New Agency Triumphs With First Staples Work

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Client: Staples
Agency: Martin/Williams, Minneapolis
Star Rating: 3.5

Funny, but not quite as funny. Good, and

The printer cartridge Bingo players.
maybe even slightly better.

The first Staples commercials from Martin/Williams are an evolution of, and no great departure from, the long-running Cliff Freeman & Partners campaign that the Minneapolis agency found itself following when Freeman and the client mysteriously parted ways.

Tiny slices of shopping truth
Whatever came between Freeman and Staples, it sure couldn't have been the work. The "Yeah, we've got that" campaign brilliantly and consistently established Staples as an irresistible horn of office-supplies plenty, a place that understands the needs of businesses large, small and really, really small. From low prices ("That kid's a find!") to back-to-school needs ("The most won-der-ful time ... of the yeeeeear!"), Staples used goofy humor to flesh out tiny little slices of pen-and-paper shopping truth.

But that was then, and this is now. Martin/Williams is in approximately the position of an R&B solo act following Tina Turner. Girl, you'd better be able to dance.

And, lo and behold, dance it did.

Two charming spots use the problem/resolution formula to dramatize very specific, very common back-office issues. The first shows a Matt Damon look-alike in an awkward conference-room presentation, where the copying and collating on everybody's handouts are a mess. Fuzzy printing. Upside-down pages. A party invitation inadvertently stapled inside. The gag's a little obvious, but amusing nonetheless, and a nice platform for showing the Staples

in-store copying centers, which are impressive.

Itsy-bitsy work of genius
The second commercial, though, is more than just pointed and cute. It's an itsy-bitsy work of genius about the nuisance of going into a store looking for the right ink jet or toner cartridge -- a shopping exercise that frequently involves tedious inspection of dozens of baffling product numbers. This spot opens with shoppers clumped around an indifferent store employee as he reads out the serial numbers like a caller in a bingo hall.

Clerk: "Epson T001. Canon BC31E ..."

Voice-over: "Shopping for ink and toner in most stores is hit or miss."

Clerk: "HP C9720 ..."

Shopper: (Nervously, as the clerk prepares to read the last character from the box.) "Come on ... come on ..."

Clerk: "... -A."

Shopper: "Agh!"

It's just very funny, because the bingo analogy is clever, and because we who have home offices have all been there. Then, of course, we cut to a Staples store, where the woman is immediately and cheerfully handed her HP45 cartridge, to which she responds, "Bingo!"

The guarantee is your cartridge will be in stock, in-store or online. This we can personally vouch for, having wandered recently into a Staples and been redirected from the old Aisle of Ink Jet Hell to the reconfigured cartridge counter at the front of the store. The replacements still cost more than new corneas, but the transaction occurred instantly and without painful squatting.

This feature-specific strategy isn't necessarily better than the generic price/selection claims of Freeman's era, but it's certainly different, and Martin/Williams has more than followed a tough act to follow.

First time out, baby, the agency has danced in heels.