Marginalia: On Three Little Pigs and Video Ads

[Cannes Lions Award-Winning “Three Little Pigs advert” (by TheGuardian)]

I’m not a huge fan of video ads except when they’re done so well that they’re almost like mini-movies in how they tell stories. This year’s winner of a Cannes Lions Award as well as the Clio Grand Award for film ads is just such an ad.

Quite good, isn’t it? It was viral for some time there but I find that a lot of people still haven’t seen it.

If you’re interested in seeing the other 2013 Clio winners in this category, go here. For the Cannes Lions, go here (if you’d like to see the ads without having to subscribe, go here for a smaller selection).

In related recent news: 25 Nike ads that shaped the brand’s history,  in celebration of Nike’s 25th anniversary of the “Just Do It” campaign. Can you believe it has been going strong for so many years?

For many non-ad people, ads as a creative art form became more interesting after Mad Men, the AMC Network TV show, started airing. When Don Draper, the main character, is pitching ideas in client meetings, each of his speeches unfolds like an irresistible story. Jon Hamm, the actor, makes every pitch an admirable performance art. We, as viewers, sit still in our seats, mesmerized by his voice, his expressions and his words. Often, the scenes leading up to the big pitch, where the creatives are bantering back and forth, trying to come up with the right ideas, are rather fun as well. Beautifully-written by Matthew Weiner, who manages to pack so much into each scene – peeling back even more character layers through their complex interactions, ever-evolving plot points and the never-dull story arcs. The last season ended with one of Draper’s most honest pitches ever and cost him his job. Quite the cliff-hanger. Let’s see where he takes his storytelling talents in the next season.

Here’s a list of some of the best ad pitches from the show. There are plenty more, of course, but you’ll have to hunt them down on Youtube. And, in a wonderful life-imitating-art-imitating-art way, earlier this year, American Airlines and Johnnie Walker Black Label had both released vintage-looking ads with Jon Hamm and Christina Hendricks (who plays one of the key women on the show) respectively. These were actually interesting to watch for a while. The New Yorker wrote a lovely piece on them that, I think, I enjoyed even more than the ads (which do get a bit stale and tiresome after about the 50th time).

We are, of course, seeing another mini-revolution in ads now with the ubiquity of online media and mobile devices. For the past couple of years,  several online magazine and news sites have already been dabbling in what’s called native or context-relevant ads or even sponsored content, which take the form of video, images, articles, music, etc. Basically, these are a supposedly seamless blend of advertising and editorial content. This is because, unlike TV and print, online media companies can use automated software that scans the content being consumed, in real time, recognizing words, objects, brands, sounds, music, people and dialogue. These can then be mapped to relevant keywords that pull from an ad library to show the online viewer an ad that is connected to the content they’re viewing / reading. Such software can also consider viewer history and browsing behavior to filter the mapped keywords further.

Of all these focused ads, video is the most sought-after as it can pull a consumer in more easily than ad content that they have to read. Facebook is also reportedly getting into video ads sometimes later this year. So, although there are some challenges with transitioning the contextual online video ad model to mobile, this has to be yet another nail in the coffin for traditional network television, not to mention print journalism and, potentially, even online journalism (for those sites that do not catch on to this development in time).

Let me leave you with some lovely words from Draper’s most famous pitch from Season 1 of Mad Men – The Kodak Picture Carousel. And, if you’re interested in the history of this old-fashioned gizmo, The New York Times has you covered.

Well, technology is a glittering lure. But there’s the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product. My first job, I was in-house at a fur company, with this old pro copywriter. Greek, named Teddy. And Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is “new”. Creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of… calamine lotion. But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product: nostalgia. It’s delicate… but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means, “the pain from an old wound”. It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship. It’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the Wheel. It’s called a Carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Around and around, and back home again… to a place where we know we are loved.

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