The characters were marionettes whose heads-much like Geraldo's own-were too big for their tiny little bodies. Col. Steve Zodiac, Commander Zero and Dr. Venus delivered lines as if they were carved out of wood (which, of course, they were) and moved about the scenes in a disturbingly herky-jerky fashion. Imagine Tom Cruise with Parkinson's disease and you'll get the picture.
The series eventually disappeared, maybe because modern animation made the marionettes obsolete. Or maybe just because the cast went on L-dopa. But evidently the concept itself didn't exactly die. It was just dormant, like the herpes virus, burrowed in the roots of our psyches to emerge under circumstances of stress, like the war or the threat of terrorism or the Milwaukee Brewers' starting rotation.
And here they are once again: the "Fireball" team-or at least contemporary facsimiles-bobbing creepily up in down in service of our discount-travel needs. The advertiser is Orbitz, the online travel agency, so at least you can't say that the "idea" is completely irrelevant to the message. What was "Fireball," after all, if not high-tech travel, such as you can effect at your computer by following Orbitz' simple online template ... blah blah blah.
You also can't fault these ads for being all concept and no sell. Each spot, we're pleased to report, breaks from recent advertising tradition by specifying the brand benefits in clear, concise terms. One is about Orbitz's heroic levels of customer care, notifying fliers and specified other parties about delays en route. The second about the flexible-search feature, which enables you to enter wide departure parameters in search of the best fare. And the third is about the company's "hotel matrix" of similar cut-rate opportunities.
In that one, we are treated to the image of a female puppet ogling the wooden butt of a male puppet. Yo, Miller Lite, put that in your lathe and shave it.
Finally, the eccentricity of the work, while stylistically worlds apart from Orbitz's previous ethereal and oddly retro branding efforts, is certainly no kookier. So, based on the criteria Ad Review most values in rating such campaigns, this work scores reasonably high. Until the deductions kick in.
For one thing, "Fireball" was produced 40 years ago and didn't exactly achieve "I Love Lucy" afterlife in syndication. So almost everybody familiar with the joke is over 45, which means that the agency, Y&R, Chicago, is depending on the campaign's weirdness alone to attract the non-Fireball-hip half of the audience.
Another problem is that the commercials, while eye-catching, are also visually busy. And noisy. And therefore substantially distracting from the aforementioned clear, concise explication of product benefits.
The final problem gets back to the effect of the characters on the human soul. They might send you scrambling to your computer. More likely, like Duracell's grotesque "The Puttermans" of yore, they'll have you diving for the remote.
Y&R, Chicago, New York
Ad Review Rating: 2.5 stars