Creative – Barbara Lippert’s Critique: TV Interruptus

Let your TiVo do the watching
It sounds like a hearty Danish cheese or some ugly New Age sandal, but TiVo is actually a futuristic new technology that records TV shows on a hard drive and allows you to pause a live show and resume watching minutes later.
Still, TiVo technology is rife with internal contradictions. First is the reality of this able, attention-getting ad campaign from Goodby, Silverstein: The $50 million effort includes three mean and funny TV spots to promote a device that has a lightning-fast forwarding component to ensure you save hours of viewing time by zapping through annoying commercials.
Secondly, all sorts of competing TV and media companies (CBS, NBC, HBO, Liberty Media, Vulcan Ventures, Disney) have invested in TiVo and its competitor, Replay TV. (Sony and Philips manufacture the TiVo recorders now.) So it was doubly weird and contradictory when CBS rejected a TiVo ad that was to debut on the network’s smash hit, Survivor. CBS voted the TiVo spot off the island because it touched a little too close to home.
Called “Network Executive,” it opens on the hushed offices of corporate stiffs in white shirts and black ties. “Look at these guys,” the voiceover says with disdain. “Network TV programmers. They decide what we watch, and when we watch it.” We end up in the sleek, high-tech office of Mr. Big. Two T-shirted thugs come and pick him up and throw him out the window. “Who needs ’em?” we hear, and then a title card reads: “Program your own TV network. TiVo–TV your way.
The logo is a square little anthropomorphic TV set, with legs and antennae–a cross between Jiminy Cricket and Mr. Peanut. The spot is dark and harsh, but it brims with wonderful details, like a poster promoting Cincinnati Law and a guy in an office shouting, “Cancelled?
It can’t be cancelled! I just bought a house!”
And, considering that CBS’ Big Brother is the work of network programmers, the nastiness of the commercial seems justified. What does this remind you of–adults living in an unaesthetic house, sleeping in bunk beds, completely cut off from the outside world? It’s people who secretly want to join a cult but think that being watched on the toilet on TV is more socially acceptable. Big Brother: the creepy eyeball network’s proud cult of dullards.
The TiVo machine itself echoes Big Brother. It’s a machine that sits on top of your TV and watches you with a glinty red eye. It observes your viewing patterns and records stuff on its own, programming suggestions based on your previous choices. Who’s to say they remain suggestions?
The other two spots involve more average Joes. One shows an inept cop who loves to watch police shows, and another features a father making educational TV choices for his kids–all sports programming. When he shows his daughter an ice-skating triple axel, his son gets up and starts doing the moves. He says, “Bobby, stop that! Bobby!”
The print ads center on bodily function. One sad sack has saved his kidneys with Tivo; he can pause during bathroom breaks.
But the weird thing is that the campaign is not ironic; it’s earnest about the user’s abject love of TV. “When I get home, television is my salvation,” the cop admits.
As with the contradiction of “reality television,” the spots for TiVo bring another level of narcissism to watching TV: love me, love my programming choices. K
Agency: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco
Creative Directors: Rich Silverstein, Paul Venables
Art Director: Peter Nicholson
Copywriter: Harold Einstein
Producer: Cindy Fluitt
Director: Chris Smith/RSA/Independent, Los Angele