Jul 11

HP’s off-kilter shot at iPad

Congratulations. You’re a creative guy who just got the biggest break of his career. You’ve been asked to come up with a multimillion-dollar campaign for HP’s iPad-killer, the TouchPad.

Your head hurts from all the celebrating last night. Unfortunately, it’s about to hurt more — because it’ll be pretty darn hard to come up with an idea that will even put a dent in iPad, which virtually owns the market. Especially with a product that exists only because iPad blazed the trail before it.

What to do, what to do…

Trust me, I’m sympathetic to the challenge here. I was once hired to come up with a Sony campaign that would “bring down the iPod.” Somehow iPod survived that massive creative threat.

So the big idea for TouchPad turned out to be a celebrity spokesperson. That’s not a bad idea in itself. Some of the greatest campaigns in ad history have employed the celebrity spokesperson. It’s just that when you go this route, you have to think long and hard about the celebrity you’re choosing.

Is he/she:

1. Compatible with the brand?
2. Appealing to those you’re trying to convince?
3. Capable of presenting the product well?
4. Truly entertaining?
5. Likely to be busted for lewd behavior?

If you don’t have all the right answers, you risk spending a lot of money on a very big zero. Or, worse still, a negative.

HP decided that Russell Brand was the right guy for the job. Not exactly a household name. In fact, when a commercial starts by telling you the guy’s name, it’s a good indication that most people won’t know who the hell he is. Again, not a deal-killer, but something to consider.

Russell is a quirky English personality with some bad-boy behavior in his past, legal and otherwise. Clearly HP is looking to be “edgy.” To me, he seems like an unrefined Ricky Gervais.

And this is the problem. To most, Russell comes across as just plain bizarre — and not all that funny. His humor comes with some awkwardness. When a joke falls flat (which it does often — like the “dental joke” in this spot), it feels like open-mike night down at the comedy club.

What about the content of this ad? Well, that’s problem #2. The product features we see in this ad are supposed to be things that are missing in iPad. However, simply because of the way Russell presents, very little of his demo seems extraordinary. Hardly enough to make one stop lusting for an iPad.

Russell’s most grievous offense comes at the end. That’s when he openly makes a play for his paycheck by reciting a line that sounds like it was written in the marketing department: “My life is like nothing else. So is yours. HP TouchPad. Works like nothing else.” So much for whatever shred of authenticity Russell was supposed to bring to this party.

But let’s look at this ad in context.

Is HP’s approach any better than Motorola’s high-tech, robotic, spec-laden ad for Xoom? I think so. Though the personality they’ve chosen is questionable, at least the ad has a personality. Will it turn TouchPad into a serious iPad threat? Don’t hold your breath.

(This ad appears to be the launch spot of the HP TouchPad campaign. See a bunch of other spots in this campaign strung together here.)

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  • Bmcfadden

    Ken — congratulations to HP for taking the humorous high road. Compare this lighthearted ad to the seriously offensive Motorola Xoom ad during the Superbowl which tried to offensively stereotype iPad buyers as Orwellian lemmings. Motorola’s ad was pure jealousy, and only succeeded in wasting money and insulting potential customers. Also look at Rimm’s latest “Amateur Hour Is Over” campaign — again, extremely offensive and alienating to potential customers, and also extremely ironic given what an amateurish joke the Playbook has turned out to be.

    So, HP using humor in its ads is great — a welcome relief from the petty and insulting tactics taken by other would-be Apple competitors.

  • Wow, this advertisement makes absolutely no sense at all, and I watched it twice. I even normally like Russell Brand, but he’s not even close to being funny in this ad. Very weird approach and tactics that HP is taking.

  • Bmcfadden

    Scott — I agree the ad makes no sense, but it won me over with the funny bit about bad British teeth … Although my second thought was that looking at pictures of bad teeth isn’t a very compelling use case for a tablet …

  • ken segall

    I guess this is one of those times when different people react differently to different types of humor. The “teeth” bit didn’t do it for me.

    The use of humor in ads has always been tricky. There is an art to writing these things so something is truly funny — and is funny to the greatest number of people. Apple’s now-defunct “Mac vs. PC” ads are a great example. They were really smart and strategic, yet they were truly entertaining for all kinds of people. It’s just hard for me to imagine Russell Brand working on that level.

  • Bladrnr

    Here’s the problem for HP: Apple knows how to market. They have made it a science. Everybody knows it. So this is what HP does to compete? Seriously? This is the exact opposite of Apple. Even the “I’m a Mac” ads had humor but also a strong punchline of truth in regards to Mac vs. PC. This? What would its humor do to make me want to buy this tablet?

    Exactly. Nothing.

  • ChuckO

    I don’t know why they bothered to have his name on the ads? Do they get funnier if you know who the guy is? Oh, that was Seinfeld in those MS commercials? Now I get it!

    I don’t know how effective it is to do this but I suspect this is a case of going after the “kids” (I think that’s the insider creative ad guy term for them. Correct me if I’m wrong). I suspect they’re going for the young and “switched-on” demographic here. It’s almost as good as having Katy Perry when you get her current husband. Did the Gwen Stefani ads sell more HP laptops than I realize?

  • melgross

    Well, I thought the Ad was cute, but overdone. I really didn’t get much sense of the Touchpad from it.

    I do think it’s also cute that HP couldn’t come up with a name that didn’t use parts of two Apple products in it.

  • Ludovic

    Most people don’t live in Louis XV apartments ; in my opinion this will subconsciously antagonize most viewers, especially the young and the geeks.

    I asked myself what was the point of showing a piano (maybe because I didn’t know Mr Brand was a composer) and the rapport between the very prominent piano and the TouchPad.

    As mentioned in another comment, I wasn’t convinced by the ad that the TouchPad can do anything the iPad can’t because the demo is too quick-paced and a little confusing.

    Just my 2 cents.