Friday, March 23, 2001
An approachably handsome young man sits on a tram in a snowy city. With a friendly English accent he tells us that in Helsinki it gets very cold (no shit, Sherlock- he’s wrapped up nice and warm, anyway).
Finns embrace new technology, he continues, and HP are working on a wireless system that will let people know exactly when their tram is coming so they don’t have to wait outside in the cold (we cut to a bunch of blond kids checking their mobiles indoors).
It’s small scale and personal – a practical use for new technology. The ad closes with a nice twist when the kids rush out just in time to throw snowballs at our hero’s tram; he modestly concludes “It’s pretty cool.”
This ad isn’t selling us anything tangible. A project in Finland isn’t going to help me, and if I didn’t already know that HP are Hewlett Packard, formerly humble makers of printers and large bits of hardware, the ad isn’t even going to tell me much about what the company does.
Instead, it’s trying to sell me a company’s changed mission statement. HP are now moving into the services side of IT (for example, they made an unsuccessful bid for PricewaterhouseCoopers’ global management and consulting organisation last year), and this ad tells us about their new direction.
It works pretty well – we don’t see any physical products (the mobile phones on view aren’t made by HP), instead we see HP people and ideas, which is what consulting’s all about.
The other ads in the series (mountaineers watching daytime soaps and an Internet guru not being accorded the fame he deserves) also try to show us that the company is clever, witty, globally attuned, human, and quietly confident – ‘pretty cool’. This is a big change from the old HP image, which was steady, workmanlike and absolutely not cool.
HP have altered their product, and so they’re advertising this. Guinness, on the other hand, haven’t changed what a pint tastes like, but they too are trying to change their image.
Faced with younger drinkers who like Red Bull and vodka, alco-pops and Belgian wheat beers (just not all in the same glass), St James’ Gate is trying to tell us that the old blond in the black dress is really sexy too.
We’ve had suicidal horse-riders racing passionately off cliffs, and a feisty couple stripping off their clothes in a rain storm (if they’d had their Finnish mobile phones wiith them, they could have stayed dry and still caught their bus in time). Now we’ve got a sweaty, moody fire dance. (They’re going through the elements, as it was pointed out to me: water, fire . . . clever, huh?)
The ads are brilliantly shot, with great soundtracks, and you do indeed think ‘passion’. Just to underline this, they finish with a coda that shows the couples in the pub all over each other and their pints. The fire-dancers ad overdoes this slightly, when in a passionate embrace the guy spills his creamy white love juice on the floor. (I can just see him sheepishly explaining, “This has never happened to me before. Really. I must be tired.”)
But Guinness just isn’t that sort of drink. It might mean many things – quality, tradition, integrity, humour, even – but however sexy the ads they produce, none of the sexiness rubs off on the product.
Change your advertising if you’ve really changed what you do. If not, don’t bother. A sheep in a Prada dress is still a sheep.