Hype Sheet: Samsung and the Cirque du Soleil Approach

The Pitch As watered-down, possibly Slavic electro kicks in on the soundtrack, a woman covered in multi-hued body paint dances in a black, gravity-free void. Cut to swirls of rainbow vapor, then back to our porcelain-faced harlequin performing back flips and other dazzling gymnastic feats. It's not until the very end that one of Samsung's latest "Bordeaux" PAVV LCD TVs makes an appearance, flashing across the screen like the mirror prison from Superman II, then framing the dancer's paint-streaked visage. What in Mjolnir's name is Samsung trying to tell consumers in Asia, where this ad is now running? And would such a head-scratching commercial ever play in Peoria, should the new PAVV lineup (or, more likely, its rebranded equivalent) come West?

Rip-Off Of There's an unmistakable Cirque du Soleil vibe to this ad, which makes sense given that it's meant to target a range of nations and cultures; circus performers translate well, especially in countries like China where acrobats are ostensibly revered. (More on the China connection later.) But in emphasizing color sharpness by relying on old-fashioned paint, the commercial also takes after Sony's epic Bravia ad from a while back. No real comparison in terms of the amount of effort—the Bravia paint geysers were genius—but the spirit is the same. Note, too, that the Bravia commercial features a clown—how long 'til Sharp signs up a lion tamer or tightrope walker to hawk its Aquos G Series?

The Spin Regardless of which national market it's going for, Samsung's flat-panel pitch never varies: LCD TVs are akin to works of art, to be hung in the bedrooms of aspiring sophisticates and used to watch refined fare. Contrast this approach with that of LG, which seems content to target couch potatoes who high-five over golf. The Samsung approach seems to be winning: according to the latest figures from DisplaySearch, 50.2 percent of the 40-inches-and-up LCD TVs that shipped in Q1 bore the Samsung imprint. (LG Philips came in second at 26.1 percent, followed by Sharp with 10.9 percent.) Of course, most folks splashing out for a PAVV Bordeaux will likely use it to watch low-brow fare—I'm sure Roadhouse looks awesome at a contrast ratio of 17,000:1. (Yes, we here at Gizmodo know that contrast ratio gets way too much play.)

Counterspin There's certainly something to be said for creating an air of mystery around your product, but is this body-paint ad just too inscrutable? Granted, Samsung had it's work cut out—it's always a challenge to produce an ad with cross-cultural appeal, without going the cheesy Mentos route favored by LG, and without slipping in content that our more conservative brothers and sisters will find offensive. (The T&A shots in this ad are disappointingly fleeting, and decidedly non-erotic.) But I wonder if increasingly sophisticated consumers don't expect at least some nod toward specs (namechecking 1080p, perhaps?), or a quick teaser for a Web site that explains why the newest PAVVs are worth the cake. Emotional appeals seem less likely to work when the products in question is so frackin' expensive.

Takeaway One of Samsung's top priorities for the next year is dominating the booming Chinese market—a market to which this commercial seems particularly well-suited. (The Chinese sure do love 'em some acrobats—or at least the Korean admen seem to think so.) The chaebol is reportedly betting that a lot of Chinese consumers will feel rushed to upgrade their TVs in the run-up to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Assuming that supposition is true, it's interesting to contrast the Chinese mindset with that of American consumers, who allegedly feel pressured to upgrade their TVs before every Super Bowl. But I can just imagine Joe Q. Football Fan's response upon seeing a commercial this esoteric—I imagine it would be much like Homer Simpson's reaction to seeing his Calvin Klein-inspired Mr. Plow ad. Or perhaps even angrier—red-blooded Americans aren't big fans of tasteful body-paint unitards, nor of Slavic-style electro.

Hype-O-Meter 7 (out of 10). I wavered on this, but props to Samsung for staying on-message, and for creating a viable international ad with an artistic edge. But for a product line that boasts the Advanced Common Application Platform, you'd think there'd be a multilingual Web site plugged somewhere, right? Took me way too long to Google around and figure out that PAVV stands for "Powerful Audio Vast Vision."

Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired and a columnist for both The New York Times and Slate. His Hype Sheet column appears every Thursday on Gizmodo.

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