Barbara Lippert’s Critique

Best Buy’s advertising is created by some really nice people in Eden Prairie, Minn. They couldn’t be kinder or more helpful, and they’re proud of the titanic growth of their in-house agency. So it’s hard to broach the subject, and say, “Excuse me, but what’s a guy on a toilet doing in one of your spots?”

Talk about internal branding! Perhaps they’re taking their in-house/out-house culture too seriously. But the result is memorable. Part of the retailer’s “Turn on the fun” campaign, the “Toilet” spot shows a family man wandering around a Home Depot-type store, stopping to check out a shower door.

Then he spies the rest of the bathroom appliances, sinks and toilets, sitting proudly on their pedestals. The allure of the shiny white porcelain proves too much for him. He heads to a toilet, and bends down to play with the flusher.

He checks inside the bowl, furtively glancing left and right, then stands up, undoes his belt, pulls down his pants and sits on it! The look of utter relief on his face is unspeakable. And it’s not easy casting for talent who can method act like that.

The camera, however, tastefully stays on his head and shoulders—we don’t see the full sweep of the man and his throne. An announcer comes in with the linkage: “Like trying stuff out before you buy it?” he asks. “Well, at Best Buy, you can try out all the latest high-tech stuff. Actually, that’s half the fun.”

In this increasingly complex digital age, we have a major image breakthrough here: melding the technological with the scatological. (Technoscat?) The second half of the spot cuts to the same guy at Best Buy fooling around with stereo knobs and typing on computers. And I wondered, Did he wash his hands?

I thought the commercial was pretty crude and insulting to men. But a male friend liked it. “You want to check the thing for comfort, and it’s not like there’s water in it,” he explained.

Now I get the strategy: Best Buy is appealing to its target market—male tech dogs who like to experiment. The idea is one of these guys could say, “Well, I could go to Radio Shack or Circuit City, but I think I’ll take my business to Best Buy. They really understand my need to root around toilets!” One could safely say that Best Buy now owns the in-store toileting experience.

Of course, BB, which started out as a few stereo stores called Sound of Music’ and is now a $15 billion company, is not the first to go straight to the toilet—in the image arena at least. Even women have gotten into the act.

A few years back, Candie’s shoes launched a controversial ad using actress Jenny McCarthy sitting bare-bottomed on a toilet, her panties practically down around her ankles, reading The Wall Street Journal.

Apparently, she saw it as a great career move: a way to get beyond sex, beyond bimboism and launch herself as an intellectual. Actually, the toilet paper dangling behind her was more seductive.

But there is something about a toilet that grounds a person. Mr. Bowl Sampler is far more attention- getting than the other two spots in the series. In “Elevator,” an annoying guy in a packed elevator presses a million buttons: “Like playing around with stuff?” The other, “Big Meeting,” blends in with 40 other ads set in a boardroom. While the boss drones on, two flunkies start fooling around. Cut to their in-store experience, playing video games.

A Best Buy press release says, “We’ve made humor and fun two of our brand foundations.”

But did they have to do it by process of elimination?