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Barbara Lippert's Critique: Bringing Up Baby

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In advertising, using cute babies to get attention is almost considered cheating —it's too easy. If that's true, these new Quiznos ads with Baby Bob are copies of copies of the original cheating—that's three generations of lazy. (Does that make them hard-working?)

But first, let's review: Five years ago, the talkative little nipper was born to sell FreeInternet.com, a now-defunct free Internet service provider. Back then, Bob was fresh and made sense: He relied on digital cuteness (the way the adult mouth was merged into the baby's was the result of a software breakthrough a mite more sophisticated than the way they do it on Conan O'Brien, which is to have a guy stand behind a hole). Further, while certainly not new (there'd been three Look Who's Talking films, plus a failed Tony Danza sitcom), the talking-baby idea told people who were still intimidated by technology that connecting with that brave new World Wide Web thing was, to use another baby cliché, child's play.

But as with many dot-coms at the time, this one had a business plan on crack. The better Baby Bob did, the more people signed up for the free service, the more money the company lost, until so many signed up that it went belly up. Needless to say, the agency never got paid. But fortunately, Rob Siltanen, the founder of Siltanen & Partners, traded his fee for magic beans: He got custody of Bob. He then sold Bob to Viacom to be the star of a prime-time sitcom on CBS. The show, which was poorly written (Bob hit on his TV mom, Joely Fisher) and poorly executed (a number of obviously different babies were used), was yanked after a few painful episodes.

Bob's batting average has been none too good, but you can't blame Siltanen for trying to make a winner of the boy. (In the pimpin' parent department, he's not nearly as bad as Jessica and Ashlee's dad, the Rev. Joe "you can't hide those suckers" Simpson.)

Siltanen got a taker in Quiznos. This is the puzzling part, because the toasted-sandwich franchise just fired The Martin Agency for getting attention with a device that's also considered too easy: animated critters. Perverse singing rodents, the "Spongmonkeys" were the work of a British Flash animator and already had a cult following in cyberspace (and had absolutely no link to food). Adding insult to injury, since we don't know what adult Spongmonkeys look like exactly, who knows, these mini-rats could also have been babies.

You see where I'm going here: Bob, with his sort of scary mouth and old-guy teeth, is appended onto the Quiznos brand in exactly the same way that the little critters with the horrifying teeth were. So Quiznos has traded one bizarre and freakish borrowed-interest gimmick for another, less creepy but also far less original one.

Certainly, Baby Bob will offend fewer people than the Spongmonkeys did. They were truly polarizing—you either loved them or hated them. I happened to think they were hilarious (and I loved the song—"We love the subs. They are good to us!"—even though the whole thing was very much like the animated singing ads for Guinness). But I know many people who practically lost their lunch just getting a glimpse of the Spongeys' oversized, bloodshot eyeballs—in the end, not a good thing in selling sandwiches.

The reality is that most viewers have no idea that this is the third time around for old Bob. Certainly the ads are much more sandwich-centric—the food is more prominent throughout, and lookin' good. But here's the thing: I'm a mom, and I love babies, and I love looking at babies. But I hate wisecracking babies, especially ones with the voice of a 40-year-old guy. (I guess that's every 40-year-old guy's dream, though—to be a baby.)

The first ad is the better of the two. Sitting in a big chair, Bob explains that his mom got an "oven-roasted turkey sub toasted to perfection," but all he got were strained peas. "I love the gal, but that's just wrong," he says. It's Mr. Whipple-ish in building desire for something you can't have (or eat or, er, fondle). And that's memorable and clever. But the use of the word gal? Questionable.

The second spot heads into Bob-propositioning-Joely-Fisher land, as he is shown on a lounge chair next to a babe. She puts on the heavy-breathing voice for stupid added innuendo, and after Bob asks her if she likes the sub, she responds, "Oh yeah, Bob, love the way you spoil me." He's sitting there in a cute striped one-piece bathing suit—all the better for showing the copious folds of fat on his legs and his adorable body. The eye delights in looking at such a baby. But the mind (mine, at least) recoils from hearing a woman tell him, "You're so good with money!" (it's a special low, low price) and "You're looking very hunky!" He touches his chest, the cutest gesture ruined by the adult guy saying, "I've been workin' out."

I'd say Bob has a future with the food-filled Quiznos ads. As long as he minds his peas. But let's hope that's it. He's young, but he might be too long-in-the-tooth for another ad job.



Quiznos

Agency

Siltanen & Partners, Marina del Rey, Calif.

Creative directors

Rob Siltanen,

Joe Hemp

Art director

Joe Hemp

Copywriters

Rob Siltanen,

Rex Fish

Producer

Nancy Dickerson

Director

Craig Tanimoto, Japanese Monster