ad review

We Don’t Want the Capitol

Recently, there has been some local and national buzz around the notion of moving the United States Capitol to Nebraska.  It’s pretty easy to see why media members and bloggers would run with this idea – it makes for an attention-grabbing (and click generating) headline.

The story behind it is a political ad by Ben Sasse, a candidate for one of Nebraska’s U.S. Senate seats.  For better or for worse (and probably it’s the latter), Sasse has employed some interesting ads in his senate campaign*.

*Sasse’s latest ad has his two young daughters talking about how much daddy “despises” Obamacare.  I’d like to comment more on that one, but every time I watch it, I get creeped out.  Maybe if Sasse wins today’s primary election I’ll take a second look at it.

Here is the 30 second version of the Capitol ad:

Normally, when I talk about advertising on this site, I go into the nuts and bolts – what works and what doesn’t.  But political advertising is a completely different beast.  The genre is known as much for a lack of creativity (here is Candidate X standing in front of a bunch of flags, or looking like a regular Joe at the corner cafe) as it is for an extreme creative license with factual information (read:  they’re jam-packed with exaggerations, half-truths, and outright lies).

Instead of picking apart the ad, let’s focus on the key message:  America would be better served if the Capitol is in Nebraska.

Certainly, there is something to this.  Nebraskans, by and large, are a roll-up-your-sleeves, git-r-done, kind of people.  Our unique unicameral (one house) state legislature is officially non-partisan, and is generally free of the political gamesmanship that plagues Washington D.C.

Nebraska, Our Nation's Capital

Nebraska, Our Nation’s Capital (Photo credit: Mike Licht,

But with all due respect to Ben Sasse (and his stroke-the-ego-of-the-populace move to imply that Nebraskans are above the political fray), I think I speak for all Nebraskans when I say, we don’t want the Capitol here.

Why not?  Let’s look at some of the reasons:

  • The majority of the nation (I’m looking at you East and West coasts) would have to think of Nebraska as something other than a barren wasteland of flyover country.  You’d come here, realize how nice it is, and screw it up.
  • Being the center of U.S. politics is not a good way to maintain Nebraska as “The Good Life“.
  • Nebraska trails neighboring states in the number of operational wind turbines, so we are ill-equipped to handle the hot air 535 senators and congressmen would generate.
  • The national media has put too much time and effort into cultivating the national stereotype that Nebraska is nothing but farms, cows, and dudes driving tractors.
  • Depending on the month (or the day) it would be too cold or too hot for you here.
  • As the only state with a unicameral legislature, we wouldn’t know what to do with the extra house.  Besides, we’d probably just decorate it with Husker stuff.
  • Have you ever tried to fly into Nebraska?  It’s not exactly easy.  The four gates at Lincoln Municipal Airport (LNK) would be packed with lobbyists and corporate interests.
  • Bringing Congress here would double, if not triple, the number of democrats currently in our very red state.
  • We don’t want the Beltway gridlock.  We’re pretty partial to “rush hour” slowing our commute down to 35 mph, instead of the usual 45 mph.
  • Washington’s sports teams are a collective train wreck – especially the District’s NFL franchise.  Given that Nebraska football is a statewide passion, we cannot jeopardize it being corrupted by D.C. influences.
  • I think the last democratic president to step foot inside Nebraska was JFK.
  • 17% of Representatives and 6% of Senators could not find Nebraska on a map.  (Hint:  we’re above Kansas and below “One of those Dakotas”)
  • We prefer our manure to come from cows, not politicians.

That said, today is the primary election in Nebraska, so get out and vote for your next Senator, next Governor*, and other local races.

*Oh, you think Nebraska’s Democratic candidates for governor and senate have a chance in November?  You’re so cute!

Ad Review – World’s Toughest Job (M)

Campaign: “World’s Toughest Job”

Campaign Theme in Haiku Format:

Hidden camera
Viral video has a
Surprise twist ending



How long did it take you to figure it out?  How far into the 4 minute, six second video were you when you realized what the job truly was?  For me, it took about 20-30 seconds.  The premise of interviewing for the job of “mom” and referring to the child as “the associate” is rather clever, but it wasn’t exactly an impossible riddle.

This leads to my initial criticism:  who are these people?  Look:  if you are interviewing for a position called “Director of Operations”, I would hope you’d be smart enough to know you’re being had one or two questions into the interview.  If you need to ask if a 24/7 workweek  is “even legal”, that should be your first clue that you are either really under-qualified for an executive job or you are an actor playing the role of a shocked applicant.

As I’ve talked about in past Ad Reviews, I find myself very skeptical of commercials that employ “hidden camera” antics presumably showing everyday folks.  Years and years of reality TV have left me suspicious of any reaction that is presented to me as “real”.  I’m not saying these people weren’t legitimately fooled, but I’ll just as easily believe they were actors demonstrating versions of their “shocked” face into a web cam.

Now, let’s focus on the positives.

First and foremost: everybody loves Mom*.  Hopefully this is a non-negotiable truth.  

*Especially me.  I love you, Mom.  You are truly the best. 

I like the matter-of-fact way the interviewer describes the job requirements of being a mom.  A sampling of my favorites:

  • “Constantly on your feet…high level of stamina” for “135 hours to unlimited hours a week – it’s basically 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
  • “There are no breaks available.”
  • “You can have lunch, but only when the associate is done eating their lunch.”
  • “Requires excellent negotiation and interpersonal skills.”
  • “Degree in medicine, finance, and the culinary arts.”
  • “Able to work in a chaotic environment.”
  • “If you had a life, we’d ask you to sort of give that life up”
  • “No Vacations…On holidays, the workload is going to go up, and we demand that – with a happy disposition.”
  • “No time to sleep.”

And, of course, the kicker:  it pays “absolutely nothing”.

Those lines, delivered to perfection by the faux interviewer, are a big part of why this video has gone viral.  We all know that mom works hard, but sometimes you really need to see it in terms like this to really appreciate it.


Then throw in the reveal when the interviewer tells the applicants what they apparently had not figured out on their own:  Director of Operations is a fancy term for mom.  Cue the outpouring of love and appreciation and pass the tissues because it is getting dusty in here.


The version of the video I watched must have omitted the part where the Director of Operations is standalone position with no assistance from the Vice Director of Administrative Duties (DAD).  Maybe this video is all about the single moms – and seriously, can we get some special recognition for the single moms?  Those women are amazing.  However, I’m pretty sure Director of Operations applicants can be married as well as single.

So what about dad?  Can’t he at least get a mention here?  Look:  I consider myself to be an average to above-average dad, and I feel like I’m doing a lot of these things each and every day.  I wear many of the same hats my wife does, including some she does not (director of grounds maintenance, pest exterminator, waste management engineer, in addition to my responsibilities running the morning shift at the home office), but to hear this video tell it, there are zero expectations on me.  Heck, instead of getting dinner ready, bathing the oldest two, and helping out with bedtime I apparently should have been sitting on the couch watching the ball game with a beer.  Or maybe there will be another version of this video in the weeks leading up to Father’s Day.  But I’m not going to hold my breath.

I’m not trying to take anything away from the hard work put in by my wife or any other married mom out there, but every dad I know plays an active (if not equal) role in the “mom duties” listed above.  The era of the 1950’s TV dad is long gone.  All I’m saying is it would be nice to at least get a mention.

From an advertising perspective, I’m skeptical as to how successful this video will be.  As quickly as you probably figured out that the job listing is for a mom, it probably took a much longer time to figure out whose products/services we are supposed to buy*.  

*My first guess on the identity of the advertiser was Proctor & Gamble, who have done an excellent job of  branding themselves as the “proud supporter of moms” through their series of tear-jerker Olympic ads.

In the 4:06 video, the first clue (a URL for doesn’t come on the screen until the 3:55 mark.  But who the heck is  Some shady website where I create an e-card that ends up snagged in mom’s spam filter?  It’s only at the 4:01 mark that we find out who the real advertiser is:  American Greetings.

In my opinion, this delayed reveal creates two big issues:

1) How many people close the video before the company name is revealed?  Probably more than you think.  The only reason I stuck around was to find out who the advertiser was, but I’m guessing the majority of viewers don’t share my curiosity for these sorts of things.  This is a great example of the old advertising axiom:  It doesn’t matter how great your commercial is if nobody knows about your product.

2) When I read the closing line (“This Mother’s Day, you might want to make her a card”), I definitely do not think of American Greetings.  I think of arts and crafts time with the kids.  Truth be told, on my first viewing, I read “Mother’s Day” and “card” and immediately thought of Hallmark.  I’m guessing that is not what the folks at American Greetings were hoping for.

Overall, this is an amusing video that will likely inspire as many tears as it does views (5.1 million as of this writing).  As a dad, it makes me a little defensive, but I don’t suspect there are too many moms who don’t like it.  Yet, I question how much of an uptick in traffic / sales American Greetings  and will see from it.

Grade:  B-

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(Author’s note:  Wondering why there is a random letter in parentheses in the title of this post?  Not sure how this post corresponds to the daily letter in the April A to Z Challenge?  Like clicking on links?  These questions are all answered here.)

Ad Review – Walmart – Steak-Over

Campaign: ”Steak-Over”

Campaign Theme in Haiku Format:

Walmart steaks so good
Restaurant diners are fooled?
Um, I’m skeptical.



Okay…where to begin?

From a creative standpoint, this campaign is a clear and blatant rip-off of the classic “we’ve secretly replaced their gourmet coffee with Folger’s crystals” ads from the 70s and 80s.  I like creativity in my advertising.  I want to see something new and fresh, not a rehash of a 35 year old concept.

That said, stealing the Folger’s idea is absolutely brilliant.

Admit it:  when the guy says they’re replacing the steaks in some high-end steakhouse with Walmart steaks, your B.S. detector went off.  I know mine did.  We’re all thinking the same things:  there is no freakin’ way these people could a) not notice and b) actually enjoy it.  I’m guessing this is the same reaction my parents’ generation had when the Folger’s campaign was new.  The underlying message – if the patrons in these fancy-pants places can’t tell the difference, neither will my family – is tough to beat.

But as brilliant as their concept is, it does not work perfectly.

Things have changed quite a bit in the last 30+ years.  We are more skeptical and jaded then we used to be.  Everybody knows that many “reality” TV moments are carefully planned, staged, and even scripted.  Sure, these folks enjoyed their Walmart steaks, but how many other diners knew their meat was not as good as it usually is and sent their steaks back?  The on-screen disclaimer says “Real customers were shown and compensated for their time and participation.”  What does that mean?  Did the folks who raved about Walmart steak walk out with $500 gift cards to Walmart?  Were their reactions really that authentic?  Are we supposed to trust Walmart, a company that just admitted to tricking about of unsuspecting people?

Let’s focus back on their message.  I know the reaction I’m supposed to have is “Walmart steaks are so good I’d never know them from those served in an expensive steakhouse”.  But here is the reaction I had the first time I saw this ad:

“Man, I’d be so pissed if they did that to me.”

Seriously.  Imagine you’re out on a special date at a very nice restaurant.  This isn’t grabbing a bite at Applebee’s, I’m talking about a fancy place with cloth napkins, where you need reservations and probably dress up a little bit.  The kind of place you’re only going to a couple of times a year.  As you and your lovely date sit down at Jimmy Kelly’s Steakhouse, a well-known Nashville restaurant, you scan the dinner menu and decide that you are going to splurge on the ribeye ($36.75, not including sides, drinks, tax, or tip).  For $36.75, I’m expecting a damn good piece of meat, perfectly seasoned and grilled to my exact specifications.  I’m expecting a steak so good that I would never even consider tainting it with a drop of steak sauce.

Instead, they bring you out a piece of meat from Walmart.  Just typing out that scenario makes my blood boil.  I don’t care how delicious it is, I would be so, so mad.

It raises a question:  Why on earth would these well-known steakhouses agree to let Walmart do this?  It is a lose/lose proposition for them.  You either invite years of scrutiny upon your restaurant/chef/food because you knowingly served Walmart steaks.  And if the ad is successful, potential customers realize they can get equal quality beef at Walmart for $7.98 a pound, and have no need to pay you $36.75 for the same thing.  Essentially you have allowed Walmart to use your business to discourage people from using your business.  That is an interesting business strategy, Jimmy Kelly Steakhouse.  I hope you got some big bucks from Walmart.

I know there are some of you thinking that old Folger’s campaign didn’t hurt the business or reputation of those four-star places.  And you’re probably right, but there is a big difference here.

Coffee, while an integral part of a meal for some, is not why people go to a four star restaurant – the food is the reason.  If I go to a fancy place, my fabulous meal is not going to be ruined because I had a cup of mediocre instant coffee.  But that doesn’t hold true for these commercials.  Great steak is the cornerstone of a great steakhouse.  Jimmy Kelly Steakhouse may give me a free dessert for my participation, but every time I walk in there I’ll think about the time they gave me piece of meat that came from a store where the people watching has its own website.

Put it another way – if Folger’s revived their old campaign, do you think Starbucks would allow them to come into their stores and film people saying “This is really good.  Instead of spending $3.75 here for my coffee, I’ll use Folger’s from now on”?  Hell no.

And that is where this campaign ultimately falls apart.  Look:  I know you can get some nice, quality items at Wally-World, and in my experience, their fresh grocery items (meat, deli, produce) are probably on par with most other grocery chains.  But convincing me that a Walmart steak can pass for one at a great steakhouse?  That is just too high of a mountain to climb.

Grade:  D

Ad Review – Marines – “Toward the Sounds of Chaos”

Company:  United States Marine Corps

Campaign: ”Towards the Sounds of Chaos”

Campaign Theme in Haiku Format:

When things get crazy
Confusion and chaos reign.
Which way would you run?



Yes, this is an older ad (I believe it came out in early 2012), but it was on my mind as I watched the various videos of the bombing at the Boston Marathon.  Every time I saw those horrible scenes of mayhem and terror, I was struck by the men and women – Boston Police, soldiers, civilians – whose first reaction was to run towards the epicenter of the horror.  Watching this ad again, I am struck by how eerily similar the first ten seconds of this commercial are to the videos in Boston after the first bomb went off.  Especially the screaming.

As for the ad itself, I really like this commercial.  It is gritty, it is honest (or as honest as a commercial for an occupation where death, dismemberment, and/or long-term mental illness are distinct possibilities).  Equally as impressive is avoiding most of the “Oorah” machismo that one usually sees in military advertising.  But the most impressive thing this ad does is speak effectively to two entirely different audiences at the same time.

Which way would you run?  The million dollar question that divides our two camps.

Obviously, the primary target audience are those men and women who would intentionally run towards chaos.  Those five little words (accompanied by the point of view video of a Marine running into some serious action) does a better job of explaining what being a Marine is all about than “The few.  The proud.  The Marines.” ever did.  If you brave enough to run to chaos, the Marines would love to talk to you.  If not, the closest you’ll get to being a Marine is a Sunday afternoon showing of “A Few Good Men” on TNT.

There are not too many ads where I am as far removed from the primary target audience as I am here.  Which way would I run?  This will come as no surprise to those who know me, but I am running away from chaos.  Far, far away.  As quickly as possible.  With Costanza-esque disregard for women and children.*

*More realistically, I’m probably going to curl up in the fetal position and hide or pretend to be dead until the threat of danger passes.  But doesn’t allow me the opportunity to link to a Seinfeld clip.  And I think it is slightly more manly to say that I’d run away instead of playing opossum.

I am a coward who has no desire to ever be anywhere close to Marine-level chaos.  And yet, this commercial still has a message for me.  The Marines would like to remind me (and the other chickens in my camp) that one of the reasons we continue to have our freedom, our rights, and our great nation is because there are people courageous enough to move towards evil and work to defeat it.  As we were reminded of in Boston, not all of these heroes are Marines, but the commercial is a good reminder of the debt of gratitude we all owe to those who serve, defend, and protect us.  God bless all of you, and I thank you.

One nit-pick with the ad:  I like the idea of showing the Marines hauling the boxes marked “Aid”, as supplying aid to people impacted by war, tyranny, and disaster is an important part of being in the armed forces.  But the very next image (around 0:36) is of a gunner in the helicopter, who looks like he about to rain bullets down on the folks receiving the aid.  Probably could have transitioned a little better there.  Otherwise, a very strong ad.

Overall Grade:  A

Super Ads II

Last year, I reviewed all of the Super Bowl commercials, and I’m going to do it again.  I’m going to review and rate each of the commercials in the Super Bowl.  I watched the game in real-time (or as close to it as one can get with a wife and three-year old daughter who went to bed somewhere in the 3rd Quarter), compiling notes as I went.  After the game, I went back, using the magic of DVR technology, and took a second, third, and sometimes fourth look.

Let’s get to it…(note – the names of the ads are my own, since I didn’t feel like looking up the names for 50 some ads.  Also, I didn’t link to any of them.  They are all on YouTube if you need to see them again).


Ad Review – Jack Links Beef Jerky – “Messin’ With Sasquatch”

Company:  Jack Links Beef Jerky

Campaign: “Messin’ With Sasquatch”

Campaign Theme in Haiku Format:

Play pranks on Bigfoot
After eating jerky snack
End up in much pain



For a certain demographic, these commercials have it all:  the great outdoors, hanging with buddies, beefy snack sticks, childish pranks, Bigfoot, and slapstick violence.  For the 16-year-old boy in me, the only thing these commercials are missing is girls in bikinis.

However, I’m not 16 anymore, and the more I watch these commercials, the more I question their efficiency.  Let’s start with the product itself.  What is Jack Links trying to say about their product?  The numerous commercials in this campaign would have me believe one of two things:

1) Jack Links Beef Jerky is the perfect snack for idiots who play childish pranks on freakishly strong, giant woodland creatures

2) Jack Links Beef Jerky makes you do stupid things that end up getting you hurt.

Either way, I’m probably going to pass on the jerky.

I’ll admit the original concept is amusing, but this campaign is quickly running out of steam.  I mean, when you’re out camping with your buddies, do you really pack the gag snakes in a peanut can?

Overall Grade:  C

Ad Review – Ally Bank “Stop Accepting”

Company:  Ally Bank

Campaign: “Stop Accepting”

Campaign Theme in Haiku Format:

Accept repeating
Over and over again.
Too much?  Accept it.



Repetition is a good way to make a point.  You may not know this, but repetition is an excellent way to make a point.  Seriously, did you know that repetition is a great way to make your point?  With that in mind, this ad does an excellent job of making it’s point (and in a much less annoying way than I just did):  you can either accept being a whipping boy/revenue source for your bank, or you can revolt against The Man and switch to Ally Bank.

When I come across an ad that uses repetition to beat it’s point into my skull, I typically count the number of times they repeat the company name/key word/phrase/tagline.  In a 30 second spot, 5-6 repetitions is a lot.  With this 60 second ad?  By my rough count, I get 14 – and that is not including the nearly 10 seconds of having “accept it” looping continuously in the background, which probably pushes the count well over 30.  In addition, the ATM screen with “Accept” and “Don’t Accept” shows another 10 times.  Mission accomplished on driving your point home.

I really enjoy Ally Bank’s campaign, as they use great visual examples to make their key point:  we put up with a lot of crap, abuse, and ethically questionable behavior from our banks.  A couple of other favorites:  the little girl who must pay a fee to ride her bike outside of a tiny square and another new spot where they ask complete strangers to watch $100,000.  They do an excellent job of pointing out how you and I are likely being screwed by our banks.

That’s the good news.  The bad news is most people would rather get a root canal than switch banks – regardless of how abused and service charged they are.  In 2010, less than 8% of consumers reported that they switched banks.  While fees were the second most common motivating factor (17% of respondents) it was far behind the primary reason for changing banks:  life circumstances such as a move or a divorce.

In short, as long as you and I are staying in the same town, we’re likely staying with the same bank.  But I completely get Ally’s motives.  You probably aren’t going to switch, but these ads do a good job of putting awareness and a sliver of doubt in your mind about your banking relationship.

I do have one complaint about this ad:  ultimately, the guy “accepts it”, takes out the cash, and goes on with his life.  There are only three conclusions one can draw from this:

  1. As noted above, people will pay to not be inconvenienced, which is not the message Ally is hoping to send.
  2. People should give into peer pressure, especially if they are directed to do something 30+ times.  What a great message for the kids!
  3. A $3 ATM fee is a small price to pay to keep your wife happy.

Besides – assuming the guy has a debit card, there is almost zero need to ever pay an ATM fee – regardless of your bank.  Just go to your neighborhood grocery store, pharmacy, big box, etc. and buy a pack of gum/candy bar/soda.  Pay with your debit card and get $20 back in cash.  Instead of paying a $3 ATM fee, you have only paid $1, and you have a pack of gum to show for it.

Ad Review – Miller Lite “Man Up”

Welcome to the first of what I hope to a recurring series of Ad Reviews where your humble blogger will provide comment, criticism, and praise for the ads that are on while you go to the bathroom or press >> on the DVR remote.

In the 20th Century, there would be many credentials necessary for someone like me to publish critical commentary on the creative work of others – such as several years of experience in the ad game, dozens of big name clients I’ve helped, prestigious awards I’ve won, etc.

Fortunately for me, this is the 21st Century and my essential credentials are a) an internet connection, b) a free blog site, and c) a (mostly) functional keyboard* The fact that I have a degree in Advertising from (what is now) a prestigious Big Ten university probably makes me overqualified for the gig.

*I’m pretty sure somebody could pull off a serviceable blog without using any letters worth more than 5 points in Scrabble. Heck, I’m pulling it off so far. Of course, time will tell if I can get this puppy throttled up to “Serviceable”.

So let’s dive in…First up is Miller Lite’s “Man Up” campaign.

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