18 July 2007

An Award Winner

I received an email from Martijn de Haas of Active
in The Netherlands:
… I thought you might be interested in a Dutch 2005 example of how they tried selling broadband to 50+ consumers. The theme is: "it's hard to keep up with technology”:

They even won the Dutch advertising prize for it. Although I think it’s funny I seriously doubt they got many of the target group to buy it.

You can look at it in 2 ways:

- the target group laughed because they didn't identify but got the message that was told at the end

- the target group was insulted and laughed it off

I think the latter but would love to hear your opinion …
I agree with Martijn. I’ve written about these types of campaigns in my book and blogged about them a number of times. Here’s just one:

Passat's Midlife Crisis

The spot from the Netherlands is kind of cute, very well produced, acted, directed. Not particularly original. The first scenario is a direct lift from the 1st edition cover of my book (I’m sure it wasn’t intentional) - a clever tongue-in-cheek visual metaphor birthed by Anne Kilgore – graphic artist/book designer extraordinaire. Click here to take a look at it.

The driving into the bushes gag is old (at least since the invention of car navigation systems – so five or six years old). I’ve seen it before. The gag about the mouse held up to the monitor is even older (a variation is a piece of blank paper pressed against a monitor so it will ‘print’).

And, of course, it’s always older people who are the foils for these tepid attempts at humor.

Why would you want to viciously ridicule your target market? They might laugh – but will they buy your product? I think not.

On NPR recently there was a report about students who were given laptops instead of textbooks. While these kids certainly knew how to download music, hang out at Facebook, and play video games – they had real problems opening up and using a word processing program. Many had no idea how to save a document. And when they did save it, they couldn’t find it again to open and work on it – or figure out how to print it.

As an exercise, let’s pretend that a company wants to sell computers to teenagers. I come up with a brilliantly funny spot. It’s full of the greatest of gags. In fact, they’re hysterical. For example - a drooling, pimply-faced, frenzied kid is working on a homework assignment - and is trying to type with a joystick! What a moron! Ha-ha! In another scenario, a kid is unscrewing and taking apart a computer to look inside it – trying to find the document he saved! Ha-ha-ha!!!

I tell ya, everybody'll be falling out of their chairs watching this one. It’ll get lots of advertising awards, too.

And most teenagers will probably laugh – but you won’t see them rushing to buy these computers. They have been made fools of.

And they know it.
"I no longer enter my agency's layouts in the contests ... for fear that one of them might be disgraced by an award." - David Ogilvy


  1. The first time I looked at it, I laughed out loud. Yes, the gags are old, but the spot is well done.

    The second time, I had second thoughts for the reasons you give.

    But I'm also reminded of how often technology is poorly explained or presented. I was recently reduced to tears trying to hook up a new HD TV to the cable box and the DVD player. (I STILL haven't worked out the DVD player in the mix.)

    I mean, I had the damned manual, I'm capable of reading and each word was in English. But it was all written in techno-speak that might make sense to the geeks among us, but not to normal people OF ANY AGE.

    My point is that if you're seeing a CD for the first time and it looks like a mini-LP to you, you might put it on the turntable thinking, "Wow, they can get an entire opera on this one teeny disc? Isn't that great."

    A dozen or more years ago, Barry Diller took a year off from movie work and spent a year hanging with the Gateses and Ellisons of the computer world to learn what it was all about.

    His conclusion then was that it was amazing stuff, but it wouldn't be much use to ordinary people until it is as easy to use as a light switch. And he's right. The learning curve on new stuff is too steep too much of the time, and the technology creators have a long way to go to meet Diller's standard.

    Yes, I think it is ageist to pick on old people in this ad and I like your comparison to kids who can't work out the intricacies of word-processing software. But so much new technology is so badly presented to us that it IS great fodder for jokes.

    Let's just not confine the confusion to elders.

  2. Good points, Ronni. This spot would've been much better if they had mixed it up age-wise. A twentysomething could have turned into the hedge, a thirtysomething couple could have tumbled around with the pressure-sprayer. And if the target market were 50+, the takeaway would've been, "Anybody of any age can have trouble figuring out all the high-tech stuff - so I shouldn't be upset that I do - or be embarrassed about using this 'easy-to-figure-out' product or service."

  3. Thank you for the mentioning Chuck and thank you and Mr. Bennet for your useful comments.

    I'd just like to add that maybe they were targeting the childeren of the seniors that they were portraying. This could be the only viable explanation I can come up with. However, it's still no valid reason to alienate the new independent and assertive group of babyboomers.

    Their follow-up commercial also shows lack of respect towards the less technology savvy babyboomers so it may well be company culture.


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