Posts Tagged: ken segall

Feb 12

2012 Ad Bowl: more of the same

Looks like Super Bowl advertising has officially settled into a pattern. Though we cling to this romantic notion that the night will be filled with amazing ads, the reality is that we usually get a couple of good ones and a bunch of forgettable ones.

But before I get into the ads themselves, I’d like to lodge a complaint. Part of the fun of watching the Super Bowl ads used to be that it was a night of surprises — on the field and in the ads. This year, a ton of the ads were released days earlier. I count 28 that I saw before the Super Bowl.

Message to whoever is responsible: cut it out. You’re seriously letting the air out of the balloon before the party starts. Thanks.

So on with the reviews. As I’ve done in the past, I’ll just call out the ads that struck me as comment-worthy. Don’t be offended if I didn’t choose the one that you loved most. I’m flawed that way.

Toyota Camry: It’s Reinvented. Had its moments, but felt like it was trying very hard to be funny. When a 60-second spot feels longer than 60 seconds, that’s not a good sign. (The 2001 soundtrack made it feel longer too.)

Pepsi: King’s Court. This one has everything you could ask for in a Super Bowl spot: major celebrity (Elton John), big production values and some neat effects. Kind of fun — but due to the formula, managed to feel a bit old-school.

Chevy Silverado Apocalypse. With its grand scale, well-done effects, dark humor and a message delivered with absolute clarity, this was my favorite spot of the night. Love the idea of having the Chevy truck survive a convergence of disasters (Mayan prediction, giant robot, flying saucer and meteor), and putting it all against the hopeful “looks like we made it” soundtrack. And I don’t think I’ve ever heard a competitive line delivered in quite the same spirit as “Dave drove a Ford.” The offer of a Twinkie immediately afterward beautifully minimizes the man’s demise.

Chrysler Halftime. Last year, Chrysler created a magnificent two-minute ode to Detroit featuring native son Eminem. It really moved me, and I thought it was best-in-show. This time, Chrysler talks about the whole country, using Detroit as an example, and Clint Eastwood tells the story. I have a feeling I’ll be in the minority on this one, but I didn’t love it. The spot starts like a political ad, painting our current state in a very negative light. “We’re all scared because this isn’t a game,” says Clint. (Actually, I’m concerned but not scared.) Somber organ music throughout adds another level of doom. Creatively, I was turned off by the shadowy narrator at the start. That only tells me there will be a surprising reveal at the end. It would have been more surprising — and less tricky — if we simply heard Clint’s voice throughout and then saw him at the end. Last year’s spot was a wonderful tribute to a city in dire need of a positive image. It was effective because it was so authentic. That authenticity isn’t there this time. Maybe it’s because Chrysler is borrowing Clint’s tough-guy image, maybe it’s because the spot is speaking for a whole country and not the city. All that said, I do appreciate Chrysler’s willingness to spend this kind of money to say something important while its competitors are running more conventional spots on the game.

Acura NSX with Seinfeld: It’s coming. Good to see Seinfeld on his game again. Ending the spot by bringing in Leno as his nemesis was a nice touch, but only if you’re aware that both men are avid car collectors — which I was not. I suspect this one will be rated highly by many.

GoDaddy Body Painting. Never failing to disappoint, GoDaddy goes as low-brow as you can get. Please don’t remind me how successful they’ve been with these ads over the years. It  makes me fear for the future of mankind.

Teleflora Adriana Lima. Like GoDaddy, Teleflora goes the sexual innuendo route. But at least they give it two things GoDaddy does not: a coy sense of humor and good production values.

Kia Dream Car. Good one. Lots of effects, but well done. Fresh creative idea in the notion that even the Sandman can screw up — he drops an overdose of sand on a sleeping man, which triggers a testosterone-laced dream sequence. Kia has done a good job of creating a personality, considering where they started not too many years ago.

Cadillac Green Hell. Boring. If their goal was to outdo the BMW 3-Series as they say, they probably shouldn’t have used a bunch of driving footage that looks like a tired BMW ad.

Hyundai Think Fast. Some ads start with a great concept. Others start with a funny punch line and work backward from there — like this one. The whole ad exists to pay off the last line: “It’ll get your pulse going.” Funny, but in a superficial kind of way.

Century 21. Smarter. Bolder. Faster. And stupider. I’m sorry, but it’s very hard for me to enjoy an ad that features Donald Trump — especially when his joke is so weak.

H&M: David Beckham Bodywear. Let’s put it this way: I’m not even remotely tempted to buy any new underwear today. Though I’m thinking seriously about the tattoos.

Bridgestone Performance. Give them credit for finding a way to make tire commercials not feel like typical tire commercials. They ended up with more of a “heh heh” than a “ha ha,” but I imagine they’re dancing in the aisles at Bridgestone today.

Honda CRV: Get Going. Another celebrity spot, this one featuring Matthew Broderick doing a takeoff on his classic Ferris Bueller. One problem with reprising a 25-year old role is that the star looks 25 years older. This ad probably felt much funnier back at the agency than it turned out on TV.

E-Trade Fatherhood. Am I a bad person if I’m sick to death of talking babies?

MetLife Everyone. Here’s an idea — bring together a whole bunch of cartoon characters that never appeared together before. Oh wait. Didn’t Roger Rabbit do that 24 years ago? That aside, this spot should have been far more charming than it was.

Audi Vampire Party. I liked this one a lot. Great solution from the creative team. The new LED headlights are as good as daylight, so how do they demonstrate that? Well, daylight kills vampires, right? And vampires are a pretty good trend to tap into. Favorite moment: the clueless vampire who tries to get in a “hello” wave before he’s turned to ash.

Coca-Cola Polar Bears. Now I’m just getting cranky. Please add Coke’s polar bear commercials to the list of things I’m sick of. They were terrifically charming when they started out many years ago, but these spots just weren’t very appealing. The Catch was the only one that seemed at all interesting. Time to freshen up your Super Bowl presence, Coke.

Hulu with Will Arnett. Hulu has a cool product, and they’ve been doing some smart and fun advertising. I like Will Arnett. Made me laugh.

Droid Razr. To be honest, this is a spot I would have left out of this article, but some are making a big deal of the product so I feel bad ignoring it. If the RAZR is really that cool, it deserved a more interesting ad. A robotic assembly line, spraying colors onto the RAZRs? Pretty lame.

Hyundai Rocky. When a frustrated Hyndai employee indicates he can’t solve a problem, the entire facility breaks out in an a cappella version of the Rocky theme. I thought it was one of the most awful and embarrassing spots of the night. I can only imagine how they felt when they were filming it.

Hyundai Cougar. Marginally better.

M&M Chocolate. M&M characters meet The Full Monty. Never imagined it would happen, but there it is. Got some laughs in my house.

Best Buy Innovators. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever liked a Best Buy ad before, but I do like this one. Offering a tribute to people who have changed the world is a nice way to put your own values on display (like Apple did with Think different).

Doritos. Doritos has established itself as a reliable laugh-getter, and did well with Sling Baby and Man’s Best Friend. Just keep in mind that squeezing comedy out of a tortilla chip is a bit easier than some of the other products on the game last night.

Camry 7 Million Stories. A few one liners from people talking about their Camry. Then “There are 7 million Camry stories out there. Tell us yours.” Another spot that feels about 20 years too late in idea and execution.

The Voice promofeaturing Betty White. I was wondering if we were going to get through the night without an ad that used Betty White. Nope.

Ford, with Derek Jeter. I’m a much bigger baseball fan than football fan. Still, I couldn’t help but feel like Jeter was crashing the party here. One of the spots featured a bunch of video clips of him playing baseball too. It’s like asking me to watch basketball clips during a baseball game.

Samsung: Galaxy Tablet. Apparently they made enough of a splash with their first Apple-mocking ad that they spent the big bucks to do it again here. Fine with me. Two things, however, made me gag. First is Samsung presenting a stylus as a “feature.” Second is the big concluding line: “The next big thing is already here. Again.” Huh? I guess I missed the last next big thing, because as far as I can tell, nobody has yet put a dent in iPad’s stranglehold on the category. We may have to wait for the next next big thing.

There’s another honorable mention here, but it’s an ad that apparently only ran in the Canadian broadcast. Take a look at Budweiser Canada Flash Fans when you can. It’s a fun, feel-good kind of spot — an interesting idea executed well.

Now, on to the Oscars…

Feb 12

Where have Apple’s headlines gone?

Driving around LA with colleagues recently, we were greeted by iPad billboards just about everywhere we went. All shared the same clever headline: “iPad 2.”

That got my merry band wondering: when was the last time an Apple billboard or poster actually had a headline. (At least a smart headline in the Apple tradition.)

Before the “iPad 2” headline, the headline was “iPad.” The old iPod “silhouette” billboards had headlines that seemed like novels in comparison — they said “iPod + iTunes.”

I don’t mean this as an indictment. It’s simply an observation. In fact, if I were so disposed, I could rationalize both ways of thinking.

Say no to headlines!
Apple makes things simple. What could be simpler than a beautiful image and a product name? Brevity is its own form of cleverness, and a minimal number of words makes Apple stand out even more from its complicated competitors. Apple has transcended the need to explain things. If you really want more words, there are plenty of them at

You’re blowing a major opportunity — repeatedly.
Steve Jobs himself once told me that every single ad is an opportunity to build the brand. Every time you fail to do that, it’s an opportunity lost. Now Apple is missing what its smart headlines used to add, and therefore not connecting at the same level. Those headlines are what originally gave Apple its public personality — they put Apple in a class by itself. Is it too much to ask for a few clever words?

So what gives? Has Apple lost the ability to craft a good headline? Or does it truly believe that an image and a product name is the ultimate act of advertising minimalism, and therefore a perfect representation of the Apple brand?

One argument against the latter is that the most recent images Apple has given us don’t exactly come from the adrenaline-pumping school of photography. The current iPad 2 billboard (above), in which we see a side view of Mr. Fingers picking up an iPad, is about as sleepy as it gets.

So what do you think?

Personally, I miss the little smile that used to come with seeing a great Apple ad. I get that the products are cool-looking, and the visual reminder is helpful. But those three or four words that made you think, “Damn, those guys are good” really did add another dimension to the ads.

Clearly Steve Jobs came to believe that the headlines were no longer necessary. It will be interesting to see how Apple’s creative work evolves now that others have full responsibility.

Jan 12

Ron Johnson tries the Apple magic at JCP

When Ron Johnson left Apple several months ago, there was an audible gasp from the Apple community.

After all, Ron was one of Steve Jobs’s most important hires — the man who created the Apple Stores from scratch and led their amazing growth. It’s not like that was his first gig, either. Before that, Ron was the guy who gave Target its cool.

So it was a big blow to Apple when Ron left after 11 stellar years. And it was a big wow for JCPenney when Ron signed on as their new CEO.

For many, Ron’s move was a disconnect. Why would someone jump from the world’s coolest retail store to a stodgy department store chain?

Well, you’re about to find out. Today is the day that Ron, after less than three months on the job, unveils his plans to turn JCPenney into … well, I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.

Ron’s big day starts out with a two-page ad in major papers (above). This is his Think different moment, where he puts forth the philosophy that will guide JCPenney under his leadership.

The details will be revealed during a series of presentations today in New York. But from firsthand experience, I can testify that when Ron talks about what makes a great shopping experience, you start believing.

Either a bit of that old distortion field rubbed off on him, or he really is a retail genius. I’m thinking the latter.

If it sounds like I’m a Ron fan, you’re absolutely right. Ron is a genuinely good guy with serious smarts and a ton of energy. I didn’t want to taint this story up front, but I’ve been sneaking about in the background helping Ron’s team — starting with today’s “In praise of fresh air” ad. (Design credit goes to Michael Rylander, who, by the way, runs a really cool design-centric blog.)

So now, after I’ve critiqued many other people’s ads here, I am ready to be judged. Just try to keep it civil, okay?

Jan 12

DirecTV: firing laser shots at cable

Every so often, someone steps up and demonstrates one of the more amazing things about advertising: you don’t have to say a lot to say a lot.

While many companies stuff their ads with reasons to choose their products (the “more is more” school of thought), DirecTV goes a simpler route. They take one idea and turn it into something people will watch. And pass around. And talk about.

The above ad is part of DirecTV’s latest effort to woo customers from the cable companies. As far as I can tell, it’s one of three ads in this campaign. Each ad starts with one simple reason why cable companies are bad, then creates an absurd cascade of events that “logically” follow, leading to the ultimate disastrous result — which, of course, you can avoid if you simply upgrade to DirecTV.

This makes each ad about 90% fun and 10% message. But the wise know that this is a perfectly acceptable ratio — as long as the 90% serves to help viewers better remember the 10%.

The truth is, we already know how the cable companies work, and the general feeling is not positive. They’re all lumped together in the public mind. We don’t need a whole lot of additional information. DirecTV’s campaign exists simply to let us know there’s a more-than-viable alternative.

With three commercials, the entire campaign says only three things about DirecTV: it’s cheaper than cable, it won’t put you on hold like the cable companies, and it will give you a more reliable signal. Pretty smart.

That being said, DirecTV has a pretty big hill to climb. I’d be curious to know how successful this effort is.

See the other two ads here and here.

(Kudos to the creative team at Grey Advertising.)

Jan 12

Apple’s predictable unpredictability

First of all, welcome to 2012. Okay, so I’m a little behind the rest of the world, but I finally made it.

The new year actually makes a perfect topic for Week 1. As you probably noticed, this week we got a mini-flood of articles about what we can expect from Apple in 2012: iPad 3, iPhone 5, Apple TV, slim MacBook Pro. To which most of us would say:


Of course that’s what’s coming. It’s hardly news. I’ll tell ya, secrecy just isn’t what it used to be.

Though Apple continues to be thought of as one of the most secretive companies on earth, the truth is, they’ve lost the ability to surprise us like they did in the good old days.

The products are still amazing. The announcement events are fun. We still get surprised by the details as they are unveiled. It’s just that we know in advance what the products will be.

It wasn’t always this way. When Steve returned to Apple in 1997, secrets were secrets. His onstage announcements were real surprises (for the most part). The look of iMac was a shock. You had no idea that Apple was going to enter the consumer electronics market with iPod. You weren’t sure which Apple technology would be the focus of each event.

Breaches of secrecy were a scandal. Several days before the introduction of the first multicolored iMacs, the official family photo of all five models escaped from a printing facility in Germany, where a version of the multipage insert was being printed. It took the steam out of Steve’s big announcement — which was a crime punishable by death. (Or something close to it.)

As Apple has grown, and more people are exposed to the deep, dark secrets at various stages of product development, that kind of secrecy doesn’t exist anymore.

People were talking about iPhone — and calling it by name — months before it appeared. The name iPad was a surprise, but the device wasn’t — it was also widely expected months before, and its features accurately predicted.

This isn’t a terrible thing. It’s just a different thing. The new “iTV” (or whatever it will be called) will get the same attention this year. There will be buzz for months ahead, because Apple shaking up a new category is a great story. Journalists will hang on every word at the announcement event, even if many of the details become known before.

The only difference between now and then is that we know it’s coming. At least in the broad strokes.

I do find myself wondering about one thing this year. What’s next for Mac Pro? While it has grown in power, no product in Apple history has gone this long without a major overhaul. Mac Pro can now be officially classified as a “workhorse.” We’ve come to expect internal improvements only, but no major conceptual rethinking.

Will Apple demonstrate a new commitment to the pro market? Or will Mac Pro get upgraded the way Final Cut Pro did? Does Apple still love the high-end pros, or is it really just focusing on different levels of consumer now?

While it may be easier to predict Apple’s hardware these days, predicting its intentions is a different matter.

Happy 2012.

Dec 11

Break time — happy holidays to all!

It gets so festive at the Observatory this time of year, it’s hard to see past the ribbons and wreaths.

But I know a good opportunity when I see one. I’m shutting the joint down for a couple of weeks and headed someplace warm.

Be back around January 5th.

I wish you all a happy holiday break and a fantastic new year.


Dec 11

Quicken: stuck in a timehole

Quicken's letter to Mac users — click to enlarge

It takes world-class talent to screw up a relationship as well as Intuit has done with its Mac-based customers. It’s a feat that’s taken over ten years to accomplish.

Intuit has just announced that Quicken, the personal finance manager, is coming back as a Mac product — an act of extraordinary nerve, considering the history of this product.

Quicken was never exactly a star performer on the Mac. From its debut eons ago, it played second fiddle to the PC version. Every year, there would be promises that its features would catch up, but every year it remained significantly behind. But at least they were coming out with an update every year.

Quicken for Mac 2007 was the most recent version, and that was released in 2006. To say it had become long-in-the-tooth would be a serious understatement.

Intuit’s paper-thin commitment to Mac users sputtered to pure nothingness back in July when Lion appeared. Having required Mac OS X’s Rosetta feature to run all these years — because Intuit couldn’t be bothered to turn Quicken for Mac into a real Intel-based app  — it literally became a non-option for anyone who wanted to enjoy the benefits of Lion.

Thus, the mass exodus of those Quicken for Mac users who remained after all those years of previous neglect.

The only option remaining for the Mac people was to switch to Quicken Essentials, which strips away even more features from Quicken than Quicken for Mac ever stripped away from the PC version. The reviews of Quicken Essentials have been consistently negative.

But now Intuit is back. The last known users of Quicken for Mac are receiving the letter above — pretty stunning even by Intuit standards.

Proudly, they tell us that Quicken for Mac isn’t dead after all. If all goes according to plan, sometime around spring 2012, we’ll be able to run Quicken 2007.

The only people who would find solace in this are those diehard Quicken for Mac users who made the decision not to upgrade to Lion just so they could keep using their old Quicken. (Users of Essentials will also be able to move back to the full version.)

One would think they’d at least throw in a few new features and call it Quicken for Mac 2012. It’s just hard to imagine what kind of marketing brains are behind this operation.

Making it all the more inexplicable is that Bill Campbell is the current chairman of Intuit and former CEO, a current and long-time member of the Apple board of directors, and was extremely close to Steve Jobs.

Lest we forget, back in the late 90s, Intuit sent out a different letter to its Mac base — to inform them that the company was pulling out of the Mac market. Quicken for Mac would be no more. I remember how disappointed I was as a user of that product. There was a little firestorm over that move, and a short time later Intuit announced that due to the response, they would scrap their plans to scrap the product.

Unfortunately, they didn’t even bother to send a follow-up email to those who had received the “we’re outta here” email.

At that time, I was working with Apple and told this sad story to Steve Jobs himself one night. Steve was surprised to hear that they’d never sent a follow-up email and agreed that it was a boneheaded marketing move. He told me that he’d talk to Bill Campbell about it. I have no idea if he ever did — but I never received another email from Intuit. I wonder how many customers they lost by that move alone.

Of course, as things turned out, Intuit didn’t exactly stick with us anyway. They stopped caring about the Mac users again back in 2006.

The good news is, now they’re coming back. At some nebulous time in the future. With a product frozen in its 2007 state — which was already a few years behind its time.

But at least this time we got an email.

Dec 11

Santa gets his Siri on

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. A holiday commercial from Apple. It’s a heartwarming time of year.

While the Mac vs. PC animated holiday ads always added a unique twist to that campaign, these days Apple has to dig a little deeper.

Fortunately they have Siri to play with, and it makes for a cheerful, happy holiday spot.

Love the voice they’ve given Santa (even if his little laugh doesn’t seem to be quite in sync with his cookie-chewing mouth). And the end joke is as charming as they get —  very much in the spirit of the humor Siri normally displays.

The only thing I wondered about was the timing. Running a holiday spot one week before the holiday seemed like it was cutting things a bit close. Seems like Santa could have enjoyed at least a two-week run, maybe more.

But then I noticed that in three years of Mac vs. PC holiday spots, they debuted on the 19th, 13th and 16th of December. So either the guys have been consistently late in the production department, or this is the way Apple likes to roll.

And the truth is, the short run makes these spots feel even more special, so it’s all good. And I’ll bet more than a few last-minute shoppers start seeing visions of iPad dancing in their heads.

Dec 11

Apple’s guaranteed revolution

As Apple has well proven, revolutions have a cumulative effect.

The success of iPod created all that anticipation for iPhone, which caused even more hype for iPad, which will now start generating ultra-hype for… iTV. (Let’s not worry our little heads about what Apple will really name it given the iTV network in the U.K.)

But the point of this post isn’t that iTV is going to break the pre-launch buzz records, it’s that iTV will have a very tough time failing.

First, there’s the Need Factor.

iPod and iTunes were needed. Buying and enjoying music was a mess and no one else was stepping up to the plate.

iPhone was needed. It entered a market filled with villains and devices that were as complicated as they were ugly. We couldn’t wait for Apple to save us.

iPad was a glorious revolution, but we weren’t sure if we needed it. Indeed, some of the lukewarm response to iPad’s launch came from people who just didn’t get why it was a big deal — until they finally got their hands on one.

iTV is needed. Wow, is it needed. Like iPhone, it will enter a market where the choices are confusing, and the current batch of TV makers and retailers are their own worst enemies.

I know, because I just finished a few weeks of living the adventure. I would have waited for iTV, except my now-dead TV didn’t leave me that option. So I dived into the process.

I really don’t know how normal people can shop for a TV intelligently. It’s utterly impossible to compare models. The names are indecipherable, and the models you see at Best Buy might not even be on the manufacturer’s site. (Seems there are a number of retailer-exclusive models, like there are in the smartphone world.) And good luck figuring out what some of the features even mean. Buying a TV requires some serious study if you’ve been out of the market for a few years.

Don’t shoot me, but I ended up with a big Samsung “Smart TV.” Only problem was, it wasn’t nearly as smart as I expected it to be. Either that, or I wasn’t nearly as smart as it required me to be.

The setup screens were cluttered. After several false starts, my wireless network finally showed up, but then it offered me four different flavors of WEP security options. I hadn’t a clue which one applied to me, so it was trial and error until I found one that worked. Other issues kept cropping up until I finally got it working right. Overall: tedious and annoying.

It’s hard to imagine an experience more ripe for Apple-ization. I haven’t a clue how iTV will work, but it doesn’t take a whole lot of brain power to figure it will offer:

1. A simplified TV shopping experience. Maybe one or two screen sizes and just a few configuration options.
2. A simplified setup experience. Plug in, see network, connect.
3. A simplified control experience. Thank you Siri, via iPhone or iPad.
4. A simplified content experience. A way to break free from the cable companies’ predefined packaging.

No matter how I imagine iTV, it’s hard to imagine it not being a full-scale revolution, possibly Apple’s biggest yet — simply because the need is so obvious and there are multiple TVs in just about every home.

And I may have a good deal for you next summer on a used Samsung.