John Lennon Imagines One Laptop per Child in Ad for Nonprofit

Organization Stirs Up Controversy Once Again for Use of Artist's Voice and Image

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YORK, Pa. (AdAge.com) -- Almost three decades after he was murdered, John Lennon reappeared on Christmas Day -- or rather his voice and video image reappeared in an online and TV ad supporting the nonprofit program One Laptop per Child.

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The commercial features a Lennon voice-over as multicolored icons representing the organization "fly" together to eventually form a video image of Mr. Lennon, with his mouth moving roughly in time to the very modern words.

What Mr. Lennon says, thanks to digital production, is: "Imagine every child, no matter where in the world they were, could access a universe of knowledge. They would have a chance to learn, to dream, to achieve anything they want. I tried to do it through my music, but now you can do it in a very different way. You can give a child a laptop, and more than imagine, you can change the world."

The ad was created by Taxi, New York, which was given permission to use Mr. Lennon's image free of charge by his widow, Yoko Ono. Taxi itself did the ad pro bono, and it will air both online and on donated media through January.

'Power to change the world'
"With his music, John Lennon tried to get the powers that be to imagine a better world. His message is that with the XO laptop, today we all have the power to change the world," Paul Lavoie, chairman and chief creative officer of Taxi, said in a news release.

Still, the ads have mostly been polarizing. Comments at the YouTube page where the ad has been posted by the foundation range from "It's a good message, but this is too far" to "This is an abomination." Writers on the popular website Boing Boing said, "Resurrecting the dead to shill modern products is not going to catch on," adding, "Digitally, it's creepy."

The foundation, of course, believes that its mission -- its tagline is "Change the world" -- and the ad are a good fit with Mr. Lennon's oft-spoken and sung sentiments. "John Lennon's vision of a better world aligns perfectly with the mission of One Laptop per Child," Nicholas Negroponte, founder and chairman of OLPC, said in a press release. "We deeply appreciate Yoko Ono's support in allowing us to create the spot and we hope that its message will get people to imagine the power of education to change the world."

OLPC, which was launched in 2005 by MIT Media Labs and Mr. Negroponte, aims to get small, rugged and inexpensive XO laptops into the hands of children in developing nations. OLPC runs three programs -- individual donations, business donations and a matching "give one, get one" holiday-only program -- to accomplish that.

Other controversial efforts
Until this year, the foundation had kept a relatively low marketing profile, but this autumn's efforts have generated much chatter, and even some controversy. An early December ad used disturbing and powerful images of children around the world, including machine guns and child prostitutes, with the message "Children are fast learners. Let's give them the right tools." The ad ran online only and received much kudos, but also a few concerns.

An earlier November ad featuring celebrity NFL quarterback and frequent media gossip target Tom Brady -- out for the season with a knee injury -- also garnered quite a bit of attention for its star centerpiece.

Joe Deeley, a comedian on the Geek Comedy Tour, laid out a common opinion, writing in the comments of Laptop Magazine's blog discussion. "John Lennon probably would have endorsed the OLPC. I seriously doubt he would have endorsed manipulating dead celebrities to say things we 'IMAGINE' they might have said. ... Congratulations on a bold new level of newspeak. George Orwell would be proud. What's next? Elvis for peace in Darfur? Why not? I believe he would have supported it. John Wayne would probably have gotten behind AIDS education and prevention measures. ... Where does it end? Why do we need dead people to help us envision a better future? I suppose there's nobody alive that would agree to this? Sad times."

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