A Costly Novelty With Limited Reach

By Published on .

Client: American Express Co.
Agency: Ogilvy & Mather
Star Rating: 2.5

The new whatever with Jerry Seinfeld and Superman sure is funny. How can it not be? It's just Jerry hanging out with a cartoon Man of Steel, voiced by Patrick

Jerry Seinfeld and Superman
Warburton, talking about Seinfeldian things: too much mayo on a sandwich, no-account Broadway musicals, super invulnerability. That sort of thing.

Plus, he's turned into an actor. The TV stiffness is gone, and he's pretty hilarious just sitting there being bored and eating peanuts, or being appalled by dreadful musical comedy or gesturing about mayonnaise on his pal's cartoon lip.

A kvetch in a cape
So, yeah, he's great, and so is Warburton, who plays Superman as a kvetch in a cape: faster than a speeding bullet, but still at loose ends. When a fan approaches him in a restaurant -- Superman previously saved the man's life -- he suffers through the celebrity moment, plastering on a painfully fake grin and saying, "It's good to see you again."

It's all very, very funny ... whatever it is.

It isn't exactly a program; it's on the Internet and it's only five minutes long. And it isn't exactly a commercial; it's on the Internet, and it's five minutes long, about one-fifth of which devotes itself to the brand benefit of the nominal advertiser, which happens to be American Express.

Late-emerging plot
To find this whatever, you have to go onto an AmEx Web site and download it. So far, Seinfeld told Jon Stewart on Comedy Central the other night, more than 500,000 people have done so. After that plug, the number has probably doubled. Or tripled. Whatever this thing is, let's say 1.5 million people have seen it. In other words, a fraction of the number of people who would see it if it were on the lowest-rated show on network TV. And what those people saw concerning the sponsor was a late-emerging plot development that showed a purchase made with an AmEx card leaves the customer invulnerable to product damage or malfunction for 90 days.

A point that could have been made just as memorably in a 30-second spot.

Or at point-of-purchase, which is where we'd be placing that message, at durable-goods retailers around the world, including virtual ones, minus the comedy stars.

Of course, considering the brilliance of this whatever from Ogilvy & Mather -- let's call it an e-mercial -- we readily concede that anybody who begins watching it will finish, and come away with the selling proposition, no matter how late arriving and soft-pedaled it is.

Four minutes is a long way to go to make the point, but if 1.5 million people do indeed watch it that point will indeed be 1.5 million times made.

Very expensive novelty
So where does that leave us? Well, it leaves us where all such experiments do: with a very expensive novelty with limited reach, especially in the target demographic. It will require a lot of virulence to amortize the production cost, which, factoring in Seinfeld's fee, director Barry Levinson's fee, animation and effects, had to be in the millions.

As Jerry says when Superman offers to spin the Earth backward to reverse time, "I don't know. It's quite a production, don't you think?"


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