Gadgets

Hype Sheet: Juking for Verizon's Sake

The Pitch As a raucous Hardnox tracks kicks in, a nimble-footed, ponytailed cat named Charles does his thing on an unadorned soundstage. And what a thing it is—the sort of gorgeously fluid dancing that makes us Joe Q. Publics curse the gods for failing to grant us such talent. Charles’s moves are all the more impressive when you notice that he’s performing while clutching something in his right hand—one of those new Samsung Jukes that Verizon’s pushing (and aggressively subsidising) nowadays. Is this specs-free spot—which is part of a dance-centric series—gonna sell the kiddos on the Juke? Or will they chortle at a mere 2GB worth of internal memory?Rip-Off Of This campaign—which also features dazzling performances from the likes of Will and Jada—appears explicitly designed for YouTube, where similar feats of dancing wizardry are regularly displayed. I also couldn’t help but think of the surprisingly tolerable You Got Served, a hyper-caffeinated, message-free version of Save the Last Dance.

The Spin We’ve been predicting this for years, but looks like we’re about to witness the death of low-gig, standalone MP3 players—at least if Samsung and Verizon have their druthers. If the venerable Charles can flourish with a combo phone in lieu of a digital audio player, so can you, right? Beyond that, this commercial’s notable for its surprising cultural awareness, albeit an awareness that may irk music snobs. Verizon’s ad agency, McCann Erickson, was trying to create an obvious link between the Juke and Chicago Juke, the Windy City’s latest take on house music and its attendant footwork. Alas, as several YouTube commenters have pointed out, Hardnox doesn’t really make pure juke—not enough electro zing—and they’re not from Chicago. This will, of course, only bother about 0.005 percent of viewers—the overwhelming reaction to the music seems to be, “Great song, can I buy it?” Moral of the story: sometimes it doesn’t pay to be 100 percent authentic.

Counterspin Contrast this ad with Samsung’s relentlessly mainstream pitch for the Juke, which features Foreigner’s geezerific “Jukebox Hero.” The Samsung spot also ladles out the product porn, with the camera sweeping across the phone’s screen to reveal the sound meter a-pulsing, and some nice action shots of the Juke’s switchblade-like opening mechanism. Meanwhile, you can’t even really tell what’s in Charles’ hand while he’s juking—it’s only the ad copy that gives it away. It’s always a gamble when you refuse to highlight the very thing you’re supposedly peddling: Do it well and you’re a creative genius, do it poorly and you might as well have tossed your client’s money in a bonfire.

Takeaway McCann Erickson succeeds here precisely because it trusts the sophistication of younger consumers. The site tease at the end is sufficient to drive intrigued viewers to Verizonwireless.com for further info. And bet on lots of folks being intrigued, given the lure of Hardnox’s music (available as an exclusive Verizon ringtone, natch) and Charles’ gobsmacking agility (which inspired me to seek out other examples of juke brilliance). But caveat emptor on at least one important point: the Juke can’t play DRM-protected songs, which means you’ll have to hold on to your shuffle if you’ve got an iTunes-heavy music library.

Hype-O-Meter 9 (out of 10). A handful of snobs may grumble, but it’s impressive to see Verizon promoting Chicago Juke, a creative phenomenon that’s deserving of a much wider audience. Hope it’s not long ’til Alltel or its peers fight back with ads featuring Baltimore club—perhaps on behalf of the ROKR Z6? Lord knows that phone could use some help.

Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired, a columnist for Slate, and author of the forthcoming Now the Hell Will Start. His Hype Sheet column appears every Thursday on Gizmodo.