Barbara Lippert’s Critique: Even More Comcastic!

Let’s start with the obvious: people generally hate their cable companies. (And I’m talking about you, Time Warner. When I hear the word “bundle,” I reach for my gun. Not that I’m bitter.)

So, I guess it’s not all that surprising that Comcast—-the country’s biggest cable provider, with a stake in everything from the E! channel to the Philadelphia 76ers—was until last fall a communications giant with no brand identity on TV (aside from some screaming regional retail ads, which probably made viewers want to scream right back) and a name so generic that it could be the ’70s cable version of Acme Industries.

That changed last October with the launch of Goodby’s “It’s Comcastic!” campaign. The first commercial, starring Loretta Swit in an original clip from the $20,000 Pyramid, was genius—in a risky way. (I mean, the uninitiated could think the obviously doctored film with a cheesy, ’70s cable vibe was for real.) Swit revoiced her part, and the rest is history. She ushers a dweeby contestant guy to the big win with: “High-definition TV. Amazing picture quality.” Dweeb responds: “Things that are good.” Then she raises the stakes: “HDTV. High-speed Internet. Free on-demand movies.” Mr. Leisure Suit cries, “Things that are Comcastic!”and dashes out of his chair to jump on Hot Lips. (Well, he gives her a hug, but they have a moment.)

With that one spot, Comcast got at least two levels of makeover—now the brand was not only being seen, but actually winking back. A tagline like “It’s Comcastic” could be trivializing. But within the context of smart, sophisticated commercials, it’s just further proof that the company gets it.

Obviously, the agency is going for likability, and I like these commercials. I really like them, which is a good thing, because there are about a bazillion of them, and many more being released next week. (Comcast has all that inventory on its own channels on which to run them, afterall.)

Remember the Slowskis—those suburban turtles in their kitchen, attesting to how much they like DSL’s sluggishness? They gave new definition to “arrested development.” Now we brake for Fastkies—hilarious spots set in the futuristic Comcastic Labs, where a Flubber-like substance within the high-speed lines has been isolated. It’s some sort of clear substance that can be squeezed onto a hand or shoe.

“Warehouse” opens with the sounds of ominous intrigue. “John, we have the new high speed,” we hear, as John, who seems like someone out of a Ludlum movie, looks up. A guy who’s rubbed his mitts with the gunk throws down 50 packs of cards on a table, and within seconds, has built an enormous structure. “It’s a pagoda!” the builder announces.

Within the English lexicon, pagoda is one of the funnier words. “Tell me you have more,” John says, as we cut to a warehouse storing vast tanks of fast. (Take that, VW!)

“Peruvian” is also hilariously deadpan. Inside the lab, one guy says, “Check this out” and then rubs some high speed on his foot. He comes back in a serape, and tells his friend that he’s been to Peru. The friend does not believe him. So he leaves, and returns carrying a middle-aged Peruvian man, bowler hat, striped vest and all, on his back. It kills me.

Perhaps the only companies more hated than the cable providers are the phone people. So, natch, Comcast has moved into the digital phone business, and is now also promoting its “Triple Play” deal. (Do I hear “bundle”?)

Anyway, the campaign features two slacker guys with odd hair (by now, a too-familiar trope in advertising). They embody a Dumb and Dumber for the digital age, and each spot opens with the smarter guy asking, “So what’s the deal with …” The phrase will no doubt take hold in the culture, possibly as a less-annoying “Can you hear me now?”

But the spots are inventive and funny, given that it’s basically a sad, old retail campaign ($33 per month for each when you sign up for Internet, phone and cable service for a year. So, why don’t they say $99 a month?)

Think Lewis and Martin, Tom and Jerry, or two hapless Starburst guys. The answer to “So what’s the deal with …” is always a long exposition by Dumber about the three items in one package (so the sales message really hits). The other guy gets to bring them back to reality, by responding, in the spot set in a bowling alley: “No, what’s the deal with us being Mermen?” Cut to their lower extremities, and some very shapely fins tap-tapping on the floor.

The other situations are memorable: “No, what’s the deal with us being huge in Japan?” our hero asks as they are rolled out on a stage that echoes the Japanese game show scene in Lost in Translation, except this includes helmeted, semi-clad women holding lacrosse sticks.

At deadline, it was announced Comcast, along with Time Warner, had just bought Adelphia, the bankrupt (financially, ethically and morally) cable system. So, they’ll get points for growth, creative thinking and because they’ll have greater reach, vastly improved potential revenue for “new media.” But the advertising could not get any more Comcastic.