STYLISH SWATCH SPOTS ULTIMATELY SWORTHLESS

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If you were on fire, you probably wouldn't hum "The Minute Waltz" before crying for help. If you were proposing matrimony, you'd likely not tell the one about the three Martians and the bagel as preamble to popping the question. If you were on trial for double homicide, you'd hardly obscure the truth with confusing stalls, irrelevancies and misdirections.

Or, come to think of it, maybe you would. But if you were marketing fashion wristwatches in 64 countries, you would never produce $2 million worth of TV-commercial vignettes that, until the last-instant product I.D., have nothing notable to do with the brand.

You wouldn't. But Swatch swould. Five new global spots from Barbella/Gagliardi/Saffirio, Milan, are both swonderfully amusing and substantially swithout relevance. Swithout relevance, sweird and pretty near sworthless.

A woman going through a car wash is startled by a bee in the passenger compartment, and inadvertently swats open the convertible top-soaking her, but not harming her waterproof Swatch. A parched motel guest can't get any water out of the tap, so she lights a match under the fire sprinkler and gets a refreshing shower, but her Swatch is unscathed. A Japanese CEO times sushi chefs with his stop-Swatch, only to send the winner into a fish-slicing nightmare. A visit to a forbidding tattoo parlor yields a colorful skin decoration, identical to the Swatch-band wrapped around it. And a suspenseful rooftop chase ends with an apparent lifesaving helping hand that turns out to be a cold-blooded-and murderous-wristwatch theft.

Yes, this is classic global advertising, in the sense that it effortlessly crosses every border by being equally pointless and unpersuasive in any language or culture.

A reasonable starting point in crafting such image advertising is to ask what Swatch brings to the marketplace that Lorus, Citizen, Timex and dozens of other competing watch manufacturers do not. The answer: a combination of Swiss heritage, department store distribution and consumer recognition for style, attitude and colorful variety-all of which is thoroughly ignored in this campaign. In only one of the spots does the viewer get more than a glimpse of the product itself. And the relationship between the clever stories being told and the brand's essential Swatchness is equally obscured from view.

What Swatch does not have vis-a-vis the competition is a demonstrable quality edge, price edge or features edge. Yet to the degree these spots focus on anything besides gratuitous entertainment, it is the decidedly unremarkable benefit of water resistance.

Instead of leveraging and building upon existing brand personality, the campaign is content to be a showcase for the production company's personality. Los Angeles directors Jeff Gorman and Gary Johns owe the agency a vote of thanks. They were given what looks to be a blank check to show off in 64 countries and have not failed in dressing up their show reel.

From a narrative standpoint, these commercials are lovely indeed. Johns' sultry motel-sprinkler spot is especially riveting, sexy and ingenious, as fetching photography and canny editing swiftly propel it to the barely relevant conclusion.

All but one of the ads, in fact, are uncommonly provocative-the exception being Gorman's sushi spot, which rides racist stereotypes to an unfunny punch line. The storyboard should have been burned before it ever saw the light of day. And, had the agency been inadvertently set aflame as well, no problem.

In case of fire: Wait 60 seconds, then ask quietly for help.

The rating system

The rating system uses four stars to represent excellent, three for notable, two for mediocre and one for pathetic.

Advertising Age International welcomes submissions for Global Ad Review, particularly breaking TV campaigns. Please send 3/4-inch NTSC-format videotapes or 1/2-inch videotapes in any format to Bob Garfield, Ad Age International, 814 National Press Building, Washington, D.C. 20045-1801.

A Swatch TV spot takes 30 seconds to pad a show reel with hip direction-and to say nothing substantial about the product. Rating: 1 1/2 stars)

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