Sprite's Spite

April 3 1997 3:30 AM

Sprite's Spite

Sprite's Spite

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Sound02 - hairdryer.avi or Sound03 - hairdryer.mov; download time, 4 minutes at 56K Sound01 - VR-hairdryer.asf; for sound only

Jooky, produced for the Coca-Cola Co./Sprite Brand by Lowe & Partners/SMS.

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This spot wasn't made for Jooky, the kooky product it seems to promote. It was made for Coca-Cola's Sprite--a fact it hides well. Only at the end of the spot is Sprite mentioned; only then does one realize that the string of clichés--sun and sand, beach towels and bikinis--invited you to suspend disbelief through the viewing, and that you fell for it.

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The thump of a Caribbean beat urges that you "open up a Jooky," and someone does. The screen fills with purple bubbles (a detail that, in retrospect, suggests a consumer-research finding that purple isn't the soft-drink color of choice). Then come the ubiquitous images--dude on surfboard, girl being tossed in blanket, crowd cheering--that link the product (be it deodorant or dentures, the Bahamas or a beverage) with that oldest persuader of them all: sex. "Jooky" and "nooky"--get it? The jaded viewer mocks the gag, then promptly buys it. Most consumers, studies have shown, believe themselves impervious to the pitiful ploys of advertising. Most consumers, studies have shown, are not--in fact, they are especially vulnerable when advertisers play directly to their skepticism.

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"It's a party in a can": Here's Poseidon, his adventure just beginning, emerging from the depths. He bears his burden of blonde and cans with ease. A hot young thing swings on a tire, offering you her drink. A jock makes short work of a pile of Jooky cans. Hard bodies dance toward the volleyball net: "Jooky is fun and fruity"--it "make you really kooky." The mandatory buffoon in the mock-Superman outfit romps on the sand, his one thought (you got it) captured in a comic-book bubble.

Bit by bit, the spot winks at its own satire. The jingle trips the light fantastic, promising the earth (Jooky "make you manly, mahn," in a Caribbean accent thick enough to thaw). What we get instead is a trip in the sand: Jooky in hand, a volleyball player falls flat on his face. He smiles beatifically, and--forsooth! He has a missing front tooth.

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Is Paradise fraying at the edges? Absolutely, the transition seems to say. Borrowing a political-advertising technique (a shot of a television, with the opponent's spot playing, as a sign that we're being manipulated, that what we're seeing isn't real), it takes us into a grungy living room, where two unbuffed slobs respond to the Jooky commercial just ending on their TV set. This pair falls plumb in the middle of the Jooky target group: no dates, no sun, no sand. What they do have is the storm raging outside--and the cheap college couch they're sitting on. Can Jooky transport them to sunshine and women? One of the men raises his can and looks within. He's searching for the beach. The other tries to open his can, and breaks the lift tab. It's happened to all of us--hard-to-pop cans, not hard bodies, are the reality of soft drinks. "Mine's busted" becomes the Jooky epitaph.

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"Image Is Nothing," says the chyron. But of course, it's everything in a spot that turns sunny visuals against soft-drink advertisers, using the images to make the long-overdue point that they are a stupid reason to pick a drink. The grunge feel reinforces the invitation to rebel against yuppiedom--"trust your taste buds," it says, "not commercials." The anti-image as image is powerful indeed. So is the message: Sprite must taste good if the company can risk advertising it this way. We hardly notice that the disclaimer mentions "Coca-Cola," the very company that's helped inure us to the images being satirized here. Or was that Pepsi? Initial impressions notwithstanding, Jooky ends up making intention and product crystal clear: It's taking on a whole genre on behalf of a drink that promises only good taste, not the good life.

--Robert Shrum

Robert Shrum is a leading Democratic political consultant.

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