Michel Gondry Directed a Surreal Ad for FedEx, but Is It Dreamy Enough?

Magic gets a dose of reality

FedEx isn’t just a shipping company. It’s a mystical force field that brings inanimate objects to life so they can fly all over the world.

Oscar-winning filmmaker Michel Gondry directs a dazzling new ad for the marketer via BBDO New York. The :60 opens on a playful orange hallway, where toys, headphones and red stiletto shoes bounce through endless doorways. Each portal, it turns out, is labeled a real world place—the door to Copenhagen swings open, as a flock of MacBooks flap away over the ocean into a beautiful sunset.

Up in outer space, these fairy-tale consumer goods—a blue robot, a red lava lamp—blaze trails as if they were rocket shuttles. Back on planet Earth, they ride escalators, and wait in airport lines to clear customs, before parachuting to land on the doorsteps of their recipients.

“What we do every night is like something out of a strange dream,” intones the voiceover, as a FedEx truck cuts across the suburban scene. “Except that the next morning, it all makes sense.”

Enter the mundane. Cardboard boxes zip down conveyer belts at a sorting facility. Business executives pore over computers and maps in a control room. A cargo plane jets across a clear blue sky. A delivery man hands a package to a woman working at a cellular store.

“FedEx powers global e-commerce, with networks built over 40 years, that are massive, far reaching, and yes, maybe a bit magical,” concludes the voiceover. A pair of smartphones twist cheekily on their display stands. The blue robot pops its head out of its box.

An odd hybrid, the ad combines elements of delightful, fantastical storytelling with the heart of a dull business-to-business promo. From the opening moments through to the structure of the reveal, it evokes FedEx’s “Enchanted Forest” ad from 2011, wherein brilliantly goofy doo-wop frogs helped to sell the company’s commitment to environmental protection via reduced emissions.

Here, FedEx goes more generic with its message, and the ad suffers for that fact—”We’re big, and important, and hip to internet and the mobile, and fun,” it suggests, at its core. It waves its arms while essentially pointing out the obvious—that FedEx gets lots of things people like from point A to B.

It doesn’t help that certain aspects of the ad are familiar from elsewhere in the marketing world. Ikea last week put out an ad also featuring anthropomorphic products, with the same puppeteering team that in 2015 helped a flurry of migrating T-shirts find their way through hostile climes to one of the retailer’s wardrobes—a scene of which FedEx’s airborne laptops is pointedly reminiscent.

To be fair, there’s still plenty to enjoy. It’s a rich imagining of what the company does, with plenty of perfectly endearing moments (take, for example, the passport stamping). Its biggest error is in not ending around the 36-second mark, when the first truck passes, and the first box lands on the porch.

In going further, the ad mostly just signals that it doesn’t trust viewers to get the metaphor. Nobody really needs to see the underpinnings of the brand’s logistics, or even a happy little girl opening the box with her dad looking on, to understand what’s happening.

Instead, showing those details ends up feeling condescending, and reeks of client meddling—it spoils what magic there truly is in a company that (yes, through considerable feats of engineering and organization) does bring a lot of joy to a lot of people around the globe.