The scene is Africa's Gombe wildlife preserve, where majestic acacias are silhouetted against the gathering dusk, and chimpanzees bound freely about. One chimp seems to frown and utters sounds that eerily articulate a certain kind of savage, primate tribalism:
"Tattaglia's a pimp," he says. "He never could've outfoxed Santino. But I didn't know till this day that it was Barzini all along."
Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. It's Marlon Brando's voice, from "The Godfather." Then another chimp begins to speak: "Mama says, `Stupid is as stupid does.'*" Of course, from "Forrest Gump"! Then, it's one lip-synching to Peter Finch in "Network": "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore." And then, from "Star Wars," James Earl Jones: "The force is with you, young Skywalker."
And so on. We're laughing and laughing, but over what we're still not quite sure. Finally, the joke begins to emerge. It's a shot of famed primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall laboring over a journal entry: "Sept. 19. Their inexplicable behavior continues."
Then we see another chimp doing Sylvester Stallone's climactic cry from "Rocky": "Yo, Adrienne. I did it!" And then, finally the payoff. Goodall puts her journal aside to watch "Braveheart."
Yes, there's a movie she wants to see on cable, and the whole extended, primate family gets to watch. Which is the unstated punch line: The chimps see the flicks on the tube, and learn to ape them.
"It's not TV," the voice-over says. "It's HBO."
So, yes, it's delightful. Delightfully funny, delightfully clever, delightfully entertaining. Animating the chimp lips with the computer software employed in the movie "Babe," BBDO Worldwide, New York, has used its trademark sense of high-production humor to craft yet another Pytka-perfect crowd pleaser. But, if the question is what exactly this spot tells us about HBO, the answer is:
If Time Warner merely wants to promote its pay channel as a purveyor of classic films, well, mission accomplished. But that can't be the point, considering what HBO spends for the pre-video release window on almost- new Hollywood movies, not to mention original productions of its own.
Certainly there is something to be gained for an entertainment provider merely by being entertaining, and on that score this spot is unassailable. But there could be a whole lot more persuasion going on. It's one thing to claim HBO is more than TV, but for the substantial coin the service fetches, we'd like to see some less fanciful evidence.
This isn't Pepsi, after all, for which there's a limited number of rational things to say, but endless entertaining ways to reiterate its well-cultivated youthful image. Nor is it Doritos. If you can't find something intrinsically interesting about your tortilla chip, naturally it behooves you to position it as the brightest, funniest, party-heartiest chip on the grocery shelf. In such ways has BBDO specialized in making advertising an organic part of the brand itself.
But sometimes there's real selling to be done, and forsaking persuasion for entertainment is dangerous. No great damage done to HBO, but beware creeping BBDO-ism. Beware the tendency-funny boards in hand-to shoot first, answer questions later. Or else someday the laughs, and the business, will peter out as departing clients sigh . . . .
It's not advertising. It's BBDO.