DDB Vet Will Assess How Well Your Ads Can Sell

By Patrick Coffee 


Jim Crimmins has been many things throughout his career: 27-year DDB veteran, Adweek contributor, adjunct professor of marketing communications at Northwestern University, 44-time EFFIE winner.

For his latest project, however, the former Worldwide Brand Planning Director and Chief Strategic Officer at DDB Chicago has a slightly different role in mind: determining the effectiveness of individual ad campaigns.

Crimmins’ new site, Persuade the Lizard, isn’t about judging an agency’s work on its aesthetic merits. Its goal is, rather, to determine how successful a given campaign will be in accomplishing its central purpose: selling the product it’s advertising.

The site presents readers with a series of ads either submitted by third parties or chosen by Crimmins himself, using consumer psychology to rate each one on a scale of one to five (or “two steps forward” on the positive side and “digging a hole” on the negative). Here, for example, is his take on the Ogilvy/Organic “drop your pants” spot for Depend:

“Confidence, normality, and Depend—three things viewers probably wouldn’t have put together before, come together nicely in this ad.”

Alternately, a review of Deutsch LA’s first “Ronald McDonald” ad for Taco Bell notes that “Taco Bell buries the big news” about its new breakfast offerings beneath a series of references to its rival.

We recently spoke to Crimmins to learn more about the lizard.

What’s this project all about?

The artistry of advertising is a topic of great debate, but the essence of the practice is persuasion — and while artistry is often essential, it is not enough.

I want to change the discussion by convincing people inside and outside the agency world why people are not buying a given product…and what we need to do to get them to buy it.

Are agency creatives your target audience?

The target audience includes any professional persuader who wants to change the way a consumer behaves. This could apply to politics, marketing, ad agencies…or people who happen to be curious about how it all works.

What’s your methodology? How do you judge the relative value of the work in front of you?

I judge ads on how well they speak to the viewer’s unconscious mind. What we’ve learned – and the giants of advertising always knew this intuitively – is that our conscious mind is not central to most of our decisions.

I view these ads and determine how the principles of persuasion are applied or misapplied.

How did you choose the ads you’ve already reviewed on the site?

I don’t look so much at the author or even the advertiser. I’m most interested in big-name ads that aren’t necessarily up for awards, and I’m strictly interested in their ability to persuade. I focus on the US, and the work can be broadcast, online, or print.

What’s your goal with the Persuade the Lizard project?

We’re looking to build an interactive community where members can not only read my POV on how an ad works, but express and even submit their own takes on the material. Right now we’ve reviewed about 100 ads, and we add a new one each weekday.

What were some of the most persuasive ads of the past year?

My BuzzFeed list of the ten most persuasive print ads featured everything from Snickers and Playtex to Vera Wang. There was also a great online ad for the Fiat 500X, or “a Fiat on Viagra.” The tagline for the spot, which stars an older man called to bed by his paramour, is that the 500X is “ready for action”:

What about your past work inspired you to launch this project?

I am not an expert in creating ads — simply in helping understand the way people view and respond to those ads and the basis on which they make their purchasing decisions. I earned my PhD in psychology, and while at DDB I worked with the creatives to help give them a better understanding of how to sell a particular ad to a client — and how to sell a product to the audience.

As Bill Bernbach said, “Where the writer cares about what he puts into his writings, the communicator cares about what people take out of it.”

Take, for example, the recent “It’s On Us” PSA. One-third of surveyed respondents who viewed the ad were angry, but that wasn’t due to the work the creatives put into it: it’s because the point is that society is embarrassed by young men. The ad works completely backwards, nagging viewers rather than asserting that “real men don’t do this” and offering young men an incentive to be better.

For reference, here are some ads Crimmins deemed effective:

…and ineffective: