Mommy Dearest

Samantha Bee in a “Love to give” campaign for eBay? In addition to all the harmonious “e”s and “b”s involved, it sounds like a natural match.

Bee is The Daily Show’s delightfully energetic “most senior” correspondent and real-life mom of three. EBay is the Web’s most senior e-tailer, targeting moms who are serious online shoppers and holiday festivizers. Chestnut, meet roaster—digitally speaking.

Created by Mekanism of San Francisco, the holiday campaign includes mobile and Facebook apps, and a cool online group-gifting idea. But the centerpiece is the Bee—based Unwrap Attack Web series, which plays off of the Christmas freak-out meme that started over a decade ago on YouTube.

Like an advent calendar, Unwrap Attack unfolds with the season: three videos are posted and two more go up this week. So far, all I can ask is, how could so much ‘Love to give’ have gone so wrong?

The real trouble lies in eBay featuring the unwrap attack theme throughout the campaign in its attempt to own the Christmas freak-out. The meme was first seen on YouTube in a home video in which a little boy unwrapped his Nintendo 64 gift and went bonkers. It was cute—and he became an Internet sensation. Since then, there have been variations posted. In 2006, BMW even used the original footage in a holiday spot.

Here, users are encouraged to make their own Unwrap Attack videos and upload them to the Web site (lovetogive.ebay.com). But forcing these attacks to happen is, well, unseemly; the underlying psychology is more Mommy Dearest than Father Christmas.

Maybe it’s a matter of tone. On The Daily Show, Bee plays a clueless yet aggressively self-assured reporter who skewers her subjects. It’s funny because those she skewers are often as clueless and self-assured as she is, but they know what they’re getting into. The puncturing is fair game. She plays the same smug, puffed-up character in the eBay videos, except she’s a mom who interacts with kids. Punkin’ the children: painful to watch!

In the first video, Bee plays a manipulative gifter in a fake house with a fake daughter, and I had the feeling the kid had better hyperventilate and screech on cue because Mama Claws worked hard to find the present. Bee throws the gift at the kid from a distance, as if giving food to a caged tiger, and then turns to look into the camera as she waits for the response. The girl gives a splendid performance.


And, oddly for an online store trying to sell stuff, the gift’s brand name is omitted.

In the second video, the joke is that Bee interviews a neurologist to get to the bottom of the attack phenomenon, and also watches a dude in a hospital gown have an attack while on the MRI table. It has some funny lines, the best being at the end when the “doctor” sees the eBay page and says, “Oh, they have Webkinz. I love them!” (At least there’s a product to search for!)

The third is the worst. Bee sits at a table with some kid prey. Jason is first. “Think about the thing you want more than anything else for Christmas and then imagine that I got it for you,” she tells him, giving him a present that turns out to be a toilet brush. Second is Dominique, cute and expectant, who gets one large shoe. By the time the third kid opens his meat thermometer, he’s so confused that he actually looks thrilled.

It’s not all sadism, After this setup, the kids are given “real” gifts, although we don’t see much of the brand names. Dominique is so traumatized (or maybe just polite) she says, “I’ll be happy for what it is,” as she opens a stuffed animal. All three, by the way, go crazy over the second gifts. Hope there was a psychologist on set.

The part of the campaign that works well was the cheapest to produce and the most direct. The agency brought top mommy bloggers to eBay headquarters where they made (actually funny) videos with Bee in a campy sleigh—videos they could then post on their own sites. The mom bloggers know this is a reciprocal business, and are only too happy to spread the eBay joy.

I’m confused about the breadth and depth of new offerings at eBay and why I should go there over Amazon or Zappos. Maybe one of the mom bloggers can explain it. In the meantime, let’s hope they remember that holiday gifts are supposed to be about their kids and not the attention it offers them—despite the fact that Bee, in the third video, asks Jason, “How much do you love me now?”

Rather than sending up the whole crazed mom genre, this promotes it. Thanks, eBay!