Barbara Lippert’s Critique

There’s a deadpan humanity and lack of self-seriousness about this new Black & Decker holiday campaign from McCann-Erickson that gives it a kindly, beguiling quality. Especially considering that the spots sell self-important, manly power tools. What’s more, there’s none of the usual yuletide trappings: no gift wrap ping, no silver balls, no Santa’s workshop.

There is a camel, however, but it’s nowhere near a man ger. Instead, it has more of a bad-boy role—sort of like the delinquent teenager who’s going to kill himself drag-racing any minute—and generally makes life miserable for its dad, Animal Adven tures guy Jack Hanna. “My favorite Black & Decker is the Mega-Mouse Sander,” Hanna says in his bathrobe and socks, addressing the camera from his cozy home. “When you have a big family, every day is a learning process.” Indeed, his nuclear family is an assortment of wildlife living under one roof—just like the Osbournes, except here the youngest members are a ram, a water buffalo, a porcupine, what have you.

“Now who did that?” Hanna asks, looking at a nasty gash on the dining room table and then at the monkey, a macaque with the magnetism of a Bill Clinton. The macaque screams at his tablemate, the water buffalo. The sander comes in handy with this group: As Hanna says, “There’s only one bathroom for the 12 of us. All the animals are housebroken—they just break the house.”

Hanna never breaks from his poker-faced delivery (who knew he was such an actor?), and the general animal-based frenzy and the editing make the spot a nice category-defyer. It never degenerates to dumb or corny. (Speaking of power tools and degeneration, it seems Bob Vila has been reduced to appearing in a low-budget spot for loan lender Home123 in which he holds up two ends of a wood frame to show that the “ends meet” and then says, “If you’re having trouble making ends meet …”)

The other spots are celeb and animal free but succeed largely because of excellent casting and director David Shane’s light, contemporary touch with the earnest, deadpan scripts.

We’ve seen this comic sensibility before, in the Holiday Inn ads featuring the 37-year-old guy who won’t leave Mom and Dad’s home but feels he’s entitled to hotel perks and, a few years back, in the spots about the Frosted Flakes fetishist Curtis. These aren’t quite as bizarre and edgy as the latter but are more friendly and comfortable, and each spot also includes an effortless product demo.

The funniest of the rest (in a non-PC way) is “Big Man.” This guy (roughly 6 feet 8 and 300 pounds) is a natural in front of the camera, and explains offhandedly that he was 6 feet 2 inches and 200 pounds at age 12 (cut to the most hilarious split-second 7th grade classroom scene since Woody Allen showed us the kid now selling tallises). Because he “can’t fit into many places at all,” the Swivel Drill (five different positions, so you don’t have to get right into that cabinet) is “pretty cool.” Kudos to the creators, also, for resisting the butt-crack jokes that could have arisen so easily.

There’s nice acting and a gender/age-reversal thing going on in “The Neighbor,” about a young guy who can’t get his Zip Saw back from the woman next door, who’s about 80. She’s busy building and cutting, and slams the garage door on him and deletes his desperate phone messages.

I’m not crazy about the dumbo-dad angle in “Crooked House,” in which a self-deluded dad brags about his “carpentry gene” as his daughter rolls her eyes and his wife simmers with repressed anger because he’s the man who couldn’t hang straight. It’s a great showcase for this bull’s eye leveling device, however, and there are some funny redeeming lines (poor Dad keeps referring to the mug his daughter made as a “vase”).

The campaign makes Tool Time fun and painless, and even takes care of the collateral damage from flying lemurs – take that, Santa Claus.