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Goodby moves eBay from musicals to a celebration of community spirit

Responding to an eBay contest seeking "true eBay success stories," a Russian woman recently wrote to the company's executives to thank them. She said she had been searching for her ancestors for years and finally succeeded when she bought Russian artwork online from eBay—and, in the process, located a village neighbor of her family.

That's exactly the sense of community the San Jose, Calif., online auction company is trying to harness in its new campaign, created by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco.

Timed to coincide with the holiday season, the ads focus on trust and community. The first two spots, directed by Noam Murro of Biscuit Filmworks, broke Oct. 18. "Belief" shows people helping each other out in different ways, such as holding an elevator door, donating blood, picking up trash and leaving a disabled seat empty on a crowded commuter train. "We began with the belief that people are good," copy reads. "You proved it."

"Clocks" makes reference to the sheer number of eBay users and how they connect based on shared passions, such as a fascination with collecting clocks of all kinds. It shows a middle-aged man with a massive clock collection suddenly face to face with masses of people all holding clocks for sale. A voiceover says, "There are thousands of people who love what you love. How will you find them?" The man selects a red teapot clock from a woman in the living room, and everyone else in the group sighs and begins to walk away.

Two more spots are due in the middle of this month. "Maze" will show how two people find each other and connect, while "Toy Boat" illustrates that with eBay, people are able to have things from their past returned to them.

The tagline, "Do it eBay," is replaced by, "The power of all of us."

Murro, who directed one of the musical spots in the previous campaign, brings an understated quirkiness to the new commercials, with whimsical music and idiosyncratic characters.

The spots are a switch from the glitzy, highly choreographed "Do it eBay" spots, which retooled classic hits like "My Way" and "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" with goofy lyrics about the Web site's services. In that campaign, ordinary locations like a house or a store were transformed into elaborate stages as the characters sang.

That campaign, which debuted in September 2003, was created to show that eBay is "a fun, exciting place to buy things from A to Z, in a unique and creative way," says Kevin McSpadden, director of marketing for eBay. But a switch away from musicals was necessary in order to differentiate eBay from a growing number of competitors—such as Overstock.com, Yahoo! auctions, Amazon.com and ubid—which offer similar services, according to agency partner and co-chairman Jeff Goodby.

After positioning eBay as the largest and most successful auction site in the world, Goodby says, it was time to focus on the optimism and community spirit of its users.

"We decided it is now time to continue to grow upon that foundation and really celebrate that experience," McSpadden says.

The campaign "is about the bigger sense of eBay. ... It wasn't just, 'You can buy a car, a house or antique dolls.' We wanted to show eBay was bigger than that," says Goodby. Thus, rather than simply list the site's attributes, "we had to tell them something more than that—how the community feels safe with each other," he says. "It celebrates the community. It has its own sort of culture."

The idea for the campaign grew out of discussions among agency creatives, eBay president and CEO Meg Whitman and company founder Pierre Omidyar. They discussed how remarkable it is that complete strangers from all over the world come together on eBay, trust each other and do business in a fair manner, Goodby says.

They wanted the new work to reflect that shared trust, not just the idea that people could buy "bling-bling" and "organizer things" on the site, as a sales clerk in one spot, "That's Amore," crooned in the previous campaign. From that one thought, they arrived at "The power of all of us."

eBay spent $85 million on ads in 2003 and more than $40 million during the first half of this year, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.