Verizon out of touch on name change ads

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There is something slightly narcissistic about advertising a name change. Renaming is, after all, the corporate equivalent of liposuction--something companies do out of pure self-interest which has little interest, and even less value, to their customers. These days, often as not, it represents a concession made to lessen the sting of an acquisition on the reluctant bride. (I'll take your money, but I'm damned if I'll take your name.)

Still, corporations feel compelled not only to tell us about their nominal nips and tucks but to do so with such unabashed pride it seems rude not to notice. It's like being confronted with a life-size nude portrait of your hostess in her living room. You feel compelled to look, and will spend the rest of the evening wishing you hadn't.

The silliness of these vanity productions has been compounded in recent years by the numbing vapidity of most new corporate names. Since the advent of "naming software" that randomly couples prefixes and suffixes like a lexicographic Mengele, fusing Greek into Latin and mating psycho-babble with techno-speak, we have been subjected to such lumbering constructions as Unisys, Aleve, Lucent--and now Verizon Wireless (AA, June 26).

WRONG TURN

The hydra formed by the union of Bell Atlantic Mobile, Airtouch Cellular and PrimeCo, Verizon is advertising simply to introduce itself as the first national wireless phone company. That's a simple enough story, and with the imminent promise of the wireless Web, one we might even be curious to hear.

But perhaps because it's trying so very hard to get it right, the Verizon advertising goes very wrong. Starting with the music (a sterilized, Sheryl-ized and artificially sweetened remake of the Rascals' 1969 statement song, "People Got to be Free"), the spots strain to compensate for their lack of substance with an overabundance of style. Talent seems to have been screened by a downtown gallery proprietress looking for types to people her next opening. And in what should win a Gold Lion in the Condescending Casting category, we are actually subjected to the spectacle of a Hasidic Jew flashing Verizon's version of a peace sign at a passing hipster. (Hey, there's a SAG/AFTRA strike on. We couldn't get any Amish to cross the picket line.)

On the subject of that hand gesture, it probably shouldn't grate anymore when icons of the counterculture are co-opted for commercial purposes. After Nike had its way with "Revolution" and Dylan pimped "Forever Young" to Apple, we should hardly wince at the slaughter of another sacred cow. But even if the two-fingered salute was already an act of self satire back in the '60s (more "Mod Squad" than March on Washington), and even after it became, thanks to the Spice Girls, a sign of solidarity among my daughter's prepubescent friends, it still stings to see it reduced to a mnemonic device in a cell phone spot. As for the song, no, it was probably not even Felix Caveliere's best, but it still deserves better than this.

SOUND PREMISE

On the most basic level, this advertising will probably work. It has a sound and simple premise. It conveys the "connectedness" telecommunications companies all seem to covet. The execution, credibility aside, is beguiling: nicely lit, framed, colorized and cut. And the "V" gesture could eventually, given the staggering media weight behind it, build an awareness base for the Verizon brand name (although whoever designed the logo, perhaps out of boredom, chose to emphasize the "z" instead).

But given the size of the budget and the scope of the opportunity to make a major statement, it appears that this time the agency chose to phone one in.

Nat Gutwirth is senior VP-creative director, Weightman Group, Philadelphia.

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