Slick and Amusing but off the Mark

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Client: Hewlett-Packard
Agency: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco
Star Rating: 2.0

Fetching vignettes that keep viewers glued to the screen waiting for the payoff. A gigantic high-tech client with a wealth of gee-whiz-ardry to share. Maybe the world's best ad agency. A sound strategy. A $400 million

One spot pitches HP's law-enforcement related computer systems.
media budget. With all of these elements in place, could the introductory TV campaign possibly screw things up?

Everything is possible.

Slick, amusing, a thud
The TV launch of the new Hewlett-Packard campaign from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, has all of the above going for it and still manages to underwhelm. It's slick. It's amusing. But -- because it strays bizarrely from the campaign's central mechanism -- it falls with a dull thud.

In one spot, we see a Frenchman being dragged bodily, but supernaturally, from a grimy cafe. The dragging, it seems, is being done by a computer cursor.

"Using HP mobile technology to get information quickly and easily," the voice-over says, "the world's police forces now fight crime digitally."

In the other spot, an astronaut is seen on a moonscape, which we soon realize is just a desertscape, and we then watch him walk to his nice little ranch-style home.

Voice-over: "With the help of HP technology and HP services, the world's space agencies can focus on getting their explorers home safely."

Then, the superimposed tagline: "Everything is possible."

No reason to watch
Well, once again, yes and no. The ads are fun to look at, at the least the first time. We sit and wonder what gives with the French guy, and when we discover that it's a metaphor for high-tech crime-fighting, all is clear. Likewise the astronaut's trek. "Safely home." We get it. But that does it for the suspense; no reason to watch, or pay attention, twice.

Not that paying attention yields much, anyway. The central conceit of the campaign, as evidenced in the far superior print work, is that HP applications have helped a lot of famous-name customers do remarkable things. FedEx,, the BMW/Williams Formula 1 Team -- each is trotted out to prove that the folks you trust trust HP.

Somebody else's brand
A fine, if unoriginal, idea. As many advertisers have discovered (including Goodby in its handsome, ingenious work for the Discover card), the impact of somebody else's brand name in your advertising can be greater than that of your own. Somehow the vague tarnish of self-servingness is erased and the minor thrill of recognition kicks in. Recognition and goodwill. That's why the FedEx logo is the Joe DiMaggio endorsement of the 21st century.

Yet, for some reason, Goodby and HP choose in their introductory TV spots not to use FedEx or Amazon or anyone else in the firmament of celebrity corporations. They highlight instead the generic categories of law-enforcement and space exploration. No mention of NASA, or Interpol or whoever the actual HP customers were. The argument scans, sure, but minus the borrowed brand interest the impact is utterly lost, reducing the message to "computers are good."

Oh, that'll drive the traffic to HP.

Try this at home: phone a hot restaurant and ask for a table Saturday night at 8. When they tell you they're booked, say, "But do you know who I am? Someone famous, but I'm not saying who." The next sound you hear will be "click."