Friday Sep 05, 2008

Spot the difference



I'll probably get struck by lightning for asking this, but, can you spot the difference in the acting style ?

Friday Aug 29, 2008

I touched a PC, and I liked it !



I was going to blog today in anticipation of the Microsoft Vista ad campaign starting next Thursday featuring Jerry Seinfeld. I was prepared to note the irony of hiring an eye wateringly expensive shill, whose show remains a icon of the 90s, for Windows, a product that is in danger of remaining...an eye wateringly expensive icon of the 90s.

At least Beverly Hills 90210 is attempting a comeback.

But no.

A rumor that HP is reinventing its corporate branding led me to notice its campaign for its line of Touchscreen PCs. Not that ATMs, kiosks, cash registers, phones (and soon car dashboards ?) aren't already on top of this game. But the HP Touchscreen PC is sleek, big, black, and, well, you may never go back. More importantly, its expensive. So I think the TV ads get it about right for something innovative, targeted at affluent people, or at least those who think they are.

But check out the Learning Videos. These are the product demos for Touchscreen PCs. If any of you have worked on a product and had to show it to an uninitiated crowd, you know that ads, marketing literature and 20 bullet point slideware aside, the demo is the single most important proof point to your audience of the value of your work. Its the elevator pitch, the turning point, the denouement, the inflexion point all in one pivotal moment. I remember feeling this most strongly having to demo a proof of concept website for online banking way back in early 1996 (the zenith of the Seinfeld era!) to a London bank's great and glorious. The demo included an animated Java applet that showed a credit card gracefully flipping over as the user logged in. Ot at least that's what it did 7 times out of 10. The other times it ungracefully hung the browser. Nailbiting times.

(By the way, even the worst behaved applets will no longer be able hang the browser, as I may have mentioned before.)

Great examples, for me, of online product demos include the iPhone product demos (simple and clear, though I do think the black turtleneck's best work as garment-symbolizing-cutting-edge is behind it now). Also Microsoft's excellent demo videos for its Surface technology (except for the moment at the end of the meal where the otherwise happy group of diners is able, using Surface Technology on the very table from which they ate, to split the bill down to the last penny (and in v2, beyond ?), based on exactly what each one ordered. Rather than, in my opinion, the more civilized non-technological approach of splitting the bill equally. Microsoft products could finally, I suppose, silence the age old cries of 'But I only had the soup !').

But back to HP and the TouchScreen PC demos.

Genre-wise, here, we are close to Home Shopping Network territory. The presenters are perky and fluid. The repartee, though inevitably forced at times, is continuous and engaging. But they battle with a panoply of low production values. No industrial or minimalist backdrops here, presenters and TouchScreen PC alike battle unsuccessfully for visual spectrum with a 50s diner cum aquarium backdrop themed with a range of shades of the new (?) corporate blue and an inexplicable red, both jacked up to persiprational levels of hue. Two cameras ought to be enough to allow the viewer to engage honestly with both the product and the presenter. This would require eye contact with the presenters and a clear shot of the product for a large proportion of the time. But sadly we get neither. Instead we cut away too quickly from the product only to find ourselves watching the speaker talking to the other camera. This kind of style can work in addition to traditional full frontal face shots in order to create a more rounded, dimensional view of the speaker. But here the salespeople are never allowed quite to meet your eye. I add to my litany of complaints patchy sound quality and the total is an exposition that, rather than let it shine, just gets in the way of the product. The worst crime in the book, as all of us who have ever had to do a demo know.

Demo presentations in need of much more than a touch up.


Thursday Aug 14, 2008

No Mojo Mojave



I'm wondering who's hiring the ad agencies up in Redmond these days.

Hot on the heels of the 'No-one wants to look dumb' campaign for MSN, the Mojave Experiment is squarely from the Pepsi/Coke taste test school of thought. You know, showing people like you and me reacting to the product, that kind of thing. This time, with the additional blindfold that the people testing Vista don't know that it is Vista, just that it is the next version of Microsoft's OS.

For the insomniacs amongst us, the underpinning of the campaign is of late night informercial genre - you know, the parade of unpaid customers of the product each of whom has some unique way in which the product for sale has touched their lives in a profound and meaningful way. You don't really believe that they are being truthful, but somehow you can't look away. Each echoing the same key messages of the previous one, like a rat caught in a wheel.

A blind test of an OS does not lend itself to before and after photos. Nor apparently in this campaign, of ever showing a single pixel of Vista in action. Instead, in the Mojave Experiment, the exposition is in the reality TV style, the reality being the reaction of ordinary people to it. Except that, as most reality TV shows, the reality is selectively edited. Of the claim of 22 hidden cameras (why hidden ? why 22?), only one or two ever appear to be in use. Worse, the captured reactions are mostly of the subject watching the screen while the off camera interviewer drives the demo. The subjects never touch the computer. They never have to figure out why their wireless connection isn't working, or where they saved their Word document, or whether they can trust a download that magically popped up in their face while they were reading PerezHilton.com.

You obviously never see them doing this.

The goal of this campaign is I suppose to show that Vista is surprisingly good. But it just acknowledges that, whether right or wrong, many people think its surprisingly bad.

Almost as surprisingly bad as the choice of campaign.


Tuesday Mar 25, 2008

No-one wants to look dumb



Do you like drinks that taste like Pschitt ? Or is your car a Charade ? If so, you may be in the cross hairs target of the new MSN ad campaign.

My first experience of what appears to be the latest in a noble history of brand eroding, unintentionally image-savaging product advertising faux pas happened while I was driving to work on highway 101. I passed a billboard that suggested to me that MSN search could be Sherlock to my Watson.

Recalling Nigel Bruce's charming yet bumbling portrayal of Dr Watson, and the irritatingly pedantic Sherlock Holmes played by Basil Rathbone, I realised something evil was afoot for me with the underlying messaging. Bumbling I have no desire to be, still less the sidekick of a pedant; I wondered why I felt as uncomfortable as if someone I didn't know had just asked to be my friend on facebook.

You'd think playing a poor third in a lucrative search advertising market that can average 5c per search is place which requires you do kick it up a notch or two, so when I got home I made the uncomfortable discovery that what I had experienced was just a small part of a whole family of advertisments based around the concept that using MSN will make me clever.

Problem with the brand building proposition here is the tagline: 'No-one wants to look dumb'. Which may speak to those people who will engage deeply with a brand that suggests they are a) stupid and b) ashamed of it, but to me ? Not so much.

Perhaps MSN hopes to establish a newfound success by embracing those in our world with low self-esteem (and target them with products they might enjoy), and whose highest aspirations are to be informed by a vast corporation not to wear frostwash jeans on a first date.

Some ad campaigns start with the right concept, but have unintented consequences because of poor execution.

I can't even be that kind about this one: MSN wants to make me clever, but its ads are making me smart.



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