Sony and Fallon, London, are out with their latest advertacular on behalf of the Bravia line of TVs, and if you wish to ooh and ah, take a number. After all, who doesn't love audacious, outsize and unbelievably extravagant stunts to breathe life into the moribund flesh of creativity?
Yes, the same people who unleashed thousands of colorful balls down the hills of San Francisco and cannon-fired 70,000 liters of paint from and at an apartment complex traveled to northern Italy to build -- at God-knows-what expense -- the world's largest zoetrope.
They call it the Bravia-Drome, and it ain't an overstatement. This is a 10-ton video merry-go-round, an inner drum affixed with still images of a Brazilian soccer player, made to look like a moving-picture show by rotating within exterior slits in the structure. From the outside looking in, Kaka appears to be dribbling and otherwise manipulating a soccer ball.
Talk about your cutting-edge technology. The zoetrope -- the optical-illusion basis for film and TV -- was invented in 1834.
So why, in 2009, are we still fascinated by a zoetrope? Here's why: because it's primitive. Because it enables us to understand the flip-book effect at the root of all video images. Because who doesn't love an old-fashioned magic lantern?
So, yeah, if your goal is to get Italians in a public square to gawk and smile, you could scarcely make a better choice. And if you further wish to dramatize the concept of moving-image technology -- well, OK. That, too. But, in this case, what exactly is Bravia advertising?
The specific answer is: Motionflow Interpolation, the process of filling gaps between one frame and another with a digitally processed estimation of what would have been there had the camera been recording twice as many discrete images.
The pitch is "The smoothest picture ever."
Really? Smoothest? Now, us, we haven't noticed any real need for such technology; video hasn't struck us as especially jumpy since about 1834. Perhaps the interpolated frames also yield a sharper image, but Sony makes no such claim. In any event, one thing is for certain: While the zoetrope effect may get you thinking about the miracle of modern video, it certainly doesn't demonstrate it.
That's why this spot matches its Bravia predecessors only in scale. The messaging is, if anything, counterproductive.
Think about "Balls" and "Paint." In addition to being riveting filmmaking that magnificently blends visual spectacle with music, they both also solved the problem that has bedeviled advertising TVs on TV since Uncle Miltie: The quality of the picture is (ahem), by definition, limited to the quality of the TV the ad is being viewed on. In other words, strictly speaking, it is impossible to visually convey the product benefits on any product other than the one being advertised.
Sony and Fallon's genuine stroke of genius was not to make eye-popping films but to use vivid primary and Day-Glo colors that jump out of any TV. This is a guess, but our bet is that many, many people watched this ad on their own TVs and thought to themselves, "Man, why doesn't my picture look this great?"
Just amazing. It's a solution that, given a moment's consideration, defies logic every which way, but it isn't dishonest and it works like a charm.
The whole world was so smitten by the perfectly crafted filmmaking, it's easy to see how Fallon and Sony mistook that for the essence of their triumph. But really, it was just an optical illusion.