The Pitch Everyone who's been wondering what Jerry Seinfeld's been up to—other than cashing syndication checks the size of Tonga's GDP—need wonder no more: Judging by this promo, he's voicing the protagonist in DreamWorks Animation's forthcoming Bee Movie. (And how nice of him to find work for Patrick "Puddy" Warburton, who plays the audio engineer.) In this 30-second snippet, Jerry's bee mightily flaps his wings into a studio microphone, blasting Puddy through a concrete wall and into the ladies loo. How can such a tiny insect achieve such mighty volume? Why, thanks to Dolbee—er, Dolby—Digital technology, as the kick-out logo informs us. Cute, but why is the already ubiquitous Dolby Labs straining to reach the grade-school demographic?
Rip-Off Of Given the kiddie target audience, the first connection I made was with that great The Muppet Movie scene in which Animal fries everyone ears with his roaring sound check. (Okay, that's partially an excuse just to link to this Dr. Teeth vid.) But the ad-world granddad of these sorts of spots has to be the classic Memorex commercials, in which a wall of sound blows a yuppie's martini right into his waiting hand.
The Spin Those of y'all with massive subwoofers, or at least a passing familiarity with the THX sound tests of yore, know the deal: Dolby Digital bestows a fat, loud bottom end to any cinematic soundtrack. Yes, even the beating of tiny bee's wings sounds awesome in Dolby Digital, which gives you every reason to look for the brand name when you shop for your next HD DVD and/or Blu-ray player. (It's usually emblazoned on the upper right corner of the faceplate, Joe Q. Public.) Because that's what this promo is really about—getting the next generation of consumers accustomed to the concept of Dolby technologies being the be-all and end-all of audio perfection. As they say in the ad biz, if you win a customer's loyalty before the age of 16, you've got 'em for hooked life.
Counterspin It's no accident, though, that Dolby's latching its brand-building promo to a movie with obvious cross-cultural appeal. Judging by the transcript of Dolby Labs' Q3 conference call, the moneymen are wondering how the company will ensure that the digital cinemas of the developing world—especially those in India and China—come to rely on Dolby 3D, which is ostensibly the company's future cash cow. Despite its apparent digi-audio hegemony, Dolby is actually at something of a crossroads—a few years hence, digital projection will be the rule in cinemas worldwide, and the company wants to make sure it's got a jump on selling to vendors who'll be making the transition from celluloid. Never mind that the real money is to be made in the home market—theaters continue to be the glamour realm, so that's where Dolby has to ensure that its brand remains strong.
Takeaway Love him or hate him, John C. Dvorak recently made a sharp observation regarding Dolby Labs: on your first Walkman, the noise reduction technology was pointedly called Dolby noise reduction. Yes, the company that Ray Dolby built has been aggressively branding itself for decades now, for the express purpose of making sure that consumers look for the Dolby name when purchasing third-party audio equipment (and thus ensuring that licensing fees remain fat). That seems to be the real money-maker for that company, as opposed to licensing for professional cinema. But just as kids are more likely to purchase a sneaker if it's endorsed by
Michael VickGilbert Arenas, consumers are more likely to buy an HD DVD that prominently boasts a technology trumpeted at the local megaplex. This may seem like a trifling point nowadays, given that no one in their right mind would buy a player that can't support the AC-3 codec. But, hey, it's never too early to start worrying about 2018, right?
Hype-O-Meter 7 (out of 10). Dolby's on a roll, and this is a surefire brand builder in the U.S. But will cinemas in the developing world really pay for Dolby 3D, or are the Lords of Guangdong already developing lower-cost alternatives for digital cinema? Branding works best, after all, when the margins between the "real deal" and the knock-off are pretty thin. Make that margin too wide, and cinema operators in Golmud won't become devoted customers.