AGENCY: DDB Worldwide, Chicago
RATING: Two and a half stars
e2 huh?. Hmm. By our calculations, that equals mass squared times the speed of light to the fourth power. That's the old speed of light, of course, not this new vapor-chamber one we're just reading about, wherein photons get to where they're going before they even finish leaving.
Anyhow, the name would suggest one hell of a battery. It would suggest that Energizer Co. has entered the supercharged, super-premium world of unprecedented alkaline power. So, for DDB Worldwide, Chicago, a challenge: how to dramatize that power. Giant pistons? Tornado? Mount St. Helen's? H-bomb? Rupert Murdoch?
No. What arrives with the new e2 is a surprising imagery choice: not physical power but emotional power, such as daredevil courage, childlike irrepressibility and barely controlled sports aggression. One 30-second spot features some nincompoop skydiving into a vast Venezuelan gorge. Another shows little girls delighting themselves on a creaky playground carousel. A third features pro-football suicide squads on kickoff duty. "Power this intense," says the onscreen super atop the football sequence, "now available in a battery."
It's all magnificently shot, edited and sound-designed, but, uh, excuse the impertinence . . . what do little girls have to do with power? Do we really need our batteries to be "alive"? Or "intense"? Or "daring"?
No, we need them not to go dead on us.
That issue is briefly addressed at the end of each spot, with slick computer graphics showing the product and the word "titanium" coalescing out of molten metal, plus perfunctory digital effects designed to look high-tech and dynamic. Here we encounter the extremely cool-looking metallic casing and the voice-over saying, "e2 from Energizer, a whole new battery that lets you take power to the next level."
Ah, finally! The cautious, understated copy and graphic cue combine to get across the message that is otherwise weirdly conspicuous by its absence. Between those boilerplate elements and $100 million in media, consumers will deduce that e2 constitutes a technological breakthrough.
But why do the marquee elements of the campaign all but conspire to bury the point?
And, by the way, what about titanium?
That metal used to be found pretty much exclusively in white paint and turbine blades. Then it made its way into golf clubs, because its lightness improved club-head speed at no cost of strength. Then "titanium" became a magic word, inspiring marketers to start putting it in anything associated with golf--including putters, balls, green-repair tools and, if we're not mistaken, the cheese on Nipchee crackers vended next to the $4 hot dogs in the snack bar.
So, one wonders: this application in batteries . . . is it significant, or just a marketing gimmick?
Well, Energizer has technology that uses existing titanium components to increase conductivity within the alkaline electrolyte innards, which in turn increases battery life. Yet while these commercials hint at the technological advance, they don't explicitly claim it. Hence, though the invocation of titanium isn't a mere gimmick, it sounds like one. Odd.
Even more incredibly, the intro fails to underline--hell, never even mentions--endurance.
e2 AA batteries last 85% longer than the previous Energizer standard in digital cameras, for instance. Why in the world not boast about it? The entire premium battery market is defined by one competitor's incremental improvements in technology, followed by long periods of parity. When you have gained in advantage, hitting hard with it is de rigueur--especially if you are charging a 30% premium for the technology, which Energizer is.
There can be only one answer: the "super-premium" e2 doesn't, overall, significantly outperform the competition. Hence the strange circumlocutions. Hence little girls and not big explosions. Hence the reliance on the campaign's ultimate power--the power of suggestion. Technology may not offer a big competitive advantage, but the clever graphics might.
Luckily for Energizer, the physical laws of the universe are being rewritten and--like the new speed of light--the end of the e2 message arrives before the beginning.
Copyright July 2000, Crain Communications Inc.