Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Surfing...The Ads

I'm in advertising. It's what I've done for a living for close to 10 years. I started out doing copywriting for the 2nd ever GRAMMY Awards webcast, way back in '96.

(BTW, for those of you that don't know - and after 10 years of cocktail party small talk, I know there are a lot of you - "copywriting" means "writing copy", not trademarking things, i.e. "copyrights". Oh, and "copy" simply means material, i.e. content, for an article, novel, or advertisement...basically it means "words". And here endeth the lesson.)

For the months leading up to the awards show, and then live from backstage, we streamed audio, video, content, and promotional Recording Academy ads to a worldwide audience, of which about 10 people were actually equipped to receive streaming media. Backed by Apple's now long defunct, "Macintosh Music Network", and hemorrhaging cash in a fit of first-mover frenzy, we were way, WAY too early.

From there my career zig-zagged through the entire cycle of the Dot Com daze, including a 6 1/2 year stint at Yahoo! as an in-house creative director, spewing out ad banners, print ads, and splash pages by the Webvan-full.

Today I'm at an old school, Big 5, Madison Avenue ad agency.

How old school? During the summer, everyone gets to leave at noon on the NY folks can beat the traffic to the Hamptons. Not kidding.

It's a fairly odd route for a former surfer-punk-rocker-cum-rock-critic who fell in with the GRAMMY Awards and learned how to write ad copy, but what the hell - it pays for the new boards.

Anyhow, if I haven't bored you to tears yet with this indulgent resume-lite retrospective, I thought today I'd walk through the pages of Surfing Magazine, one ad at a time. After all, the ads are half the fun in our favorite glorified trade magazines.

And, if we still have the chutzpah, maybe in a later post we'll tackle Surfer and then maybe even the Surfer's Journal, just to see how the rags stack up.

So, if you care to follow along, please have the June 2005 issue of Surfing (B&W cover with orange logo....the "Special 400th Issue Collector's Edition) at the ready.

Listos? Bien...

- O'neill (inside front cover). Pretty cool inside-looking-out shot of Timmy Reyes in the barrel at Backdoor. Not sure the point of the white sponge print on the upper right-hand side, or the illegible copy on the lower right - "Touches You". What the fuck does that mean?

- Reef. Fred Patacchia doing a sick...what the hell do you even call that? And does it even matter? After all, there's the chick's ass, but then again, a shadow of her former self. Big thumbs down to Reef. Your ads may have been pointless and sexist (as Nigel would say, "But what's wrong with being SEXY?"), but at least they were unique. You stood out. Now that you've scaled back the ass, and superimposed some HOT SURFING ACTION - um, in sepia tone, no less - you've simply conformed and now stand for nothing.

- 2nd Reef ad. This is better. Your new sandals have a pimped out material. First a cool close-up, then a nice clean shot of the "PIMPSLIDE". Clean, stylish presentation of a unique product with a unique, memorable name. Good job.

- Hurley. Ah, here we go...the current bread and butter of the surf industry. Ubiquitous sequence of guy (Pat O'Connell) in a barrel, and then a bunch of 10 years-too-late Volcom-esque, copycat, illegible scribbling. Pointless. Adds no street cred to Nike-owned megabrand. Lame.

- 2nd Hurley ad. A-ha! Redemption. Amazing, powerful pipe shot...pre-ejaculatory spit-out. Simple, sick. New logo, too.

- Billabong Pro Tahiti Contest. Pretty amazing 'Choaps shot of AI. Otherwise unremarkable spread. Logos, date, more bad sponge prints - this time gone Tahitian. Next time, let the image speak for itself and tell your art director to leave the tribal trim on the clipart CD where it belongs.

- 5 Pages Content

- Quiksilver. Ugh. Note to Quickie - if you're gonna promote the retro look, don't feature some peach-fuzzed little twerp who looks too young to drive a tractor. Show us the inspiration behind the retro, not the end result.

- 2nd Quiksilver ad. Same problem as before, this day-late-buck-short grasp at the retro bandwagon looks lifted straight from the McDonald's outtake bin. I'm not lovin' it.

- Rusty. Hmmmm...Kalani Chapman driving full bore down the reeling pipe stretch. Looks a bit like faux-content, with the white box and caption style copy. But I like it. Still a bit cluttered for my taste, but I like what they're attempting. Who he is->What he's doing it with->What's next?

- OP. I love these ads. OP has come back from the dead on the retro wave they helped invent in the first place. These WSJ-pencil-sketches-gone-psychedelic feel soulful and look fantastic. Their new tagline: "Original_Still" is simple and memorable. And Joel Tudor is the perfect spokesman.

- Globe...5 pages. "If One is Good, Two is Hobgood". Awful play on words and twins. Plus, twins are creepy. The Fiji contest ad on the 4th and 5th pages ia actually halfway decent, but the previous 3 pages discount Globe as overly enamored with their dynamic duo.

- XM. This ad may have actually been made using PowerPoint. Awful. The shot of the "who gives a shit" boardbag, circa 1994, with the "Now Available!" starburst is so lame it's almost funny.

- O'Neill. Horrendously ugly boardshorts. More sponge print. Tamayo Perry dropping into Pipe wearing, uh, different boardshorts. Zzzzz...

- RVCA Artist Network Program. Featuring a whole bunch of names, and some guy's scribbles from his Jr. High binder. Basquiat. NOT.

- Nixon. Oh man. Please, if you don't have your magazine out, go get it. If the death nell of sideways trucker hats hasn't yet rung, it just rang. I actually feel embarrassed for this woman. Interestingly enough, this is actually an ad for a watch/bracelet, featured at the bottom. Huh? Exactly.

- Rip Curl. Nice shot, but who cares? One nice subtle touch though is that the Rip Curl logo is at the exact same angle as the Rip Curl logo on Pancho Sullivan's board.

- Vans. Another shot. Another pointless trimming of doodles and "ripped edges". The only thing that elevates this ad is the closeup, "you are there" quality of the image. It actually makes a cluttered ad feel cleaner than it is.

- 2nd Vans ad. This one I like. Must be something with Joel Tudor. Stylish, leashless drop, and some fairly funky, colorful watercolor. This stands out.

- Cult. Just another fly-by-trend upstart brand trying desperately to not look uncool. The skull and bones sponge print on the upper right? Ooh. Hardcore, 4th grade art class style.

- Surf Diva. Um, not sure how to describe this ad other than there's just something creepy about those chicks. Like they might teach you to surf, then spout fangs and eat your brain.

- Ambiguous. "Okay, Russell, put on these hundred-dollar-a-pop retro-slob clothes and go stand next to something urban...okay, how about the storm drain? Great. Now don't laugh. I said, DON'T LAUGH!" Oh fuck it, tell the AD to add in a surf photo.

- DC. I always tell my clients, if you can, let your product speak for itself. This ad says, "DC is getting into the sandal game."Guess what? I think they'll sell. Nice work.

- Body Glove. Nothing has changed since the 80's. No matter how hard they try to be 'core, Body Glove will always be an outsider brand...even with Bruce Irons. Add this to an entire portfolio of sad attempts to be cool. The Variflex of wetsuits.

- ...Lost. I think ...Lost has done a fairly good job of carving out a unique niche with their sleazy cartoon style. Adding in the Wolf Pack smells a bit like overreaching, but who knows? The sheer randomness of this ad is a bit confusing though. I'd say stick with the cartoon bit. No one else has done it better.

- 5 pages of content

- Converse. The Chuck Taylor legends decided to target the surf demo a while back. Now they're going after the Frankenreiter subset. Personally I think CTs are iconic and shouldn't be fucked with, especially with anything as lame as hippie-endorsed-hemp. But it's kind of a cool design. I think a retro shot of Joey Ramone circa 1977 in his CTs would have been better, but I can enjoy this, too.

- Fuel TV. Slightly pervy take on the Yellow Submarine style. Too much damn copy though.

- Xcel. Not bad. The photo negative art direction has been done to death, but here for some reason it works. Justin Quirk stretching it out, combined with his spine-twisting air in the same suit is a nice, effective juxtaposition. Excel has taken their single best feature - flexibility - and supported it fairly well. The Dyson never loses suction, and Xcel suits are really flexible. Stick with it, guys.

- Dragon. Is it just me, or do all the pros in this ad look incredibly lame? I look at the cool factor here and I just ain't buying it. Impressive waste of an all-star cast.

- Fox. Racing brand still wants to go surfing. Nice cutback, Tyler, but who fucking cares?

- Life Rolls On. I'm bypassing this one.

- Addidas. Okay, now this is kind of clever. Traditional sports brand enters surf market. No explanation, just a bunch of retro-styled surf stickers, followed by "Hey Surfing, Happy 400th!". It might almost make you think Addidas has been around and sponsoring surf contests for decades. Very guerilla. And, I hate to say it, clearly the work of a professional agency. Thumbs up.

- Aaron Chang. One of the greatest surf photographers ever presents us with a 6-of-one, half-dozen-of-the-other shot of some guy. Toss in some more pointless scribbles and a pair of generic looking boardshorts, and you have a remarkable photographer turned middle-of-the-road trunks peddler. Sad, kind of.

- Ezekiel. Great use of color. Why they stuck in that Polaroid shot though I have no idea. Remove it and you have a clean, stylish ad. BTW, Ezekiel's co-opting of the California Bear was positively fucking brilliant.

- Town and Country. Big wave. Big whoop. Note to T&C: Want to resurrect your brand? Go back to your 80's roots. Bring back the bright pinks and greens and all the crazy little characters. No one ever did it better, and the kids would go absolutely apeshit over repro's of those old t-shirts.

- Anti-Drug. I'm frequently impressed with the sales guys who can go out and wrangle an advertiser like this. However, as far as just-say-no ads go, this one ain't bad. She's kind of cute, too.

-Alpine Stars. I guess these guys make trunks. And, um, I guess Makua Rothman wears said trunks. Okay.

- Monument. YAVRO - Yet Another Volcom RipOff.

- Truth. Truth Productions make very clever ads. I question the placement. I also question their effectiveness. This ad made me want to type in though, and for a print ad, that's pretty damn good.

- DaHui. I despise this brand. This ad is awful and embarrassing and, hopefully, spells the downward spiral of a company that's just a few thousand nautical miles removed from "Crips Clothing".

- The Game. Cluttered, baffling ad. Note to Gerr: Do a single ad each month devoted to one of the 5 teams. Show off the logo, the team colors, and include some trash talk to the other cities. Get some fans and develop some alliances and rivalries. Think Major League Baseball.

- Vestal Watch. Dude, I know Moses parted the Red Sea, but who the fuck parted your hair?

- Dakine. Guy surfing. Picture of traction top. For crying out loud, does the same Art Director work at every surf company? For a sport of individuals, we sure look like a bunch of clones.

- Dakine. Lisa Anderson throwing big spray. Boring, but nice to see a chick carving and I like her orange board.

- FCS. The fact that the fin companies have gotten the average Joe spending extra money on fins is a coup in itself. I like this ad because it shows Jamie O'Brien twisting into a nasty cutback, with a great quote from Jamie really selling the hell out of his fins. All in all it's a good, hard, compelling sell. Granted, 95% of us couldn't tell the difference between carbon-fiber and carbon-paper, but that's what I like about this. Dyson says, "Suction matters." FCS says, "Fins matter." And we believe them.

-Adio. Is there just a machine somewhere in Costa Mesa where you input your logo and a picture of your product and it spews out one of these ads?

- 48 pages content.

- Volcom. Vol-cum, Vol-com...who cares? The once innovators have stalled out while the rest of the world caught up and copied the shit out of them. Now just another face in the crowd. Inevitable really, and fairly amazing they held onto their street-cred as long as they did.

- 16 pages content.

- RVCA. More scribbling on first encore from an earlier ad. Then Alex Knost hanging ten in a very clean, 60's style ad. Nice.

- SurfTech. A failed attempt at what Rusty managed to pull off fairly well in an earlier ad. Rockhold looks like a dweeb and Xanadu looks like he wants to buy you a beer in Hillcrest. Terrible logo (and name) to boot. This company is single-handedly keeping these amazing new board materials in the BZ Foam Board category. A shame.

- Sanuk. Hey, give these guys some credit for originality. These silly slapstick Photoshop jobs take the piss out of Donavan and always make me smile. That's huge.

- Gravity. I can just hear the product marketer going, "Look, can't we just add in the new line of boards down near the bottom of the page? We'll just bump the ad up by two inches. It won't compromise the integrity of the design at all. Promise, bro." Brilliant ad, horrifically compromised.

- Bink. "Fuel the Fire?" What a fucking tool. Whatever the fuck Bink is, they're lame.

- Channel Islands. When will they learn? No one wants to look at Kelly's face. He's stumbled his way through one too many talk shows and bad interviews. Remind us why he was/is the king. Only Curren maintains the mysto for a shot like this.

- Killer Dana. Hey, an old school shout out for a new school ad. We've got trunks, lot's of 'em! Come on down to for the biggest selection of boardshorts on the Web! Yee-haw!

- WRV. Nice drop. But what? You've seen it once...

- Surf Prescriptions. Pathetic rip-off of the American Express campaign. And this ad doesn't even make any sense. At least if you're going to steal, put it to good use.

- Santa Cruz. Anthony Tashnick!!! Anthony Tashnick what??? For some reasons though, I like the little barnacles with the faces drawn on them. Pointless, but fun.

- Sharp Eye. Marcio Zouvi used to shape my boards back in the early/mid 90's. I guess he's still around although this ad hardly makes me want to call him back up. So Julian Mullins can balance a Sharp Eye on his finger. So what? Can he spin a football? Pick his nose? Hang a spoon?

- 7S. Great shot of a cool, fun looking retro board, offset by a terrible, generic headline, "Isn't it time for a new board?" How about, "Holy shit this thing is fun."

-Aerialite. Ha. Old school "sex sells", traditional print ad. Exploitive, clean, and effective. I even read the 8 point copy.

- Flojos. Another ad made with PowerPoint by a Jr. Art Director with 2 semesters of "Commercial Design" at OCC under his belt. Oh, and that font. The worst design elements from the 80's, with none of the retro gaudiness. Might as well bring back the white rubber criss-cross sandals and call it a day.

- Anarchy. Hey Shane, take our logo down to the print ad machine in Costa Mesa. Don't forget a picture of Lopez. No, not that one, the other one. Cory.

- Carve. When PhotoShop goes bad. 5 points for the effort though.

- Jack's Surfboard. Huh, what happened? Sorry, I slept right through this ad.

- Surfco. Terrible, awful design, but brilliant use of gory photos to support product effectiveness. Very clever and slightly ballsy. And you gotta love that name. Can't you just picture the late night infomercials? "Folks, don't you just hate it when you take a fin in the eye?"

- Peppers, Bully's, Silverfish, X-Trak, LX Polarized. Quite possibly the first...and last time you will seen any of these companies in print again. Bullys actually lists their email Maybe they should open a store on Ebay while they're at it.

- No Fear. "Fear has killed more men than time." Oh, and it's an ad for watches. The red headed stepchild of surf brands is STILL HERE and STILL RUNNING TERRIBLE ADS. Gotta give the favorite brand of Riverside rednecks some credit for tenacity.

- Hurley. Wow, this tool almost makes the previous tool look less tool-like. Nikely continues its downward spiral into the inevitable rack at Target.

- Spy Optics. Cool logo, cool font, nice design...TERRIBLE picture of yet another awkward looking pro surfer with a horrendous Britpop coif.

- West. I like this ad. A pile of wetsuits, the name of their riders, and their logo. Simple, bold, colorful, and effective. Thumbs up.

- Von Zipper. I kind of like VZ's art director. Brian Pacheco looks real and stoked to be wearing his shades. The "off the page" copy has been done to death, but here it works. The whole ad feels authentic.

- Analog. Nice spread. Cool shot. Nice use of gray day. Great design. Bold, compelling headline that may or may not make any sense. I may just go to to find out. And thus, they have succeeded.

- DVS. Only an unbelievably clean tube ride elevates this ad. That's one hell of a straight line he's drawing. Maybe it's cuz he wears DVS sandals? Probably not, but maybe...

- Volcom (Back Cover). Christ almighty, guys. Time for a new schtick. We've seen it.

Wow, okay. That was a bit of an endeavor. Kind of fun though, don't you think?

The Colonel says, "Good design goes to heaven. Bad design goes everywhere."