, can he not?

At first it seems like there are thousands of ads placed in the city, as you zip through L.A. solving crimes and shooting bad guys. Then, you realize that the same ads - maybe mirroring some of the worst parts of advertising - are simply repeated over and over again. But there are still enough pieces that were entered into the LA Advertising shows that year, so here's how they faired. (If I can't make these, I may as well be able to critique them.) Presented with tongue firmly pressed in cheek.

The Ad Awards of L.A. Noire.

MEDIA PLACEMENT. GOLD: Cola King.

The king advertiser in the game, on the basis of being the most prominent and having the most placements, easily goes to the aptly named Cola King. The ad features an illustrated suburban dad wearing a cheap crown and cape. (Most of the ads in the game are vintage illustrations, or more accurately, modern cgi versions of vintage illustration.) The type is set in what appears to be ATTimes bold italic or something close. The color palette stands in between Pepsi and Coke and comes off as more of a parody of RC Cola, which stands for Royal Crown. Appropriate I think. Like a lot of the other ads, the board includes a tagline, "The King of Cola." It's not great, but you see it everywhere. Not impressed? Players had a 100% recall on this campaign. How did your latest do, hotshot?

 

MEDIA PLACEMENT. SILVER: First-Prize Condiment Co.

The second most prominent advertiser in 1947, fictional Los Angeles is the First-Prize Condiment Company, "The Tastiest Sauces in Town!". Apparently, First-Prize makes a wide-array of sauces from Tomato relish, ketchup and mustard to steak sauce. What sets them apart from the other fade advertisers in the game is they actually run a bunch of different ad variations featuring single bottles of each variety and two different boards featuring their whole lineup.

It's impossible to drive around and not see their boards. I do think they might have trouble with some of the product claims, but kudos to the agency team for producing multiple layouts. (And that great line, "Number one for Mmmmmustard!"

 

AMBIENT. GOLD: EV-R-Mint Bubble Gum.

EV-R-Mint Bubble gum seems to have put a lot of money behind their recent product launch. You'll see this Rockwellian scene on outdoor boards, bus benches (another big favorite in the game), and on the sides of buildings. I do like teasing the warm weather residents with this Vermont snow background and frozen breath design, even if the concept is pretty shallow and tagline really nothing more than a written-out strategy. MINT being the important part, but who doesn't like cool and refreshed breath?

So, you're asking yourself how did they win best ambient? Well, what the video game doesn't show is their creative bus-shelter extensions, where the bus stops were converted into air-conditioned, Vermont log-homes to complete the winter experience of the campaign. They probably just haven't uploaded it to Ads of The World yet.

 

IDENTITY DESIGN. GOLD: Alaco Gas & Oil, Corp.

Another advertiser that you can't miss, partly because of their outdoor spend in '47 and because of their ubiquitous brick-and-mortar outlets, is Alaco - your friendly neighborhood virtual big oil company. Alaco's boards have everything. Bold colors. Friendly attendant. Super anarchy-like identity. And an underlined tagline, "At Your Service!" Clearly this comes from an agency that was ahead of it's time, given all the underlining going on in today's taglines. You know an agency really means it when they take the time to underline it. Powerful stuff. I mean, powerful stuff.

 

IDENTITY DESIGN. SILVER: Spenser's Delicious and Creamy Root Beer.

Like a lot of the ads in this game, they get right to the point. You want some root beer? Well, here you go. And bonus points for the power tie, root beer guy. But this add pulls the medal for their cute little Spenser guy in a top hat, who appears to be eyeing the cold frosty glass with more than a little animosity. That's not in the spirit of the "Cheerful Beverage" now, is it?

 

BEST AD UNDER $5,000: Capt. Saltee Potato Chips.

A small-time advertiser that gets my vote for one of the better creative solutions, is Capt'n Saltee Potato Chips. The captain illustration is great, though I'm not sure if he is smoking the potato chips in his pipe or if they are falling from the sky, but in any case it stands out. The tagline, "The Tastiest Chips on the High Seas!" is a direct rip-off of the First-Place sauce campaign, and I suspect will be the subject of some forthcoming litigation, perhaps by the Lawyers Law Practice, since they specialize is intellectual property. One more thing - that punctuation in their name can't be right, can it? I'm no style guide wizard, but I don't think so, so nice try Capt. They saved serious cash by using the Captain and CEO himself, Jehosaphat Alphons Saltee. What money they saved, they kept and put out this cheap board.

 

ART DIRECTION. GOLD: Crawlakill Insect Spray.

Now, here's my favorite ad in the whole game. I don't know if it's the bold red and black color scheme, the lightning bolt, the wonderful crawl - LA - kill name juggernaut, or the slightly Saul Bass-ish layout, but I do like it. I'd totally buy Crawlakill, even though I bet it has some nasty DDT in it. Hey, I'm okay using that on roaches and bedbugs. I bet this agency didn't have the same problems as some of the NYC shops have had recently. Not only does it kill insects and bugs, but it also kills critters. (Aren't critters like raccoons and opossums? Strong stuff indeed. And FAST!)

 

ART DIRECTION. SILVER: Professor Kleen Cleaning Products

Maybe the only product in the game I'd actually buy because of the advertising. Introducing Professor Kleen's line of cleansers. Check out the use of color and packaging design. I submit that this would actually sell on our shelves today, so there. The agency produced a lot of work for this account, outdoor, posters and print ads that were scattered throughout the city. They're also not shy about talking to their consumer, it's new and it's tops for housewives. There's that market research shining through boys.

 

VIRAL CAMPAIGN. Gold: BLA Airlines.

Another good one comes from the International Airline, Bla. Never has a creative idea been baked-into the product or service like Bla airlines. Bogusky would be proud. Seldom can an entire industry be summed up by one single outdoor piece, but this is it. I do hear speculation that this media buy has spurned industry competitors like, Bleh-Air and Meh Airlines to up their ad spend in '48, but that's just speculation at this point. There is something non-bla-like in the way the stewardess' skirt is twirling in the breeze, that seems a bit off-brand to me. Just a touch too optimistic if I were the CD on this account. Don't miss the award-winning Bla International Airlines viral video. It looked a little like this.

 

Honor of Recognition Because They Sponsor the Award Show. Platinum: The L.A. Inquisitor.

If there was one agency and client I'd like to go back in time to help out it would be those associated with the LA Inquisitor. Not only is their creative mediocre, but also their business plan. I'd get them started on their website offering and pay-wall subscriptions. Give them a leg-up on the competition. Looking at their outdoor board, however, I don't think they are a visionary bunch. Today's news just won't cut it in the 2000's, I'd tell them. Nor will the typeface Onyx. Or whatever it is. And using your building as some kind of phallic statement of your prowess isn't necessary. Just the facts, people.

 

Innovative Media. Gold: Denta-Kleen.

Now here's a company that should fire their media reps, because all of their placements are of the neck-straining, out of the way, hard to see variety. Clearly this product deserves Cola-King quality placements, perhaps a billboard spectacular off of Santa Monica Boulevard? Anyone? I mean, the board doubles as a PSA for brushing one's teeth (Always before bedtime, kids.) And if the cute bobbed and ribbon-haired little girl wasn't enough for you, it does let you know that it's terrific. "It's Terrific!"  I do think we have a decent designer behind this piece - check out the golden sphere and black star graphic combo here. Way ahead of it's time. But that ad won for it's innovative use of media - at night the little girls teeth glowed white.

UPDATE: Sadly this ad was pulled before award show date, for skirting child advertising laws. Apparently, little sally had to pose for 8 hours straight to get her teeth-brushing portrait made. Not cool, agency folks. Not cool.

 

BEST AD IN A TERRIBLE CATEGORY. BRONZE. Elysian Develoopment.

Now, don't look at this next ad unless you want to have dreams of orange trees and California sunshine. Residential developer, Elysian, brings it with either an architect or new home buyer carrying plans for his California dream in his hands, along with an 'original' headline. "Building a Better California." And I believe them, too. Check out that quality ranch-style home and .125 acre chunk of earthquake susceptible, So-Cal land on which it sits. Peering through a smoggy sunset, I even think I see a little shed in front of some type of agricultural planting in the backyard. They are heralding the next gold rush, folks. Get yours while the gettins good. Should be noted this creative also won The Greater L.A. Metropolitan Area 3rd District Realtors Ad of the Month, last month. Kudos.

 

BEST TYPOGRAPHY. GOLD: Valor Tobacco.

At first glance, there's not much to see here. Just a normal outdoor board for a cigarette company. But we give out awards for using a typeface in 1947 that was invented only 18 years earlier. That's a great choice and that's why Valor's agency took home the gold in the typography category. Well, for that and the gleaming recommendation from all the doctors out there.

 

BEST TYPOGRAPHY. SILVER: Delapore Pest Control.

Delapore's Rat-B-Gone rodent killer seems to mean business and cut right to the chase. Yeah, when we see rodents we want to see them belly up and stiff. And maybe amongst a lot of their droppings? The agency ties it all together with the look of horror on the good homemaker's face. And if there was still any question about the product's effectiveness, you are convinced with the claim of being "America's #1 Exterminator. Though I'm sure Crawlakill might claim otherwise, since they are pretty good against critters. Again, get the attorneys ready.

 

RETOUCHING. GOLD: Lemonella Soda Mfg. Ltd.

I really wish the agency behind the Lemonella boards focused more on that cool bottle design than the 'old country'. That was cliche even back in the '40s. But I do like the name and using the bottlecap as logo. The little grove of lemon trees, and the "Zing!" line just complete the sitting on your porch experience - maybe in your Elysian two-bedroom ranch home, if you're lucky. Can't believe you can have all that for 5 cents. The good ol' days for sure. I will say the yellow background makes these placements "pop" driving around L.A. So, there's that. (Oh, I just made an unintended pun. I'm keeping it in. Seems fitting.) 

Ironically pulled after we learned the hand was photoshopped to look smaller, so that the bottle would visually read larger. Apple would be proud.

 

COPYWRITING: GOLD. Burst Soda.

Check out that rhyme-scheme. Here's my submission for the wackiest ad in the game environment, Burst. I can tell you one thing right away, I'd never let my kids drink that stuff. First the personified fruit look more like balloons than actual fruit and there are not one, but two rhymes in there. Add the usual array of exclamation points and this creative becomes overwhelming. Probably like the sugary drink itself. No thank you.

 

PHOTOGRAPHY. GOLD: Inter-State Luxury Liners.

Now, here's an agency with chops. Perhaps no other ad in the game generates the visceral response that this ad produced. Contrasted with the somewhat bleak background of urban decay, this creative promised the joby of the open road to the residents of the city. Simply hop into your Inter-State Luxury Liner, and you can see America. If you can get past the construction for the Santa Monica Freeway. You might want to bring a few friends along, as it appears there's a lot of room, in this bus, er Liner.

 

ILLUSTRATION. GOLD: Stanley Brewing Teas.

Almost kicked out of the competition for putting long copy on an outdoor board, The Stanley Tea company wins for their 'cute' personifications of a happening teacup and a melancholy cup of Joe. You have a monocle. A bow tie. And a mustache. Clearly, they pulled no punches with this creative.

This award show was not without it's controversy. Just like the Dubai Lynx and Cannes Festivals are fraught with ads that are spec-produced, the L.A. Noire Awards have noticed a few entries that were plagiarized from other sources. All responsible agencies have been contacted and will be forbidden to enter any creative into next year's show. Shame on you.

Los Angeles Police Department Recruitment. Somehow, the agency ripped off an ad from a movie that wouldn't be released for another 50 years, L.A. Confidential. Go ahead and watch it. You'll see the same outdoor board as the one in the game, if you watch closely.

WPA-ripoffs.

There were a bunch of ads entered that were actually produced a few years earlier by the Works Progress Administration Federal One program. The most blatant entries are the posters seen below for Yellowstone and Pennsylvania. I hope all the agencies learned their lesson here. Plagiarism will not be tolerated.

On a serious note, I would love love love to work on a series of ads for a game like this. They could be funny, charming, interesting, and interactive - what creative wouldn't want the chance to do that? I'm formally throwing my name into that hat, should anyone give this article to EA or Rockstar or heck, even that Angry Birds outfit. 

Article originally appeared on Graphicology (http://www.graphicology.com/).
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