We can't exactly decry the notion of mining gems from the pop culture and exploiting them for the benefit of the client. From Farfel the dog to Bert & Harry Piels to the California Raisins, advertising history is full of such ... uh ... homages.
But are we just imagining that lately the homages are more brazenly direct lifts? You know: smash, grab, file off the serial number and slap the advertiser's logo on it. Instant advertising!
Travelocity did it with its Roaming Gnome, which is right out of the film "Amelie," itself having plucked the notion of gnome-napping from urban legend. And Quiznos just unveiled its freaky "spongmonkeys," commissioned from the proprietors of the cult animation Web site rathergood.com. (By the way, more than a dozen people have e-mailed to agree with our reluctant 3 1/2 stars. Only 137,524,433 have emailed to disagree.)
Now, in the Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami, debut for Burger King, comes a series of spots owing a very great debt to "The Office."
The program, which airs on the digital-cable channel BBC America, is a hilarious cinema verite sitcom with almost no punch lines. The laughs-the many painful, cringing laughs-arise out of the real-life tension of people behaving the way people behave: fatuously, dishonestly, cravenly, obsequiously, vaingloriously, cluelessly and all absolutely deadpan.
The show is filled not with live-audience laughter but with long, pregnant silences as we watch people react uneasily to whatever has just transpired. And within those silences: the awful/delicious pain of recognition.
That description also suits the new Burger King campaign, which is a to-the-letter ripoff of/tribute to "The Office," albeit more lunch-centric and in American accents. And, by the way, wonderful in its own right.
The scene is a conference room at lunchtime, where in separate spots a junior employee walks in with everybody's Burger King orders. In one spot, a young clerk claims his sandwich, which-the guy having availed himself of "Have it your way" to the max-has double meat, double cheese, extra ketchup, extra onion, etc. He dubs himself the Champion and does a ridiculous victory dance, as everyone else looks on appalled.
The second spot has a set of burger specs being read off. The boss begins to reach, but a junior employee grabs the sandwich first. The boss says, "Did you copy my burger?" Everybody watches tensely as the young guy freezes, half-shaking his head no before finally muttering, "Yes."
A pretty great moment (which also recalls the Otis character in another cult classic, the film "Kicking and Screaming.") And, undeniably, these vignettes forcefully dramatize the brand's re-re-rediscovered Unique Selling Proposition of choice. The question is: Should anybody be squeamish about the exercise?
As ad critics, we aren't, terribly. We've always said that originality in advertising is a false idol; the godhead is sales. But if the naked expropriation of somebody else's signature style has you clucking, go ahead.
Have it your way.
Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami
Ad Review Rating: 3 stars