What's the Big Idea?: AARP's Behind the Music

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In a Spinal Tap-esque scenario, America West profiles Electric Chameleon, a fake `70s rock band back in the spotlight after being sampled by a rap star. A whippersnapper manager-type gathers the ragtag band together (when one member expresses concern about the whereabouts of the bass player, the manager says, "I found him. He's, uh, better now," as the camera cuts to a view of a manic-looking geezer fidgeting in his car) and they launch a reunion tour - travelling, of course, on America West.

"If you consider all the retail messages that they have to do, it made sense to have as a campaign vehicle a rock band that's always on the road," says Publicis & Hal Riney CD Mike Mazza. "The great thing about it is that the spine of the campaign is such that we can create all these different messages out of it." The spots push America West's punctuality and low prices, and the agency plans to launch a link from the airline's website to an Electric Chameleon home page including band bios and phony tour information.

In the band's first concert, the unstable bassist attempts to play his instrument with his teeth, which come out and get stuck in the strings. Subsequent spots feature classic unruly rock band moments, including hotel trashings and prima donna performers complaining "I can't create in these conditions." In the final spot, the manager wheedles at the petulant bassist, unhappy because his lucky T-shirt has been washed and shrunk. As the manager cries, "Look at yourself! You're a rock legend!" the ridiculous fogy pulls it on over his sagging belly and heads up to the stage with his midriff and a plumber's crack exposed.

Any airline challenging Southwest, America West's chief competitor, has to market to an audience that expects flying to be funny, the creatives believe. Mazza also feels the pressure of the entire ailing industry. "Airlines are the poster child for disdain, to put it lightly," he asserts. "The only thing left in the arsenal is to use humor to get your point across."

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