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

Green Poupon

One of the highlights from last week’s Oscars broadcast was the revival of the classic Grey Poupon campaign.  Anybody who alive in the 1980s remembers the basic gist:  snooty rich guy riding in his Rolls pulls up along another snooty rich guy in his Rolls.  Rich Guy A utters the timeless line “Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?”  Rich Guy B responds “But of course!” and hands the jar out the window.

The reboot of the campaign starts off the same way, but when Guy A drives off with the mustard jar, Guy B gives chase and they have a chase scene interlaced with several symbols of the uber-wealthy.

It is an absolutely brilliant ad – taking a classic, well-known template and flipping it on its head for outstanding dramatic and comedic effect.  I heard from several people who said it was the highlight of Oscar Night.  Having dissected the ads in the last two Super Bowls, I can tell you that this ad would have easily been among the best in either of those games.

And frankly, the brilliance of this ad bums me out.

You see, I recently learned that one of the key people behind this Grey Poupon ad is a classmate of mine from the University of Nebraska.  We were both advertising majors and had several classes together.  And yes, she was pretty good back then.  But…(and maybe this is just my pride and ego talking) but I remember thinking that I was just as good as she was – if not a touch better.

But 15 years later, she’s making amazing commercials in L.A., and my day job is pretty far removed from advertising.  Her work is being seen by 40 million people during the Oscars.  On Oscar Sunday, this blog was viewed by fewer than 40 people.  (Much fewer, I might add).  When she worked on those Christmas Vacation spoof ads for Old Navy, she worked with Chevy Chase.  I once worked with somebody who reminded me of Cousin Eddie.

So yeah, I’m jealous.  And that is something that I never thought I would publicly admit (even if my low readership means that secret will be pretty safe).  And I should also be clear about my fellow Husker who is creating these brilliant ads:  I always thought she was talented, and I truly liked her as a person.  I am very happy for her well-deserved (and I’m sure, hard-earned) success.  It could not happen to a nicer, sweeter person.

But that doesn’t erase that pang of jealousy I feel when I read an article talking about how brilliant the ad was, or think that somebody I considered an equal is doing ads for the second biggest night on TV.  That would be pretty cool.

This envy cause me to look back and evaluate some of the choices I’ve made (pursue unpaid internships or work retail job that pays the bills and bar tab) as well as the lessons I’ve learned (prospective employers care more about your experience than your stellar GPA).

The feelings of jealousy are definitely subsided by my wife (whom I never would have met if not for the decidedly non-advertising job I took out of college) and our beautiful children.  And the rational part of me knows that I would have been very hesitant to move to Chicago or Los Angeles to pursue an ad career – away from family, friends, my Huskers.  Heck, I would not have done it when I was 23 and single and I definitely wouldn’t do it now.

This all leads to the million dollar “what if” question:  If I could go back and do it all over again, would I do things differently, knowing that it could lead to me being the one writing the awesome ad?

My answer is an emphatic “no”.  I have things pretty damn good in my life, and I know a lot of the blessings and positive outcomes that have occurred for me.

That said, if anybody would like a freelance copywriter I am available.  I may not have the amazing portfolio that my fellow Nebraska alum does, but I know in my heart I can produce the same quality of work – and I’ll guarantee my rates are much lower.

Thought of the Day – 10/10/2012

The proliferation of cell phones has brought about many bad things (texting while driving, having to listen to conversations everywhere you go, iPhone snobs, etc.)

But there is one area where cell phones have been an absolute blessing:  They have pretty much destroyed the “10-10” services that could be used to call long distance for less than what your phone company charged.

Think back to the end of the last century – every commercial break was filled with ads for some dial-around service (like 10-10-321 or 10-10-220) touting their super low rates for long distance calling.  These ads starred a veritable who’s who of 1990s B-level talent:  John Lithgow, Dennis Miller, Tony Danza, Reginald VelJohnson, and the two mega stars below:

Super Ads

I’m going to try something that I’ve always wanted to do…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).


Bud Light Platinum “Gold into Platinum”- Six minutes of game time elapse off the clock before we get to the first ad of the night.  As is tradition, Bud Light is up first.  But what is this?  A serious commercial?  For something called Bud Light Platinum?  Where are the talking animals?  The dogs doing tricks?  The beautiful women?  The kicks to the groin?  I keep waiting for the punch line and the closest I get is describing a Bud Light product as “Top shelf taste”.  D-

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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