Ad Report Card: Blue Salesman Group

One of the most time-honored gambits in advertising is the use of a celebrity spokesperson. This still goes on, though it’s tricky to pull off without seeming dated or unoriginal. What the advertiser needs is a gimmick, such as extreme campiness (William Shatner as Priceline shill). I don’t know if the performance trio known as the Blue Man Group count as spokesmen since part of their shtick is that they don’t speak, but you may have seen them in a couple of Intel ads now in heavy rotation (and available for viewing on Intel’s Web site.)

The Ads: Each spot features the antics of three bald guys, painted blue. Their logo flashes briefly in an upper corner of the screen: Blue Man Group. In one, the aesthetically arresting stooges paint three big lime-green stripes on a wall. The first Man rappels down the wall with a paint roller; the second makes his stripe using a catapult to hurl balls of paint. They turn to the third, who pours a bucket of paint over his head, catapults himself into the wall, and slides down it. This forms the logo for the Intel Pentium III processor. “Get the power of three,” says the announcer. In the other ad the Blue Men encounter three giant lime-green piano keys and with a bit of slapstick use the keys to hammer out the famous four-note Intel theme (which you have almost certainly heard).

So does it sell Intel? Intel has always had a unique ad challenge in that consumers don’t go out and buy an Intel processor, they go out and buy a computer, perhaps looking for one that contains an Intel processor or perhaps not. The company has done a remarkably good job at building awareness of its brand name by using fairly simple gimmicks (like that mini theme song and the “Intel Inside” slogan, which has often piggybacked as tags on computer-maker ads). By now Intel is reasonably well-known as a brand. And yet I think its chips are no longer considered head-and-shoulders above the rest as mainstream consumers seemed to believe for a while. This is why it seems a little puzzling to launch a campaign that makes no argument for the merits of an Intel processor, but rather seeks to make the Pentium III’s emblem more memorable. In effect this isn’t an ad for a product, but an ad for a product’s logo. Intel is trying to teach us how to look for its processors without saying why we should.

But does it sell Blue Men? I suppose that a lot more people have heard of Intel than have heard of the Blue Man Group, but the latter are not exactly bleeding-edge subculture figures these days. The original three guys clambered out of the New York performance circuit to create a surprisingly elaborate off-Broadway show–lots of percussion-oriented music, often on custom instruments, plus visual theatrics and some highbrow, or maybe middlebrow, slapstick. This debuted in Lower Manhattan in 1991, and now a growing number of Blue Men perform not only there but in Boston, Chicago, and, most recently, Las Vegas. They’ve appeared on the Tonight Show, and they have a CD. The Blue Man Group is practically a franchise. (There’s more on the group’s Web site, including what they have to say about themselves, what the New York Times had to say  back in ‘91, and what Time magazine said  this year.) For what it’s worth, I saw the New York show years ago and found it very entertaining. Even then it wasn’t exactly avant-garde, so I’m not surprised to see the Blue Men continuing to march steadily into the mainstream, this time by way of Intel’s ad budget, which I suspect is rather more substantial than the Blue Men’s.

Two grades: For Intel, a C-minus. The ads are arresting, but for reasons that I don’t think help the chip-maker very much. Intel’s silent spokesmen, however, get an A: The spots are great exposure for the Blue Brand Group.