Blockbuster's one word: obsolescence

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Advertiser: Blockbuster Video Agency: Bernstein-Rein, Kansas City, Mo. Ad Review rating: 2 stars The other day, the Ad Review staff went to Blockbuster Video, and for the zillionth time was stymied by the semi-alphabetical arrangement of new releases. Semi-alphabetical, of course, is about as valuable as semi-virginal and we swore silently to ourselves.

Then four days later, we got our weekly "courtesy call" from Blockbuster, reminding us that our rentals were two days overdue. This brought the cost of "Strangers in Good Company" (3 1/2 stars) and "Mighty Aphrodite" (2 1/2 stars) to $16. And again we swore silently to ourselves.

But then we smiled.

Because we will get the last laugh. Because we know Blockbuster is not merely a $1.3 billion retail colossus that dominates the video-rental industry and consumes about 34% of our discretionary income. It's also, we are delighted to remind ourselves, a future buggy whip.

In the 500-channel universe, on-demand video will render the cumbersome process of videocassette checkout largely obsolete. Even if the movie industry provides a release window for video rentals ahead of pay-per-view, the miraculous Blockbuster cash cow is facing a bovine version of "Run for Your Life."

Sort of: Ten years to live. Make the most of it.

Or five years. Or 12. But not 20 -- so it is not at all peculiar for Blockbuster and its agency, Bernstein-Rein, Kansas City, Mo., to grab those teats and squeeze for dear life. Five hundred channels is still just a vision, and the company would be crazy not to maximize its brand presence for the lucrative interim with a flashy ad campaign.

What is peculiar -- extremely peculiar -- is the confessional quality of the advertising.

"There is a word, or haven't you heard? The future looks bright today. The world's within reach right down the street, so why don't you come out and play? One world, one word: Blockbuster," goes the buoyant jingle, along with a quick-cut montage of people dancing and bungee jumping and diving off a pier and, oh, yes, for about 0.8 second, watching a movie.

It's your basic SweetCam anthem, that could easily be for Diet Coke or (with a little more eye-popping) Pringles. As to what video rental has to do with "one world" and the proximity of the future, well, who cares? It's just a jingle.

But then on flashes a Blockbuster clerk, who presses the point:

"You know, no matter how fast the world moves, or how many innovations are behind tomorrow's door, there's still one word that brings the fun together: Blockbuster."

What, are they on sodium pentathol, or something? Look, if they want to claim that Blockbuster is somehow synonymous with "entertainment" worldwide, God bless 'em. Most people don't realize what a piteous failure Blockbuster's music stores have been. But why exactly are they reminding us that "innovations are behind tomorrow's door"? That may be what's prompting them to speak to consumers, but why in the world did they feel obligated to mention it?

It's not as though anybody has stopped renting videos in anticipation of on-demand movies in 2006. And it's not as though making Blockbuster seem state-of-the-art right now will have any effect whatsoever when 500 channels really arrive.

The jingle might as well say, "Future white elephant. But not yet irrelevant. So please drop by today! We're full of ourselves. So browse through our shelves. It's easy as B-C-A!"

Copyright January 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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