Barbara Lippert’s Critique

“Why is all that lettuce sitting there rotting?” asks the fast-moving CEO in a new Compaq commercial, one of three in a B2B campaign from FCB.

That’s a pretty good opener. Let’s face it: Business is all about the lettuce. Advertising, too. So bringing up some stinkin’ lettuce from the get-go is intriguing. But aside from its obvious link to C-notes, I wondered why the creatives chose the leafy greens. Were tomatoes too suggestive? Was meat too disgusting? Are potatoes too Quaylish?

But back to the loading dock. We know this is a Mr. Big type asking the rotting question because we see him arrive in the rain, with a minion alongside holding an umbrella.

Obviously, he’s among the new breed of dry-headed top guns who micromanage, leaving no crate of putrid lettuce unturned. So we’re braced for drama. It’s a relief when the answer comes from a foreman——holding a clipboard and wearing a distinctly Teamsterish windbreaker over his shirt and tie—who isn’t the least bit intimidated by such imperious questions.

“Wrong grade,” says the foreman, looking as though he just stepped out of an episode of Law & Order.

The suit asks him what he can do. The foreman responds with a spiel about calling and faxing the distributors who call and fax billing. “They’ll get back to me. … Maybe tomorrow,” he says. The exec tells him the company has “rooms full of computers to solve that problem.”

Mr. Clipboard replies, “Be nice if I had a way to use ’em here,” lifting his eyebrows, as if to add, “You idiot.”

The spot, promoting wireless technology and handheld devices, is by far the best of the three. With the foreman speaking plainly, without fear, it’s positively Norma Rae compared to the other two ads, which have a Euro look and feel filled with exec-u-tension. That’s because they’ll run worldwide; the strategy is to position Compaq as a global leader in technology, not a mere maker of PCs. The company is also branding itself with the color red. (Better red than dead.)

Each of the spots looks slightly noirish in the beginning, and then slowly bleeds to red as the Compaq solution is revealed in the scenario. This red thing is a bit creepy, but more disturbing to me is the extremely hierarchical nature of the other two spots.

I realize the idea here is to flatter CEOs, CFOs and CIOs with the perks of their power, but this is ridiculous. The employees come across as squabbling, complaining children as they chase their boss, the great godhead himself, wherever he goes.

In one, the boss (Peter Stormare, an actor who played a libertine in Fargo and Chocolat), is literally shown headed for the heavens in his helicopter. In the other, the corporate kingpin (played by a leonine-looking Patrick Bauchau, a star in Europe) is shown ascending a spiral staircase and getting off at the top floor, literally leaving his juniors several rungs below.

The IBM e-business spots, by contrast, are lots more fun. One shows an office full of people gathered to watch a TV interview with the CEO. They are praying he won’t lie, exaggerate or announce something before they have a chance to finish it. (Clearly, the ad will resonate with staffers everywhere.)

The Compaq spots are nice-looking films (as the French say), well shot, cast and acted, and crammed with every information-technology buzzword known to man. But they don’t differentiate Compaq from other companies that also “implement and manage the solutions that make the most of your technology.”

Maybe the thinking should be less corporate, more personal.