Lippert Critiques MasterCard’s Latest

NEW YORK How appropriate that this new MasterCard campaign is breaking on the Oscars telecast, since it brings new meaning to the phrase, “The envelope, please.”

In honor of the 10th anniversary of the iconic and much copied “Priceless” campaign, this “search” version is a treasure trove of beautifully written and art directed clues in every medium, all leading to the three winning envelopes (out of 14 million sealed pieces attached to print ads in 10 magazines) that offer three life-changing prizes. From a trip to the Seven Wonders of the World, to fine French dining with Chef David Bouley, to having your portrait painted by Julian Schnabel, these are prizes that do indeed have incredible human value beyond the mere monetary. In that way, it’s all about opening your eyes and really seeing, which, in this economy, is a new way of defining luxury.

The ultimate tease is “Studious Pupil,” the delightful, eye-themed spot that breaks during the Academy Awards and will also appear online. Like Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in the way it plays with space, time, visual tics and verbal frames of reference, crossed with the mysterious storybook quality of Jumanji, the spot opens on a 20-something dude, who, with his weird shrunken shirt and skinny red tie, appears to be just another ad hipster with a haircut that’s either way cool or way dweeby. It follows him as he starts his hamster wheel of a workday. The difference here is that he has an orbital incident, and his left eyeball starts flipping around its socket. In his clever pun-spiral narration, he questions, “How curious my right eye had become … Why had this pupil of mine suddenly become so studious?”

The spot is a tour de force, a treat for both ear and eye. But lest large numbers of cross- or lazy-eyed persons start boycotting the credit card company, the man-child also explains that his oracular transformation is “not a lazy eye, but rather a more energetic, restless, altogether more interested eye. …”

So he starts seeing things differently. The dull, flat and repetitive backgrounds come into super focus, the most quotidian things start to seem patterny and graphic; the aisles of a supermarket, with their rows of cans and boxes, start looking like an Andy Warhol exhibition.

The spot ends with a title card that asks, “Are you searching for the priceless things in life?” and offers the URL,

There are also all-white teaser print ads that suggest modernist eye tests — as if designed by an ophthalmologist with a really high aesthetic, who prefers clean, Swiss-looking type. They offer the same question and Web site address.

The home page opens to reveal four sealed envelopes, as if for some shell game. There’s an explanation behind each one; each of the three prizes has a two-minute video that provides background and gives details. They all look great, but the most boring one is the animated film voiced by Bouley; he talks about his family tree, his French heritage, his love of the land, blah blah.

The best mini video explains the Seven Wonders trip, which the winner can take with three guests, over a period of three years. In the turning pages of a pop-up book created with live action, puppets, animation and CG, we get the fantastic story of each destination. It ends with a set of white-gloved hands closing the big, gilt-edged antique volume.

Schnabel is an Oscar nominee for Best Director for his film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and the third prize is a Schnabel portrait of the winner, so this is the prize that encircles itself. Whatever you think of the guy — the artist/director/architect/designer does everything on an epic scale, and has appetites so oversized that he walks around in pajamas these days — there’s no denying his talent: He’s a visual genius. Diving Bell is a must-see — sad, yes, but also incredibly life-affirming. (What is depressing is that the hero of the film never missed a deadline — writing with one eyelid!)