A month ago, as I blogged, my friend Carl Willat posted on YouTube a video he’d made titled “If I Made A Commercial For Trader Joe’s“. It has now received several hundred thousand views. I asked Carl for an update. He replied:
This video has received a better reaction than anything Iâ€™ve done in quite a long time. Â Of course part of this is just YouTube, where suddenly you can know what people think of your commercial, through the comments they leave and how many views you get. Â In the past commercials were just sent out into the ether and you never really heard any firsthand audience reaction. Â But some of my old commercials are on YouTube and none of them has this many hits. Â Even Christmas Kisses, which people really seem to like, has maybe 28,000 views in two years. And people arenâ€™t posting it to their blogs or Facebook pages, as far as I know. Â So something is different about this one. Â To a large extent Iâ€™m trading on the goodwill people already have for Trader Joeâ€™s. Â People just love that store. Â And the spot is subversive, which makes it more fun. Â But I think the main difference is the fact that itâ€™s heartfelt, in that it reflects my actual feelings about Trader Joeâ€™s, both positive and negative, and a lot of people can relate to those feelings. Â You canâ€™t do that in a real ad because thereâ€™s an agency and a client that only want to say positive things about the product, and it has to be part of their overall strategy and so forth, which is fine, and Iâ€™ve certainly done my share of ads like that. But itâ€™s hard to get genuine human feeling into traditional advertising, which is a shame, human feeling being the only thing people really care about.
The viewing history:
The spike happened after mention on Boing Boing.
I think Carl’s commercial is very important as a glimpse of the future. Long ago, only the powerful could speak to a mass audience — and they couldn’t tell the truth, for fear of losing their power. Then cheap books came along. Instantly a much larger group of people could speak to a mass audience — and, having little to lose, they could tell the truth. The truth, being rare, was an advantage. When science was young and many scientists were amateurs — Darwin, Mendel — they could tell the truth. As science became a job, a source of income and status that you could lose, scientists lost the ability to say what they really thought. For example, David Healy lost a job because he told the truth about anti-depressants. Self-experimentation is a way around this problem because, as I’ve said, no matter how crazy my conclusions I can keep doing it. I don’t need a grant so I don’t need to worry about offending grant givers.
Because TV commercials are a source of money and status (for ad agencies and marketing execs), they too have great difficulty being truthful. After watching Carl’s commercial I watched a Coke commercial that used the same music. The Coke commercial now struck me as horrible — flat and insincere. (Yet expensive.) Given the choice between an official statement — namely, the commercials you see on TV — and a personal one — a commercial like Carl’s — everyone will not only prefer to watch the personal statement but will also be more persuaded by it. Win-win. So it is in the self-interest of any company that makes a product that somebody loves to stop making the usual insincere stuff and start finding people who love their products and help them express it.