Aug 17, 2007

Get Your Head In The Game

Poor Virginia Heffernan. The Times’ very serious TV critic has the unenviable task today of reviewing the latest iteration of the Disney über-juggernaut High School Musical. And like so many in our business when confronted with content that’s clearly not aimed at them, she makes the mistake of reviewing it from her point of view.

So rather than an thoughtful explanation of why a 9 year-old might be enthralled with the production, we get a long-winded explanation of why a childless 30something hipstress is not.

Now Disney’s marketing machine has all but ensured that this evening’s premiere of High School Musical 2 is a seminal event in the lives of elementary school students across America, if not the world. (The Tadpoles are actually attending a party one of their friends is having where they can watch the show in all its 60 inch screen glory.) But Heffernan is only concerned with how she and her friends can enjoy the show via ironic karaoke experiences and doesn’t try and examine its popularity other than to express her complete bafflement.

The only positive note from her review is that all across Brooklyn the sort of hipster fathers who ban the Wiggles and force-feed their toddlers Death Cab For Cutie are vowing to themselves that their little Oscars and Esmés (and every hipster either has or knows a toddler named Oscar or Esmé) will never ever watch something this banal. (Fat chance.)

But for marketers and ad folk, the lesson here is that content-- whether it's a movie, a show, a website or a TV commercial-- needs to be judged using the aesthetics of the community it's targeted at. Because something aimed at old ladies-- or elementary school kids-- is not necessarily going to have universal appeal.

Nor should it.


Anonymous said...

i bet she doesn't have kids. if you don't have kids you simply can't understand HSM et al.

it reminds of the late 90s when Barney the purple dinosaur was the rage and my oldest was a toddler. it used to drive me crazy to hear my singleton hipster ad colleagues ripping on him because he was "annoying".

barney, i would continually point out, is intended for frigging TODDLERS!

Alan Wolk said...

@TSR: Hear you 100% about things that are aimed at kids. Have you ever read Malcolm Gladwell's book "The Tipping Point"? He has a whole chapter about Sesame Street, Blues Clues and why certain shows appeal to kids. Interesting stuff.

Anonymous said...

yes. i did read that. it turned out the sesame street formula, short bits of random stuff, actually wasn't the best way to teach kids. hence the interactive repetitive style of dora the explorer and blues clues. btw, have you ever seen Jakers? hilarious. mel brooks as an irish sheep.

Anonymous said...

btw, just found out my daughter is invited to 3 HSM2 parties. that's a phenomenon. opinions are irrelevant.

Alan Wolk said...

@TSR: I'm about 3 degrees of separation from her and I don't believe she has kids.

I love Jakers. And admit to occasionally watching it without the kids. It's hilarious. Not sure how Mel Brooks wound up as a Jewish-American sheep in the middle of 1950s Ireland, but he's hilarious and the stories with Piggly are well done and quite charming.

Alan Wolk said...

PS: And while I thought HSM-1 was better, HSM-2 was quite entertaining, the kids seemed to dig it (and I was with about 10 of them) and they managed to stay true to the franchise.

Best quote I've read about it (and I forget where I read it, sorry) was "14 year old girls all dream of getting their first kiss from Zac Effron, in their bedrooms, while hugging a teddy bear that's holding a heart-shaped mylar balloon."


Anonymous said...


I really like what you're writing here. It's very true. Virginia Heffernan seems to think that everyone is, of course, just like her. Same views, same values, same lifestyle. She doesn't seem to realize that she's writing to mostly parents who are more concerned about whether their 13 year old would like it. Or she's writing to some 13 years olds as well.

For years, I've had the same complaint about advertising. Same mindset/age range/world view/belief system. Can't see beyond their own world. They no there's a world beyond what they see, but they don't want to see it. So they mock it.

I've worked in politics and have seen the same thing.

Heffernan is showing us that the media is the same. And she's with the New York Times of all things. Says a lot about the mindset/world view of that pub.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Toad, that last comment was from me. But great post!

HighJive said...

Was going to type the following even before reading trenn’s comments:

Can’t the same basic argument of this post be applied to advertising awards shows and the industry in general?

It’s bad enough that awards shows judges are virtually clueless about the works’ intended audiences. It’s even worse that the people creating the work are clueless about the audiences comprising the “mass market.”

Anonymous said...

HJ, yes it can apply to the industry in general.

unfortunately the industry is what it is - younger whiter and largely male. and has been for quite some time. and the ability to empathize with others is a talent. i'm not sure it can be taught. esp. to someone whose life trajectory has been, for example, college in Iowa...big city...end of story.

Alan Wolk said...

@Jonathan, High Jive & TSR: Agree completely with where you guys are taking this.

The Toad Tirade category this falls under is "Not Everyone Is An Upscale Urban 30something White Male Hipster" - which was originally written in response to award shows. (If you click on that category in the right hand column, you'll see the entire breadth of it.)

Ad creatives are absolutely guilty of writing, art directing and award show judging everything as if it were aimed directly at them.

I've always admired the old-ish Budweiser "Frogs" campaign because it was funny and charming yet managed to appeal to a broad range of people.

Today's media landscape gives even greater permission to craft advertising that jibes with the tastes of your target, yet we still mostly manage to write everything as if it were running on FX or MTV.

Anonymous said...

you mention bud frogs. i toiled on that account for years. that's a good example. one of the mistakes creatives make working on that, and in beer in general, is forgetting that they're talking to people who are generally a good bit younger than they are. and who therefore are more open to suggestion.

the only downside to the frogs being that by virtue of it appealing to everyone (including your granny) it lacked coolness. which can be fatal to the only people that matter: young drinkers whose brand preferences haven't yet calcified.

Alan Wolk said...

Interesting perspective on Bud, TSR.

Crispin has often been criticized because their Burger King work is very juvenile. But I've read how that's their strategy: to get high school and college-aged guys to think of BK as "their" brand, since fast-food is another category where loyalty is established young and where that cohort (hey, I can use account guy words with the best of them) is filled with heavy users.

Anonymous said...

that's a good point and example. BK ignores the people who are never going to buy their product anyway. remember when, pre-CPB, they were trying to do a Mcdonalds? and it was wretchedly awful. and now Mcds is trying to become them. ha!

i'm also guessing that another reason crispin's work is juvenile because they practically hire juveniles, ie cheap. which can hurt them when they need a little more depth creatively.

still the best agency in the land though IMHO.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Toad,

I like what you have to say, and how you clearly have to say it. Many of the ways you recount your inspired ennui ring true for my own fractured cranium and way frazzled synapses. Where does surviving this game begin and remembering what first drew us in (the need to straddle if not balance the art/commerce seesaw) end? To wit, I recently finished something that has been getting some play on the web, and at this point I think it's fair to say I lack objectivity about it, and then some. I'd like to send it to you to see what you think - not to get yet more mortgaged press, but just to share it, you know, private-like, because of my perceived Toad simpatico. May I do so?


Alan Wolk said...

@ Similar: I'd be pleased to have a look. Can you give me a hint what I'm looking at: a book, a play, an ad, a portfolio?

I'm willing to lend my eyeballs whatever the case. Glad to hear you are liking what you read here.


Anonymous said...

Ah, beer, one of my favorite subjects. I cut and paste this from an old article.

November 16, 2005 - ( - Beer rivals Anheuser-Busch and SABMiller that poured millions of dollars into ads that reinforce a raucous, frat-boy image, haven't done themselves any favors, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Now they need to undo all that hard work, says the new top marketer at Miller Brewing Co., in the report.

"People will tell you that beer is not sophisticated enough, or stylish enough, to compete with wine and spirits," Tom Long, Miller's chief marketing officer, told The Wall Street Journal . "Why do they think that? Well, I believe it's because we told them to."

I've always felt that beer ads were some of the most formulaic ones out there and they hardly ever impressed me. Young idiots, hot chicks and beer. Men aren't that stupid, hence the rejection of domestic beer for a while. And women come in all shapes and sizes.

The targeted audience, here being young men, didn't like being ever so slightly degraded time and time again.

A perfect case of your brand is not ME. ; )

Anonymous said...

Mr. T,

They're web videos, sir. Question: can I email you the link? If you decide to post them on your blog, cool, but first I'd like to just send em to you, and get someones opinion I respect in a non-self serving capacity, you know? What do you think" Is this possible or does it break some sort of blogosphere rules of transparency?


Alan Wolk said...

@ Similar: By all means send the link. My email can be found in the "About Me" section-- the logic on it is CitrusFruitAmphibian@gmail dot com

Looking forward to seeing it.

Anonymous said...

agree with JT up to a point. but there have been some quality beer campaigns in recent years. it's not been all T&A.

beer is beer. it's just not that sophisticated or special is it. it's casual. which was its achilles heel. the success of the more "sophisticated" spirits recently is testament to that.

Anonymous said...

@tsr - the stats were down for domestic beer, micros and imports did ok.

To me it was the combined effect. Many ads with similar themes.

Anonymous said...


part of the problem (and i don't think you can point to any one thing as the sole source of domestic beer's woes) was that the big three brewers saw themselves as only in competition with each other for a long time. and ignored the spirits threat till it was too late.

and the most neanderthal advertising was done for the light beer category. the only bright spot in US
beer. of course it's debatable how much of that can be attributed to advertising. light beer was the generational choice. and what's ligther than light beer? vodka!

Alan Wolk said...

@Similar: What happened to you? Have not heard from you. Did the email address not work?

@JT and TSR: I am not familiar with the beer category other than as a consumer. But among my friends I know it's become standard to serve some sort of microbrew or obscure import rather than Bud or Miller. I'm not just talking the inevitable beer snob, but just even for a poker game. Is that something of an industry trend or just a fluke?

Anonymous said...

yes, it's a trend. imports have been gaining ground for years. funky exotic beer is a worldwide trend. tiger beer is huge now in ireland for example.

meanwhile the domestic premiums (budweiser, miller) have been losing ground for years. because they're not perceived as "sophisticated" IMHO.

young guys who drink bud at home will frequently drink heineken in a nightclub. unpatriotic traitors!

Anonymous said...

hey Toad, tried to email you. bounced back, so I sent it to
That's what's listed on your blog.

That's what I sent it to the other night, and again just now. So, not sure what to do...