Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Google Superbowl ad = your awesome longform show.

Google's Superbowl ad was GORGEOUS. From the simple, blinking cursor at the start...to the graceful combination of product demo and benefits...to the smart, engaging storytelling...

Really, really nice work. My vote for the only truly compelling commercial of the night. And as Advertising Age put it, "During and after the game, the spot was widely discussed, tweeted, blogged-about and re-posted on all manner of digital water coolers from Twitter to Facebook to LinkedIn."

But in the same article, they pointed out that consumers didn't notice or love it. What they loved? Betty White getting tackled. A guy in a shock collar.

Marketing geeks can love the beautiful work Google does all day long...but unless consumers notice it, it doesn't work.


Improv geeks can love amazing long form all night long...but unless consumers get it, it doesn't matter.

Industry insiders fall in love with the stuff that challenges us and makes us happy.

The Google ad incorporates the stuff we copywriters love (simple storytelling and a copy-only ad BWA HA HA) with the stuff the budget guys love (seriously...screen captures?) with the stuff marketing strategists love (product demos and benefits).

Longform incorporates the stuff improvisers love: scenes, relationships and characters in their purest form.

But the audience goes for the gimmick. In marketing, it's slapstick. In improv, it's Da Doo Run Run or any mime and gibberish guessing game.

So we're left shooting for the middle ground. The place where we keep our self-respect and feel like we're doing our best work—but where the audience will meet us and laugh (or cry) with us.

In other words, let's face it...we're all shooting for the Budweiser Clydesdales commercial.


  1. you almost had me, until claiming we're all shooting for the clydesdale spot. i thought we all agreed that the clydesdale ads were all played out. the last time they were interesting was when the horses played football (remember the zebra referee?) this year's was just dumb. the "especially fences" line at the end is particulary moronic.

    as for the google ad, i completely agree that it was a really well done piece. just seemed like a waste. who needs to be sold on google?

  2. The Arnold in January at The Roving Imp had some problems...mostly with focus...but also with a lack of energy that we weren't getting back from the audiance. The first half was a malonge and the second half was going to be a Harold but it turned into hyperlinks. When it came down to it, the audiance were short form people...and when John decided to start doing short form games, the audiance really got into it.
    As far as the google ad goes, I think the main problem for them was that it wound up being almost a love story told through google search. This is fine. But somehow, I don't thik that the "majority" of the super bowl watching audiance (let me just say that I've never been a huge fan of football, by the way)would find a love story told through google search very appealing.

    But that's just my take on it.

  3. The audience, at least in Kansas City, is always made up of short form people.

    I've told this little story a million times, but it still affects my improv worldview immensely:

    We had a killer show at ComedyCity several years back. Absolutely packed house, huge energy, huge response. It was one of those shows where the audience is almost hesitant to talk to you afterward because they don't feel worthy. Great improv, fantastic execution...just an A+ show.

    I went to get a spray bottle to start doing tables, and a couple in their mid-to-late-20s came up to me.

    "You guys were AWESOME tonight!"
    "I can't believe how quick you are!"
    "How do you think that fast?"

    I'm feeling pretty good right?

    "My god, when you rhymed 'puck', 'mighty duck', and 'Canuck' in that one game, I about lost it."

    Moral? When it comes down to it, this is what the public appreciates.

    They want to see something they can't do and hear things more clever than what they would have thought of.

    That's not to say longform can't work. It's just to say your longform had better not look like its people standing around talking and acting goofy. People can get that at their family picnic.

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  5. ...but also with a lack of energy that we weren't getting back from the audiance...

    Oh - and the audience doesn't owe you any energy. Ever.

  6. @The Union: I'm a sucker for the Clydesdales. (Hey, I work at Hallmark. There's a storytelling thing there I JUST CAN'T QUIT.) Also, may have been overly swayed by the longhorn.

    @David: Superbowl audience is made up of 40% women, who make 85% of the purchase decisions in their households. Also, stats show men focus more on the game, women on the commercials.

    Well, crap. I've started a long-form, short-form debate again. Which probably makes me a whore for ratings.

  7. I don't think it's necessarily a short/long debate. It's about coming to terms with the fact that our tastes and experiences don't always mirror those of the public at large.

    You appreciate the artistry of the Google commercial. I thought it was well-executed, but "gorgeous" is an exaggeration. The average person probably found it tedious.

    Point is, you're surrounded by this industry every day, I'm not (but I'd like to think I'm more appreciative of 'smart & creative' than most), and the average person laughs when the horse farts on the Bud Light carriage ride commercial.

    When we're surrounded by something, we tend to lose track that others' knowledge and exposure can be far less extensive. Example: when Michael switched the font on our Tantrum logo, you mentioned that the previous font was common to the point of overuse. No, it's not. I have NOT ONCE seen that font used anywhere else, and I notice those things. But you work around it every day.

    By analogy, we're surrounded by improv. Sometimes we lose track of what's important. We may be proud that we made a killer character choice with something we learned in an all-day guru workshop, but chances are the audience laughed more when we said something witty.

  8. I've appreciated Josh and Trisha's insights lately. I find myself agreeing with them completly. Thanks guys.

  9. "Oh - and the audience doesn't owe you any energy. Ever."

    I'm sorry. I worded that wrong. What I meant was that we were lacking in both focus and energy. The feedback from the audiance usually feeds the energy of the performers. The audiance, though I hear that they were really enjoying it, weren't responding. Therefore, John decided that we do hyperlinks...where the audiance shouts click when they want to see a scene start from a line said. This started to get a response, but not until we did short form did the audiance really start to respond.

    So yes, the audiance doesn't owe us energy. But the audiance's feedback does feed the energy.

  10. I don't agree that Kansas City is a short form town. I don't agree that gimmick is the only thing an audience wants.

  11. I'm in the same camp as The Union...

    I thought the Google ad was endearing. I appreciated the story aspect to it, but it left me wondering why. At this point in our society is there anyone under the age of 70 who doesn't know who or what Google is? I think my 80+ year old grandmother even knows and she gets on a computer approximately 0% of the time. So, what was really the point of the commercial? What was their goal/intent?

    Regarding the argument over form, I will once again preach balance. We need to provide approximately 50% what the audience knows and/or enjoys with the remainder containing something new that they may not know or understand. If we never teach our audiences, how will they then come to know and appreciate something other than simple joke telling or gimmick games? Entertain and educate. Gently guide them into the new frontier, don't shove them unexpectedly. There are other analogies, but I think I'll refrain from the crass.

  12. 20% -
    Re-reading my response, I understand how it came off like there is no room for longform in Kansas City. I obviously don't believe that, since half of my troupe's show is longform.

    My clarification, more in line with the author's original mass appeal/niche appeal intent:
    After shows, improvisers (and a few audience members) will say how they liked something more subtle or thoughtful that occurred in the second act, which happens to be our longform piece. Everybody else, including my friends who see one show a year say they really enjoyed something about the first act, which happens to be our shortform piece.

    My point is simply that the second group is much, much larger.

    I'm not suggesting we go all hack (which I think is what you mean by "gimmick") and try to become to stage performance what Nickelback is to music. Like the Steaming Bowl said, I think we need to balance artistic integrity with something that is accessible and amounts to more than a workshop exercise. We'd love to be Radiohead, and we'd take Wilco in a heartbeat.

  13. Oh, and "why does google advertise"? Same reason any brand does: Market share. Bing and Yahoo are still way far behind, but they're scrappy. Even if your brand is the market leader, you can't let consumers forget about you—what you do, why you're different, what you mean to them.

  14. I understand the whole not wanting people to forget about you aspect of it all, but in this technological age, is it really likely to happen? Hasn't Google become the proprietary eponym/generic trademark of the internet age joining the ranks of Kleenex, Band-Aid, et al? This product has become verbed.

    Does anyone say "Do an online search.", "I'm going to Bing that!", "I just spent the last hour Yahooing." or "Dude, I totally AltaVista'd her last night!"?


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