Creative: Critique By Barbara Lippert

Shilling For Dollars
The Fidelity spots are so tortuous, you’re tempted to save your money
Agency: Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos Boston
COPYWRITER: Gail Schoenbrunn
DIRECTORS: Charles Wittenmeir, Tom DeCerchio
In advertising, you know a campaign is in trouble when comedian Don Rickles is brought in to freshen it up–and he does. What did the list of potential celebrity weapons look like before the agency got the go-ahead to unleash Rickles?
One can only imagine that meeting, the nodding heads, the murmurs of “Is Don available? Didn’t he get a fortune for that carpet ad, where his face was embedded in the floor and people kept stepping on his head!”
But getting walked over is nothing compared to what he’s given to work with in the Fidelity Investment ads, and yet he does yeoman service. I’m not saying it’s up to the caliber of his subtle and nuanced performance in CPO Sharkey, a short-lived TV program, but he still delivers his trademark bald-guy bile, his carotid artery about to pop.
Although the three commercials Rickles appears in, along with market maven Peter Lynch, seem to come from some lame ’70s time warp, they aren’t nearly as sad and painful to watch as the sister spots featuring Lynch and Lily Tomlin. Those are truly disastrous. To come from Hill, Holliday, the agency that created such fresh and arresting work for John Hancock’s financial planning services, is even more bewildering.
To say this advertising (there’s print, too) is a bad idea that’s poorly executed still doesn’t account for the muddle-headed setup. If Fidelity wanted a face for the brand to soften and humanize its image, it’s sensible enough to choose Peter Lynch, the white-haired mop top famous for managing Fidelity’s Magellan Fund, a guy known as one of the most brilliant stock pickers on the planet. Lynch has now ascended to the Fidelity board, but no one would know that from these ads.
Instead, Lynch just appears, so that whichever doltish personality he has to interact with exclaims, “Why, it’s Peter Lynch, the Fidelity guy!” As if we should know this. Then there’s the matter that while all spots run simultaneously, he’s interacting with one of Lily Tomlin’s more inconsequential fictional characters (who doesn’t get it), and, in the other, we are supposed to be in real time with Rickles, so Lynch can offer up this gem of a line: “Hey Don, working hard?”
Lee Iacocca had a cakewalk and Dave Thomas is in nursery school compared to the variety of tasks Lynch is given to perform in this campaign–and for no discernible payoff. For example, in one of the Tomlin spots, he’s pictured taking a stress test on a running machine and he has to hold on and talk, with a microphone attached to his T-shirt.
This is a hard enough–and pointless enough–chore for even an acting pro, never mind the guy who’s supposed to be the financial expert. (Who’s in charge here?) The lights reflect in his big round glasses as his face is on screen, and he looks so shrunken and thin that we stop listening to what he’s trying to say. Instead, we hope he does not expire at any minute. (He’s a mixture of a gaunt Phil Donahue crossed with Furby, the new computerized Christmas toy.)
Now, any hack will tell you that since Lillie Langtree showed her ankles for Pears soap in the late 19th century, the key to using celebrity endorsers is that there has to be some connection, some discernible link between the product and the talent. (Of course, the idea of straight celebrity endorsement is so overused and hackneyed that only Nike can afford to spend billions having celebrities make fun of their own hype.)
So why not have Lynch interview the celebrities playing themselves?
Instead, the idea seems to be that financial probity and planning your own future are too boring and complicated to explain, so instead we’ll just get some wacky comedians to do some skits!
Before this, I considered Tomlin a comedy goddess. I would clasp my bosom in hilarity just thinking of Ernestine, the high school graduate.
I didn’t see any particular morality in her stand not to do commercials, but I thought the work she did, especially her one-woman show, had integrity. What’s mystifying here, in the first endorsement Tomlin’s ever done, is that she plays her most lame-brained characters; they don’t work at all in the context of interacting with Lynch, the great financial godhead, for 30-seconds.
Ironically, to show women as such insensitive ditzes is a real setback. Conversely, the quote she gave The New York Times when the campaign broke in September would have been great to say on-camera: “I didn’t believe in investing in the stock market in those days,” referring to her run on Laugh-In. “My politics wouldn’t allow me to. I see the error of my ways now. When only an elite group has a stake in the future, that is divisive.”
If stuff like this, straight from the heart, seemed too sanctimonious, the agency could have used another of her lines, about the two things she learned a little “too late” in life: ” to wear more sun screen and to invest.”
Would I really want to invest in a company that had the savvy and moxie to hire Don Rickles? (Where’s Joey Bishop when you need him?) As a would-be investor, the sheer vapidity of the setup makes me feel condescended to.
Even if this is suppose to be a let-me-entertain-you campaign to a more serious body of work, can’t it also be intelligent? Is there a rule that says proximity to a celebrity instantly minimizes IQ?