The quest for such paradoxes takes us to Xlntads.com, a start-up designed to host contests for consumer-generated advertising. It's been a slow and rough slog for Xlntads, but after an awkward year of showcasing amateur ads for fake brands, it's finally showcasing amateur ads for real brands. (Actually, it's more like semi-pro, as most of the entrants are inveterate web-video creators who have made a few bucks here and there entertaining their fellow netizens.)
There, lo and behold, in a contest sponsored by Unilever's Slim-Fast diet supplement, is a two-minute commercial that's extremely interesting on a variety of scores and also pretty damn good.
That's the "last place you'd expect" part of the story. The spot, by a Canadian video artist/Harry Potter fan who calls herself MuggleSam, is titled "Find Your Slim." Like much of her work, the video features her extraordinarily beautiful and exceptionally likable daughter Sophia, a 4-year-old with huge eyes, a tiny voice and preternatural poise in front of a digicam.
The spot is all Sophia, with various green-screen backgrounds, holding forth on the subject of skinniness. The thrust is that nobody should be trying to look like a freakish fashion model: We should be content being the size meant for us.
"You have forgotten that you are unique," the little girl lectures us. "Why are you trying to look like someone else? Why? Why? WHY?" As she gets more insistent, her arms flying upward, the camera zooms in. It's both adorable and thoughtful, which means also quite affecting.
MuggleSam has mastered many Madison Avenue cinematic techniques: jump cutting, compositing, repeated snatches of dialogue, flashing edits, asymmetrical frame composition. Alas, she hasn't mastered editing. There are whole Sophia riffs that could be excised in 20-second chunks ("I'm just a kid, I'm just a kid...," etc). But she still commands your attention to the end, where suddenly things begin to click.
"Get to your right size," Sophia declares, "not someone else's."
It's a great positioning, and no wonder. Ogilvy, Slim-Fast's agency, came up with it months ago, along with the tagline "Find Your Slim." But till this contest, that campaign has been strangely invisible. Even when Ogilvy and Unilever were charged (here and elsewhere) with hypocrisy over their Dove "Campaign for Real Beauty" -- on the grounds of "How can you tell women their natural body is beautiful in one breath and peddle Axe and Slim-Fast in the next?" -- Ogilvy did not offer the relatively enlightened Slim-Fast positioning as a defense.
That's the hidden-in-plain-view part. Here's the simultaneously right and wrong part: The key word is "relatively" enlightened. This campaign says all the right things about a very wrong product.
Yes, obesity is a public-health crisis and many people need to lose weight. Yes, the goal should be to have the right weight for your height and bone structure -- not to look like a Vogue cover skeleton.
But, no, Slim-Fast is not the way to go about it. It's no doubt swell for losing a quick 10 pounds to go from a size 12 to a size 10 in time for your cousin's wedding. It is not the path to a healthful diet. Yo, yo: It's the path to yo-yo dieting.
Sophia, sweetheart, you are delightful. But you should be telling everybody that if they want to lose weight by a shake in the morning and a shake in the afternoon; the shaking should be going on in aerobics class.