Got a Second? G.E. Has a Quick Message
"G.E. One Second Theater," as the campaign is being called, presents a humorous peek behind the scenes at recent General Electric commercials produced by BBDO. The campaign is intended specifically for new media like digital video recorders, which can be used to watch expanded versions of the spots, and the MySpace social networking service (myspace.com), where visitors can read a mock profile of Elli, the elephant star of one of the commercials. The spots will also be accessible on MP3 players, through podcasts presented as if they were recorded by Elli and other characters from the spots, and on a microsite (onesecondtheater.com) , which offers an online version of the campaign.
The multimillion-dollar campaign, scheduled to begin today, is the most recent effort by G.E. to explore media beyond conventional commercials and print advertisements.
Previous initiatives include a campaign about a virtual sprouting seed, which computer users could tend and send to friends by e-mail, and banner ads offering a way to doodle online.
"We're harkening back to an old idea, in combination with new technology," said David Lubars, chairman and chief creative officer for the North American operations of BBDO, part of the Omnicom Group. "General Electric Theater" appeared on CBS from February 1953 to September 1962 and the host for all but the first year was an actor named Ronald Reagan.
Whatever became of him?
The General Electric Company is among marketers devoting a growing part of ad budgets to new media. Hewlett-Packard, for instance, announced yesterday that it would team up with the mtvU cable network owned by Viacom for a worldwide campaign aimed at college students, carrying the theme "Meet or Delete," which will be found on television, online and on cellphones.
Also, the Adidas unit of Adidas-Salomon has started releasing a series of short films by directors like Roman Coppola, which can be watched on hand-held devices or on Web sites like ifilm.com, video.google.com and youtube.com, and can be downloaded from the Apple Computer iTunes store (itunes.com). And Wendy's International created a MySpace profile for an animated character based on its square hamburger, which also had its own Web site.
"It's a challenge whenever you try to do something new, but it's energizing," said Judy L. Hu, global executive director for advertising and branding at General Electric in
"Clearly, we're taking a risk," Ms. Hu said, "but that's what you need to do to break through."
"Everything we do that's inventive and innovative helps drive the idea of 'Imagination at work,' " she added, which has been the theme of General Electric campaigns created by BBDO since 2003.
Here is how the extended versions of the commercials work. BBDO has re-edited several spots to embed in each one additional material, which can be glimpsed only for a second if the spots are being watched live on TV. But for viewers using TiVo or other digital video recorders, the commercials can be paused and the new material becomes accessible to watch frame by frame.
The material includes mock biographies of Elli, a dancing elephant, and the other animal characters from a G.E. commercial promoting its environmental efforts under the "ecomagination" theme, along with fake "lost casting tapes" in which creatures like a shark, a cow and an armadillo flunk their auditions for the spot.
"It was hard to imagine Elli ever recovering from the teenage exploitation film 'Don't Touch That Trunk' and the well-publicized 'peanut' scandal," one make-believe biography begins. "As for the future, look for her in the summer blockbuster studio romance 'Love of the Mastodon.' "
In the "Elli's interests" section of the elephant's MySpace profile, her favorite music is listed as "Tusk" by Fleetwood Mac and her movies are "Animal House" and "Dumbo." As of yesterday afternoon, Elli already had five friends on her MySpace page (myspace.com/ellifont).
In another imaginary biography, a toucan that appears in Elli's commercial is described as the star of "the musical 'I Am Toucan' and its sequel, 'I Am Still Toucan.' " And two flamingos from the commercial are described as "self-taught method actors" that appeared in carnival sideshows "as 'The Amazing Two-Headed Flamingo' until their act was exposed on the cable special 'Fake Two-Headed Animal Acts Exposed.' "
Plans call for the additional material to be replaced on a regular basis, said Don Schneider, executive vice president and executive creative director at BBDO New York, "so viewers will always be expecting there could be something new embedded" each time they see a G.E. commercial.
The re-edited commercials will appear on networks that are part of the NBC Universal division of General Electric, including Bravo, CBNC, MSNBC, NBC, Sci Fi and
They will also run on networks not owned by G.E., Ms. Hu said, including A&E, Comedy Central, Discovery, E!, ESPN, the Food Network, the History Channel, the National Geographic Channel, TBS, TLC and the Travel Channel.
To help generate awareness for the One-Second Theater campaign, Ms. Hu said, it will be promoted in announcements during TV series sponsored by General Electric and in comic "teaser" banner ads on Web sites like gawker.com as well as the sites of print publications like The Hollywood Reporter (hollywoodreporter.com) and Variety (variety.com).
The agencies working on the campaign in addition to BBDO are Blitz, an interactive agency in