Sony's Superthin TV Is Way Cooler Than Its Special Effects

Agency/Client Showoffs Were More Focused on the Production Than on Us or the Products

By Published on .

Google "cool song." You get 1.17 million hits. Same for "cool movie."

Now try "cool car." That gets you 1.08 million hits. How about, let's see, "cool toilet"? Only 9,620, because, well, after all.

So what do you suppose Google yields for the search term "cool special effect"? Go ahead. Guess.

Answer: 886.

That's correct. In the breadth of the vast internet, the coolness of special effects is deemed less notable than that of not only toilets but also "detergent" (949) and "bowling alley" (936). Now why in the world would that be?

Simple: Special effects have long since ceased to be special. Putting aside maybe the astonishing detail and fluidity of modern video games and state-of-the-art 3-D, movie magic is so pervasive as to be utterly taken for granted. The Star Cruiser is about to be evaporated? Whatever. Let's get some popcorn.

This is not to dismiss digital effects and their underlying genius. Not at all. They're very useful in advertising for stylized imagery and for defeating certain physical and budgetary limitations. Those talking ducks and crowds of 500,000 extras are kind of hard to round up.

But if the object is to generate gasps or an awestruck "Whoa!" then save your money. Nobody gives a fig. Once you know how the magician makes the silk disappear, the trick is a bore.

This gets to the new spot from 180, Los Angeles, for Sony. Here is what the press release had to say:

The nine-day production schedule included four days on the side of a snow-covered mountain, complete with professional mountain climbers on a cliff, snowcats, snowmobiles, a helicopter and a techno crane that needed to be hauled up the side of the mountain. ... The massive CGI and postproduction task used all three of the Mill offices in London, L.A. and New York and saw over 30 engineers working around the clock for 60 days.

Wow. What a silly and vain waste of effort. Because the audience doesn't care one bit about effort and not a whole lot more about spectacle -- not that this ad offers much of that. The premise is a mountaintop HD film shoot interrupted when a Sony camera goes tumbling down a sheer rock face and shatters into tiny fragments.

Except the fragments are actually Sony Blu-Ray players (not that we can tell), which go flying through the woods and morph into HandiCams, which skitter across a frozen lake and onto the bed of a passing truck, whereupon they once again splinter and once again rematerialize as Vaio laptops and so on through a couple of transmogrifications until they finally settle on a kitchen counter as the world's thinnest TV.


Problem one: The storyline is utterly uninteresting. Problem two: The "transforming" gimmick was done for the same advertiser a year ago, by a single animator on his Mac in his spare time for a consumer-generated-ad contest. Cost: $0. Problem three: The digital effects in "Tumble" themselves (mind you, this is to advertise a digital-video product line) look exactly like digital effects, which is to say unconvincing. Labored. Fake.

Sorry, isn't the entire point of these exercises to make the magic seem real? Isn't that why magicians don't show you where the silk went?

This commercial is a classic example of agency/client showoffs thinking the ad is about them. But, of course, it should have been about us, about how Sony gizmos might benefit our personal-media lives.

Next time around, skip the mountaintop, the 20 tons of equipment and the 30 engineers and remember that your audience can, under the right circumstances, be impressed by a toilet. The cool, thin TV on the counter was the best part of the commercial.

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