Is this the worst training video ever?

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The infamous IRS Star Trek training video, possibly the worst training video ever

In our quest to uncover some sweet retro commercials to throw back to, we came across a video that we almost forgot existed. Three years since its release, we are just as horrified by what is possibly the most worst training video ever. With its low production values and overly-forced jokes, it’s still hard to believe that this cringe-worthy video wasn’t dug up from some 1980s time capsule but produced in 2010 by the IRS.

Yes, that IRS. The government agency spent close to $60,000 on this video as well as a similar Gilligan’s Island parody video in preparation for a 2010 leadership conference, and later issued a statement of apology for this video:

There are a lot of things in the world that are so bad, they’re good — that’s the entire reason Sharknado was made. Of course, some things sink to the depths of so-bad-it’s-good territory and then sink a little deeper to a point of no return. This video — quite possibly the worst training video ever — is one of them.

No one expects IRS employees to be amazing actors or to be able to expertly replicate a Star Trek set (if you’re even vaguely familiar with Star Trek you’ll get a good laugh at the Next Generation uniforms paired with the set and characters from the original series). No one expects to go to a leadership conference and watch a cutting, over-the-edge video that will make them laugh until they cry. But maybe that’s part of the problem — companies think they can get away with mediocrity because the bar isn’t high enough.

The fact is, if you’re a professional, putting out a video that was written on the fly and looks like it was slapped together with a simple movie-maker program is kind of like going to a meeting with an investor wearing a wrinkled T-shirt with socks and sandals.

While you don’t have to produce Citizen Kane, this is the kind of thing that you should either do right or not at all. Why? Because bad videos insult the audience, and in this case, the audience is people you hired.

You don’t have to try to be funny and you don’t have to try to riff off of pop culture. The most important thing is simply that you give yourself some credit and you take some pride in what you do. The bar doesn’t raise itself — someone has to take the initiative and do it.

Throwback Thursday: The Game Genie

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We were feeling a little nostalgic, so we figured we’d throw back to an ad from the days of old (to be more specific, 1988). This product was one which had an influence over many of our own lives at Phanta Media — it presented the possibility to rise to our fullest potentials, even live forever.

I’m referring, of course, to the Game Genie — the attachment for Nintendo game cartridges which allowed players to unlock secrets, gain access to secret upgrades and never run out of lives. It basically defeated the entire point of working hard and persisting.

It was awesome.

With its crazy lightning bolts, exploding television, and very enthusiastic 1980s wannabe Bill and Ted bros (who really enjoy getting all up in the camera’s business), this commercial may seem silly now, but it reflects quite accurately how many of us felt about the Game Genie. It was an explosion, it was electrifying, and at some points it may have had us literally upside-down.

Check it out for yourself — if you devoted a large chunk of the 80s/90s to saving Hyrule, this just may strike a cord.

We’ll be celebrating Throwback Thursday every week to shout out to our favourite retro videos,

Urban Outfitters snafu: Edgy is nothing without purpose

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This week, Urban Outfitters came under fire for one of their new, “edgy” pieces of clothing. A one-of-a-kind, vintage Kent State University T-shirt that appeared to be spattered with blood, complete with bullet holes, became available on the retailer’s web site.

The “joke” — if you want to call it that — is that Kent State University was the site of a 1970 shooting which killed four anti-war protesters.

Wait, back up — the same company that produced T-shirts with the slogan “Eat Less,” listed “Obama/Black” as a colour option on its web site and just this year were criticized for a crop top covered with the word “depression” has landed in hot water for an intentionally controversial shirt design?
Shut the front door.

Urban Outfitters reacted predictably to the backlash — they issued a statement apologizing, shirking responsibility for the “coincidental” design, attributing the holes and “blood” to natural occurrences, and expressing regret that their design was interpreted with such negative connotations. The lone shirt had already been sold, so Urban Outfitters didn’t have to pull anything from the shelves before they carried on as though nothing happened.

There are some cynics who think that no matter what the misstep, Urban Outfitters will continue to thrive. After all, very few companies today suffer a great deal from committing social taboos. Some even thrive. Chick-fil-A saw a 12 per cent increase in sales in 2012 following a wave of negative press for their anti-LGBT stance.

So Urban Outfitters should be fine, right?

Not necessarily. Urban Outfitters, Inc. may have reported a 10 per cent increase in quarterly earnings this past July, but that increase came courtesy of its other brands such as Anthropologie and Free People. Urban Outfitters themselves saw sales take a dip for the quarter ending July 31. While it’s too early to tell if a single bad quarter is the sign of dark times, but it might be an indication that after years of finger-wagging on social media, the outrage is starting to translate into shopping habits. Maybe the “Depression” shirt was a turning point.

Similar hipster retailer American Apparel has found itself in dark times as well. This past spring, shares hit an all-time low at 46 cents per share, despite its envelope-pushing ads and catalogues (which many have criticized for their depictions of partial nudity).

It’s dated and over-simplistic to think that “edgy” is all you need to generate sales, even if those sales are from millennials Millennials are also a more socially conscious and vocal generation, so brands have to be more cautious of stepping over the edge. Being edgy is not just about throwing every offensive thing you can at the public like Jackson Pollock to a canvas.

Some say it’s more offensive to not take risks than it is to take them. But these people may not have been referring to a blood-stained shirt from a school where a highly-publicized shooting took place.

Risks are only valuable if they are calculated and well-thought-out. If you’re planning on pissing people off, you should be relatively confident that there will also be people who find it awesome.

Edgy isn’t offensiveness — it’s offensiveness with a purpose. Next week, we’ll look at brands that combine edge with smarts.

Heart-warming vs. Eye-rolling: What makes a commercial sentimental (not cheesy)?

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The best (and worst) in sweet and sentimental video

What one person may find cute, another may consider a completely repulsive pile of overly rich cheese. You can’t please everyone — this is indisputable.

But is there an objective line between cute and cutesy, between sentimental and cheesy? Is there a universal formula that can appeal to the largest potential audience and make even the most cold-hearted go “aww?”

What’s the secret? What makes a commercial sentimental enough to warm the coldest hearts without driving them away? Is it cute kids? Puppies? While both are great, we think it’s more simple than that.

Really, it’s all about sincerity.

A truly sincere ad can engage the audience in the lives of characters who are only around for a minute or less. We’ve already mentioned our favourite Christmas commercials, those of UK retailer John Lewis. In 2013, John Lewis’s annual Christmas commercial managed to captivate its audience with characters who are not only animated, but they’re not even human.

But what about ads that just seem disingenuous? This Toyota commercial clearly went for cute and, quite frankly, failed.

The dialogue between the parents and the receptionist is completely unnatural (why would the customer be saying to the employee, “Toyotas are safe and reliable!” and not the other way around?) and the kid takes wide-eyed eagerness to a whole new level. The extra-sweet vanilla ice cream on top of the cheesy apple pie is the receptionist’s last line — “Well, I didn’t win!” and her carefree guffaw. “Hah hah! I can’t spell!”

Writing “cute” can be a daunting task, but it all boils down to one thing: you have to believe it yourself. If you can’t even bring a smile to your own face, what makes you think it will have that effect on others?

Here’s a commercial we think walks along that line — the second in Cheerios’s “Gracie” series depicting a modern family with an adorable biracial daughter, Gracie.

In this, Gracie’s father explains that Gracie is soon to become a big sister. The dialogue is heartwarming, but not to an unrealistic degree (it helps that it’s well-acted). The music might help to lay the sweetness on a little thick, but overall, you have a cute little family scene that leaves you smiling. What do you think of “Gracie?” Too much sugar, or just right?

It may seem like a silly thing to ponder over, but sweetness is an art. Much like a baker attempting to achieve the perfect balance of tastes in a dish, it’s a meticulous process that is too important to be overlooked. The end result is clear: when you’re too cute, you become transparent, reminding your audience that they’re watching a work of fiction.

When you get it just right, you pull an audience in and make them feel like they’re a part of the experience on-screen. Make no mistake, no matter how short the video is, paying attention to this sort of thing is important. So if it doesn’t touch your own heart, why bother?

Kill the radio star: Five music acts who do video right

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Our favourite music and video double-threats

When it comes to finding fame, artists have to expect that their natural talent will not be enough. We wanted to highlight artists who do video right by using their videos to think outside of the box and grab our attention. What can others learn from these artists? Why should anyone care? Because they prove two things: one, that you can’t just do things for the sake of doing them — you have to do them intelligently. These aren’t just videos, they’re messages.

Two is that you should never settle for being one-dimensional. Being a singer is about more than just singing, just like being a chef is about more than just cooking. It doesn’t always have to be through video, but mastering some sort of other medium to ensure people know your name is usually the difference between you and total irrelevance.

What do you think? Did we get it right? Which artist do you think really made waves through video?

5. Weird Al Yankovic

Weird Al Yankovic

In an age where just about anyone with a sense of pitch and a camera on their phone can become a parody artist, the family-friendly yet always-biting Weird Al still manages to grab the spotlight whenever he makes a comeback. For his most recent effort, taking a queue from Beyoncé and releasing his songs with simultaneous videos, Weird Al chose a video-a-day format, proving that it’s actually possible to make the premier of a parody song an event to discuss around the water cooler.

4. Walk Off the Earth

Walk Off the Earth

Over a span of 18 months, Burlington surf-rockers Walk off the Earth went from a duo playing tiny college-town gigs to viral sensations. Their first creative cover was Gianni’s impressive loop cover of Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie,” and as the videos kept coming, the following grew. It was, of course, the infamous five-people-one-guitar cover of Gotye’s “Somebody I Used to Know” which that resulted in an appearance on The Ellen Show, millions of views and a record deal. Since then, WOTE hasn’t had to work so hard to prove their talents, but they continue to take to YouTube on a regular basis to bring their quirky takes on popular songs, often including other emerging artists. Way to pay it forward, WOTE.

3. OK Go

OK Go

Pop-rock band OK Go had been together for nearly a decade prior to the release of their Grammy-award winning “treadmill dance” video for “Here it Goes Again.” Only after that did the band truly hit the mainstream. They’ve continued to catch attention for their (often) low-budget videos, and have even managed to grab brand partnerships as a result (Samsung, Google and Ford being just a few). Here’s our personal favourite, one of their more high-concept efforts, “This Too Shall Pass.”

(And to follow up a question we asked on an earlier post featuring the video, there actually is one small edit in the video, though the machine did run successfully multiple times).

2. Beyoncé

Beyonce

If she was a star before, her self-titled 2013 album promoted her to the title of icon. Beyoncé is an impossible-to-ignore example of how the marketing is just as important as the content. What grabbed the most headlines had nothing to do with Yonce’s more experimental, rough sound but rather the achievement of recording an album in secret and releasing it with no promotion as well as her visual accompaniment to the tracks and the way she used video to enhance the various themes in her music.

1. Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson was one of the first artists to truly make the music videos an art in their own right. The King of Pop’s videos made popular the idea of music videos with narrative, outside actors and elaborate art direction. Short films such as “Beat It” helped bring MTV into relevance during its early days. He also used it to make waves outside of music. It’s through Jackson’s videos that he was able to make revolutions in the dance industry as well as music — why do you think so many clubgoers break out into the ubiquitous “Thriller” dance when the song comes on?

Celebrating Canada’s Leading Marketers

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Marketing Hall of Legends

Last Friday night we gathered to celebrate the accomplishments of Canada’s leading Marketers and it was a memorable event.

The Marketing Hall of Legends is one of those rare organizations that brings together and showcases the best Canada has to offer – in this case, marketers, media and agencies from across the country.  It was an awe-inspiring evening of connecting, recognition and good old-fashioned fun. 

As a proud partner of the Marketing Hall of Legends we produced all of the video content for the event and in doing so I had some great one-on-one time with each of this year’s Legends.

Being proud of the work we do, I’m eager to share it with you. But more than that, I’m gratified to be a small part of the greater picture. The MHOL is so much more than an industry event. It presents the opportunity to celebrate our homegrown talent. Our leaders. Our legends.

Visionaries

Lise Watier
Founder, Lise Watier Cosmétiques

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Aldo Bensadoun
Founder & Executive Chairman, The ALDO Group

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Builders

John E. Betts
President & CEO, McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada Ltd.

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Bonnie Brooks
President, Hudson’s Bay Company

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Ivan Fecan
CTV (Retired)

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Enablers

Hugh Dow
MacLaren McCann (Retired)

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Jack Bensimon
President, Bensimon Byrne

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David Kincaid
Founder, Managing Partner & CEO, LEVEL5 Strategy Group

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Rick Padulo
Chairman & CEO, Padulo Integrated Inc.

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Mentor

Stéfan Danis
Chief Talent Officer & CEO, Mandrake

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