Thursday, January 31, 2013

Mad Bad Ad


I don't hate ads. I rather like a well-done ad, and I have sympathy for honest attempts that are nevertheless failures. It's difficult to get out your message in a short and eye-catching way that doesn't distract from your advertising goal.

What I do hate is full-blown, expensive ad campaigns by big companies using big ad firms that nonetheless result in stupid, self-defeating ads. Case in point: Verizon's campaign, currently adorning a ton of San Francisco subway stations and – I'm sad to say – probably other places, too.

The ads feature various statements over photos (that might or might not be stock photography; if they're not stock, they sure do look like the type of "office group, semi-casual" shot from the stock companies with which every editor and graphic designer is very familiar). At the bottom of the ad is the Verizon logo. Most of the statements are innocuous or at least mildly annoying (such as the one, partly visible in the image below, about mad scientists doing bad things and good scientists saving the world), but there's one that is completely ridiculous. It says "When you believe more, you sleep less."

Now, to quote our Battlestar Galactica friends, what the frack does that even mean? And, moreso, what the frickin' frack does that have to do with a telecommunications company? Is there some widespread backlash against the concept of sleep that is sweeping the nation but unknown to me? Are people afraid of Freddy Krueger? And how is believing related – in any way – to sleep of any sort? And what are those five people in the photo doing that is related to either believing (are they in some sort of party indoctrination session?) or sleeping (are they fortifying themselves with lots of caffeine because of some typically boneheaded corporate directive to avoid sleep)? If they'd tied it to dreaming, it might work: When you believe more, you dream more. Or, When you believe more, you sleep less but dream more.

Whatever. They're not paying me to come up with a working statement.

But even after going through the effort to correct their work on this terrible ad, we're still left with the question of how it relates to Verizon. (And the "Powerful answers" tagline below the statement does absolutely nothing to enlighten.) Does Verizon have a belief-based phone service? If you believe your iPhone 5 will give you the correct location for that restaurant, you will sleep less because you'll spend more time driving out of the swamp Apple Maps directed you to? Really? What was the thinking behind this ad? And why is sleep bad? Why is believing good? Any intelligent person is going to say that it matters what you believe in – actually, any intelligent person is going to say that it's more important what you know than what you believe, but I'm sure Verizon's challenged ad team didn't think it through that far.

Again, I don't hate ads. But Verizon has an advertising budget that most smaller companies can't match with their entire gross revenues. And they certainly didn't have this major ad campaign created by a high schooler who just wanted to try something quirky and new.

Advertising is very much like what we editors do every issue: There are no coincidences or unthought parts of a magazine cover. Everything that is there – from the image to the cropping to the state of the person's hair to the colors to the expression on their face to the direction of their stare to their gender to their age to the overlaid text and on and on – is there for a reason, and often the most important aspect is that certain things are not done because if you did them, people would focus on them and undercut whatever you were trying to communicate (which is, usually, "Buy this magazine").

I'm focusing on a bad entry in a weak ad campaign, and I have to occasionally remind myself what company is even being advertised. And then I'm confused all over again, because none of it makes sense.

So, I hate stupid ads. And this is certainly one of them.


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