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Creative Campaigns: Weird Science

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Citron capitalizes on tech anxiety in CNet spots
LET'S SAY YOU ARE the gearhead in your crowd. Everyone comes to you for advice about their computers and software needs. But where can you go for tech advice? CNet feels your pain.
The San Francisco-based company, which provides online content and TV programming, has organized the information from its various Web sites onto a single "hub." To lure potential users, Citron Haligman Bedecarrƒ Euro RSCG, San Francisco, has created a clever campaign poking fun at doctors, professors, psychics and, yes, even mom.
The $100 million national TV, print, radio, online and outdoor effort, which broke July 1, is the shop's first work for CNet since winning the account in May.
Two 30-second commercials are running on spot TV in major cities across the country. Designed to provoke both nervousness and laughter, each spot shows a tech-savvy young man in an awkward situation with an authority figure.
"In a funny and exaggerated way, we want to tap into that anxiety people feel when they don't have the answers and they turn to self-appointed authorities who can't help them," says executive creative director Matt Haligman.
One commercial takes place in a doctor's exam room with the patient squirming in a hospital gown. When the stern-looking doctor asks whether he has any questions, the man asks about computer memory. The unamused physician responds by preparing for an anal exam. The screen then flashes to the CNet logo and new tagline, "The source for computers and technology," as the voiceover says, "When you are looking for tech information, there is only one place to go." The spot closes in the exam room, where the patient turns his back to the doctor when asked whether he likes bran muffins.
The other commercial is set in a biology class, where a student asks his humorless professor about computer modems. The teacher answers by handing the man a pig cadaver in a jar and saying, "Nature has a way of giving us all the answers we are looking for."
Radio work takes a similar approach, with the dialogue of copywriter Dave Khoury calling his mother for advice about computer viruses. After professing her computer ignorance, she starts worrying that her son may not be feeling well. In another ad, Khoury calls a psychic, who is baffled by his technical questions.
Consumer research showed the company needed to reach male information systems professionals, business decision makers and computer enthusiasts. "The first thing we had to do was get their attention. And we know humor is successful," says Haligman.
The next task was to communicate what CNet had to offer. The print and outdoor ads push product benefits more than the TV and radio spots do. Headlines boast: "Tech info hasn't been this easy to get since, well, never" and "It's like 411 for tech." Magazine ads include examples of the tips users can find on the site.
Spot TV is running on late-night talk shows, sports programs and dramas such as The X-Files. Print ads are appearing in national newspapers as well as business, men's lifestyle, news and technology magazines.
The current tidal wave of offline Web site ads is seen as a plus for CNet. The more Internet companies pop up in ads, the better, says Annie Williams, CNet vice president of marketing. "We offer users a clear path through all the confusion. We can make the clutter work for us," she says. n