Compaq ads leave viewers to imagine product benefits

By Published on .

Marketer: Compaq Computer Corp:
Agency: FCB Worldwide, Chicago
Ad review rating: One and a half stars

Are they serious? Who's the new agency . . . "Saturday Night Live?''

The unveiling of Compaq Computer Corp.'s $350 million campaign--yes, that's almost a half billion dollars--is as pointless as it is pompous, and so generic in nature it looks like a parody of the genre.

"Where do you find inspiration?'' asks the voice-over to commence this SweetCam montage from FCB Worldwide, Chicago. "What if the things you do every day could be done with tools so intuitive using them would be like riding a bike?''

Let's pause here for a moment. At this stage, the ad has been illustrated with a little kid holding a butterfly, then looking at an encyclopedia entry of a butterfly beside a morticed inset view of a DNA double helix. A thousand different advertisers could be at work here, including every computer manufacturer, every software developer, every consultant, every educational institution, every biotech company, Raid, Black & Decker and Schwinn.

Furthermore, like this column, the ad has begun with two questions. It is axiomatic that beginning with a question is a dangerous thing, because if the audience isn't immediately intrigued, they will pay zero attention to the answer. Ad Review can take the risk because the stakes are small; if you're bored with us, you can turn to Photo Review and see a bunch of half-in-the-bag magazine reps posing with vacant-looking semi-celebrities.

If you're bored with a $350 million advertising campaign, on the other hand, someone soon will be departing to "pursue personal interests.''

So, whatever comes next in this introductory anthem had better come fast, it had better be fascinating and it had better at least open a door for someone to close a sale. Well, let's see:

"If technology becomes your silent partner,'' the voice-over continues, "imagine what you could imagine. We believe it's time to move forward beyond information technology to Imagination Technology. Welcome to the new IT from Compaq.''

The pictures, meanwhile, have attempted to flesh out the notion of "inspiration.'' We see a butterfly-shaped kite in front of a colorful outdoor mural. We see a Web site called

We see a van parked in the middle of nowhere, with a kite string attached to the body, one geek inside the vehicle and another outside unaccountably pirouetting like a drug-addled imbecile.

We see an Asian securities or commodities trader using his personal digital assistant to buy something from, though God knows what.


And, finally, we see some sort of biotech laboratory where people in goggles are apparently saving mankind, perhaps with butterfly chromosomes.

Mind you, we played this commercial 15 or 20 times in order to follow this, so we were able to divine the narrative relationship between the opening shot of the kid and the insect with what follows. But the editing and cinematography are so funky and flashily "dynamic'' that--take our word for it--no casual viewer will ever make the connection.

Imagination Technology our ass. The problem with this anthem, in fact, is that there is too much imagination and not enough information. For example, this nasty column is being written on a Compaq Presario 7470 with a big colorful sticker on it that we never bothered to remove when we bought the thing last spring.

"Solutions for sensible home computing,'' it says, and then it lists about eight of them. We won't trouble you with the specific features, but suffice to say they persuaded us to buy the computer.

This spot persuaded us to do nothing, except to heap scorn upon it.

Obviously, this is just the thematic introduction.

Presumably FCB will spend the other $340 million showing us precisely how Compaq's vision of Imagination Technology manifests itself product by product.

The question is--and, yes, we're ending with a question, too--if the anthem doesn't sell you anything, or even tell you anything, why bother to sing it at all?

Copyright October 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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