A copy of a copy of a copy, this Verizon Wireless spot is a takeoff of The Apprentice. In the scheme of things, borrowed interest is one of the most obvious and least original ways to solve a creative problem. Therefore, isn't it even less interesting to borrow the non- "reality" of reality programming lock, stock and boardroom?
You'd think so, especially when the commercial takes place in the very same stick-on-mahogany TV boardroom used on the program and involves the actual Donald in the very same A-No.-1-top-flight-decision-maker role he plays in the dramatic, nail-biting, "You're fired!" finale of each show. The same office, the same artifice! (Though the lighting and some furniture were changed.) These are some serious layers of trans-fakeness—like a fax of a photocopy, how many levels away from anything resembling organic and original can you get?
As for Mr. Hair of the Heavenly Nest, with the success of The Apprentice and new best-seller How to Get Rich, and the upcoming Dateline profile plus a hosting gig on Saturday Night Live last weekend, it's not as if the man who calls himself "the highest-paid person" in prime time really needs more camera time. (Of course, suggesting that Trump likes the spotlight is like saying Angelina Jolie has lips.)
Yet in some freakish but fascinating way, the commercial not only works, it's actually funny. In a sea of interchangeable telecom ads all offering variations on free minutes and big savings, it's the most memorable and clever Verizon spot in a long while. (In Trumpian terms, it's the most fabulous spot ever created in the entire history of the Western Hemisphere, and so exclusive that only kings and heads of state would normally get to see it.)
The major synergy thing is happening, and as Mark Twain said of the weather, everybody talks about it, but nobody really does anything about it. I was watching the climactic boardroom scene when The Apprentice broke for commercials and the spot popped up. My first impression, in taking in the whole cloned setup, was that this would be a train wreck—but I couldn't take my eyes off it. And then I immediately gave points for quickly getting it on the air and in that placement. (Ironically, on that same show, Chrysler—which, unlike Verizon, is an actual sponsor—had a product placement that came off pathetically when one team auctioned off a rental of a Crossfire—not even a giveaway—but failed to build much interest.)
As the spot progresses, there are signs of intelligent life. The creators pick up on the details of what makes the show credible: the back-stabbing, eye-rolling, general whining and extreme sycophantiasis exhibited in the court of the Donald. That's the context that, paradoxically, has changed Trump, in many minds, from a shameless self-promoter and unbearable blowhard to a sympathetic figure—a fair, discerning, wise, Daddy-like boss.
"Lisa, what happened?" he asks in the first frame. True to form, she turns on a teammate, blaming Greg for "waiting until 9 o'clock last night to get started."
Greg, it turns out, wasn't smart enough to have signed up for "IN-Network calling," a plan allowing Verizon Wireless customers to call one another for free at any time. Greg launches into a smug, self-serving defense, and after deftly delivering all the business about increasing productivity and building unity, Trump tells him he's "out."
"I thought I was fired," Greg says with relief. "You are fired, you minute-hoarding clock watcher!" Trump replies, complete with full signature hand movement and Scrooge McDuck-like lip flourish. The 13- and 14-year-old boys I was watching with cracked up and immediately made that line their own.
Indeed, as an epithet, "minute-hoarding clock watcher" is great, right up there with "short-fingered vulgarian," the phrase Spy magazine regularly appended on Trump's name in the '80s, and "cheese-eating surrender monkeys," The Simpsons' genial reference to our friends in France. In fact, I much prefer it to "You're fired," the line that has been spoken in business for a century but that Trump wants to patent as his own.
With a lot of complicated verbiage to spill and the whole thing riding on him, Trump puts in a terrific performance (about 100 percent better than the performance of his casinos, which are on the brink of bankruptcy). Maybe as a living brand (and a branding genius), he should get out of the gaming game and become the next Martha Stewart. I, for one, can't wait for the "You're fired" line of toilet seats and luggage, if not ties and super-swanky hair care.
The only thing unfortunate about the commercial is the coda: After "minute-hoarding clock watcher," there's another little cut showing the Test Man man in uniform, hovering just outside the boardroom and saying "Good" into his cell phone. Trump says, "Now he means business," a lame and phony line. (The account is in review, with final presentations today and last Friday, and perhaps now is the right time for Bozell's Test Man to disappear—along with Trump's combadour.)
Meanwhile, hairpieces off to McCann for making a surprising and entertaining commercial out of borrowed interest—and at the same time creating the best product placement since, well, Donald J. Trump invented Ice.
Executive creative directors
Joyce King Thomas, Steve Ohler
The Artist's Company