Comcast's bafflingly quirky new ad campaign.

Advertising deconstructed.
March 16 2009 6:51 AM

Would You Like Your Cable Company More if It Were Quirky and Hip?

Comcast is hoping so.

The Spot:Live actors wander through an animated cityscape. They sing rhyming ditties that express satisfaction with the various Internet, cable television, and telephony services offered by the Comcast Corp. (Click here to watch the ad.)

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

Ad Report Card reader Laurie G. e-mails:

Those new Comcast commercials are mesmerizing. My children and I stop in our tracks when one comes on, and I find myself watching in fascination. The colors, the songs, the people, the town. I think it's a great campaign ... but I still hate Comcast.

They really are arresting, aren't they? I think in part it's that combination of live actors and animated backdrops. The actual human beings moving around on that illustrated set seem to pop out of the scene and attract our gaze. Once we're hooked in, it's hard to look away because the camera never cuts. It zooms in and out and pans around, but it's all one seamless journey through what appears to be a fully realized, bustling, imaginary neighborhood.

Then there's that earworm of a song. With its chugging cadences; its ascending, three-chord progression; and its affable strumming, it's perfectly designed to build a condo in our brains and take up long-term residence. Whoever composed it clearly took her cues from the monotonic melody and sunny repetition of "Anyone Else but You"—the Moldy Peaches song that Michael Cera and Ellen Page sing at the end of Juno  (and which, by the way, has already appeared in an ad for Atlantis resorts). Of course, what seems catchy at first can very quickly come to irritate us. Also, the flat affect of the actors' voices, coupled with their half-smiles and steady staring into the camera, creates a vaguely serial-killer-ish vibe.

According to Peter Intermaggio, senior vice president for marketing and communications, this is Comcast's first foray into "brand advertising." Previous campaigns have all highlighted a particular Comcast product or promotion. These ads have a more elliptical goal: to make the Comcast brand seem friendlier, or more fun, in the eyes of the consumer. Intermaggio says the seamlessness of the camera as it moves through Comcast Town is meant to evoke the fluidity of Comcast services, as people move between Internet chats and telephone calls and on-demand HD movies.

The campaign Web site lets you download Comcast wallpaper and ring tones and create your own "room" in Comcast Town, complete with virtual furniture and accessories. You can also see the lyrics for the Comcast Town songs and even open PDFs of the sheet music. The site is meant to be a sort of interactive playground for Comcast enthusiasts.

Which brings me to the problem with this campaign. Who on earth would become a Comcast enthusiast? Who hangs out at a Comcast Web site and rearranges pretend furniture? Or, put more broadly: What sane person forms a loving attachment to a cable behemoth?

I just don't think this is a category where warm, fuzzy emotions come into play. I want my cable, Internet, and phone to work. That's all. And, among people I know, Comcast has developed a reputation for … not working. My own time in Comcast's clutches was a continuous nightmare of outages and dreadful customer service, which ended only when I switched to a different provider. Based on my experience, Comcast Town would be a wasteland of flickering streetlights and crumbling apartment blocks. It would be populated solely by fat repairmen, who would stare listlessly at their clipboards and tell you they're still not quite sure why your cable's snowy.

This ad does nothing to convince me that things have changed at Comcast. Nor, apparently, has it convinced the above-quoted Laurie G., who says she loves the ads and yet continues to hate the company. If this is an attempt to reboot the brand—to sweep away any bad associations and replace them with a sunny new corporate personality—it fails. It's just not credible that people would be so happy with their Comcast service that they'd break into song. (Anyway, the actors' zombie-ish demeanor suggests less a spontaneous outpouring than a hostage situation: "Now show the people out there how much you love your suite of HD channels! Sing about it—if you ever want to see your family again!") I'd be far more receptive to an ad that delicately acknowledges my concerns and tells me exactly how Comcast has addressed them.

Even if you haven't yet been through the Comcast grinder and are coming to the brand with fresh eyes, I don't see how this ad would sway you to pick Comcast over another company. We choose our bundled cable packages based on price, range of products and features, quality of customer service, and availability in our area. Not because of a cute song and a lame interactive Web environment.

Grade: C+. I'm awarding some points for artistic merit. The excellent animation in the ads is by Alan Smith and Adam Foulkes, who received an Academy Award nomination this year for their funny short about a pair of undertakers. They ended up losing the Oscar to a more poignant animated short about an old man retracing the journey of his life. (The old man at no point reminisces about his cable provider.)


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