Creative: Critique

A Chorus Line The New Version Of Greeks Bearing Gifts
Agency: Young & Rubicam, New York
Creative Director/ Copywriter: Barry Hoffman
Creative Director/ Art Director: Tom Schwartz
Copywriter: Mike Macina
Director of Broadcast Production: Ken Yagoda
Producer: Sherri Levy
Director: Gore Verbinski/Propaganda
They come from Parnassus, mythological home of poetry, music and giant photocopy machines. The last part isn’t true, but the background of this Xerox bunch is kind of sketchy. You don’t find many freshly pressed Greek choruses invading offices these days.
This is obviously a loose interpretation of the whole Greek drama thing, anyway: The chorus’ entirely white, bleached, neo-classical home base (columns, an amphitheater, a severed stone head lying on its side, a giant pool of water) is a cross between the set of Calvin Klein Obsession commercials and the feeling of Della Reese’s heaven in Touched by an Angel. It’s like the geriatric campus version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, played in togas and starring the classic hair style of Georgius Cloonius.
But they come in peace.
The collegial chorines, men and women, old and young, black and white, hirsute and bald, are here to help business mortals in search of the right computer portals.
As these 60-second introductory spots make repetitively clear, Xerox, a brand name synonymous with copying technology, wants to associate itself with the digital office, to “keep the conversation going,” to “share knowledge.” It wants to sit on your network, so to speak (something Monica never thought of saying to Bill).
In the old days, like the late 1980s, early 1990s, computer and phone companies introduced a new style of advertising that mirrored the increasing paranoia in business about downsizing and new technologies.
It often featured sweaty people in offices talking straight to the shaky camera. Most of them knew they would soon be fired from their jobs. I called it “slice of death.”
This isn’t that, exactly. It’s a less fearful, kind of shameless and much campier way of showing how to disseminate business information. It’s more like “slice of the afterlife.”
Imagine Nathan Lane as a winged messenger, arriving at a tense meeting in a crummy brown office on a cloud of white polyester microfleece, delivering an endless bender about document sharing on Web pages, and you’ll get the idea.
Greek mythology is endlessly interesting, although the tales usually end badly. Take Orpheus, for instance. It’s a long story, but he was basically cool, singing and playing his lyre. When he went to rescue his wife from hell, he made the mistake of looking back, so he lost her. Plus, he was eventually torn to pieces by crazed followers of Bacchus, the god of wine.
Still, the Greek chorus is an interesting mechanism to provide background information, especially in promoting “the knowledge business.” Other than Woody Allen employing it as a device in Mighty Aphrodite, you don’t see it used much after the second century B.C.
This is also the first time in history, I believe, that Zeus, Apollo, et al. have been linked with J. Peterman. That’s because the leader of the chorus (also an innovation to have a lead speaker) is actor John O’Hurley, who played a recurring role as Elaine’s boss, the aforementioned Peterman, on Seinfeld.
I always hated the way CEO types were presented on Seinfeld–phony, stiff and actorish. But that style is exactly suited to O’Hurley’s role here. He gets to emote in a toga. And his thick gray coif boasts the authority of two men.
As hokey as the whole device of the chorus is, as directed by Gore Verbinski (who also did Mouse Hunt), it is beautifully performed by the actors, and it’s startling to hear. It’s difficult as a group to speak in unison and be understood. (They must be great at a Passover seder.)
The writing is quite good: “People, people,” O’Hurley shouts to gather the toga ones in the opening spot. “Today’s agenda: the Information Age.”
“What happened to the Industrial Age?” asks a member of the chorus. “That was the last century Those were the days. You built it, you sold it. Now it’s what you know that matters.”
Another chorus person gets a solo to say, “He always gets so proactive around the millenniums.” Hee hee. There’s so much going on–switching from the headquarters of antiquity to modern day, multitasking us with so much language and production, never mind the jokes–that it makes for mighty dense viewing.
After a few repeats, you realize that each performer is hoping to break out and get his own series, like Jason, the guy who “loves to hang out with entrepreneurs.”
In another, Wanda, the manager, has hired the hated Elliott, a consultant. “He doesn’t think the way we do!” snaps an underling. “He doesn’t even use the same systems.” “I thought that was the point,” says Wanda. She gets a lesson in docu-sharing from our chorus and, poised for success, shoots back: “Because I said so!”
Another spot takes place at John’s funeral. His business associates whisper that they don’t know where he put his contracts. “Now they’re really consumed with grief,” the chorus choruses. “If only they knew that John scanned all his contracts into the Xerox Information
Center.” There’s a little comic zinger at the end, but the ad is more successful at getting the information across than being funny.
I admire the attempt to do something different here, but as a powerful advertising device, I think the Greek chorus is a little harder to portray than the monk, but I’m flexible.
If Xerox aims at an older, fairly square audience, they will persuade business owners not to beware of Greek choruses bearing tips.