Marketer: 3dfx Interactive
Agency: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco
Ad Review rating: Three stars
They're so bright and optimistic, so earnest and poignant. Corporate-image montages--handsome, self-righteous little worlds of unreality, densely populated with women, children and unthreatening ethnic minorities.
You know: General Electric is totally focused on saving Indian children from brain tumors. Texaco geologists hunt rocks of every color, creed and national origin. Weyerhaeuser so loves the forest that it heroically cuts down those dangerous, trespassing trees.
Every one of these ads seems to sport a dramatic silhouette of thoughtful people conferring against a backlit background; a b&w closeup of a stoic working man cutting to (or from) a wide shot of the same guy; a non-Caucasian medical researcher staring into a beaker; a beatific Asian child.
So when a new campaign breaks from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, it won't take long for viewers to absorb those precise images and conclude, yeah, corporate propaganda.
"We have in our possession a chip," the voice-over gently intones in one spot, over a sappy piano background, "a chip that could revolutionize medicine as we know it. By performing 100 billion operations a second, this chip could help us heal across continents. We could touch more lives . . . and give us all more time to cherish the journey's truest rewards."
That's the copy, or at least most of it. Another commercial goes on similarly about growing better crops with which to feed the world. And a third is about the environment. "Imagine," a lab-coated researcher/narrator says about halfway into the ad. "Clean air! Pure water! And a new future. I wish my family back home [somewhere on the subcontinent, naturally] could see me now. . . ."
But then this guy and his co-workers stop cold at an announcement over the laboratory loudspeakers:
"Attention everybody. We're gonna forget that environment stuff and use the chip for computer games."
Then we see some amazing lifelike computer-game images. Then a much more sardonic voice-over chimes in: "3dfx PC accelerators. So powerful, it's kinda ridiculous."
That's right, every one of these spots is a spoof, a smarmy setup hilariously obliterated by the cool-game-effects punch line. It's surprising, subversive, brilliant.
Oh, and also maddeningly imperfect.
As dead-on as the sendups are, and as certain as they are after multiple viewings to delight the teen-age-boy targets, this campaign has its flaws. In the spot ostensibly about expanding the food supply, the montage includes shots of gigantic stalks of corn, gigantic tomatoes and, finally, a gigantic roasted chicken.
Sure, oversize items can be funny. In Goodby's work for Cracker Jack, the ultra-supersize package is a hoot. But which will it be here? Broad hyperbole, or faithful parody? You can have funny verisimilitude or you can have giant chickens. You can't have both.
The second problem, and the more serious one, is a simple lack of information. These spots are aimed at computer-game freaks, many of whom will understand that 3dfx sells accelerator chips that plug into computer boxes.
But many won't.
Sure, GE, Texaco and their ilk do project ludicrously non-three-dimensional corporate images. But at least we know image is what they're selling. It would have taken 3dfx but a single product shot to clarify its offer. What's really "kinda ridiculous," and disappointing, is that a campaign so deliciously rich in detail would forsake one so obvious.
Copyright March 1999, Crain Communications Inc.