Sometimes the industry in which you work can really trouble you. Advertising might do this more than most, though I'd argue that only 10% of any craft or business is exceptional, maybe even less than that. It's just simple mathematics that the other 90-95% shines a mediocre (or bad) light on everyone else, even the folks trying to do things right.
Increasingly, advertising is borrowing from stuff found on the Internet. This isn't necessarily new or troubling in itself, as advertising has always co-opted current events or the zeitgeist to connect with the public and in some way share something about their product. However, I would argue that this borrowing is becoming increasingly blatant. At times with good results, where the advertising actually adds something to the on-going conversation surrounding the 'viral' or meme work. Oftentimes, however the results are absolutely terrible and I think the bad results are starting to outnumber the good. Or maybe I just got up on the wrong side of 2012. I'm not sure, which.
Now, this example I'm going to show below isn't the worst offender, by any stretch, but it does illustrate something that is actually kind of embarrassing for the rest of us that work in this business. You start with something funny, artistic, and relevant to what's going on in the world... and spend thousands (probably a few hundred thousand) to turn it into crap. I hate using that word, but it's entirely accurate. I feel like I have to explain to my friends, that no, advertising isn't always this easy or bad, after seeing this series of spots run over the holidays. I know there are a million ways an ad campaign goes bad, but if you are going to take something created by someone else, and use it for your own purposes, it should at least be as good as the original. That's the starting point. Anything below that is failure.
It was in mid-2011 that Fog and Smog, a rapping duo from LA and SF respectively, dropped "Whole Foods Parking Lot" on the world. It had great production value, and even though it featured suburban-looking white dudes rapping (a least favorite thing I would be hard pressed to find); it was pretty good. Good partly because it was self-aware and self-referential to all the bad, white rapping viral videos out there, but also because it struck a chord with people who have found themselves in a Whole Foods parking lot, or jamming into an aisle at Trader Joe's. The parking lot in the video, I actually have been to, and it does in fact 'get real' there. Maybe the toughest parking search ever, and inside is ridiculous. (The corner of Rose and Lincoln in Venice, btw.)
Just in case you were stuck under a boulder:
So, even though not entirely an original setup — it speaks about a truth. A small first-world truth, but that's what makes it funny. Fast forward to the recent Holiday Car Ad Extravaganza Season, and Hyundai (and the agency presumably) pay Fog & Smog to star in their car ads. Up to this point there is no problem here, really. Except for maybe the fact that the original spot featured quite predominantly a competitor's car, the Toyota Prius. Toyota using these guys would have made much more sense and quite honestly, they dropped the ball by not doing so. Even Whole Foods, to show that they have a sense of humor, could have done something with it. But I'm okay with the rappers, a term I'm using loosely here lest I lose any credibility in my neighborhood, taking the opportunity to cash-in on something they did originally to gain some kind of exposure in the first place. I don't consider it selling out, if you never really stood for the opposite. They deserved being picked up by somebody based on what they did. It's solid. And I would have loved to work with them, as they seem like a cool bunch of folks.
But this is what Hyundai turned it into:
And the follow-up spot:
Now, one could blame the artists themselves, but once they are paid to do a job, the responsibility of quality moves to the buyer, and that's the agency and client. These spots are so forced and so awkward to watch that like I said, it truly is embarrassing. And one can't help but compare the spots to the original reference, which is vastly superior. I don't think that the duo would admit it, but this second round is so bad, it makes them look less talented. (They feature the spots on their site, which I understand.) What's worse, is that if you had never seen the original, and I'm guessing a large swath of middle America probably hasn't, the spots just come off even worse; a car company (and agency) desperately trying to be cool and doing the exact opposite in the process.
What's worse still is just about the time that these spots aired, the duo released another music video (I guess it's a music video) called, Yoga Girl. And although it's not quite as good as Whole Foods, it certainly has its moments lyrically and visually.
Fog & Smog's Yoga Girl:
I think agencies need to be quick and ready to respond to something the gains traction online, particularly if it involves any of their clients' businesses, or is just so interesting that it provides an opportunity to do something even better creatively. This post is a word of caution however, that you had better do something good with it, or risk losing your Madison Avenue cred. I believe the industry is filled with some of the most talented, interesting and creative people and the work should reflect that, even with increased (amateur?) competition for people's attention.
I believe the agency of record (unless I'm wrong and that is entirely possible as such things are tough to keep track of these days) is Innocean Worldwide based in Huntington Beach, CA. Hyundai dropped Goodby a year or two back.
There are so many ways this could have been good. I actually wanted it to be good, but realized quickly that was not to be. And with more and more of our creative content being produced and distributed online, I'm afraid this is going to be the case with more and more advertising responses as well. This is the sound of me sighing. *Sigh*
I know there are a bunch more recent examples of this, a few of them good, so I'll add more as time goes by. Stay tuned.