Ever been to Cloud Two?

Somewhere back in time, I worked for an ad agency.

Does this qualify me for much? Maybe, maybe not. On the other hand, I’ve been to brand boot camp. I learned first hand what I was allowed – and what I was not allowed – to do with brand logotype in the layouts I was working on, for example. Running out of space? Can we make the logo smaller? Not on your life. Change the color? Add a word? Ixnay to all of the above. I recall talking to an art director once about a meeting he had been in with Disney. A team of lawyers presented him with a list of what The Mouse is allowed to do and what The Mouse is not allowed to do. You don’t want to know what would happen to you if you made The Mouse do something he wasn’t suppozedta.

So, there I am one day, sitting on the Orange Line minding my own knitting, and I notice the whole car has been bought – which is ad jargon for a single advertiser has purchased each and every sign and poster on the subway car. The lines are inane and meaningless to me: “If you like molecular biology and winning stuff, you’ll love Windorphins.” “Windorphins are nature’s way of saying, ‘Boo-yah’.”

The artwork for these ads is pretty hideous. Garish PacManesque critters leer at you as they float rather two-dimensionally over an amateurish color gradient which probably cost the pressman several gray hairs, until the posters reached the correct levels of saturation and gamut to satisfy the art director supervising the run. And where’s the logo?

There’s nothing that ties these bug-eyed blobs to any major brand. Oh, I get it – we’re supposed to be so intrigued that we’ll dash off to windorphins.com to find out what the buzz is all about.

I had a reaction to this campaign. I immediately started my own personal opposition to flock mentality, and did my research without ever giving windorphins.com my clickthrough. Turns out it’s eBay, folks.

The logic (and I use the term very loosely) behind this mystery ad blitz is that when you win stuff, you get an endorphin-like rush. A win-dorphin. Get it?


eBay has created a campaign which markets to whom? Video gamers? Little girls? Teletubbie fans? MMORPG avatar freaks? I’m not sure, but I’m certain it’s not me. My surmise, sitting there on the subway, was that the target audience was girls, age 11-14. Clearly I’m wrong, but I can’t be the only person who had this initial reaction.

So, if the target market is actually older than pre-teen, how did eBay come to decide that it was a good idea to create a visual identity with all the charm and panache of a Saturday morning cartoon for tots – for a product that you must be older than 18 to use?

And finally, I found the lack of the eBay logo irritating – which is what they wanted after all. We’re so used to seeing logos everywhere, in every place imaginable, that when they’re not there, we feel not a little lost. Brands have been drilled in to us so relentlessly that we don’t notice their presence, we notice their absence.

In this case, I think it’s not so much cleverness on eBay’s part, but cowardice. If the eBay logo appeared at the bottom of all the Windorphin posters, the unstated call to action (“go ahead, go home and surf to windorphins.com – you know you want to…”) would be defeated and nobody would bother clicking through. (Here’s an article which suggests that nobody is anyway.)

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