IBM shows humanity behind machines

There is another in that long series of intelligent and charming IBM spots on our TVs these days. It's the one with the kid who is so pumped about this new IBM computer that he makes passionate, breathless, yet suspiciously improbable performance claims for the product.

There is another in that long series of intelligent and charming IBM spots on our TVs these days. It’s the one with the kid who is so pumped about this new IBM computer that he makes passionate, breathless, yet suspiciously improbable performance claims for the product.

These rantings are instantly squelched by a lawyer-ish middle aged guy to whom somebody at IBM has wisely said do not let this kid out of your sight for a moment.

The kid says the computer will let you predict the weather far into the future with pinpoint accuracy. That it will allow you to clone the gorgeous girl who sat behind you in high school. The lawyer squirms and grimaces and mutters gee I don’t think we can say that.

It is an inspired piece of farce, with lovely casting and performances. The kid is not a con man, he’s simply a total, evangelical believer. The lawyer isn’t a bully or a stuffed-shirt wet blanket. He’s just doin’ his job, because the problem isn’t really the kid, it’s the legal system.This is one of a number of recent spots that employ fantastical hyperbole to get their message registered. (Another was the FedEx radio earlier this year, where the guy builds a operating jet plane engine on his office desk, and calls FedEx to ship it and is told no problem.)

You sometimes worry that the product identification suffers, or that the outrageousness of the farce converts the message from advertising to entertainment. But the IBM spot (though I can’t name you the model number of the computer that clones girlfriends) is solidly IBM-grounded in brand personality and brand identification.

It reminds you again that smart, humorous, creative, benign human beings are behind the façade of the company that spearheaded some of the most daunting and seemingly scary technology of the twentieth century.

For something almost completely different, see the Canadian Tire spot for the pressure spray washer. It’s an old-fashioned demonstration pitch, direct descendent of the guy in the CNE Food Building with the Slice-O-Matic.

It opens with a guy using some kind of water wand, spraying a wooden fence. Only the years of grime and discolouration are vanishing under the force of the water, revealing what looks like brand new boards fresh from the sawmill.

This is not, on first (or second) viewing, a particularly well-cast or convincingly acted spot. You would be hard-pressed to pick any of the performers out of a police lineup, let alone want to ask for their autographs. It is adequately photographed in that you see what the pressure spray can do. Beyond that, it is visually pedestrian.

Yet the writing differentiates it from most K-Tel style demonstration spots that are the temple of vacuum-cleaner manufacturers and exercise equipment pitchmen.

Somebody has created a foil for the hero demonstrator. A doubter. A heckler. A cynical neighbour who is deeply suspicious we are all being duped by the nice little man using this water-jet gadget.

The guy’s opening line is why are you watering your fence? At other times, he yells accusative interjections like you sanded those boards! All of which lend the spot a creative tension. Naturally, the obnoxious neighbour finally wants to borrow the damn thing, which gives our protagonist a nice intro into the where-you-get-one-and-how-much-it-costs windup.

I have heard a number of people express, out loud, in passing conversation, their intention to go-there-and-get-one, which when you think about it is a rather rare occurrence.

* * *

The images we saw on television on September 11th were the most terrible and moving I can ever recall seeing. It struck me in the following days and weeks that all the news media responded and reported in a manner that, under extreme provocation, demonstrated their most telling strengths.

Newspapers lent depth, background and an avalanche of thought, history and opinion, much of it expressed in extraordinarily fine and passionate writing. Radio darted about, mixing local coverage with huge pieces of live network coverage, TV without pictures. You’re here, there, and back again in seconds.

But television! The power of television to turn the world into a single extended family united as one in grief and shock and resolve, was awesome, was it not?

Barry Base creates advertising campaigns for a living. He writes this column to blow off steam, and as a thinly disguised lure to attract clients who may imagine working with him could be a productive and amusing experience. Barry can be reached at (416) 924-5533, or faxed at (416) 960-5255, at the Toronto office of Barry Base & Partners.