Adages - Department of Juvenilia: MTV gives birth to a campaign

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MTV2, the all-music-video stepchild of MTV, is telling us something. They are using a baby-a doll actually-in their first ever TV campaign, which launched last week. And not a nice baby-one that's awful. The rubber urchin rages like an adult, spewing profanities and making ugly gestures, on a crude puppet stage, with the hand of its puppet master clearly visible. This is a problem child.

MTV2's ad agency BooneOakley of Charlotte, North Carolina, however, calls it, affectionately, "the talking baby." The ads are rudimentary, low budget, shot with a home video camera.

Agency partner David Oakley tells Adages the "talking baby" idea was cribbed from a popular show at a local Charlotte comedy club called the Perch. Comedian Sean Keenan is the twisted mind and puppet-master behind the "talking baby."

"A long time ago I had this idea for holding a doll and having it talk like an old man," says Sean. "But the problem was that it was so damn weird, it just wouldn't work in regular standup routines. Then I saw Siskel and Ebert on TV late one night and an idea came to me. I started reviewing movies, as the baby. So that's what the show is all about, and that's what Oakley saw when he came by."

"We thought maybe the baby could do music reviews," says David. "So we pitched that idea to MTV2, and they loved it."

In the MTV2 spots, the "talking baby" gives its opinion on everything from 50 Cent to the White Stripes. "They told me to go crazy, and I did."

The ads, indeed, look like the work of a lunatic.

Sean hopes to spin-off a live action show or a movie based on the talking baby. "MTV hasn't talked to me about that yet," says Sean. "I guess they're waiting for audience reaction."

Sean's not worried about competing with "Baby Bob," the CBS TV series starring a baby that talks like an adult.

"The technologies are completely different," says Sean, "basically, there is no technology in mine."

Sean's future is bright. "All my friends say to me: `That's your career now, you play with a doll."'

Unfortunately, a good doll is hard to find. According to Sean, his "talking baby" was manufactured by a company that is now out of business. There are no trademarks or copyrights on the doll.

"And they get beat up pretty fast. The first one I have is so filthy and has so many bangs and dings in it, that it's not even presentable as a baby anymore."

He was able to find several "talking baby" doubles online. "There is this really creepy subculture of old women who treat dolls as actual children. You have to go through them to get the dolls." Sean feels bad about buying the dolls from them because: "I know what I'm about to do with them." When he hits the big time, he plans to send thank you notes to all the old ladies, signed, of course, by "the talking baby."

Read my lips

Barry Diller and Edgar Bronfman were seen huddling at a choice table in the front room of media hangout Michael's last Wednesday. They were tanned and obviously well-rested after a week at the annual Sun Valley, Idaho, media mogul summit, where Mr. Diller was said to have initiated talks with Viacom chief Sumner Redstone about a possible joint bid for Vivendi Universal's entertainment empire. Mr. Bronfman is a rival bidder for Vivendi's holdings. So what were the boys talking about? Yet another partnership?

"Too bad we don't have a lip reader here," quipped Chris Rohrs, head of the Television Advertising Bureau, to lunchmates at a nearby table. "Oh, look! Is Barry saying, `That's a deal' ?" Mr. Rohrs craned his neck, and then shook his head. "No, it looks like he said, "That's a meal."'

Perhaps there was no lip reader in the room, but sitting at another table within earshot of the moguls was once intrepid reporter, Mary Richards, aka Mary Tyler Moore. Unfortunately, she was oblivious to the power duo right behind her.

The case of the missing letter

If you apply for a job at GSD&M in Austin, Texas, the application form asks you what the agency initials stand for. No, it's not Great Sex, Drugs and Music. Adages tip: check the agency Web site. Look for founding partners and current "fearless leaders," Steve Gurasich, Roy Spence, and Tim McClure. That's GS&M. What about the "D?"

Well that's Jim Darilek, who left the shop in 1976 before it became a big-time agency-in other words, before there were any chips to cash in. (The shop now claims revenue of about $100 million.) Where did D go? The agency 's in-house paper, "The City Beat," tracked the missing initial down in New York City where he recently was hired as the design director for Hearst Magazines' House Beautiful. D tells City Beat: "A part of me does regret leaving. [But] I know I made the right decision."

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