Nortel's Beatles rap misses a selling point

By Published on .

Marketer: Nortel Networks
Agency: Temerlin McClain, Irving, Texas
Ad Review rating: Two and a half stars

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Shut up.

The new spot from Nortel Networks and Temerlin McClain, Irving, Texas, may invoke the Beatles to sell whatever it is they're selling, but the problem isn't that. This is no Janis Joplin for Mercedes-Benz. The juxtaposition of the big-business setting and John Lennon's enigmatic lyrics is cognitively dissonant on purpose.

"Today Nortel Networks is changing the way businesses communicate," says the voice-over. Then, in some high-tech corporate palace, a CEO addresses his troops in a worldwide teleconference, reading--not singing--some familiar but unexpected material:

Here come old flattop.

He come groovin' up slowly.

He got joo-joo eyeball.

He one holy roller.

He got hair down to his knees.

Got to be a joker he just do what he please.

As he speaks, his minions around the globe are following along--on phones, laptops, palmtops, etc.--nonplussed, but also intrigued. And so are we. It's an irresistible scenario.

He wear no shoeshine.

He got toe-jam football.

He got monkey finger.

He say, "I know you, you know me."

One thing I can tell you is you got to be free.

Come together . . . right now . . . over me.

Logo up. "How the world shares ideas." The URL.

In other words, that's supposed to be the climax--which reminds us that "Come together" is a major-league double entendre. It refers on the one hand to people of divergent locations, politics or whatever, swaying happily in peace and harmony. Vast distances are bridged. Strangers connect.

Communication flourishes. And everybody prospers in a world of love and understanding.

Come together . . . right now . . . over me.

The other definition, of course, is simultaneous orgasm--which, we suspect, is what Cisco Systems and Lucent Technologies had when they viewed this ad. Because they are the competition, and because something in the otherwise richly textured 60-second spot is obviously missing.

Actually, two things. The first is the lyric following, "He got monkey finger." As any Beatlemaniac well knows, the rest of the line is "He shoot Coca-Cola." But, having spent beaucoups joo-joo eyeball to wrest adaptation rights, Nortel apparently had some unresolved trademark issues. (As Keenan Wynn said to Peter Sellers in "Dr. Strangelove," when Sellers was desperately rifling a vending machine for pay phone change to call Washington and save the world from nuclear destruction, "You're gonna have to answer to the Coca-Cola Co.")

But we digress. The more significant missing element is a little more fundamental--namely, the point. The explanation. The offer.

Whereas Cisco, for example, uses its advertising to hype the Internet and brag about how its networking hardware constitutes most of the existing Net infrastructure, the Nortel ad displays a lot of hardware, but doesn't adequately--or even minimally--explain the connection.

"Bringing it all together with the true power of the Internet," the voice-over says.

But how? Do they make phones? Laptops? Cable co-ax? Do they sell servers and other network infrastructure? This campaign exists for the express purpose of generating brand awareness, yet doesn't bother to say what, exactly, Nortel sells.

To paraphrase the poet: He say, "I know you and you know me." One thing I can tell you is that's sure hard to see. Come together? Right now? Not for me.

Copyright April 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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