Varnish Remover

Energizer Rabbit Run

Woodchuck, produced for Energizer Batteries by TBWA Chiat/Day and Epoch Films.

Political pollsters argue that most commercials don’t really work–that viewer recall of a product and its claimed attributes is actually remarkably low, and that the research “proving” the efficacy of the ads is largely controlled by the ad agencies that made the ads in the first place. (That’s mild, by the way, compared with what the commercial advertisers say about the quality and ethics of political ads.)

The Energizer Bunny is an exception to this rule. Batteries are practically a commodity, but the long-running Bunny campaign has implanted the message of long-lasting reliability in the public consciousness. The Bunny is now almost a cultural artifact, and if the “keeps going and going” message is to be extended, it must be restated in ways that build on the image without boring the viewers.

Woodchuck is a case study of the process–and a case of cultural updating. In a series of quick cuts–narrative bites that put old slogans into younger voices and visual echoes of popular entertainment–the spot extends the Energizer message to a new generation.

As the camera pulls back from a television set showing the Energizer Bunny in action, we see a group of twentysomething guys–in T-shirts, shorts, chinos, with an occasional beard–gathered around a van or a utility vehicle. One of them talks about how long “this thing’s been goin’, ” and the “obsession” to chase it. (Where are the women: Don’t they buy batteries?) The group piles in and sets off down the road while the rotating radar on top of the van searches out its target–like a scene out of Twister. Like the storm-chasers, we’re told, this group has “gone days without seeing anything.” Here and later, the borrowed images from Twister are amplified by the searchers talking not to the viewers, but to what appears to be a third-party documentary filmmaker. The absence of music adds to the documentary feel.

Staring through binoculars, one of the searchers expresses the frustration inherent in any search for a not-so-Holy Grail–whether it’s Elvis, a UFO, or the Energizer Bunny: “It’s toying with us again.” Next we encounter an X-Files moment–a blurry black-and-white photo that’s even less distinct than the ones of flying saucers that are the talismans of an entire subculture. The searcher insists that the photo is real, that it is proof: “Right there you can see its ears and its drum.”

“Come on, baby!” One of the searchers is in a field, trying to capture an undeniable video of the rabbit. It’s reminiscent of the storm-chasers who miss the twister because they go north instead of south. The next scene is a closer rear view of the truck, the radar antenna relentlessly turning. Look closely: Is that a set of rabbit ears in the mirrorlike object mounted atop the van on our right? The almost subliminal image tells us, but not the searchers, that they may have missed the rabbit.

Thinking that they’ve spotted the Bunny, the group clambers out of the vehicle, shouting and firing off cameras–but it’s just a woodchuck. The story reverses a fairy tale that these guys aren’t that many years distant from: The hare is beating the four-wheeled gadget–the rich tortoise of the ‘90s.

Inside, a searcher gives the off-camera interviewer an explanation that again repeats the Energizer slogan: “It just keeps going and going–and therefore, you yourself have to keep going and going.” That might also serve as a mantra for the ‘90s generation, seeking the constantly moving targets of meaning and success.

The spot closes with the name of the product chyroned across the Bunny-searching van that just keeps going. Woodchuck refrains from identifying the product because it’s selling the name of the product, not the product itself. And if you don’t think the names of commodity products matter much in the marketplace, then why do people pay more for Calvins than they do for Fruit of the Looms?

–Robert Shrum