Is it even advertising? Who the hell knows? But it is so cool and funny and wicked and surprising and surprisingly restrained and postmodern in the best sense. In short: so Devo.
Devo, of course, is the band/ongoing performance-art project that you might call industrial new wave, if you were determined to label a moving genre target. They've been nationally prominent for 30 years, since they appeared on ABC's "Fridays" in hazmat jump-suits and "energy domes," which were terraced red plastic hats resembling upside-down flower pots.
Agency: Mother, Los Angeles
The central joke: Devo as the embodiment of devolved mankind, in the form of clownish, robotic freaks. The apotheosis of their ironic aesthetic: a cover of the Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" performed in full Devo mono-syncopation. The effect: Stripped of its hormonal energy, the song is suddenly funny, yet weirdly fetching in its own right.
Anyway, Devo will soon release its first album of the millennium, and in a nod to the new "Listenomics" world, is rethinking every aspect of its visual identity -- its costuming, its color scheme, even its music. Or, in a nod to the growing triteness of Listenomics and its ilk, Devo is ridiculing the growing obsession with the perfunctory crowdsourcing of everything.
Or both. The online "Devo Color Study" has the look and feel of a psychological test, and the absurdist bent of people wholly dedicated to an absurdist bent. Likewise, the video summary of a color-study focus group (which seems to have used actual subjects) is riddled with silly details all presented absolutely deadpan.
The moderator, with his mild, unblinking eyes opened excruciatingly wide, is earnest and seemingly guileless as he asks: "How does the color yellow make you feel? What happens when you touch the color yellow?" What makes it all so funny is his goofy seriousness in the simultaneously believable and ridiculous line of inquiry.
What makes it funnier is the fact that the poor suckers being questioned have no idea they are tools of satire. What makes it even funnier is that even when their answers are especially stupid, the ironists resist the temptation for a rim shot. The moment simply comes and goes.
Moderator: How does blue make you feel?
Moderator: What words come to mind when you think of the color blue?
Subject: House. Blue dog. Yacht. Luggage.
Luggage. The whole tongue-in-cheek exercise culminates in the last bit, when the moderator -- who does his moderation for no apparent reason via closed-circuit TV -- excuses himself to "change his batteries" and never reappears, stranding the subject in a studio knowing not what to do.
Hmm. This is all new, yet it somehow all looks so familiar.
Ahh, but of course. The agency here is Mother, whose Swedish principals pioneered Devo-ish ultra-postmodernism at Paradiset back in the mid-'90s, for Diesel and roboticothers. If ever a client and an agency were better suited, we'd be hard-pressed to recall it. The campaign is the perfect product of the perfect marriage ... unless ...
Unless it is all too clever by half.
Is it possible to satirize market research, corporate-speak, focus-group-speak and most of all consumer manipulation when you are actually trying to manipulate the consumer? Is the cult of Devo so hip that it will actually resent being played like the clueless research subjects, for schmucks?
Of course, therein lies the genius. This is Devo, after all. The audience's surrender to the joke is the essence of the art -- the mysterious, precarious duality of victim and connoisseur.
Just as a bad, de-sexed version of "Satisfaction" can be so paradoxically, intellectually good, this brand's contempt for the audience is prerequisite for their sacred, mystical bond.