Hype Sheet

Plantronics on the Moon


By Brendan I. Koerner

The Pitch Neil Armstrong touches down on the moon, equipped with a corded phone instead of a Plantronics headset. He manages to utter the first half of his trademark phrase before tragically walking beyond the range of the handset's tether. After Armstrong is flung into the cold, lethal depths of the cosmos, the ad wraps up with a montage of happy folks using Plantronics wireless headsets. The final tagline: "Sound Innovation."

Rip-Off Of There are shades of the lunar battle scene in Superman II, as well as Zell Miller's pugnacious keynote at the 2004 Republican National Convention. Both Plantronics and the conservative Georgia Democrat infer that death will come to those who don't heed their core message.

The Spin The moon-landing ad is part of Plantronics new "brand identity" (their words, not mine). The company craves a cutting-edge rep to go along with its recent $166 million acquisition of Altec Lansing. And that means playing up Plantronics' prominence in the mission-critical market; the company did, indeed, provide Neil Armstrong's headset, and its products are mainstays for air-traffic controllers and 911 operators. So, hey, no worries about your Plantronics gizmo breaking while collect-calling grandma.

Counterspin Tough to argue with Plantronics marketing message, as reliability is a primary consumer concern. But did the company have to be so macabre? Humor and astronaut death aren't exactly the chocolate and peanut butter of the advertising world. Granted, however, it's tough to pitch products as unsexy as wireless headsets. At least the ad agency, McCann Erickson, tried to spice things up with some cartoonish violence—except without cartoons.

Takeaway I like gallows humor more than the average bear, but I'm not convinced a Plantronics commercial is the right forum for hilarious morbidity. The ad certainly sticks in your brain, but mainly because I keep on imagining the horrors of being drifting off into space, like the alien in, um, Alien. Word is that future McCann Erickson offerings will focus on Plantronics popularity in air-traffic control towers. I sure hope they're not planning on following the Armstrong ad's lead, and depicting a "hilarious" jet crash that could've been prevented by a wireless headset.

Hype-O-Meter 4.5 (out of 10); an A for effort, but the gruesome tone mucks up the branding message.

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 other Wednesday on Gizmodo.

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