Boy howdy! TiVo's send-up isn't heinous; it's hilarious

By Published on .

Marketer: TiVo
Agency: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco
Ad review rating: Three and a half stars

Let's see, what are all the reasons the new commercial for TiVo from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, should be a disaster?

Well, for starters, the spot is a parody of the direct-to-consumer drug ads that have been flooding the airwaves of late. That is, the parodies themselves have been flooding the airwaves, including a particularly funny and pointed one for

E-Trade Group from none other than Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. (That one shows an investor dumping a drug-company stock after seeing a DTC spot for the company's allergy medicine. Among the many alarming complications: "the condition known as hot-dog fingers.")

The joke--i.e., take note of all the grotesque side effects in the fake disclaimers--has been used now by TiVo, E-Trade, Energizer and (twice), and is surely spent. It's like, enough already.

Secondly, this TiVo commercial stars San Francisco 49ers football greats Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott. But Goodby didn't come up with a solution for TiVo that just happened to include Montana and Lott. The players, who are employees/investors with Bay area-based TiVo, were "offered" to the agency as talent. Contriving a commercial around a casting opportunity is an idiotic example of the star pushing the bourse.

And then there is the message itself. It begins with the retired players on a golf course, where a clearly unsettled Lott horribly mangles his tee shot.

JOE: "What's the matter, Ronnie--masculine itching?"

RONNIE: "How'd you know?"

Here Montana turns to the camera, holding a large container.

JOE: "When I experience masculine itching, I reach for Extra-Strength Itch Stopper Plus."

RONNIE: "How's it work?"

The spot then cuts to an animated graphic, illustrating, against a human outline, the bacteria growth process.

JOE: "Well, when your body heats up, Ronnie, enzymes mixed with bacteria can cause unsightly discomfort."

RONNIE: "Boy howdy!"

Montana scoops a wad of goo out of the huge jar and starts moving towards Lott's groin.

JOE: "But with just two fingers of the patented oily balm applied to the affected area you . . ."

Here a title card slams in, "Get TiVo," and with it the voice-over, "Skip the stuff you don't want to see. TiVo, TV your way."

Hmmm. A commercial telling you what to buy in order to stop watching commercials--doesn't that have an odd serpent-swallowing-its-tail quality to it?

Rhetorical question. Of course it does. "Watch our commercial about how you hate commercials! Use TV advertising to sell a product inimical to TV advertising! Buy TiVo, and never be pestered by E-Trade again!"

So that should settle the issue; for the three above-stated reasons and by all rights, this spot should be dismissed as a heinous advertrocity. Only one problem though:

It's brilliant.

Laugh-out-loud funny, inspired and brilliant. First of all, "boy howdy?" This is just too wonderful an exclamation, the most colorful phrase blurted in a TV commercial since "Great googily moogily!" from the Snickers "end zone painter" spot three years ago.

Secondly, Montana and Lott--for all their native unease delivering lines--are hilarious. Hi-lar-i-ous. Never mind that Joe can't quite enunciate "masculine." Never mind that Lott is nobody's idea of John Barrymore. The fact is, their rough edges are part of the joke, part of what makes the parody great. This spot spoofs not only DTC ads, it pokes at (excuse the expression) irritating jock ads in general.

And, finally, the joke is undeniably about a product feature. Maybe using TV advertising to help obliterate TV advertising is sort of hypocritical. But the technological genie is out of the bottle; shying away from the O. Henry irony won't stuff him back in.

TiVo and the two 49ers are together speculating on their unusual partnership and--excuse this expression too--look who hit the mother lode.

Copyright November 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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