Creative: Barbara Lippert’s Critique – Survival Guide

Two goofs, crazy scenarios: big hit
On Survivor, CBS’ summer replacement show, 16 volunteers are marooned on a remote island off
Borneo with just some basic supplies, the itch to win a million bucks and a camera crew following their every bandanna pull.
A watershed in artificially improved reality–voyeurism–the setup requires the castaways not only to draw on basic rat-killing, hut-building skills, but also to take part in tribal “reward challenges” and vote one member off the island every week. This unique combination of degradation and swimwear has proven a monster hit, breaking new records each week in the ratings, outperforming the other millionaire show and bringing a new youthful demo to CBS.
Given the watercooler buzz and the runaway ratings, the nine show sponsors look prescient. Reebok had the most foresight. The running shoe company not only supplied the contestants with footwear and clothing (and also had the product placement of the year, as several contestants seem to wear their Reebok scarves around their necks 24/7) but also created a running series of commercials especially, and only, for Survivor.
This is a smart idea. To begin with, the idea of a continuing series in advertising mimics TV’s rhythms, building suspense and creating interest in the next installment. Three spots have run so far.
In classic comedic setup, the campaign features two goofs in the woods: The taller guy always has a bad idea that he foists on the shorter one, the human sacrifice who inevitably goes along with the program. This kind of pairing is in the tradition of Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello and especially Beavis and Butt-head.
The twist here is that one of them thinks he has skills based on some bogus survival show. The first spot plays on your basic potty joke: The guys are jogging in the woods, when the shorter one has an urgent call. “Use these, man” the taller says, handing him some leaves as he disappears behind some trees. He returns, so satisfied that he gives his buddy a thumbs up as a female jogger calls out, “Watch out for the poison oak!” Cut to the little guy in agony, rubbing his rump against tree bark.
“Want better advice?” a voiceover asks. “Get the Reebok Mistral with DMX at Finish Line. How will you survive without them?” The idea is pretty funny; it’s obvious these guys’ natural habitat is in front of a TV screen eating microwaved burritos.
The second spot is by far the most memorable, a breakthrough in the battle to entertain 16-24-year-old boys with gross-out humor. The two are once again jogging in the woods. The little guy wants to “stick with the trail.” Mr. Smarty Pants says he knows “a short cut.” They start walking through the tall grass, when the eternal victim cries out, “Oh! I’m bit. I think it’s a cobra. I’m vulture bait!”
“Hunker down, man,” his friend tells him. “You’re gonna be fine. I saw this on a survival show once.” He kneels down to suck the venom out of the guy’s leg, as the bitten one moans. This innocent act looks like something X-rated. Inevitably, a female jogger passes by and runs faster, shocked.
I was surprised the old oral sex joke got past CBS censors, but they were satisfied that the audience knew the helpful friend was sucking venom from a leg, even if the female jogger didn’t. It was another spot that got banned by censors, involving peeing in a glass and passing it off as beer.
Even though the ads were written before the show was screened, the creators managed to come up with remarkably similar themes.
A third spot shows the two guys as castaways on a raft, hitting the shore and worried they are going to starve. The tall one suggests eating worms, which they do. This is like Survivor, episode two, in which contestants are forced to eat moth larvae. Except in the commercials, the two wash up near Santa Monica Boulevard. That’s fitting. As with Survivor, it’s all about degradation and swimwear.
Agency: Berlin, Cameron & Partners/New York
Copywriter: Michelle Novella
Art Director: Julio Pardo
Agency Producer: Sherri Silver
Director: John Gorman/John Gorman Production