Monday, January 11, 2021

From Greg Hahn: Ads that influenced me.

Greg Hahn is something rare. A legend who deserves to be a legend. 

He's produced great work for decades, from wherever he's hung his hair. Mischief, BBDO, Fallon. 

I asked Greg some months ago to write something for Ad Aged. He was kind enough to say yes.

Thanks, Greg.


About 100 months ago in April of 2020, George graciously reached out to me and asked if I would write a piece for his blog. I softly committed and quietly hoped, like many of the commitments I make, that when the time comes, he would forget about it. 

After all, writing for his blog is an intimidating gig. People read George's blog because of George, not for me. It would be like going to the Broadway performance of "Network" starring Bryan Cranston only to hear "For tonight's performance, the role of Howard Beale will be played by Greg Hahn."


But still, he persisted.


And you do not stay a top writer in this business as long as George has without knowing how to get results. The rest of this blog is that result.


Rather than try to fill George's shoes and write about the current state of Advertising, I'm going to put on my own shoes and take a step back to write about three ads that had a big influence on me as I was just starting out.


The three ads I chose are pretty different but do have one thing in common. they are grounded in simple logic.


They are not flashy or overly produced. They simply offer a strong compelling piece of logic that makes you think something new or different. They make their point much like a trial lawyer. When it's at its best, Advertising can be like the closing argument in the court of public opinion.  


The three I am writing about are like that.


The first one is for Nike starring Charles Barkley from the mid-'90s.

I saw this before I got into Advertising, and was instantly struck by the writing, the simplicity, and the crafting of the argument.


I didn't feel like what I thought was an ad was supposed to be at the time. I didn't know exactly what it was, but I knew I wanted to do it. By the time it got to "Just because I can dunk a basketball, doesn't mean I should raise your kids" I was like, "Hell yeah, Charles Barkley." At the time, I'm pretty sure I thought Charles Barkley wrote this ad.


The second ad is from the highly influential but no longer in existence LA agency Stein/Robaire/Helm for the Los Angeles Contemporary Art Museum.


It's pretty hard to find on the internet so I'll describe it. The commercial (remember this was the 90s) is a simple lockdown shot, super-8 footage, of a guy watering his lawn for the full 30 seconds. It's compelling in its lack of attempt to compel. After about 20 seconds, type comes over the scene: "This is life". A few seconds later a second super comes up: "That's why there's art."


I remember seeing this as a junior when I lived in LA. Again, I was kind of knocked back by the simplicity and the power of the thought. It does what the Nike ad does but in a very different way. Rather than relying on long-copy to walk you through the argument. It makes you experience something, puts you in a moment, and then concludes with a few perfectly chosen words. 


The last one is a legit classic. The "Snowplow" ad for VW-because you can't write an article about influential ads without mentioning VW. It's a law, I checked.



Again, there's nothing technical or flashy about this one, It's just pure logic. A thought so powerful it changes the chemistry in your brain.


As a writer, I can't help but admire the skill and precision with which these ads make their point and genuinely affect the way you feel about something. The basic approach transcends time or technique or media. It's whatever-is-next agnostic. They're each based on a single thought that's perfectly obvious, but only after someone tells it to you. In today's terms this would be called an insight.


And then there's this:


A reminder that sometimes the best approach is, don't overthink it.

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