Garfield's AdReview: Sprint shop taps into Tolstoy with spot for picture-phone

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No doubt you remember vividly, from "War and Peace," when the young Natalya Ilyinichna Rostova-the scamp nicknamed Natasha-teases her big sister Vera about being in love with the young officer Berg. Natasha doesn't say "Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah," but that's more or less the sense of the moment.

Tolstoy, as usual, was not stretching credulity. His greatest genius in observing and characterizing human behavior was knowing what tiny little moments rang true. His novels are towering literary achievements because again and again he strikes timeless, universal chords-bitchy girl talk not the least.

Tolstoy and Sprint. Birds of a feather, those two.

One was a hairy 19th century Russian novelist, and one peddles mobile phones. But at least for the moment they share the genius of keen observation and small literary epiphanies along the way to making a larger point. Tolstoy's larger point was about man's tragic and glorious folly, and Sprint's is about sending photographs instantly over the air.

This it does in a 30-second commercial of extraordinary knowingness and charm-not to mention advertising competence-from Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco.

It opens in a diner, where a goofy-looking young man is chowing down on the world's messiest sub, slathered with mustard and ketchup. Prince Andrei this kid isn't; he digs into the thing with absolutely zero self-consciousness, much less savoir-faire. He's a total goober, basically-which amuses the daylights of the bitchy little blonde sitting near him at the counter.

She surreptitiously snaps his picture, messy face and all, and sends it to her bestest, best friend with the following message: "Gina. Check this out. I'm sitting next to your new boyfriend. Don't you just love your new boyfriend?"

When the other girl receives it, however, she doesn't recoil whatsoever at the repulsive image of Mr. Slob. She doesn't ridicule him. She doesn't even laugh. She's actually touched, God knows why, although maybe by his transcendent lack of pretension.

"I do love him," she says, to the Sprint Guy, who, as always, is standing by during this episode of wireless drama in his familiar, black trench coat.

"As long as you're happy," he phlegmatically replies.

But of course he does. What delightful, understated copywriting and what a wonderful, wonderful commercial.

After all, what is a commercial, in 2003 expected to do? It must capture your attention, hold it and be memorable without abrasiveness, dishonesty or disrespect. It must explain the product benefits, or at least advance the brand image. And it must be crafted around the sensibilities of the target audience.

Check. Check. Check. This ad, like a great novel, is irresistible to anybody who happens to encounter it. But it goes straight to the hearts and minds of the young female target audience, for whom cellphones are more important than their own spleens-and now in fun colors, to boot. Every detail is perfect, including even the exaggeratedly precise enunciation of the word "him" in a way peculiar to the Generation Y chromosome.

And, finally: instant transmission of candid photos. It never seemed to us like a particularly useful feature. But now, we do love it.


Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco.

Ad Review Rating: 3.5 stars

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