HP’s insane premise doesn’t just brand, it sells

It's funny about branding. I mean how a word that until rather recently stood for using a hot metal tool to place a burn-mark on the hide of some livestock to identify 'em as belonging to you or me got to be a big-time marketing buzzword in the late '90s.
A brand is basically a label, right? And taken literally, every proper noun is a kind of a brand. Switzerland is a brand. (So is Iraq!) The New York Giants is a brand. Madonna is a brand. You are a brand, buddy, so shape up!

It’s funny about branding. I mean how a word that until rather recently stood for using a hot metal tool to place a burn-mark on the hide of some livestock to identify ‘em as belonging to you or me got to be a big-time marketing buzzword in the late ’90s.

A brand is basically a label, right? And taken literally, every proper noun is a kind of a brand. Switzerland is a brand. (So is Iraq!) The New York Giants is a brand. Madonna is a brand. You are a brand, buddy, so shape up!

What I think we now mean when we talk about branding is the process by which we contrive to ascribe attributes and qualities to inanimate objects, legal entities like pieces of real estate, corporations, chemical formulae, whatever.

These attributes and qualities are, of course, generally figments of our imagination. That’s because the perceived attributes most valuable to brands tend to be human attributes. Like friendliness, sex appeal, loyalty, courage and so on. Qualities few inanimate objects, legal entities or chemicals are likely to possess when it comes right down to it.

But that’s how the human mind works. It’s always liked to think there are gods in trees and rocks, and it’s not too far down that road before Campbell Soup is M’m! M’m! Good! or I’m very much mistaken.

And because the world goes ’round (and makes a huge amount of money) through the process of demonizing or glorifying things through the process of branding (which used to be called advertising in some circles), we do the best we can to push human minds in the direction they naturally want to go anyway. A brand is just a proper noun you haven’t met yet, but you’d really like if you did!

A campaign that takes this advice to heart, like literally man, is the new hp campaign. At least that seems to be how you spell it. And the ads have no other brand identification. For instance, the words Hewlett Packard do not appear.

In the first ad I saw, a double-page, four-colour spread, a somber-looking guy sits in his living room on one of two matching chairs. Instead of a headline, there are 4 sentences in large-ish type. They read: My printer asked if he could go to the copy shop. He couldn’t believe there was a time when people had to drive to a place to scan, copy, fax and print on separate machines. I sent him a fax that said there was once a time when people couldn’t even print their own pictures. He didn’t believe that either.

At first, I thought ‘My printer’ was another guy who prints stuff. Then I realized there is a machine sitting in the other chair. The printer is the machine! They are straight faced asking us to accept their assertion the machine is equipped with human attributes and qualities. Like curiosity. Intelligence. Disbelief. Wow.

There is a block of copy describing the printer as an all-in-one printer, fax, scanner and copier that lets you print photos, too. It’s $399 American. Wow again. But listen, they were only getting started.

Next week, another ad. A woman, sitting up in bed. The printer again, like a dog, curled up on the duvet beside her. My printer has a sweet tooth. He scans articles on desserts and faxed orders to gourmet candy shops in Switzerland. Yesterday, I printed out my holiday cards and they had chocolate stains all over them. Okay, some of them were mine.

Now they’ve got me going! Next ad? My printer built a treehouse. It (hey, why it instead of he?) had scanned the building plans, faxed a delivery order to the lumber yard, even printed color samples for the paint store. My kids say they had nothing to do with it. I believe them.

The fourth time ’round, the damn thing is taking over! Listen: My printer helps me with my interior design firm. It can scan sketches and upload them to a Web site with my PC. One night, my printer scanned its own sketches and faxed them to my client. She really liked them. I said they were mine.

This is wonderful stuff, folks. Remember, it’s not even about a car. It’s about a plastic box full of electrical junk, and the hp ad people have given it a personality, initiative, an attitude, talent and taste in sixteen short sentences over four ads.

The people in the ads look real. The rooms look real. Only the premise is insane. A marvelous joke. This is advertising that brands about as powerfully as anything we’ve seen for a long time. What’s more, it sells!

Barry Base creates advertising campaigns for a living. He creates this column for fun, and to test the unproven theory that clients who find the latter amusing may also find the former to their liking. Barry can be reached at (416) 924-5533, or faxed at (416) 960-5255, at the Toronto office of Barry Base & Partners.