CompuServe tries deep end

By Published on .

Agency:Martin/Williams, Minneapolis
Rating:2 1/2 stars

One spot in a new campaign for CompuServe opens with an ordinary looking guy, in glasses and a sweater, looking straight at the camera as an off-screen voice asks, "Why does your automobile need an oxygen sensor?"

For a moment, the guy just stares, because clearly he has no idea what the answer is. So he fakes it.

"They, um, 'cause, uh, well,'s for the passengers really. Because, if there's no oxygen...LOOOOOOOK OUT! Heh heh heh. That's not good. That's uh, that's...whoaaa." It's hard to duplicate the delivery as the guy gamely tries to bull his way through. But he's wonderfully unconvincing. Then, to the sound of a guillotine bladesshhhhwhumping to the chopping block, a reverse type title card falls into view: "SOMETIMES LIFE CALLS FOR DEEPER ANSWERS." Then the voice-over kicks in:

"Sometimes life calls for deeper answers. That's why there's CompuServe. No online service has more informed user groups, more comprehensive databases and better access to the Internet. Enter CompuServe. Call for free software and 10 free hours online."

In a second 30-second spot, the question is: "Why are rebel forces in Peru fighting against the current government?"

A thoughtful-looking executive is stumped, but undaunted: "Well...I think... to become a rebel force, wouldn't you at some point determine that you had to rebel?...I think."

No doubt about it, this is amusing fare from Martin/Williams, Minneapolis. It's charming, amusing, extremely well-acted--and of dubious value to all concerned.

For one thing, we'd wager that 90% of America has no interest whatsoever in why rebels are fighting the government in Peru. The implication that the answers are to be had online, therefore, is not much of a promise: Useless information is at your fingertips.

For those who are hip to the world online, these spots offer little to differentiate CompuServe from its two main competitors. And for those completely ignorant to these portals into cyberspace, this campaign doesn't begin to explain what an online service is.

There is one tantalizing clue in the ending graphic package, which consists of a bunch of familiar magazine logos swirling in the viewer's face. If the question is, "What deeper answers?" presumably they are to be found in Better Homes & Gardens Online, Rolling Stone Online, Money Online, etc. (We're not sure how Better Homes & Gardens plumbs the depths of human understanding, but the recipe for mock apple pie is out of this world.) Alas, in the 15-second versions of these spots, the graphic is dropped. What's left is an unsupported narrator claim of "deeper content" and a series of jokey bits that, in the absence of a payoff, just hang there without purpose.

What seems to be the problem here?

For some bewildering reason, the online services as a group seem at a loss to convey benefits. Prodigy has done the best of late, using a bus full of fly fisherman as a metaphor for online interest groups, but nobody has found the formula for communicating the combination of news, entertainment, reference, shopping, interest-grouping and access to the wide, unwieldy World Wide Web.

Skip the deep answers, folks. Answer a simple one: Why sign on?

You can e-mail Bob Garfield at [email protected] His reviews are also available via Ad Age/Creativity Online on eWorld.

Copyright November 1995 Crain Communications Inc.

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