Fallon, Virgin Mobile Find Humor in TV Taboos

NEW YORK This year’s MTV Movie Awards program was taped, edited and bleeped—a nod to the obscenity frenzy stemming from Janet Jackson’s overexposure during February’s Super Bowl halftime show, which was produced by MTV for CBS. But rather than avoid the hot-button topic, Virgin Mobile USA embraced it in four quirky TV spots from Fallon in New York.

The campaign, a one-off produced in a few days, juxtaposed innocuous images such as that of a rabbit with apologetic voiceover messages like, “Due to recent crackdowns on indecency in broadcasting, Virgin Mobile will not be airing its original commercial in which you would have seen former heads of state removing tags from mattresses.”

Another spot, showing cabbage being sliced on a cutting board, said, “Once again, in compliance with decency standards, Virgin Mobile is unable to bring you its original commercial featuring scantily-clad dental hygienists being fired from canons into tubs of apricot jelly.”

Other spots depicted an animated egg resembling Humpty Dumpty perched on a wall (instead of mud-wrestling, albino strippers) and a parrot on wooden roller skates (rather than dominatrixes jumping off landmarks). Messages also rolled on screen and each spot touted a limited-time, free offering, such as text message, via virginmobileusa.com.

The campaign, which retained the “Live without a plan” tagline, aired during Thursday night’s show, in which rapper Eminem’s mooning of the audience was edited before broadcast.

A subsequent spike in traffic on Virgin Mobile’s Web site has spurred the company to consider other topical efforts in the future, said Ari Merkin, executive creative director at the New York shop. “There’s a certain way that we have to connect with our audience” of teenagers and young adults, said Merkin. “Our client, God bless him, brought up the censorship issue and we ran with it.”

John Cline and Erik Hanson produced the spots and Scott Cooney wrote them. The art director was Jerome Marucci and the associate creative director was Wayne Best.