Creative: Critique – Firsthand

Experience the new and unexpected

Put the words “integrated” and “solutions” together and the average eyeball not only glazes, but shellacks and polyurethanes itself.
So it’s a relief that these commercials for marchFIRST, a “leading global Internet professional-services firm featuring multidisciplinary approaches to empower companies in the new digital economy,” skip that.
They avoid the trendy cliché of “being empowered in the new digital world” (whatever that means). Instead, they offer amazingly rich, unexpected visuals about people confronting the scary concept of change.
Just as the Apple campaign a few years back linked itself to genius, these spots fasten on the idea of being first. That’s a great way to convey human possibility, while also providing a mnemonic device for name awareness. (MarchFIRST was created this year on Mar. 1, when Whittman-Hart bought USWeb/CKS and gave the company a happenin’ human name rather than a quadruple conglomerate.)
The advertising was done by McKinney & Silver, which is owned by marchFIRST. The word linkage works-you still haven’t a clue what the company does, but you do remember the capitalized “first.”
Of the four spots, the strongest is “Upside Down Head,” a loose interpretation of the moment the world saw the first Cubist painting. When Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase was exhibited at the 1913 Armory Show, its rearrangement of the human body into squares seemed so baffling and shocking that it was dismissed by critics as “an explosion in a shingle factory.”
The concept resonates because Cubism did provide a medium of seeing the world in an entirely new way. Previously conceived ideas about art were turned upside down; thus, the spot rings true. And it offers a layer of cockeyed cleverness to boot.
The intriguing part of each of the ads is the perspective-we are the camera. We observe the observers and see them register shock, disgust or excitement. We have a one-way mirror into a gallery in Paris in the early 20th century.
People come closer to get a better look: A couple moves into a kiss, one man tries to throw a blanket over something. Finally, a maid with a penchant for straightening up turns us sideways, and the words “The first Cubist exhibition” appear on screen, followed by the line “Here’s to being first.”
The pacing, music and casting are beautiful. The ad reflects the time and place where Picasso and Braque started it all. The second spot also seems to be set in France. It looks great and celebrates “the first miniskirt.” As an event, it doesn’t have the same amount of earth-shattering impact-although the mini did come out of the London youthquake of the ’60s.
The disgusted looks on the faces of the dowdy French women are priceless, but the cultural context seems strange: The French are hardly known for their modesty or Puritanism about the female body.
The third spot focuses on a watershed moment-the first man on the moon. I don’t want to be too U.S.-centric, but it seems odd. It uses so many familiar touchstones of that time, yet the family seems to come from another planet. Dad is a huge bear of a man, bare chested, dressed in overalls. One of the tykes is also shirtless. Is it Depression-era Appalachia by way of Bulgaria?
Still, the campaign is incredibly engaging and in a sea of gross-out dot-com spots, these cerebral classics are a first.

Agency: McKinney & Silver, Raleigh, N.C.
Executive CD: David Baldwin
Art Director: Philip Marchington
Copywriter: Lisa Shimotakahara
Agency Producer: Cathy Jenkins
Director: Jhoan Camitz/Satellite Films