Baseline: Infiniti drops haiku for good storytelling

We'll always remember where we were when the First Guy Wearing Black Socks won the U.S. Open tennis championship.(I was being slept upon by my 11-month-old daughter, and was thus trapped in front of the tv set on a warm and...

We’ll always remember where we were when the First Guy Wearing Black Socks won the U.S. Open tennis championship.

(I was being slept upon by my 11-month-old daughter, and was thus trapped in front of the tv set on a warm and windy Sunday afternoon!)

But, Brooke looked wonderful. Agassi looked like he just climbed out of a dumpster. And, Infiniti, the sponsor, looked like just about the most sophisticated, low-key, charming, thoughtful car maker on earth.

Infiniti was launched a few years back with a truly weird and over-the-top tv campaign that went On and On about rocks and water and clouds and never showed an image of the vehicle.

While ad pundits argued that this was a new form of advertising, a breakthrough visual haiku, or dismissed it as pretentious nonsense, the dealer network is believed to have unanimously shat upon it, and the account walked to Chiat in Los Angeles.

Their campaign of the past year and a half is a testimonial to the simple power of an acting performance, of good storytelling, of being interesting.

For years, I was in the habit of telling clients that people read, watch, hear, remember and act upon information that interests them. Sometimes, I would then remark gravely, that information comes in the form of an advertisement!

I don’t know how many clients that motto impressed, but it always impressed the hell out of me.

(In fact, I think I just dusted it off for another cycle!)

Infiniti’s strategy is to put an English-accented, middle-aged Broadway stage actor named Jonathan Pryce on a cyc studio set with a few minimalist props, a stationary Infiniti, and something clever to say.

Pryce is no beauty contest winner. He looks something like the late Hans Conried. Beaky nose, straight, lank hair swept back from a prominent forehead, and a presentation style like a chilled-out James Burke from The Day the Universe Changed.

Pryce gives quirky, quasi-scientific, 30-second lectures on little infobits related to the unique qualities of Infiniti automobiles.

In one, he noses up to the other side of your tv screen, dots what appears to be Crazy Glue on four corners of a piece of metal, and sticks it to the glass.

Below it, he then pastes an identical piece with the glue applied smoothly ’round the full perimeter.

This, he prattles on, shows how welding the entire seam of the Infiniti’s metalwork is superior to spot welding here and there, like most cars.

He rips the spot-glued metal off in a flash, and then we see his fingers scrabbling away at the perimeter-glued rectangle. He can’t get the damn thing to come loose!

Next spot, he appears on screen and collapses a plastic drinking straw. Announcing that tubes are easily bent unless the tube is filled with something, he inserts something-or-other into the straw, tests the newly strengthened unit, and makes the connection to the urethane-filled roof pillars of the Infiniti.

It’s mostly Golly, Mr. Science! stuff, with a wink, but you find yourself saying, Okay, I get it, that’s cool, that makes sense!

To show how an Infiniti remembers the wing mirror, driver’s seat and steering wheel position preferences for two different drivers, Pryce dons a false moustache and glasses, to become the second driver.

It’s a wee bit corny, even hokey, but he pulls it off, and damned if you don’t remember the point he’s making, hours later, because of that dopey false moustache.

My favorite is the one about Infiniti’s Electronic Key. To show us all the features, he says I’ve got to talk fast! And you listen!

He shows us all kinds of remote control magic tricks performed with the key, culminating with and if there’s some oddball hanging about your car… boom! He pushes a button that sets off the burglar alarm! Then, with the car blinking its lights and blasting its horn, he mutters Wonder what this one does, pushes it, and disappears!

It’s not rocket science. It’s not even tricky. Or expensive. It’s just intelligent advertising!

it could have been done in canada!