The Staples Easy Button burst upon the ad scene two years ago, and now Office Depot is giving us a spooky "helping" hand to solve office workers' supply and organizational needs. And General Motors introduced a cute and pathetic little robot who dreamed of committing suicide because he (she?) messed up -- if ever so slightly -- on the factory floor.
Playing it safe
The button, the hand and the robot go one step beyond Aflac's duck and Geico's gecko. After all, the duck makes obnoxious noises, and the gecko speaks in a thick British accent, so they can cause some viewers to be offended. The next logical step was for advertisers to play it ultra-safe by using buttons (and bows?) to convey their messages.
Did you catch Jay Leno's rendition of Office Depot's "hand" commercial? It shows the hand doing the usual office chores for the usual harried workers, but this time it cuts to the guy from the waist up with a very satisfied look on his face as the hand presumably demonstrates its versatility.
I hope the publicity, raunchy as it may be, doesn't get Office Depot thinking it's found the answer to Staples' Easy Button. The rationale -- "We need a hand" to run our messy, overloaded business -- is not only too obvious and literal, it's more than a little bit creepy.
The blogosphere's take
Here's what they're saying about the commercial in the blogosphere, at akiramedia.com: "We were watching TV last night and saw the new Office Depot commercial. I immediately envisioned the conversation that must have occurred at Office Depot's corporate HQ:
CEO: Staples has the Easy Button thing in their marketing. We need to counter that.
Marketing Manager: Hmmm ... What about a hand?
CEO: A hand?
Marketing Manager: Yeah, a hand. You know, a button is cold and mechanical. We'll have a human hand in a box helping customers out!
CEO: You mean like Thing from the Addams Family?
Marketing Manager: No, of course not. We'll put clothes on the arm. A naked hand -- that would be just creepy. We can have it ride around in a cart and pick out things for the customers. It'll be brilliant!"
The scary thing is that's the way the whole thing most likely came down.
Easy Button's popularity
It's hard to believe that the Easy Button promotion has caught on in such a big way. What it has going for it, I guess, is that it plays off Staples' ad slogan and it's not creepy. A couple from Virginia actually included an Easy Button in their son's birth announcement.
You can buy an Easy Button for $4.99; some of the proceeds go to Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Can you believe Staples has sold over 2 million of them? (Some in France, c'est facile.)
But even objects, safe as they sound, can be the cause of sympathy. The GM robot generated protests from anti-suicide groups, and GM now says it will omit the robot's jumping-off-the-bridge dream. I even received an e-mail from a woman who claims to be the world's first robot psychiatrist: "That poor little robot was having a nightmare in that Super Bowl ad. He will definitely need counseling now," said Dr. Joanne Pransky (www.robot.md).
"Robots should not have to live in fear that they will be discarded when something goes wrong," Dr. Pransky said. "It's rarely the robot that's the problem on the factory floor -- it's typically due to human error.
"Robots will soon be living with us and taking care of us, and thus we need to insure they are treated properly."
About the only thing advertisers can do to avoid this kind of controversy is to take out an ad that says "compliments of a friend."