Smitherman’s Campaign Lied to the Jewish Community

When I started this blog, it was to write about advertising.

Then I made one post expressing my concern about what the election of George Smitherman as mayor would mean for Toronto’s Jewish community and things took a strange turn.

A group of Smitherman supporters sent out letters and made blog posts. They attacked me, they lied about me, they attributed statements to me that I never made (and that they know I never made).

In their desperate defence of George Smitherman, they twisted facts, they denied his public record and they hoped that this would be enough to confuse the Jewish community into thinking that Smitherman was an acceptable choice.

Do you know my favourite thing about the Internet? It makes it so much harder for people to get away with lying. With everything available a few clicks away, it makes it that much harder to run from your words, deny things you’ve said or mislead people as to your record.

Smitherman’s campaign seems to be learning this lesson too late.

In the letter they sent out attacking me, they denied that Smitherman  had announced  support that he’d received from the anti-Israel Canadian Arab Federation. So in a follow-up post (found here: http://bit.ly/aYw8FJ) I linked to posts on his website and on his Twitter feed showing that he did, in fact, do so. Why would he be proud to publicize support from a coalition that included this group?

His supporters claimed that nobody from the Canadian Arab Federation supported his campaign, I was able to link to an article (found here: www.thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=623) in which the VP of the CAF, Ali Mallah, does indeed encourage Torontonians to vote for Smitherman.

One of the biggest lies in the letter from Smitherman’s supporters had to do with Smitherman’s position on the group “Queers Against Israeli Apartheid”.

Their letter claimed that I said “that George refused to speak out against the Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) protest group.”

That’s a blatant lie on its’ own, given that this is what I actually wrote: “While candidates Rob Ford and Rocco Rossi stated that city funding should be revoked if this group is again permitted to participate, Mr. Smitherman refused to join in this call.”

His supporters included a quote Smitherman made rebuking this group to Sue-Ann Levy of the Toronto Sun.

Just yesterday, however, Smitherman met with a different publication; this time, a gay rag named Xtra, a trashy publication that earlier in the campaign called for the homosexual rape of Rob Ford.

Smitherman was asked about the group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid and their participation in the group.

Here’s what the report had to say:

“when asked if he thinks Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) ought to be allowed in the Pride parade or not, instead of a simple “yes” or “no,” Smitherman would say only that it is “a question the broader community has to grapple with. We grappled on this for some time, but he would not be boxed in.”

You can see a video that interview below.

You’ll notice that Smitherman clearly avoids saying that no taxpayer money should go to the parade if this group is again given a platform to spread their anti-Israel message.

That’s bad enough but it actually gets worse. Smitherman actually defends this anti-Israel group and praises the leaders of it.

Starting around the 4:20 mark of the video,  you’ll see Smitherman agree that the two leaders of QuAIA are “longstanding queers with illustrious records.” (note: he means that as a compliment).

Shortly after, at the 4:40 mark, he says of the group: “there are lots of people that I have respect for there.”

Later, at the 5:08 mark, the interviewer states that this group is “not dangerous, not hate-fueled, not anti-Semitic.” Smitherman responds that he “makes no quarrel with that.”

This is very interesting, isn’t it?

When Smitherman did an interview with a Jewish reporter from a conservative, mainstream newspaper he was willing to criticize the group. Then, during an interview with a gay publication and an interviewer who clearly supports the group, Smitherman praises its leaders and speaks of his respect for them.

You’d almost think he was one of those politicians trying to play both sides of an issue and changing his position around to suit different audiences.

At a previous debate, when asked about his position on the inclusion of “Queers Against Israeli Apartheid” in the parade, the best Smitherman would offer is that the issue was “complex.”

To his credit, his opponent Rob Ford, had a very different take:

“Actually I think it’s pretty straightforward, it’s not complicated at all. There’s zero tolerance, and as mayor I’m not going to give them a dime,” Mr. Ford said. “We’re not going to tolerate any hate crimes.” (full article http://bit.ly/apO7QY)
In their letter attacking me, Smitherman’s supporters say the following: “We appreciate his ongoing care and outspokenness on issues of concern to Jewish voters.”
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I find it troubling that he expresses his “ongoing care” by lying to us.
When our community has needed him – whether it was supporting equality in education or standing up against taxpayer funding of anti-Israel messaging – George Smitherman has turned his back on us. Now we turn our backs on him.

Follow-Up on George Smitherman and the Jewish Community

Did you know that you’re reading an “extremist blog”? You may have been under the impression that this is a blog where I occasionally share my thoughts on advertising. So, you’ll understand that I was surprised to be alerted to a blog post from James Morton identifying this as such.

So, Mr. Morton, a candidate for the provincial Liberal nomination in Thornhill, who I shall henceforth refer to as an “extremist blogger” published an attack on me signed by five of the remaining handful of Jews yet to abandon the Liberal Party.

They took issue with the concern I expressed over support that Mr. Smitherman has received from the Canadian Arab Federation.

The letter contained a number of factual errors, outright lies, personal attacks and distortions of my words, including attributed to me statements I never made and which a quick review of my original post shows that I never made. It’s sad and ironic that these individuals (all partisan Liberals and Smitherman supporters) would attack me for “dishonesty” while simultaneously resorting to lying about me.

First of all, they claimed that I sent an email around to members of the Jewish community attacking Smitherman. This is an outright lie. No such email was sent. I challenge the signatories of this letter to produce this email that I allegedly sent.

The article identifies me as having “long been active in supporting Rob Ford’s campaign.” This is a blatant lie. I’ve never been involved in Ford’s campaign. In 10 months, I attended precisely ONE Ford event; a kosher BBQ that he hosted in my neighbourhood for members of the orthodox Jewish community (Mr. Smitherman hosted no similar event).  I’ve been highly critical of Mr. Ford, including on this blog, and if I end up voting for him (and I likely will) it will be with little enthusiasm. I wrote what I did as a Jew, not as a partisan political supporter. They, evidently, had the opposite motivation. (On a personal note, I’m sad that they chose to desecrate the Sabbath in order to attack a fellow Jew while lying to the Jewish community. This seems to be the definition of chillul Hashem).

They take issue with my suggestion that Mr. Smitherman boasted of his “endorsement” by a coalition of what he labeled “community organizations” that included the Canadian Arab Federation, a group with a long history of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel statements.

If they want to claim that this wasn’t a formal “endorsement”, fine. I’ll clarify that: in their capacity as a member organization of the Colour of Poverty campaign, CAF gave Mr. Smitherman their “Top Grade” in a “Report Card” on mayoral candidates. This was published in a report and press releases were issued. It seems clear that the obvious intent of said action was to influence opinion in the upcoming election.

The support was featured on Mr. Smitherman’s website (it can be seen here: http://bit.ly/aDWF0H). It was also tweeted about on an official Smitherman account (seen here: http://bit.ly/ax4g9s). Despite the incoherent grammar, the tweet in question makes clear that Mr. Smitherman is “proud” of the support.
The fact is that Mr. Smitherman personally met with a “coalition” that included this odious group. One would think a candidate for high office would investigate such groups before meeting with them. The CAF’s record of inflammatory anti-Semitic behaviour is widely known and easily reasarchable. Had he been invited to share his views on transit policy with a “coalition of community organizations” that included the KKK, I have my doubts that he’d meet with them. This is a man, after all, who bears the distinction of being the only person in the history of the Michael Coren Show to refuse to shake hands with a staff member (in this case, a 20 year old man) because he disagreed with him.

Additionally, just this past week, the VP of the Canadian Arab Federation, Alli Mallah gave an interview to The Canadian Charger in which he encouraged Torontonians to vote for Smitherman. The Canadian Charger also formally endorsed Smitherman and the article makes clear that they did so specifically after consulting with Mr. Mallah. That article can be found here:
http://www.thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=623

Here’s a video of Mr. Mallah physically attacking a blogger who was filming him while Mallah and other members of the CAF were protesting a visit to Toronto by the Israeli PM at a rally that prominently featured the flags of Hezbollah. This incident occured well before Mr. Smitherman agreed to meet with the coalition that included the group of which Mr. Mallah is VP.

If you’re not familiar with The Canadian Charger, which endorsed Smitherman this week after consulting with Mr. Mallah, it is a fringe magazine dominated by left wing radicals, Islamic extremists and lunatic 9/11 conspiracy theorists.

It was founded by Mohamed Elmasry. Here’s a video of Mr. Elmasry stating that all Israeli men and women over the age of 18 are legitimate targets for murder.

Dr. Elmasry was also responsible for the Human Rights Commission compalint filed against Maclean’s magazine and is a strong supporter of these commissions actions in censoring freedom of speech. In that regard, he has an ally in the chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Barbara Hall who has argued for the commissions powers of censorship to be strengthened even further. When Barbara Hall was mayor of Toronto, George Smitherman was her chief of staff. When she later ran unsuccesfully, he was chairman of her campaign. They’re close friends and she even baked the cake at Smitherman’s wedding, which was apparently a “traditional First Nations ceremony” despite the fact that Smitherman, as far as I know, is not First Nations.

Other endorsements for Mr. Smitherman this past week include Borys Wrzesnewskyj, a Toronto Liberal MP who was disciplined by his party after calling for Hamas and Hezbollah to be removed from Canada’s list of banned terrorist organizations. Mr. Wrzesnewskyj also, for whatever bizarre reason, felt it necessary to call up the Globe and Mail (unsolicited) in order to attack immigration minister Jason Kenney for attending a memorial to the Jews murdered at Auschwitz (sadly, a high number of my grandfather’s family among them). He called the trip a “jaunt.”

Do I think that George Smitherman is an anti-Semite? No.

I do think that he bears a hostility to people who hold traditional religious values. I do think he has often gone against the interests of the Jewish community, such as in his support for maintaining discrimination against Jewish schools (good luck to Mr. Morton explaining that policy when he runs in Thornhill). I do find it rather pathetic that the best these Smitherman apologists could offer as an example of support for the Jewish community was that as health minister, he funded Mt. Sinai Hospital.

So while I don’t regard Mr. Smitherman as anti-Semitic, I do feel it legitimate to raise concerns about his ability to attract the support of those who are.

Another outright lie contained in the extremist blogger’s article is that I claimed “that George refused to speak out against the Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) protest group.”

A simple reading of my article makes it obvious that I said no such thing. What I actually stated is this: “While candidates Rob Ford and Rocco Rossi stated that city funding should be revoked if this group is again permitted to participate, Mr. Smitherman refused to join in this call.”

This is factually accurate unless his position has changed in the last few days. Certainly, on two separate occasions, Smitherman refused to say that no gvernment funding would go to the parade if this group were permitted to be participants.

It’s great that Smitherman is willing to “condemn” them. However, he has stated that he is willing to continue to provide taxpayers money to a parade that allows them to spread their anti-Israel message.

I hope that this clarifies the falsehoods levelled against me and gives a clearer picture of the tortured distortions that Mr. Smitherman’s supporters are willing to engage in in order to obfuscate their candidate’s record.

Toronto’s Jewish community should review the candidates, their records and their proposals and cast their votes accordingly.

If asked, however, how many votes I think that Mr. Smitherman deserves to receive from our community, I’d borrow a famous old Liberal slogan: “None is too many.”

Toronto’s Election: The View from an Ad Man

If you live in Toronto, you’re no doubt aware that our city is in the midst of a heated and hotly contested election for mayor.

With just a couple weeks until election day, the campaign is now entering high gear: the candidates are working day and night, the media coverage is getting saturated and the campaign advertising is getting more intense.

As someone passionate about both politics and advertising, I’m always  excited to see new campaign ads roll out and thought that I’d share my take on the candidates’ respective ad campaigns… wearing my “advertising” hat and not my “political junkie” one. (Note that our agency is not working for any candidate).

As someone who makes ads for a living and is passionate about the craft, I tend to view the category of political advertising as a pretty desolate wasteland. Lets face it: with a few notable exceptions (I’ll get to those), election ads are terrible. Poor production values. Boring, cliched, predictable messaging. A level of dishonesty that would make most client-side brand managers cringe.

This particular election, unfortunately, is worse than almost any I’ve seen.

Let’s start our review by looking at the candidate who entered the race as the early frontrunner and who was predicted to easily win in a landslide: George Smitherman.

Here is the latest offering from the Smitherman campaign, a TV spot.

If there’s something positive to say, it’s that the production values were high and it worked from a branding perspective.

But when you’re trailing by double-digits with two weeks to go, I’m afraid that this just doesn’t cut it. Not only is there nothing particularly compelling, it suffers from the mistake that far too many marketers make: inconsistency of messaging. This 30-second spot tries to cram in about five different messages. At the end of seeing the spot, you don’t retain anything and have little sense of what the candidate actually stands for. It’s like I frequently tell clients: if you have five messages, you really have NO message.

Political candidates, like any brand, need to own an idea in the mind of their consumer (in this case, the voters). In the automotive category, Volvo stands for safety. Lexus stands for luxury. Prius is about helping the planet.

The best candidates understand this principle. The two most effective campaigners in my lifetime were Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. Think back to two years ago. Anyone could tell you that Obama stood for hope and change. Reagan stood for strength and resolve.

Running for re-election in 1984, Reagan did so with a clear, consistent and compelling message: we’ve come so far, things are better and we can’t go back.

Take a look at what I regard as the greatest election ad ever produced; a spot that was both written and voiced by one of my advertising idols, the late Hal Riney.

It’s proud, patriotic and emotional. It delivers a powerful message while simultaneously pulling on your heart strings. And it helped propel Reagan to one of the greatest landslide victories in presidential history.

The one candidate in this race who seems to grasp this principle is current frontrunner Rob Ford. When the campaign began, Ford was written off and given absolutely no chance. To be sure, he’s a deeply flawed candidate with a controversial past and a tendency to put his foot in his mouth. But he has a discipline of message that no candidate can match.  From the beginning, he’s steadfastly stuck to his message of “respect for taxpayers”: lower taxes, eliminating wasteful spending and ending lavish perks for politicians. It was the right message at the right time and if he can keep it up for a couple weeks, he’s poised to be the next mayor. He’s done next to nothing in terms of advertising.

Here’s all I was able to find.

It’s a simple poster, costs next to nothing to produce and the design and production qualities are on par with what you’d see in a race for student council president at a local high school. But the polls have Ford leading by a wide margin, despite very little in the way of traditional advertising.

Then again, how much “traditional” advertising does Google do? They’re arguably the most successful company in the world and they’ve built their brand online, through experience and through word of mouth instead of relying on TV-heavy media buys.

Next up, we have current deputy mayor and torchbearer of the political left, Joe Pantalone. Despite some recent gains, he’s done little to define himself in the race and hasn’t exactly caught on with voters.

He and Ford are a study in contrast when it comes to personal branding. Despite 30 years in elected office, the last seven as deputy mayor, voters know next to nothing about who he is and what he stands for. Ford, on the other hand, with only 10 years on Council representing a distant suburban ward has long been a household name because of his consistent message.

Here’s an example of Pantalone’s latest print  campaign.

Really, what can one say about this? It’s egregiously bad. If you’re curious, the message is a play on the fact that Pantalone is only five feet tall. Ok. We get it, Joe. You’re short. It’s cute. But when you’re running for mayor and have yet to successfully define yourself to the electorate, maybe you should be using this opportunity to actually tell us who you are and what you stand for.

Finally, we look at Rocco Rossi, the one candidate whose ads actually got some attention. Though, not necessarily of a positive nature.

Here’s one from a series print ads.

While these ads were widely attacked, including by those who claimed that they played into negative Italian stereotypes, I consider them successful if only because, unlike what’s been offered by the rest of the field, they actually got attention and got people talking.

They’re certainly memorable. They’re funny enough as far as election advertising goes. And they’re definitely distinct with clear branding for the candidate.

While there was some backlash, which was to be expected, I actually applaud Rossi for having the courage to do something different and a willingness to not take himself so seriously.

Were they a gamble? Absolutely. But Rossi, the candidate in this race with the most actual business experience, was smart enough to recognize that when you’re far behind and have limited time to gain a lot of ground, sometimes a big gamble is necessary. It took guts. Or as Rossi might say, “bocce balls”.

So there you have it. An advertising guy’s view on the campaign. Enjoy the final stretch of the campaign. I know that I will.

Advertising’s New Model: Hollywood?

If you work in advertising, you’ve no doubt heard the familiar lament: “We need a new model.”

As to where to find this elusive new model, this is usually followed by “We need to look beyond Madison Avenue.”
And, yeah, we do. But to where?

The initial reflex of most is to point to Silicon Valley. After all, that’s where most of the cool, innovative ideas are coming from right now.

I’d actually suggest looking a little south of the Valley to a model that’s actually pretty old but can be perfectly applied to our industry: Hollywood.

One of the big mistakes that the advertising industry made was to build agencies as permanent structures with the same team and resources designed to serve every client on every project.

Think about how a typical agency engagement works.

A client comes to an agency with a job and we see what resources we have under the agency roof and we throw those at the project. Maybe we don’t really have the right teams or skill-sets within the agency but we’ll be damned if we’re gonna walk away from that potential revenue so we force-fit the challenge into our offering. After all, the agency’s already on the hook for the overhead, so we have to keep those people busy.

Now think about how movies get made.

Teams are built from scratch for each project and then torn down and rebuilt for the next one – all based on what’s needed. A studio has a movie they want to produce so they go out and hire the best people to get it done. They recruit a screenwriter, a director, they cast the actors, they bring in the right special effects people, etc. And they hire them for that job only. When the movie’s done, they all shake hands and go their separate ways. On to the next job. They don’t become part of the permanent studio overhead, waiting to be foisted on to the next project – for which they may not be the right fit.

Modern, responsive agencies need to be flexible enough to be built around client challenges. And that means agencies that are expandable and collapse-able based on need.

We have a client right now whose project requires building a tool in Flash. Most of our clients don’t need this. So rather than have an in-house Flash designers with built-in overhead (passed on to clients who don’t need his services), we brought in a world-class Flash person just for this project. If other clients need an SEO expert or an experiential marketing expert, we’ll bring them in as well.

The talk in the industry over the past couple of weeks has been about how the co-presidents of venerable agency JWT recently left to start up a new agency with a small, core team that brings in specialists on an as-needed basis.

They’re talented people and they’ll no doubt be successful but when I read the reports over how “innovative” and “groundbreaking” this new model was, my first reaction was “We’ve been doing that for a while now.” And Hollywood’s been doing it for decades.

What Toronto’s Jewish Voters Should Know About George Smitherman

Today, George Smitherman publicly boasted of his recent endorsement by the Canadian Arab Federation.

Among other things, this group has:
•    Distributed flyers encouraging delegates to the Liberal leadership convention to vote against Bob Rae because his wife is Jewish
•    Stated that Mr. Rae’s wife “supports ethnic cleansing”
•    Stated that they “don’t want another Zionist as Prime Minister”
•    Called for Hamas and Hezbollah to be removed from Canada’s list of banned terrorist organizations
•    Called terrorist organization Hezbollah a “symbol of the struggle against Israeli injustice and oppression”
•    Supported the call for a boycott of all Israeli goods
•    Called for the repeal of the $1B per year Israel-Canada Free Trade Agreement
•    Publicly attacked Mayor David Miller for participating in the UJA Walk for Israel fundraiser
•    Called moderate Muslim leader Tarek Fatah a “house negro” who “serves Zionist masters”
•    Called immigration minister Jason Kenney a “professional whore” after he revoked their funding following their numerous hateful anti-Israel comments
•    Sponsored an essay competition in Toronto high schools on the “ethnic cleansing of Palestine”

Additionally, a VP of the group was forced to resign after declaring July 1st to be “Fuck Canada Day” and stating that he “couldn’t be more ashamed to be Canadian.”

Their current VP was also recorded physically assaulting a blogger who was filming him while he led a protest against a visit to Toronto by Israel PM Netanyahu.
As if accepting this endorsement and publicly boasting of it were not enough, Mr. Smitherman today attended a debate sponsored by the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, of all places, where candidates were asked about the inclusion of the group “Queers Against Israeli Apartheid” which participated in the taxpayer-funded Pride Parade. While candidates Rob Ford and Rocco Rossi stated that city funding should be revoked if this group is again permitted to participate, Mr. Smitherman refused to join in this call.

Given Mr. Smitherman’s willingness to embrace organizations plainly hostile and hateful towards our community, before we vote, we need to ask ourselves how our community would be affected if, G-d forbid, he were ever to become mayor of Toronto.

A Statement on the Smitherman / Ford Controversy

Earlier today, I posted from my Twitter account stating that “George Smitherman should spend less time attacking Rob Ford for telling the truth about AIDS, more time coming up with actual policies.”

This was in response to a media report I read this morning describing Mr. Smitherman attacking Mr. Ford at a mayoral debate for comments from several years ago stating that “AIDS is preventable” and remarking that infections of HIV/AIDS are significantly higher among gay men and among users of intravenous drugs.

I was informed late this afternoon that a member of the campaign team for Rob Ford re-tweeted my comment, causing Mr. Smitherman’s team to again attack Mr. Ford and for the Ford staffer who re-tweeted my post to be dismissed from the campaign.

I would like to clarify some issues.

I am not associated with Rob Ford’s campaign in any way. As far as I know, I’ve never met Mr. Ford. I have not endorsed his candidacy for mayor.

My dislike of Mr. Smitherman is no secret. My strong opposition to his candidacy relates largely to the campaign in which he was involved during the last provincial election during which the Liberal Party focused their campaign on their opposition to funding religious schools (apart from Roman Catholic schools like those Dalton McGuinty attended and at which his wife teaches), and demonizing those who would send their children to schools that reflect their family’s values and traditions – many of my friends and family included. As a Jew, I deeply resent Mr. Smitherman’s implication that my faith is somehow less worthy than that of Mr. McGuinty.

Given Mr. Smitherman’s opposition to equal funding for Ontarians outside of the Catholic faith and his support for maintaining discrimination against religious minorities in our school system, I find it ironic that he, of all people, would question Mr. Ford’s “character” to be mayor of “one of the most diverse places to be found anywhere in the world.”

As to Mr. Smitherman’s outrage at Mr. Ford pointing out higher transmission rates among gay men and drug users, is Mr. Smitherman claiming that this is not factually accurate? The Center for Disease Control has compiled the following information which outlines the plainly evident truth. http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/surveillance/basic.htm#incidence Pointing out readily available facts with which any medical professional would agree should not be cause for controversy. If Mr. Ford were to say that “cigarette smokers are more likely to get lung cancer” or that “overweight people with poor diets are more likely to get Type 2 diabetes” would this be remotely controversial?

I certainly (and assume this is true for Mr. Ford as well) never intended for my remark to be, in any way, construed as being disparaging towards those living with this illness or towards people of any community or lifestyle.

Obviously, those infected with HIV/AIDS should be treated with compassion and respect and given access to the medical care that they require as we continue to seek a cure to this horrible disease. I, personally, have contributed to several AIDS-related organizations and will continue to do so. It’s unfortunate that during his tenure as Ontario’s Minister of Health, Mr. Smitherman wasted over a billion dollars of taxpayer money on the e-Health boondoggle. I would think that this billion dollars could have gone a long way towards providing treatment and medication to people living with HIV/AIDS. Frankly,this illness and the lives of the many people that it affects should be above being used by anyone to try to score cheap political points and advance their own self-interest by exploiting the suffering of others. I would say that this entire exchange reveals far more about Mr. Smitherman’s “character” than it does about Mr. Ford’s.

With regards to the Ford campaigner who was dismissed over this incident, I do consider it an unfortunate overreaction to an over-eager young volunteer but sincerely regret how my own words could cause this person the problems that it has.

Finally, it’s interesting that my remark chastising Mr. Smitherman for focusing his campaign on personal attacks instead of actual policy has resulted in a lot more personal attacks and, yet, not one substantive policy idea.

Super Bowl Advertising Round-Up, Part 2

Okay, I gave a brief post highlighting the two spots I actually liked. It was all kinda downhill from there.

Here, I’ll look at spots that didn’t completely suck and were merely okay though not up to snuff.

I was expecting big things from Coca-Cola. First, they have arguably the best agency in the world (Wieden + Kennedy Portland) working for them. Second, their creative output has gone up dramatically in the last few years. The whole “open happiness” platform is terrific and “Happiness Factory” is an ad for the ages. Their last big Super Bowl spot – “It’s Mine” – was the best ad of its year by far the stand-out of that year’s game. So, frankly, I was pretty disappointed with the lame Simpsons spot this year that you can see below:

First, I think it’s lazy for brands to try to piggy-back on the equity of another franchise versus building their own. Especially when you’re a venerable brand like Coke. I also think it detracts attention away from your brand and focuses it on another – and you’re paying to give them attention. I can only imagine what the licensing fees were to use the Simpsons characters but I’m sure it’s through the roof. It wasn’t that the ad was terrible by any means. It was pretty fun. I just expect more from Coke. They’ve done some of the best advertsing in history. Their “Mean Joe Green” spot was maybe the best to ever air during a Super Bowl. This just wasn’t up to snuff. Especially with Pepsi sitting this year out, they had the opportunity to do something really great and just didn’t rise to the occasion.

Intel fell into the same area as Coke; a brand that has been producing great work but offered up a disappointingly mediocre spot come game time.  If you haven’t been paying attention, about a year ago, Intel launched a truly brilliant campaign. The initial ad and best of the campaign is called “Rock Star” and you can see it below.

I can’t say enough good things about that spot. Not only was it a clever idea, the execution from casting to music was absolutely dead-on. It was the opening spot in what proved to a really great campaign. You can see another element below:

Not as good as “Rock Star” but still pretty damn badass.

So, here’s what they ran last night:

Again, not a terrible ad by any means. Just that, compared to other recent work, it’s disappointing.

Budweiser and Bud Lite are perennial Super Bowl favourites. They’ve produced some really great work in the past, probably most notably “Whaaaazuuuuup?”, which I loved less for the ad itself than for the fact that an ad was able to actually shape a little bit of pop culture instead of just piggy-backing on it.

Anyway, last night, the guys at Bud ran three spots over the course of the game. The one that most people will probably declare the best of the lot was “Bridge” which you can see below:

Overall, it was a good spot and probably what you expect from a Super Bowl spot from Bud – big budget, good production values, strong humour. I’ll say that generally, it’s not the kind of advertising I generally like. I tend to like advertising that is effective and disposable instead of overly produced and overly precious. If they can make an entire newspaper in 24 hours, I don’t know why it takes some people 6 months to produce a simple ad to run in that same newspaper. But, yeah, the Super Bowl is different and for one night a year, I can sit back and enjoy the overly-produced orgy of capitalist excess and within that vein, this was probably the standout.

The Bud spot I actually liked best was the auto-tune one featuring T-Pain that you can see below.

I actually found this genuinely funny and got a good quick laugh out of it. It doesn’t score as high because unlike “Whaaazzzuuup?” it didn’t really create anything new but, rather, just tapped into a joke that’s been going around for some time already. But they did it well and the spot did a good job of reinforcing Bud Lite’s “Jester” archetype which I once wrote a white paper about so I’ve actually given the brand a fair bit of thought.

The final ad, which I know a lot of people liked was “Fence” featuring the famous Bud Clydesdales. Here it is:

This really didn’t do it for me. Unlike the E-Trade baby, this is an “inconic” campaign that actually does need to be refreshed and shaken up. I’ve really never liked this campaign to begin with, so maybe I’m biased. The only incarnation I actually enjoyed was the 9/11 tribute below

That was a truly epic and beautiful spot at a time and in a circumstance where being epic and beautiful is called for. But, for the most part, it doesn’t work with the brand. You’re a fucking beer! And not even a particularly good one. You need to get over yourself. Give us something funny, maybe some inappropriate humour or lewd sexual innuendo. Stick to the brand. This just doesn’t work.

Super Bowl Advertising Round-Up, Part 1

Despite the fact that I work in advertising, I actually do watch the Super Bowl for the football, as opposed to the ads.

That said, my Twitter feed last night consisted pretty much entirely of people commenting on the ads and I made sure to watch them all online following the game and since it’s been a long time since I actually posted anything here, I figured I’d give some reviews into the spots seeing as this is pretty much the biggest night of the year for advertising.

Overall, I thought that this was a pretty bad year for advertising. Fuck, for the first quarter, I fel vaguely ashamed to work in this industry, so bad were most of the spots.

There were a few standouts of really strong work.

I particularly liked Google.

It really stood out for its simplicity and elegance the midst of a sea of big budget, highly produced spots and it really served to underscore the point that simplicty and elegance are at the core of teh Google user experience and did a good job of highlighting the Google features that go beyond simple search.

This spot does not get my top prize, however, for a couple reasons. First, it wasn’t a new spot. It actually aired at least 6 months ago and they just re-aired it. Doesn’t take away from the greatness of the ad but doesn’t really meet the criteria for being a “Super Bowl ad”. Second, I just don’t know if it was money well-spent. One of the things I most admire about Google is how they’ve built themselves into such a great brand and such a dominant player with very little in terms of paid advertising. They did by doing things right – offering a great experience, building on WOM, and great customer service. Dropping 2 million bucks on a Super Bowl seems to go against their brand image in a way. Also, it just seems unnecessary for a brand like this to do. I use Google all day long. It’s my homepage on my laptop, it’s right there on my BlackBerry. I get Google Alerts pinging me constantly. I just don’t need a reminder to use it and I doubt anyone else does either.

The spot that gets my top prize – my “Palme d’Or”, if you will – is the latest incarnation of the e-Trade baby.

E-trade has been one of my favourite advertisers for a while and here’s why: a good test of the creative chops of an agency is whether they can do great creative work in what’s considered a pretty boring category. Any agency should be able to do a spot for a cool and fun brand like a Nike or Adidas and knock it out of the park. Doing ads for things like insurance, financial management, etc. – categories most people would rather tune out – needs to be really strong in order to break through. That’s why I’ve loved the Geico campaigns so much over the years. Taking an insurance company client and producing genuinely funny and captivating spots shows mad skillz, as the kids might say.

E-trade has done a lot of great Super Bowl work in years past, satrting with the absurd dancing monkey that was a standout during the year that it aired. They followed that up with a great “money out the wazoo” spot which also stood out. Three years ago, they launched a brilliant spot where they first introduced us to the E-Trade Baby. Check it out below:

i loved it and I wasn’t alone. Yeah, I found it a bit derivative of other campaigns – particularly Geico – with the message of “so easy that even a  _____ could do it”, just replacing “caveman” with “baby”. But the spot worked. It was unique in the category, delivered the message clearly and, fuck, it’s an adorable talking baby dispensing stock tips! What more do you want?

It’s been a while since we’ve had many great “characters” in advertising. The Marlboro Man is pretty much banished and aside from cereals, we don’t really get many iconic, loveable little advertising icons. I think the E-Trade baby may just be the best one today and they were wise to recognize his potential following the first Super Bowl appearance and keep building him up. Below is the best spot featuring him, in my opinion:

I mean, a golfing baby who uses the term “shankapotomous”? Awesome.

Now, the spot that they ran last night didn’t quite live up to that one. It was good, it was funny, just not over-the-top amazing. But I give the agency (Grey – New York) a ton of credit. There’s a tendency in advertising to abandon campaigns just for the sake of “refreshing” the brand – even when the campaign is doing well and still building up brand equity. It’s especially tempting when you’ve got a huge platform like the Super Bowl to force yourself to do something “new” jsut for the sake of doing something new. But they’ve got a great character who has already made two Super Bowl appearances and it was like fans were expecting and anticipating a new incarnation. If he didn’t appear, it would have left people disappointing. So kudos to Grey for not trying to fix what wasn’t broken and giving a strong standout spot in a pretty dismal year.

How Customer Service Helps…And Hurts

Here’s a great little illustration of the power of social media.

So, the creative director, Ron, at the advertising agency where I work had to fly to Calgary last week to meet with some clients. He flew on Air Canada and, sure enough, they lose his luggage.

Now, this is generally a big pain in the ass in any circumstance and all the moreso in this one since his nice clothes are packed away and he doesn’t want to show up to an important client meeting looking like a slob so he had to go out and buy new clothes to make himself presentable.

Anyway, these things happen, right? And a major company like Air Canada will surely work hard to rectifty this unpleasantness as soon as possible, no? Especially, for someone who flies as often as Ron, yes? Well, no.

The bag was lost on January 4th. As of this morning, the bag was still not returned. This, despite Ron making call after call and speaking with “customer service representative” after “customer service representative” and being given assurance after assurance that the bag was on its way. As he tells it, the customer service he received was terrible, consisting of being on hold for hours in total, waiting at home for hours for a delivery that would never arrive and generally being treated incredibly poorly by a company who had screwed up in the first place.

So, Ron goes out and creates a Facebook group called “Air Canada: Please Give Ron Tite His Bag Back”. Ron’s a pretty popular guy, so the group grows quickly, racking up close to 300 members in less than a day.  And the press starts to notice. A major TV network gets ahold of Ron and proposes that they send a camera crew over to do a story on it.

Ron gets Air Canada back on the phone and says (I’m paraphrasing here) “I suggest you take a look at this Facebook group and how many people are learning all about how much you guys suck. Also, if you don’t get my bag to me right away, I suggest you in tune into the news this evening when the whole country will find out just how much you suck.”

Ron got his bag back about 30 minutes later.

The moral of the story is that while customer service has always been integral to building consumer loyalty, it’s become even more critical in the age of social media when a person who receives poor service can instantly shre his frustration with every single person he knows. Air Canada found that out the hard way this week.

The reverse to this is that for all the companies who just don’t get it, there are a handful who get it incredibly well.

Here’s the nice part of this generally frustrating experience for Ron: He gets a call from reception that there’s a suitcase waiting for him up at the front desk. It’s a grey suitcase similar to the one he lost with a note saying “We heard about what happened with Air Canada and wanted to help you out. Here’s some stuff to replace some of the things you may have lost.” And inside, is a bottle of wine, a large box of condoms, a selection of cured meats, some handcuffs and a bunch of other trinkets. I assure you that if you know Ron, this is very funny and a brilliant thing to do.

The bag and its contents were sent by a production company called Traffik that our agency has used on the production side. They saw Ron’s tweets and his Facebook group and took the initiative to go out and do this. I don’t know what they spent on this but I’m assuming it’s a little over $100. But I’m assuming that with this nice gesture, they’ve bought themselves a load of goodwill that goes well beyond the small amount of money and effort they laid out. It was fast, timely, funny and downright nice.

Really brilliant move on their part. Air Canada – and a lot of other companies – would be very wise to learn from the example.

Review of Joey Don Mills

So, last night, some colleagues and I attended the launch party for a new restaurant up in Don Mills called Joey. When I got the invite, I passed it along to some people and one of the guys, originally from Vancouver, was super excited. Apparently, this is a popular West Coast chain and this is their first venture into Toronto. Anyways, he couldn’t have been happier to see it arrive in his new city of residence.

So, first the bad news: it’s way the hell up in what I consider the middle of nowhere at the Shops at Don Mills, which turns out to be a very nice little open-air mall with lots of nice shops and a handful of restaurants, mainly of the Jack Astor’s variety. But the location makes it a pain. It’s not really on public transit and if you’re like me and enjoy consuming some adult beverages while you eat, it makes driving a bad idea.

Getting there proved to not be an issue, however, as the good folks at the PR firm handling teh event generously offered to send a limo to take my colleagues and I. So there we are, about 6 of us young advertising folks, waiting outside of our office, enjoying a smoke and dressed in jeans and t-shirts when this massive, white stretch limo pulls up. It was a total 80s pimp-mobile complete with mood lighting and we felt a little awkward tooling around in this beast but it sure beats the hell out of the TTC.

First, a word on the event itself: Huge kudos must go to the fine people at Maverick Public Relations for putting on a great launch. I’ve been involved in big public events before and they tend to get quite chaotic but this was incredibly well-run. Everyone was super prepared and collected and really put together a hell of a party. I’ve never personally worked with these folks before, myself, but some people at my agency have and have nothing but good things to say about them. And after this event, I can see why.

As to the decor, it was okay. I tend to hate chain restaurants for being bland and interchangeable but as far as chain restaurants do go, this would be in the upper tier. It’s a fairly minimalist and sleek, mainly black decor which worked for them. We were in teh lounge area, which is a nice big open space. There are tons of big TV screens which seemed a bit out of place (I only want TVs if I’m in a sports bar) but we got there early enough to secure ourselves a comfortable booth with a good view of the action.

Now for the service: keep in mind that this was a launch party for “VIPs” (like your very important narrator) and there was media there so they were definitely gonna bring their A-game and it may not be representative of what you might experience if you were to go there on a regular night. But I must say that the service could not have been better. Everyone from the hostesses to the bus people were really, really good. The servers were totally on the ball, even in a packed house full of people enjoying free food and drink. Nobody at our table ever experienced an empty glass. They were super fast and attentive and also really nice and pleasant. Their service staff definitely deserves a ton of credit. On another note and if you are teh type of person who cares about such superficialities, I can share with you that even my dining companions of the homosexual persuasion could not resist noting that all of the service staff possessed certain aesthetic qualities that served to enhance our dining experience.

As for the food, basically, the servers went around delivering various appetizers from the Joey menu. I think they had about 6 or 7 different dishes that they were sharing with us and pretty much all of them got excellent reviews from our table. I personally liked the Bangkok Curry Bowl, the first dish I sampled. I don’t like when chain restaurants dial down the spice in teh food so was pleasantly surprised that this actually had some very nice heat to it. I think my favourite app that i sampled was the “tuna taco”. These are deep-fried wonton shells filled with very good, rare ahi tuna with a nice peppery crust on it. Absolutely delicious. Joey deserves credit for not skimping on teh ingredients. This was very good quality and very fresh tuna. The lobster grilled cheese sandwiches also got rave reviews from our table and everyone surrounding it (there was a rush to grab them when the trays came by) , with one diner overheard describing it as “better than an orgasm on cocaine.” Given that my religion forbids lobster (along with orgasms and cocaine), I will defer to their judgment.

Now, for the most important part of any pleasant evening out, the drinks. I didn’t check out the wine lsit so can’t comment on that. Apparently, they have some sort of very impressive cool wine pouring system but, again, I did not partake in any wine. I’m assuming they have all the standard beers on their list (they were serving Stella at the party), but they offer some very good signature cocktails which I would highly recommend. Basically, these cocktails were vodka, soda, fruit and some osrt of icy “slush” like you’d get in a Slushie. I sampled several of these and they were all very good. The apple-flavoured one is the beverage that I would most recommend. These are really tasty and nicely refreshing. They also have some very elaborate cocktails which some of my friends sampled and they looked pretty impressive. The only cocktail that didn’t really work for me was the “super sonic gin and tonic” which came highly recommended by our server. The G&T is one of my standard drink choices but mixing it with this icy slush substance jsut added too much sweetness. So I’d take a pass on this one and stick with the vodka sodas.

Another thing: all my food and drink was on teh house so I have no idea what the prices were and if the place offers value for money. But, generally, I was quite impressed. Excellent service, very good food and some cool and unique cocktails make for a good time. If this place were at Yonge and Bloor, I could see it being somewhere that I’d frequent with some regularity. And word on teh street is that they will be opening a more downtown location at some point, which would be a welcome addition. It definitely is worth the trek to Don Mills at least once to check it out. And if you were planning on doing some shopping up there anyways and looking for a place to eat, this seems like the place to go.

Of course, if the good folks at Maverick would keep sending me limos, I’d be there all the time…