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BOB GARFIELD'S AD REVIEW;PACKARD BELL BUILDS HOME INTO A REFUGE

By Published on .

What everyone says upon seeing the new ad for Packard Bell computers is how it resembles the Ridley Scott classic for the Apple Macintosh. And indeed, the spot from M&C Saatchi, New York, owes a great debt to "1984."

Also to "Ghostbusters," "The Fall of the House of Usher" and the annals of clinical depression.

The opening images show refugees grimly trudging through the ruins of the Industrial Age, as others row on a Styx-like river past an Oz skyline that smokes and burns. The gargoyles writhe, the wo-men wither and only thugs escape the fate of the walking dead. They are depressed, repress-ed and oppressed, demoralized, decayed and devolved. Next to this bleak vision of a moldering analog world, "1984" looks like the trailer to "Babes in Toyland."

Whereas Chiat/Day's masterwork depicted a devolved, Orwellian, IBM-dominated not-too-distant future-from which the heroic Macintosh represented liberation-this new spot portrays a nightmarish, user-unfriendly present ruled by brutes and drones and all the numbing dehumanization of the obsolete technological order. In this view of the world, a public library is a mausoleum and waiting in a bank line equals death.

But, yes, there is salvation: Packard Bell, which transports us from the gates of hell to a bright, Technicolor, Plasticville oasis. It's a Victorian house in a bucolic setting, filled with spare and handsome Ikea furnishings. And, of course, a desktop computer.

"Now," the voice-over says, "you can do it all from home, with the world's No. 1 selling home computer, with Intel Pentium processor, Packard Bell. Wouldn't you rather be at home?"

Well, now that they put it that way, yes. And since they're audacious enough to lay claim to the whole universe of post-industrial refugees, maybe we'll give Packard Bell a look. At least-finally-they're a real brand.

For years Packard Bell has been a dominant player in home computers but has lacked a critical element of brandedness: national advertising itself. Ads, after all, don't merely dispense information; they confer prestige. Their very existence-good or bad, clever or insipid-itself communicates implicit brand attributes: substance, dependability and a capability to stand behind the sale.

At some point, by building distribution and simply being ubiquitous, Packard Bell achieved a certain familiarity. Lacking the dearly cultivated pedigree of an IBM or Compaq, it wasn't exactly a famous name, but still managed to outsell everyone. Familiarity, however, goes only so far.

Cultivating their brand names ever further, IBM and Compaq have penetrated the very distribution channels Packard Bell once owned, and mere familiarity now is costing Packard Bell chunks of market share. Hence the company's sudden desire to get a lot more famous in a very big hurry.

Indeed, at this perilous stage, the simple presence of national advertising won't be sufficient. Name recognition is all well and good, but brand personality and meaning are of the essence. What they desperately needed was a bold statement of self.

Which this 60-second spot, stunningly directed by Sam Bayer, certainly is. Visually spellbinding, it defines a grotesque "out there" from which anybody would want to seek refuge at home-if not actually to withdraw from life, at least to do errands. And for the millions who first were wired on a Packard Bell computer, it reminds them exactly where home is.

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