Target Wins the Big Award for Witty, Wordy White Noise

Despite the Presence of Alan Cox and a Near-Universal Conundrum, These Offbeat Ads Fall Flat

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AdReview watched the Golden Globes this year, because Mrs. Review insisted, on the flimsy grounds of her having kept us company through endless sporting events of no interest to her. That's obviously a stupid argument, because a) baseball and football are better than actresses in gowns, and b) we frankly never noticed she was there.

Marketer: Target
stars
Agency: Wieden & Kennedy, Portland
But in the spirit of love, commitment and wanting to see if Hollywood society would tolerate Ricky Gervais (answer: no), we popped some Orville and hunkered down.

Lucky thing, too. Otherwise we would have had no idea that catastrophe had befallen Haiti, and that relief agencies needed our money. Thank God for Nicole Kidman, George Clooney, Jason Reitman, Penelope Cruz and Maggie Gyllenhaal, for without them we would have no moral compass. Especially Penelope Cruz, who is not only our conscience, but totally smokin' hot.

The other bonus was running across a new Target campaign from Wieden & Kennedy, featuring a nerdy English bloke in a waistcoat and bowtie. This was lucky not because the ads are good -- they're not -- but because they are a sterling example of how colorful, witty, unusual, cheeky, intelligent advertising featuring a talented actor (Alan Cox) can be terrible at selling stuff to the people with the money.

In this case, the people with the money are mainly women; red-carpet events happily attract a discount department store's core audience. So no quibble with the media buy. On the contrary, as the mass media-mass market model collapses, a live awards show and a huge female audience are one of the few remaining sure things.

Mind you, too, that Target has prospered mightily on the strength of quirky advertising, which -- combined with wide aisles, bright lighting and tastefully-designed merchandise -- has set it apart from other mass discounters. But quirky is one thing and talky is quite another.

If you were following the transcript, you'd find Cox's copy clever as all get-out. In each of three spots, he appears in one quadrant of a large turntable outfitted with a colorful, stylized mini-set. One features hair-care products, one car-cleansing stuff, one just fun items under $20. The hair ad is the cutest of the three.

Voiceover: "Target presents the Waiting for Your Bangs to Grow Out Collection."

Cox: "He spun you toward the mirror, and your stomach dropped to the floor, where your self esteem lay in hair clumps. Shell-shocked, you tipped him anyway. Cry at least 20 minutes and assemble the right stuff at the right price. [Up pops a display case filled with various fashion and grooming accessories.] Clips, hats and mega-hold gel should mask your hair catastrophe. At half an inch a month, you can reenter society by springtime."

Yeah, clever it is. And the episode it depicts is a very nearly universal experience for the, uh, Target audience. But, my goodness, so deadpan and soooo wordy. Never mind the chirpy piano plinking in the background, and never mind the oddball costuming and set design. Never mind even that the products are the hero of the scenario, restoring some control over your look till the hair debacle has passed. The problem is that -- especially in the context of a glitzy, gabby awards show -- Cox's monologue is a strain to register.

In the agency screening room, no doubt, it was Tom Stoppard-esque. In the middle of the Golden Globes, it was blahblahblahblahblahblahblah. Furthermore, because the medium of offbeatness in this case is ingenious language, the ads had zero chance to impress about half of the bell curve -- rendering the potentially ideal ad-buy about 50% less efficient.

Mrs. Review wasn't impressed, either. With the ads. Or the gowns. Ricky Gervais's swipes at Hollywood self-importance, though -- that she liked.

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