These days, people are allergic to advertising (or commercials). Most people would do a great deal to avoid having to watch ads on TV – they’d use PVR, run Elgato’s EyeTV, watch episodes on-line in their own time, or pace their snack and washroom breaks to avoid the ads. Conversely, advertisers are getting more and more desperate to keep viewers watching. Riccardo Giani of explains that:

“Millennials [18-33 year-olds] are getting increasingly less patient with the traditional “interrupting” model of advertising, they have (and enjoy) full control over media channels – thanks to the rise of streaming services – and often prefer the more personalized kind of message that only interactive marketing communications can provide; more importantly, they get bored easily, and given the ridiculous amount of stimuli we are exposed to everyday, breaking through the clutter is getting more and more difficult, even with the most creative ad ever.”

Notice how advertisers on The Big Bang Theory sandwich their ads between “glimpses” of the episode: the first few seconds of the program run (sucking you in), then the ads come on, then the first few second are repeated. Ha! Gotcha! (This despite the fact that, in the 2013-2014 broadcast season, The Big Bang Theory had the highest ad rates outside of the NFL.)  

As Seth Godin writes:

“Seems like advertisers do not know that if you want gotchas, fine print and the hard sell, then buy your car – or your hamburgers – from someone who promises you the lowest price and then figures out how to make a profit some other way. On the other hand, if you want customers to hear about you, make something worth talking about. And if you want customers who are loyal, act in a way that deserves loyalty. And if you want to make advertising that isn’t a pain to watch, then make good advertising.”

Creativity versus realism in advertising

The usual repeat, repeat, repeat, overstate, overhype, u-u-u-u-ugly ads that the Boomer generation tolerated and got used to, the Millennials are just not falling for. Apart from the problems of just getting them to watch or take in the ads, agencies have the additional problem of converting the watching or reading to the act of buying. Simply, advertising is good for launching brands. It’s not good for building brands. Giani feels that creativity in advertising doesn’t work, because it often fails to generate financial results. Just think about it: on social media we see dozens of inspiring, visually stunning and highly creative ads every day. But…

“We watch them, we cry, we laugh and then share them, while agencies and their clients pop champagne bottles to celebrate the record-high levels of social media engagement. However, the reality is slightly different: after we share them, we often forget about them.” Gianni believes that what manages to stay on top of our memory is the message itself, but not the product or the brand.

True, that.  I remember that Saatchi & Saatchi’s agency team in Johannesburg always had this question for viewers or readers of any ad they created: Do you remember what it advertises? If you don’t, then the ad is no good. (And then, obviously, the product or brand had to be worthwhile in the first place.)

Ads that are creative but that fail this simple test are a dime a dozen. Ads that are creative AND memorable AND engage, rather than repulse the viewer, are rare. And amongst those exalted few, there are even fewer that are also truthful. Take these two campaigns, both of which use superb imagery, so realistic they are utterly plausible and convincing. But are they for real?

Viral tie in for Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

This video, when I first saw it, looked so realistic and shocking that I thought it was real. Then I found out it was a fake – a viral tie-in for the movie, Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

New Zealand special effects house Weta Digital (that also worked on the Lord of the Rings series) used advanced motion capture techniques to created several short, viral clips, posing as actual footage, of apes doing incredible things for Rise of the Planet of the Apes. If the words “Property of 20th Century Fox” weren’t in teeny-tiny text in the corner of the clips, you’d think they were real and get genuinely creeped-out. The other clips were: Chimp Plays First Person Shooter, Chimp Beats Human: Intelligence Test and Gorilla Walks Upright.

Almost 33.7 million people have viewed the first clip: Chimp with AK-47, on Youtube. And that’s just one of the versions of the clip on the site. There is a terribly compelling realism to the clip – the gunmen look a bit like the gang of the Somalian arms dealer from the movie District 9.  But that chimp looks almightily chimpy to me, even when he is handling a AK-47. When I could no longer suspend my disbelief, I was actually no longer excited about the movie. I felt like a sucker – an unamused sucker.

Telus’ Mirage TV ad with panda

This ad is actually the only one of all Telus’s high-quality ads starring charming animals, in which the animal is CGI. Although it looks totally realistic to me, each shining hair, each glittering eye. I would watch these ads amazed at the cuteness and natural movements of the panda, and thinking that it seems to be smiling. I wondered, how did they make the panda do that? Are pandas not kind of large, rough-coated, and feisty?

I found out that ‘when filming animals for our [Telus’] advertisements, we only work with reputable owners and accredited zoos and sanctuaries, and require a professional animal advocacy representative to oversee all productions.” Then, in 2013, two giant pandas were brought to Canada as part of a conservation exchange with China, to live at the Toronto Zoo.

Telus stated:

“The zoo recently held a special gala celebrating the pandas’ arrival and raising money for panda conservation. It was a thrill to be there on behalf of TELUS, the gala’s reception sponsor, supporting the zoo’s work to rebuild the giant panda population and protect its habitat. Animals are close to our hearts and our brand and the giant panda has been a common request from both our customers and team members when we ask them to help choose the latest star for our ad campaigns. However, we abide by a strict animal-protection policy; and since the giant panda is endangered, we’ve never considered using one in our advertising…until now. For the first time, our TELUS ads are featuring computer generated critters, rather than live animals. To create our CGI giant pandas, we used existing images and videos of pandas to build a digital model that was refined, groomed and textured until its skin, hair, facial expressions and movement were as lifelike as possible. The entire process took nearly six months!”

Well, good on Telus. Every time I see a panda in their ads, I remember that they did the right thing by not using the real endangered animals.

However, they did get lots of mileage out of that expensively generated CGI panda, for instance their “Twitter-powered Panda Vending Machine” (made by TELUS & WWF-Canada). They call it “Community Investment Marketing” – another of those new marketing terms with which I cannot keep up. In my day we called this sort of thing “Social Investment Marketing”…but they seem to have found a way to make good ads and promote their investment in good causes.

So, the question is: Now that you know that one ad is completely fake, entirely for promotional purposes, and the other ad is also completely fake, but for conservation reasons, which one do you find least offensive? Which one would not make you take a snack break?

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