Sony Electronics rang in this year's holiday shopping season with the decision to kill off a series of commercials touting its Sony Style e-commerce site before the ads had even appeared. There were eight linked spots, supposedly similar in tone to the celebrated Coen brothers movie Fargo, all concerning the kidnapping of Santa Claus. Apparently one cable network refused to air them, and a Sony spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal that there was some concern that potential customers might fail to get the "edginess and irreverence" of the ads and end up being offended. A spokeswoman for Young & Rubicam, which created the campaign, said (rather meaninglessly) that the agency would "stand by Sony's decision," but also maintained that "the work was appropriate for the target base."
Now the ads have found their way to the Web on AdCritic.com. So using QuickTime, you can see parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, and eight. You can also ponder who, exactly, makes up the target base that Young & Rubicam had in mind.
The ads: In the first episode, two In Cold Blood-type lowlifes wait at night in what I guess is a mall parking lot. As the department store Santas file out and disperse, one of the lowlifes holds up a drawing of the jolly old elf and realizes--that's the guy. So they sneak up on a Santa, knock him out, and stuff him in the trunk of their car. An upbeat snippet from "Jingle Bells" plays as the ad's tag appears on the screen in a scrawled typeface: "We have Santa. Shop at Sonystyle.com or there will be no X-mas."
In the second episode, they unload the blindfolded Santa from their trunk in some remote, trailer-parkish location. The pitiful Claus makes a break for it but crashes into an abandoned refrigerator and crumples to the ground. In part three, one lowlife plays cards with Kris Kringle, who is at a distinct disadvantage, still being blindfolded as well as bound and gagged, and can do little more than groan as the thug rifles his wallet and takes his watch.
In the fourth ad, the kidnappers make Santa run back and forth while they hit golf balls at him. In the fifth one, they taunt him by pretending that the police have arrived to save him; as he realizes it's a ruse, Claus collapses onto a dingy sofa, a broken man. Part six consists of a mock football game that is basically an excuse for the kidnappers to tackle and pummel their victim. In the seventh ad, a neighbor of the two lowlifes--a Deliverance-style redneck wielding a baseball bat--tells them that they better keep their Santa off his property. "Dang fools," he adds. Finally, the battered and disheveled Santa is freed back in the mall parking lot, where his car has been booted and ticketed.
What were they thinking? It's possible that all of this sounded funny in the concept stage. The finished product, though, is incredibly creepy and not the least bit amusing. I assume the "target base" is the famously edgy and irreverent American youth, but these ads show less understanding of that demographic than something a little closer to contempt for it: "Oh, these jaded kids today--I bet what they want to see is Santa Claus getting beaten." Come on. Even if there were anything to this foolish line of thought, it seems a pretty safe bet that parents who might actually buy Sony products are unlikely to have warm feelings toward a company that sparks a familial chat about whether Santa could breathe while in the trunk or why the strange men keep hitting him. (It's hard to say whether a child would feel better upon learning that it isn't really Santa but simply a random citizen being tortured in the desert; but maybe Mom and Dad can use that as a current events segue to brief the kids on contemporary life in Colombia.) Anyway, all this goes to show that while the dark part of dark comedy is easy to pull off, it's only the harder-to-achieve comedy that redeems it. I'd have to give these ads an F, but I suppose Sony saved itself by preventing them from actually airing; good luck, then, with the makeup test.