Varnish Remover

Imprinting Baby

Babysitter, produced by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners for Hewlett Packard.

Babysitter for Hewlett Packard not only announces but also illustrates that HP has a photo-quality color-printer solution so effective that it’s accessible even to computer-phobes, those modern-day Luddites who cling to their yellow legal pads.

The spot is structured as a “baby melodrama”–a problem becoming an apparently insoluble crisis: An elderly baby-sitting granddad is simultaneously bored and apprehensive. His charge is asleep, the grandfather clock ticks peacefully in the background, but Gramps is too frightened to move, lest he disturb the infant. Tentatively, awkwardly, he reaches for the television remote control and taps it. The set turns on in an explosion of sound. The baby! The baby! The noise will wake the baby! It does–loud wails fill the room. Under pressure, Gramps can’t handle something as simple as the remote control. This man is technologically inept.

As even the dog flees the cacophony, Gramps puts the crying baby into the playpen. (That will only make things worse–doesn’t he remember?) He tries everything. An appeal: “Don’t cry sonny, don’t cry. Mom and Dad will be right back.” A placebo: He shakes a toy frog in the kid’s face, then a doll–whose head flies off. Shot from the baby’s point of view with a wide-angle lens, Grandfather looks every bit the monster as he tries to calm the storm. As the wailing reaches a crescendo, lights go on all across the neighborhood. The helpless baby sitter seems caught in Murphy’s Law Hell: Everything is going wrong.

Confused, frantic, he whips a picture of the baby’s parents off the piano and takes it out of its frame. Then we see … Grandfather’s hand, moving a mouse! What can he be doing? If he can’t handle a television remote or even a doll, can he figure out a computer? He uses the mouse to click on the picture he wants, and it rolls out of the HP printer, enlarged and in brilliant color. This process is simple, easy, accessible. So he can operate technology, even under stress. The noise rushes on through all the activity, a metaphor for the challenges of the 1990s.

The picture printed, the racket is suddenly replaced by the striking sounds of calm–the low hum of the grandfather’s voice, punctuated by the ticktock of the grandfather clock. The baby is asleep, and we think: OK, it’s clever, but a little phony. One picture doesn’t a contented baby make, surely? But next, we see the reason: Gramps is wearing mom’s “face” as a mask, a disguise that deceives even the dog, who does a double take and scampers away when shushed.

The narrator finally appears on the scene to make the point explicit: “HP photo-quality printers–good enough to fool almost anyone.”

The concluding frames break away from the drama, the happy ending driving home the HP name and the idea that with this product, the complexity of technology has become an engine of simplicity: “Built by engineers. Used by normal people.” The appeal is credible because we’ve just watched a technology-impaired klutz use the new HP printer to become a faux mother and thus accomplish one of the most difficult of all tasks–putting a crying baby to sleep. We smile, because we know it really wouldn’t happen this way, but we are persuaded that anyone can operate this device. The message: You don’t even have to be able to play a video game to master this technology.

–Robert Shrum