Barbara Lippert’s Critique

This year,EDS opted out of the Super Bowl ad lineup, and I missed its high-concept use of strange critters in giant production numbers. The previous two years, the Plano, Texas-based company killed in the Surreal Action With Animals category, first with its “herding cats” extravaganza, then with the now-classic “running of the squirrels” in Pamplona.

There was a message about staying nimble in business, of course, and the spots certainly raised awareness for the little-known company in a smart and entertaining way. But the big complaint among effectiveness mavens was that they still had no idea what the hell the company did. Well, be careful what you wish for.

Those criticisms are addressed in EDS’ new campaign, which broke during the Olympics. This second stage moves from building brand awareness to offering more specific, detailed business solutions in four separate spots. The subjects covered are mighty deadly—information-technology outsourcing, hosting, security and privacy, and customer relationship and management solutions. (See why they needed cat-herding? You’re asleep already.) But given those topics, these spots are downright hilarious—they’ll definitely reach the few thousand high-level execs who are the targets, and they will effortlessly position the company globally.

The spot called “Wiggins” really cracks me up, largely because the acting is so spare in the opening. Two very proper Brits are in an elevator, one telling the other that “the entire hosting department quit—they hit the lottery. $2.3 million each.” That is, everybody except Wiggins, who gets to stay and run things. The elevator opens to a wild bash, suggesting dot-com euphoria circa 1999, and two particularly blissed-out employees wheel Wiggins into the elevator: He’s bound up in a chair, his mouth taped over, and has pencils in his ears. “Hello, Wiggins,” the Brits say. Wiggins is able to wiggle his ears, moving the pencils, which is quite a trick. Obviously, the fossilized Wiggins won’t be able to run the place.

“Manhattan” is a reach—humor in a parallel universe—except that something just like it apparently happened at Enron. Two hapless guys are chasing down anyone they can find—tourists, cabbies, sanitation guys—with, “I’ll pay you $100 for 15 minutes’ work!” The volunteers are hustled into an office building. (The offer sure beats getting approached by the free shampoo guy with the rolling sink.)

Cut to the clients arriving, asking, “So the IT department is fully staffed?” The guy nods yes, opening the door to a room full of colorful street people—a guy in a giant chicken suit jamming up the copier, for example. “Need a real IT solution?” the announcer asks.

“Paris,” set in that grand city, features a voiceover with a Pepe Le Pew-like Franglais accent and actually includes a mime. Our hero, an apparently lovesick man, wanders dejected from cafe to park to bridge. “Looking beck,” he says, “zere were so many things I could have done differently.” He stares at a nude sculpture and a couple kissing. “What hurts so much is that you found someone else so quickly.” He finally looks at a photo: It’s a picture of him surrounded by three smiling Japanese guys in hard hats. “How well are you taking care of your customers?” a female voiceover asks.

“Suki,” promoting security, is the most dramatic and serious of all the spots. And the most persuasive. A firewall breach is a major threat to any business, but rather than the enemy being an evil axis of hackers—which would lend a paranoid and hysterical tone to the spots—it’s a cute little girl.

The spots make otherwise arcane technological messages delightful. Or, as one of the squirrels put it in an earlier spot, “They look harmless, but they sneak up on you real fast.”

Whoever thought that hosting and implementation could be so much fun?