Thursday, February 11

Passing For Creative: Butterfinger

There are three ways to look at a brand new Butterfinger television commercial, which will begin to air nationally on Feb. 15 and continue through the third quarter: the celebration of consumer generated creative; the hyperbole of hype and hopeful publicity; or the gradual decline of advertising as we know it.

The celebration of consumer generated creative.

For the cost of $28, David Markus, a graduate of the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts, won $25,000 and a one-year supply of Butterfinger candy bars. His spot is a mostly well-framed, cute, mildly funny iPhone app cliche. We don't want to take away from his win whatsoever. Congratulations.

Customers can be creative. And sometimes they might surprise you, like fans of the television show Jericho, who out-marketed the CBS marketing team. Butterfinger was surprised too. It received 600 entries. Some, like this one or this one, aren't bad. Some are, but you can find those on your own.

The hyperbole of hype and hopeful publicity.

A few decent spots aside, the Butterfinger contest doesn't seem to be the success the company thought it would be.

Of those 600 entries, Markus racked up 11,000 views on YouTube, which is far away ahead of the pack, including the contest promo. Most videos averaged about 100 views. On the Facebook/Yahoo video, views are higher with about 3,000 views as the average, which still seems low given the page has about 480,000 fans.

Yet, to read the release, you would think the contest was entered by everyone on the planet. It's loaded with buzz words, such as allowing "fans to take control of the brand and express themselves in a very real way." Six hundred, anyway.

"This approach essentially allowed consumers to talk to each other about the brand they love," said Daniel Jhung, Butterfinger marketing manager. "As a result, we got hundreds of new ideas with a wide range of creative interpretation and depth. The content laboratory is getting bigger and bigger." Maybe.

The gradual decline of advertising as we know it.

Again, this isn't meant to detract from any of Butterfinger's consumer generated marketing. I tend to be a fan of the general concept, and have managed a few in one form or another. But in reviewing the ads, even the decent ones, it seems to strike at the perception of what the general public thinks advertising is as opposed to what it can be.

Sure, there are plenty of creative spots produced by agencies every year (we saw a handful during the Super Bowl), the concept of what makes advertising great is in steady decline. Even at some top ad shops, divergent thinking has somehow morphed into tossing spaghetti and hoping it sticks to the wall.

Great advertising is hardly coming up with something witty or mildly funny or bizarre and tagging a three-second product shot at the end. It's hard work.

It requires someone who can maximize creativity within the least creative of confines and still manage to produce something that connects with people in such a way that not only do they identify with the communication, recognize it as a conversation about what they were thinking anyway, and feel motivated enough to think about it, find out more about it, and maybe even go out and buy it.

And therein might be why the Butterfinger contest seems one off from a real success story. A limited pool of people picked an advertisement they liked best. But what people "like" and what actually works outside of the context of a consumer contest is something else.

And for students hoping to someday pursue the profession as a career, they might keep that in mind before adding to the pile of spots that leave people saying "I could write that ad" as opposed to "I wish I wrote that ad."

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