Hype Sheet: Michel Gondry and HP's Rebranding Project

The Pitch Yet another entrant in HP's "The Computer is Personal Again" campaign, this time featuring French art-school deity Michel Gondry (though the spot's actually directed by his brother, Olivier, who also did HP's great Vera Wang ad). If you saw The Science of Sleep, you know what's coming: lots of stop motion and lysergic colors, on a set resembling a Kafkaesque version of Pee Wee's Playhouse. Gondry, mostly shot from the neck down, mumbles in a thick French accent 'bout all the computer tasks he enjoys—lots of photo manipulation, as well as maintaining his Web site. And his hardware of choice? An HP Pavilion Media Center PC with Intel Viiv technology. Is HP's rebranding as an Apple/Sony Vaio competitor continuing apace with this ad, by hitting that all-important creative-pro demographic? Or should it have stopped at that Orange County Choppers spot, and instead focused on ridding its PCs of all that atrocious bloatware?

Rip-Off Of Tough to slag the ingenious Gondry for lack of originality, though he obviously didn't try too hard to shift out of his The Science of Sleep aesthetic—trying to move some DVDs, perhaps? (Sidenote: That movie, though gorgeous, is also incoherent and boring. Discuss.) Also admirable is the commercial's tight structure, allowing Gondry to cycle through a lot of computing tasks in 30 seconds. Much respect to the ad agency, San Francisco's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, which will soon be launching a campaign for Sprint Nextel, too.


The Spin Buy an HP, become the next Michel Gondry—or, at the very least, maximize your creative potential. Consumers who are receptive to this message are, of course, precisely the sorts of folks that Apple's been poaching for years, and which the Sony Vaio lineup has been geared toward keeping in the PC camp. HP, meanwhile, has more often pursued a bang-for-your-buck strategy, relying on its well-known brand name to compete in the Dell/Gateway space. Yet like its fellow rebrander Acer, HP seems to have finally decided that the future lies in the mid-to-high-end range, as PCs increasingly become work-at-home (or on-the-go) tools. Getting the likes of Jay-Z, Pharrell Williams, Shaun White and Gondry to vouch for your computer lineup goes a long way toward convincing people that the HP brand is synonymous with success.

Counterspin The question is whether HP's products can live up to the ads. The company's been doing a lot to innovate as of late, pushing forward with its ultraportable Optimator laptop and getting on the LED bandwagon. But HP computers are still afflicted with far too much bloatware, and I'm skeptical as to whether incorporating Viiv is going to improve that situation—if anything, it could make it worse. One thing HP's always been dreadful about is setting up its PCs for too much user handholding—comforting for first-time users, perhaps, but ultimately a drag on performance. And aren't these commercials pitched toward computing vets? I'd bet that anyone who's a Gondry fan is probably already an experienced user, and will be disappointed by HP's messy installs—and, for that matter, it's decidedly non-slick keyboard layouts (including some of the most dunderheaded quick-launch controls I've ever encountered).

Takeaway In recent years, few consumer tech companies have rebranded as swiftly or successfully as HP. Remember, it was only two years ago that HP's big news was how it was partnering with Wal-Mart to offer sub-$400 desktops. Now it wants the public eye on its high-end Pavilions—even if most of the public doesn't want to drop $2,000-plus on one of the best. The Gondry commercial is a step even further down that path, since he's not a mainstream celebrity like Jay-Z or Shaun White; they're not gonna be airing this ad on ESPN, but rather on channels preferred by artsy geeks (a bit like your humble narrator, I reckon). In other words, they're trying to crack a market that's pretty savvy about PCs to begin with, and will likely be familiar with HP's not-so-great rep for bloatware and other headaches. But Gondry's endorsement may at least get such consumers to try out an HP Pavilion the next time they swing by Best Buy—which is really all an ad can hope to do, right?

Hype-O-Meter 9 (out of 10). I'll confess, I'm a sucker for Gondry's visuals, and he oozes a certain kind of geeky charm. I have to wonder, though, if Gondry's ever tried using one of HP's more affordable PCs—he might not be such a fan if he was saddled with one of these.


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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Joel Johnson

I would posit: They don't hire Gondry to appeal to creative types, just like they don't hire Jay-Z to appeal to rappers. They hired Gondry because a subset of the overall market - those with enough income to came about what brand of PC they're buying - like to associate with artists, perhaps even style themselves as such, whether or not they actually create anything beyond emails and browser logs. This is why I won't be buying an HP until they shoot one starring Robot John Holmes using a Pavilion to keep track of his herpes chiseling sessions.

And really, does anyone watch these ads, as lovely as they are, and think Golly, I never would have thought Jay-Z cared so much about what brand of computer he used? These are plain ol' tastemaking, at best.