Palm's Pre Spot Is Certainly Striking but More of the Same

Modernista's Well-Choreographed Ad Triggers All Sorts of Mental Associations

By Published on .

Which review of the Pre launch ad would you like?

Do you prefer the one that says the spot, from Modernista, Boston, and choreographed by Sun Yupeng of Beijing Olympics-opening-ceremony fame, is a visual spectacle worthy of the moment? We can certainly provide that one. The imagery of "Flow" is immense and stunning, befitting a product intro that is a significant, if incremental, episode in telecom history, as Palm and Sprint challenge the global hegemony of Apple's iPhone.

Title: Flow
Marketer: Palm
Agency: Modernista, Boston
'Flow' is at least as derivative as it is gripping, owing a great debt to, for starters, the Olympics spectacle, but also to innumerable ad-stravaganzas from the past.
This is an event deserving of some fanfare, so why not hire a tall crane (or blimp) to photograph hundreds of orange-clad Chinese dancers coalescing into concentric circles, later to kaleidoscope into what looks like a two-acre Spirograph drawing?

"My life," says a woman with a Pre, standing on a rock in the center but heard narrating in voice-over, "like all our lives, is made up of so many other lives: my family's lives [she pulls up a baby picture on the phone], friends' lives [up comes a keypad, for texting], play life [she slides a finger and there's Pandora] and my life next week -- all of them arranging themselves all the time. [Here she scrolls seamlessly and effortlessly from screen to screen]. Isn't it beautiful when life simply flows together?"

Get it? In the vast background: human contact writ large, the physical joining of thousands to convey the larger majesty of the Connected World. In the foreground: connectivity writ itsy-bitsy, with the Pre being run through the motions of proving it's not some Pre-tender or i-phoney.

But, see, that's where the other viewpoint kicks in. If Modernista was looking to trigger mental associations, it may have blundered into the wrong ones. "Flow" is at least as derivative as it is gripping, owing a great debt to, for starters, the Olympics spectacle, but also to innumerable ad-stravaganzas at least as far back as Saatchi's British Air ads more than 25 years ago, not to mention Esther Williams' water ballet and the June Taylor Dancers -- who were all the rage during the Kennedy administration.

When you're trying to communicate "revolutionary" as opposed to "copycat," do you want to depend on cinematic techniques that immediately remind viewers of something else? In the Pre, do you want to show off navigation features that apparently duplicate but do not apparently improve upon the iPhone? And, most of all, returning to the subject of semiotic subtext, in advertising a device designed to arm individuals in a new digital world of power deriving from the bottom up, do you really want to shoot, literally, from the top down?

These are actual questions, not rhetorical ones. Viewers don't tend to deconstruct advertising; they just look at it. Nobody but yours truly will find fault with an aerial point of view. As we said, in the simplest terms, this is a perfectly sound TV commercial for what is surely a multiplatform launch.

But for what it's worth: AdReview first saw the spot on a handheld, with a screen exactly the size of the Palm Pre. It was impossible to make out what was going on. In other words, the ad for this revolutionary new phone would look like crap ... on itself.

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