Go back a dozen years, to the famous Pepsi ad "Security Camera," in which a Coke delivery man sneaks a can of Pepsi from a convenience store, only to be caught on video as the entire contents of the Pepsi refrigerator case spill onto the floor.
It was very nearly a perfect TV commercial -- 3.5 stars in AdReview -- compromised by one tiny detail. For whatever reason, the sound of full soda cans weren't dubbed over the actual sound of the empty cans used to film the spot.
The tinny, hollow result slightly, but noticeably, undercut the illusion.
That June the ad still fetched a Cannes Gold Lion, but it also got us in dutch with a liquored-up (now former) BBDO creative executive, who came lurching across a French dinner table to inquire about our parentage. As the little fellow was being restrained, AdReview was more bewildered than angry. Why, we wondered, was he mad at us? And, by the way, why did they record empty cans?
Memories of the episode came spilling back this week, like so many Pepsis, as we watched BBDO's extraordinary TV spot for Monster.com. It, too, is based on a simple, powerful idea. It, too, is exquisitely produced, in realistic animation reminiscent of the movie "Happy Feet." And it, too, is compromised -- more than slightly -- by an unaccountable failure in production.
Due to nothing more than an editing detail, this beautiful, arresting, almost-poetic 60-second tale basically makes no sense. At least on first viewing. And, in our case, third.
Here's the synopsis: a stork braves darkness and storms, harsh geography and predators, blazing desert heat and freezing Alpine cold to deliver its precious bundle -- a gorgeous baby boy -- to a California doorstep. In the next scene, the same stork peers into a cluttered, dingy office where a fatigued white-collar worker is burning the midnight oil. The working stiff and the stork make eye contact, whereupon the bird lowers its head and flies away.
Then the super: "Are you reaching your potential? Monster."
So, what have we witnessed? Well, come to discover the loser in the office is the infant, 30 years later, and the stork wonders why he went to all that trouble only to see his charge rubber-stamping sales contracts or whatever. Which is, indeed, a brilliant idea -- a moving and wholly unexpected bit of storytelling about human (and avian) disappointment.
But we missed that, because we never registered the transition that was supposed to connect the baby with his adult self -- namely, a baby yawn butt-cut onto the office-workers yawn.
This may, of course, have to do with our own personal obtuseness. On the other hand, we daresay most TV viewers don't hang on every frame, one playback after another, the way AdReview does. We may be a halfwit, but we are an extremely attentive one, and as wowed as we were by the visuals and as sucked in by the narrative, we still failed repeatedly to get it. And why?
Because the baby's open mouth wasn't wide or prolonged or obviously yawn-like (vs. coo-like) enough to be understood as a parallel to the adult yawn with which it was juxtaposed. A half an inch, a half a second, or half an overdubbed baby yawn would have done the trick -- and if not that, in worst case, a super that says "30 years later."
This ad is one tweak from a Gold Lion. Till then, baby, it just isn't reaching its potential.