Walgreen's Ads Succeed, for Obvious Reasons

By Published on .

Obviousness. It has such a bad reputation.

When spoken aloud, the word "obviously" typically drips with contempt and condescension. Or agony. "Painfully obvious," it is painfully obvious, is not a compliment. When ascribed to literature or drama plots, it's especially withering.

Patents and other intellectual-property protections are often invalidated on the grounds of obviousness. And obviousness is regarded, among advertising creatives, as the moral equivalent of pedophilia.

But we'd like to say a few words in support of obviousness. An electric light was an obvious idea. Even getting a material superheated enough to glow was obvious. Should we be therefore less grateful to Edison for discovering, via grueling trial and error, just the right gauge of tungsten and electrifying it in a vacuum to revolutionize modern life?

Most stand-up comedy is built on the observation of phenomena that are obvious to everybody. It's the universal recognition that drives the laughs. For instance, from the late, great Mitch Hedberg: "I hate it when people give me fliers on the street. `Cause it's like they're saying, "Here, YOU throw this away."

In other words, obviousness can be your friend. In advertising, certainly, sometimes it's just the trick for highlighting a brand benefit. Exhibit A: a new Walgreen's spot from Downtown Partners, Chicago.

The message: automatic refills. The pharmacy keeps track of your prescriptions and reissues just in time. All right, this isn't the light bulb, exactly, and as added-value goes, the benefit is a bit ... well, obvious. But it's a convenience and a sufficiently unique selling proposition, so why not flog it to the consumer for all it's worth?

Which is precisely what Downtown Partners does, in a spot with no dialogue and endless repetition of the same obvious gag. In two intercut sequences, we see objects-a tissue box and a party balloon-unexpectedly refilling. Vignette A takes place in an office. A guy grabs a Kleenex and the box magically ejects a fresh one. This happens again and again and again. Vignette B is set at an outdoor kiddie party. A 6-year-old girl with a dark, "Bad Seed" vibe to her uses her cake fork to furtively pop a balloon tied to a fence. But no sooner does she puncture the balloon than it reinflates. This, too, happens over and over. Somehow she seems impassive and bewildered at the same time. Wonderful.

Then the voice-over comes to, uh, belabor the obvious: "If only everything refilled itself automatically," he says. "Fortunately Walgreens has automatic prescription refill."

There is much to praise here. In addition to very nice, very understated acting and direction, the visual effects-especially the balloon-are seamless and convincing. Then there was the choice of what not to do. It would have been very tempting to do a sex joke here. We'd bet our bottom dollars this was hotly debated by the partners downtown. But there was no need to take this direction. A little girl with a balloon is funnier than a geezer with a babe any time.

Anyway, how could they stoop to an erection gag? After all, it's so....


In the year-end Book of 10, a campaign for Dairy Queen was misattributed to Grey, Los Angeles-just as it was originally misattributed last spring. As AdReview has made the same mistake twice, we offer the same correction, too: The work was done by Grey, New York. For the second time, we we apologize apologize.

Review: 3 stars

Ad: Walgreen's

Agency: Downtown Partners

Location: Chicago

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