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HP baby commercial: What were they thinking?


What does a free-wheeling TV ad baby have in common with the Jack Kerouac? From my perspective as a Hewlett Packard customer and general creative geek, a lot. (Hint: the baby’s face is the only pretty or happy thing about it.)

Each time the commercial popped on my TV screen, I was stupefied. NOTE: the passive voice in this past sentence. I was engaged negatively without knowing the advertiser, the product, or the pitch — diapers or car insurance, perhaps? I could endure the ad until the baby zipped into traffic when I would change the channel or walk away to the healthy distraction of a chore.

Correction: mortified by the ad strategy of a nameless brand.

After a few exposures to the ad, I made a point to follow every second. I couldn’t remember the advertiser and wanted to see where the madness would lead. Oh, I see, the high-speed adventure ends as a high-speed photo print thanks to a new HP E-print service. It’s a happy ending as the print slips into momma’s loving hands.

Why should I care? It struck me as a cheap solution. Displaying someone at risk as creative strategy, okay. Melanie voiceover, okay but distracting. I was trying to remember the singer instead of waiting for the brand message.

But a baby in dangerous situations? With reference to Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Mr. Elliot, this customer’s disbelief would not suspend.

A reader up in arms queries Stuart Elliott

In the ensuing weeks following the campaign launch, a crowdsourced gasp of  “What were they thinking?” has been enough for HP to issue a statement. Even Stuart Elliott, venerable NY Times advertising columnist, got involved. In short, the reader asks:

Q. Was H.P. unaware of the safety issues when filming this advertisement?

Mr. Elliott notes HP’s reply that, to this blogger, was equally, if not more alarming.  HP states:

A. As part of our advertisement development process, we test the advertising among a relatively large segment of the target audience. Over all, the feedback was incredibly positive and encouraging, with consumers using words like ‘intriguing,’ ‘fun’ and ‘cute’ as descriptors. — Hewlett Packard as quoted by Stuart Elliott

For the full discussion, read Q. and A. With Stuart Elliott – (11/30/10).

Is this devil may care vs. customer care?

Based on the statement, HP is quite willing to dismiss the experience of the larger audience of customers and viewers as they don’t agree with the focus groups. When I read that, it sounded like something straight out of the siloed days of advertising. Awareness above the line and sales promotion below the line. When I looked back at the ad, the content seems to say that.

  • The story builds to a crescendo of product with no call to action.
  • The push comes later through other channels and platforms.
  • As an HP customer, my e-mail has been filled with daily news of products and offerings for the holidays.
  • Online news features the printer in a holiday setting.
  • There’s clearly not baby in sight.

What’s the lesson?

For HP and their agency, I’m not the one to say. I’m only observing a lesson: traditional advertising methods, i.e., push, hard-sell, silos, etc., should be considered carefully. With social engagement and evangelization as the norm, traditional advertising has its risks. Consumers do have a voice that does count as much as any focus group. Advertisers and agencies take note.

What’s your experience?

As a creative pro or advertiser, have you experienced ad campaign development that hearkens back to the old days of awareness at all costs? How have you responded? What would you suggest?

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