Barbara Lippert’s Critique: The Old Ball Game

Already mentioned as a contender for the 2006 advertising award shows, this new Sony image spot from Fallon U.K., is called, flat-out, “Balls.” OK, I’ll get my own smirks and bad puns out of the way, because what really takes cojones is that Sony has made such an expensive bet on one elaborately produced, two-and-a-half-minute minimovie that features nothing more than 250,000 wildly colored rubber balls descending on San Francisco.

The Jumping Balls of San Francisco? I’ll give us all a moment to compose ourselves.

On to higher ground. Because there is something clever here. As an object, a ball is an apt metaphor for creativity and expression. A self-contained geometric form, it releases and controls energy and provides kids and grownups alike a way to create intricate shapes and games. Shown in their multicolored aggregate in the spot, balls, like people, form crowds. We see the power and vitality (and aggression) in numbers. But at the same time, the tender, distinctive hues of individuals tend to shine through.

All good. The spot, for Sony’s Bravia LCD TV, is now showing only in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. But with its San Francisco setting, its gentleness and humanity (plus painstaking attention to production values), it feels like it could be a lost Goodby spot for Saturn (or, with its concept of color, HP).

What’s really compelling is the music—a stripped-down track of singing and guitar work by Jose Gonzalez, a Swedish artist. Calming and hypnotic, it’s the perfect music to zone out to. In that way, it’s a great match for the visuals, which connect on an elemental, emotional level. Caught in slow motion, the balls become quite abstract, like a sort of Rorschach test, as they begin to look like pills or balloons or ticker tape—or those psychological tests for color blindness, with words and messages embedded inside pointillist circles. There are shots of balls flying like birds in the sky, and also interesting cuts, once they have fallen, of how they pool at the curbs in random and beautiful groups. (A behind-the-scenes video about the making of the spot shows that in real time, sans slo-mo, the firing of the balls looks much more alarming, like the Day of the Locusts, and their landing sounds like mortar fire.)

It’s a fun wonderland to watch, but that said, two and a half minutes is a long time to watch balls. I kept waiting to see where this was going, but the only capper is the line “Colour,” followed by “Like. No. Other.”

Indeed, created to sell a sophisticated liquid-crystal-display TV, the message seems not only low-tech but perversely no-tech. It’s inspiring that they didn’t cheat and use CG, but at the same time, the whole amazing feat (250,000 balls erupting out of 10 cannons) has a retro, almost 1950s-ish, Walt Disney quality to it. (“The world is a carousel of color—wonderful, wonderful color,” the song for the Disney TV show went. And in the late ’50s and early ’60s, the use of color was so revolutionary that NBC ran a 25-second promo of an animated peacock to introduce—and brand—the few shows that had switched over to it.) Streets with Victorian houses and antique cars and trucks add to the retro feel. What’s up with that?

Unlike Honda’s “Cog” and “Grrr,” the other big award-winning spots from American-owned British agencies, in “Balls,” there is no suggestion of what makes the product unique. And Sony badly needs a new consumer icon, like the Walkman or Trinitron. By itself, the name “Bravia” sounds like something that would come from Philip Morris—sorry, I mean Altria.

Back to award-winning commercials. Whereas “Cog” offered the engaging visual delight of watching a Rube Goldberg-like contraption build itself into a Honda Accord, it also sold us on the idea that every single piece of the car is dependable and beautiful.

Similarly, with “Grrr,” while the kaleidoscopic animation and weird, whistley music were real grabbers, we also got the message that the once-hated, now-cleaner Honda diesel-engine technology will actually do good—it’s not an empty or overstated claim.

The trouble with “Balls” is that it never makes any real connection to the product. Couldn’t various cameras, printers, film and even bathroom fixtures or towels be sold with the line, “Colour like no other?” I wanted one transitional frame at the end, in which the balls turn into pixels and form a picture in a TV screen, to make the message clearer.

Without that, what does the claim really mean? If we take the idea of the balls literally, there are moments in the spot when the color actually looks blurred. As with any natural or organic form where there’s no technical magic involved, the color is unreliable.

While we come away from the spot calmed and lulled, which is a really pleasant feeling, it’s also fuzzy. The idea of color resolution so brilliant that you must have this particular TV on your wall is nowhere to be found.

But we definitely get the message that Sony has balls. Sorry to say, sometimes they are not enough.



Sony

Agency

Fallon, London

Executive creative director

Richard Flintham

Copywriter and art director

Juan Cabral

Planner

Mark Sinnock

Director

Nicolai Fuglsig, MJZ

Editor

Russell Icke,

The Whitehouse

Post-production

The Mill

Audio post-production

Wave Exposure