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August 8, 2009
Madison Avenue, We Have a Problem

I never thought I’d live to see it---a deer photocopying its butt. But there it was on my DVR. It was a commercial for VitaminWater10 by Glaceau. What happened next was what every account executive, media buyer and creative wishes for. I hit “Reverse” and watched the spot again.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the “Like Water, Only Better” campaign, it’s shot in the offices of “Water Incorporated—since the dawn of time” and stars Mother Nature being upset at VitaminWater only being 10 calories per serving and everyone is going to have to work harder. The casting of Mother Nature is spot on. The animals talking in an office setting are hilarious, like the rabbit explaining that so-so can’t work harder because she’s on maternity leave for the 34th time this year. And the sight gags are unforgettable like the wolf that eats gophers off camera. There’s a visual treat in every spot.

Madison Avenue, we have a problem.
For me, there’s only one problem with this very memorable, anti-zapping commercial campaign. I can’t recall the advertiser. It’s sad. In writing this, I had to think hard to remember the advertiser. One spot even had Mother Nature showing a full-page ad for VitaminWater10. Still, I couldn’t recall the product or name. I asked my better half. She couldn’t recall either.

The creative in me loves both the spots and the positioning against water. So what’s wrong? It’s the fact that I remember the talking animals, the visual gags, the funny dialogue, everything but the product. As strange as it is to put it, the spots are too memorable.

Humor should evolve out of the product, not the competition.
Hey, I’m not the first to think this. Bill Bernbach admonished his creatives at DDB that humor had to evolve out of the product.

Wait, I hear you. Bernbach didn’t have to compete with the remote control, media proliferation and empowered consumers. Those were three channel black and white Philco days. Indeed.

Also, clients today don’t like it when you make fun of their products. But the competition? Whether it’s Mother Nature or the cable company in the case of DirectTV, the competition is fair game. Unless, of course, the competition veers too close to real—see Papa John vs. Pizza Hut.

The point is, you can poke fun at the competition and make the client the hero. But, as we’ve seen with VitaminWater10, the more you succeed at the former, the more you fail at the latter.

Use data to sell humor
We know humor works. It’s memorable. But if the humor comes from the client’s product, how can we sell it? I think we just hit on the answer. We have to sell it. How?

Well, from what I’ve seen lately, clients are into data and analytics. Showing them the numbers is like showing them the money. So use data to state the business case for taking ad liberties with their product. The way I see it, it’s the way to create memorable advertising that’s inseparable from the product.

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Mike Ogden is a digital/senior writer based in Kansas City. Ad agency stops have enabled him to create for major brands like American Century, Capital One, Sprint, and USAA. Seasoned and sharp with a touch of gray, Ogden, aka Og, is known for creating and championing ideas. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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