Barbara Lippert’s Critique

These days, wireless and cellular phone ads are the ring around the collar of our times, as ubiquitous and invasive as the little mobile demons themselves. The Verizon ads feature jubilant hippies waving their arms, bringing their fingers up into ecstatic V-signs or messaging each other at amazingly cool parties.

VoiceStream ads feature Jamie Lee Curtis, a nice person, but why would watching her hang off a helicopter help me with my calling plan?

The reality is more depressing— the guy next to you in the movie has the cell phone with the “William Tell Overture” ringing inside his pants. Or you go into a phone store and they show you what’s available—and why you can’t get the plan or phone that was advertised.

So along comes Cingular. (OK, we’re used to bastardized names by now. All the actual English words in the dictionary are taken.) Cingular is the second-largest wireless company in the country, the result of the merging of BellSouth and SBC’s 11 different brands.

These ads, sporting the new logo, debuted on the Super Bowl and have aired everywhere since. And given the clutter in the category, Cingular has gone for something more noble—no celebs, no crowds, no display of any technology or hardware. Instead, it offers lots of white space and talk of self-expression.

Each spots reiterates that “self-expression is everything,” Cingular is the “wireless company that believes in the value of self-expression” and “human expression, if given a chance, can change the world.” Well, duh. Which communication company doesn’t advocate self-expression?

Having a wireless phone company promote self-expression is like having a car company say it believes in transportation. The “What do you have to say?” tagline is equally opaque. I felt like screaming back at the TV—”You first!” What can you offer? Can you give me a wireless DSL line that would make Web pages come up faster?

But this is an introductory campaign; the specifics will come from separate retail ads created by BBDO South. So if you don’t have much to say, you might as well do it with smart graphics and good music, hence the white space.

While spare, clean and modern, “Peace,” showing a peace sign, a happy face and the Cingular logo (an abstract joyful person with a bubble overhead), is way too derivative of stuff done years back that introduced the I-Mac and the reworked Volkswagen Beetle. So are the kids in “Jump,” suggesting The Gap. Even the man in “Dancing Josh” was the second big-bellied guy to shake his booty on the Super Bowl—the other was Cedric for Budweiser.

The “Sound Bites” ad using famous phrases from Shakespeare to Lucy is graphically clever. It employs different typefaces to distinguish the voices and places each one in a cartoon bubble. But even now, when everything is a commodity, I was offended by the placement of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream!” right before Homer Simpson’s “Doh”? Every “self-expression” does not have the same value.

Two ads yet to be released are the best in the bunch. One uses the famous Seurat painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. The camera moves inside the dots to reveal the Cingular logo. This is smart—and gets the point of pointillism. Another spot, “Smile,” closes in on an unlikely subject—a preteen girl covering her mouth. She removes her hand, smiles and reveals braces formed by linking one logo over each tooth. Talk about bonding with your phone company.

It speaks to me. Except for one thing: she’s wired.

Cingular Wireless

Agency

BBDO, New York

Chief Creative Officer

Ted Sann

Senior ECD

Charlie Miesmer

Creative Directors

Susan Credle

Steve Rutter



“Sound Bites,” “Peace”

Agency Producer

Andy Wilcox

Director

Tomato



“Seurat,” “Smile”

Agency Producers

Gene LoFaro

Amy Schachner

Director

Samuel Bayer/HSI



“Jump”

Agency Producer

Gene LoFaro

Director

Samuel Bayer/HSI