What were they thinking?

Marketer: Intel Play-Monique Sullivan, director of marketing...
December 1, 1999

Marketer: Intel Play-Monique Sullivan, director of marketing

Agency: Mattel’s Creative Services department-Ken Kauffmann, executive creative director; Aki Umemoto, creative director; Mark Reber, director; Rhet Bear, director of photography; Marcy Frey, producer

Post: Steam Productions, Los Angeles

Markets: U.S. national

The idea: To introduce kids to the Intel Play QX3 Computer Microscope, one of the first products to come out of last year’s Mattel/Intel joint venture. It’s a complicated toy, so the spot focuses on cool features and hopes the microscope will sell itself.

The campaign: One 30-second spot began airing across the U.S. November 5 on kid cable, major networks and in syndication. A second longer spot (45 seconds or one minute) may begin airing before Christmas.

The strategy:

A doorbell rings, mom answers, and she finds a youngster holding something covered in mold. She smiles, greets the child and gestures upstairs. Two other kids then arrive with such appealing show-’n-tell items as a pus-dripping scab and what looks like a dead rat. They too are greeted with a smile and sent upstairs. Finally, the camera cuts to the playroom and the reason for these strange visits is revealed: upstairs there’s a QX3 microscope and the kids are having a grand old time magnifying fetid finds by up to 200 times.

It had a good story line, it had humor and it had a high gross-out factor. It followed all the rules for reaching kids in the target eight to 12 demo. But not long after it played at last February’s Toy Fair, the spot by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners was dropped.

‘That was something which played very well with adults,’ says Intel Play director of marketing Monique Sullivan, ‘but we tested it with kids and it just didn’t work.’ The reason? While kids were entertained by the spot, after viewing it, they didn’t get what, exactly, this rather elaborate product was. As Sullivan says: ‘They were very clear that we needed to put more information in the commercial.’

So Sullivan turned to Mattel’s Creative Services department and started over from scratch. This time, the goal was to cram as many cool QX3 features as possible into a 30-second spot. There were a lot to choose from. Essentially a digital video camera with magnifying lenses that hooks up to a home computer, the QX3 can magnify objects and record the resulting images as stills or short

movies that can then be manipulated using digital editing software.

First, the new team set about conducting focus groups to find out which QX3 attributes should be addressed. It soon became apparent that to get them all in, the spot would have to move at breakneck speed. To make it easier to follow, creative director Aki Umemoto employed a ‘morph zoom’ technique, allowing the camera to move from feature to feature without cuts using accelerated film and rapid zooms.

In an effort to keep the product front and center, convey a futuristic feel and keep an already complex spot free of visual clutter, Umemoto decided on a ‘white limbo’ background (think Gap ads) and cold, precise techno music (think Chemical Brothers or Crystal Method). While this approach isn’t new (the translucent blue microscope against the white background is reminiscent of iMac ads), Umemoto points out that it’s certainly new for toy ads aimed at kids, and it helps the ad’s appeal skew up to boys as old as 12.

Then came the moment of truth: the focus group. Kids had already trashed one spot-how would this one fare?

‘The kids found the spot exciting, the product exciting and the features were communicated well,’ says Kauffmann. They could even name most of the features after watching the frenetic spot only twice.

Armed with ‘a very solid advertising budget,’ the spot’s goal is to increase sales by ‘four or five fold at least’ over Christmas. Soon Sullivan will know if dropping humor for features was the right choice to make.

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