Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Partners and Edell Blog: Charm’s Cool

So there’s this company that has an ad campaign.
And it’s the nastiest ad campaign ever aired. How nasty? It presents the competition as complete bumbling shovelheaded buffoons. Commercial after commercial, at great media weights, it humiliates the competition.
And it does so to unprecedented success. Sales are up 46% in the latest quarter. Their stock is up 100% since the same time last year.
It’s competition at this point doesn’t know whether to poop or go blind.
So who’s that psychotically competitive company?
Apple. That poor sad competitor—Microsoft.
And how did they manage to get away with such an aggressive (and I mean North Korean level aggressive) campaign.
The campaign is simply charming. The music is charming. The characters as performed by actors John Hodgeman and Justin Long are charming. The writing is charming. The tone, the sensibility, all charming.
To me it’s an absolutely perfect campaign. It’s got incredible longevity. It breaks down product benefits one at a time. And are those benefits clear? Clear as an azure blue sky on a December morning.
And the greatest accolade—it’s become part of popular culture. Not in a Burger King is-the-King-cool-or-just-really-creepy kind of way. It’s just sweet.
And charming.

Nothing cuts a gigantic wildly innovative market dominant software juggernaut down to size quite like presenting them as a cuddly incompetent dork.
And Microsoft still doesn’t appear, after all these years, to know how to deal with it.
Frankly, if I was up against a campaign this good, I wouldn’t know how to deal with it either. Their response still seems to be to just hope it goes away. Which to me, just makes it funnier.
Microsoft’s hugely expensive let’s bring in Jerry Seinfeld and Crispin Porter to go medieval on their collective Apple asses flamed out almost before it began.
And their current “I’m a PC” and I’m human and I’m interesting and I’m…trying way too hard, just doesn’t seem to be cutting it.
That’s how effective charm is.
But the charm also masks how incredibly brave this campaign is.
I have sat in endless brainstorming sessions where companies have clear benefits over the competition. The question inevitably will come up “why don’t we just show people how we’re better—you know, a side by side comparison.”
The client says “No. Why spend money to advertise the competition.”
The lawyer says “No. We’re opening ourselves up to litigation.”
The creative team says “No. It’s just so, y’know, old school.”
And if there’s anything that creative teams dislike more that being seen as unhip it’s being cute. Charm sits precariously on the borderline of the creative purgatory of Cute. Charm is a slippery slope. And no self-respecting creative person ever wants their work to be called Cute. Cute is kittens in baskets with yarn. Cute is babies in plant costumes. Creative people like to be funny and Cute isn’t funny. People will laugh at your Cute commercial, but it’ll be behind your back. Cute is creative death.
But Charm, as with all weapons, is incredibly effective when aimed accurately.
For example, what happens when Charm gets mixed together with wildly eccentric?
You get The Most Interesting Campaign Of The Year for The Most Interesting Man In The World. How interesting is he?

“His blood smells like cologne.”

“He lives vicariously through himself.”
“He once had an awkward moment just to see how it feels.”
“His reputation is expanding faster than the universe.”
“His beard alone has experienced more than a lesser man.”
“The police often question him just because they find him interesting.”
That’s the campaign for Dos Equis. And that’s the legend of The Man. We’re captivated. We’re entranced. And when he finally speaks to us in this TV commercial, does he go for a call to action? Does he extol the virtues of the beer? Not for him to stoop to such corporate stoogery.
“I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I drink Dos Equis.”
Don’t always drink beer? In a beer commercial?
Now that’s a charmer
In an ad category of manscaped smugsters and beer-swilling bubbahs, The Most Interesting Man In The World uses wit as a weapon. Rather than celebrating the stupid and puerile, the appeal to the 12-year-old mind in an adult body, this advertising recognizes the fact that your voice has changed, you’ve got body hair and your testicles have descended. It’s a campaign for grown up men.
And the charming man gets the girl. Not the pull my finger guy.
Apple and Dos Equis. Charm rules.
So why aren’t there more charming campaigns? The most obvious reason is that they’re really really hard to do. They rely heavily on tone of voice, wit, style, incredible casting and great restraint. All elements that are hard for a lot of marketers to get their heads around. It all feels kind of touchy-feely in the hard-charging, media-neutral, results-oriented, innovate-or-die world of marketing today. And charming campaigns don’t test particularly well. So much is reliant on nuance. Sitting down 15 guys at $100 bucks a crack at a shopping mall on a snowy night in Regina virtually guarantees focus group suicide. Go ahead, ask them if they find it charming.
But when it’s done right. When all the precarious elements work together, charming campaigns are the ones that stand out, that really differentiate and captivate.
And boy do they work.
Like a, you know, charm...Partners & Edell Blog by John Farquhar

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