Barbara Lippert’s Critique

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“Whassup?” Romancing the Stone
It’s a small world after all. In Cannes, ad kiosks promoted actor Jim Carrey in Fous d’Irene, “un schizo-romance.” The hot romance of the ad festival, however, was with “Whassup?” and its creator, director and star, Charles Stone III. Making himself available to the press at the beach of the Majestic Hotel, he was like the sun, or Sharon Stone, with journalists and photographers straining, grasping, yelling, “Charles! Charles!”
There’s a good reason why Bud’s “Whassup?” swept the award ceremonies this year and has reached, via the Internet, European audiences. What resonates is honesty. It started out as a film called True. These guys–Charles, Dukie, Paul and Fred–have been friends for years, and it shows in their body language and their chromosomes.
It is existential. It speaks about our skin-deep culture–about feeling so connected to your best buds you can watch TV together through the phone. And that while you are supposedly “chillin,” you are all
maniacally dialing each other. Other advertisers can talk about “connecting,” but the techno-miracles just make us more tired. We are still lonely and estranged. These guys are not.
There are deeper implications. The commercials seem to give us sustenance, just as Stone’s presence did for those who got to meet him. The campaign is a bellwether about race. I’ve always thought the apartheid in advertising was shocking: “General market” agencies exist as opposed to “minority agencies” making black commercials about black products (bring on the kinte cloths!) for the “urban market.” Although all the players in it are black, “Whassup?” is a mainstream campaign that represents America.
It nails a common, normal, boring experience with humor. That it is color-blind is a colossal breakthrough. It also clears up the problem with men. In beer ads, men are a problem, women are a problem, alcohol is a problem. That’s why we’re left with frogs, lizards and crossdressers. And stereotypically, men have trouble expressing emotion.
The “I love you, man” guy was funny because he was twisted up inside, not to mention drunk, before he could deliver that line. The spot was ironic and sarcastic. That Lettermanesque take was the only way men could let their feelings show.
In contrast, with whassupmanship, there’s so much genuine love in the room I noticed homoerotic undercurrents, especially in the first spot. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) A lot of the ritual has to do with tongues, both literally and figuratively.
Stone’s tongue, in all its latitude, longitude and pinkitude, plays a huge role in the performance, but all the guys do the tongue thing as part of the comedy. Stone even said that in trying to cast the roles (eventually they went to his friends because there was no comparison, synergywise), he told the actors it’s “like you’re holding hands.”
It is also about hypnotic pacing and cadence. The lines are repeated and delivered like a chant or prayer. They speak a coded language that contains tiny variations only known to the men. It is a universe where men are vaguely embarrassed in front of women, but their allegiance is still to the guys, to delivering the sacred lines. And women are like the annoying (but necessary) superegos, trying to quash the big Bud ids.
The campaign is polarizing to older people, those over 55, and sometimes to women. But showing that discomfort through girlfriends who want to squelch these guys won’t help.
The guys are speaking their own language; it embodies the sacred connections, it has meaning. We all want in, to be part of the code. K
Agency: DDB Chicago
Chief Creative Officer: Bob Scarpelli
Group Creative Director: Don Pogany
Art Directors: Justin Reardon, Chuck Taylor
Copywriters: Vinny Warren, Charles Stone III
Agency Producer: Kent Kwiatt
Director: Charles Stone III/C&C-Storm Films, New York