Gatorade’s Propel introduced a new ad on Monday during 24. It shows a giant running through the streets of San Francisco. The giant is a loose assembly of traffic signs, post-it notes, taxi cabs, jack hammers, phones ringing, TVs on loud, people shouting, a baby screaming, a boss exploding.
Eventually the giant begins to break apart and things fall away, until finally he is an ordinary man running in a singlet and shorts. He pauses, finally, drinks deeply of the Propel bottle and a voice-over says,
Fit has a feeling and a water. Propel, the fitness water.
Propel, and the agency Element 79 Partners, calls this spot the "stress monster."
It’s easy enough to "reverse engineer" the marketing here. Stress Monster is dedicated the simple proposition that exercise makes stress go away. This is well established as an understanding in our culture. It’s well established as a reality in the lives of millions of Americans.
Meaning management sometimes goes like this. The idea is not to find a new meaning for the brand. The idea is go after an existing meaning with new vigor and skill. In the language of marketing, the idea is to "own" an idea that is already out there.
When we say we "own" a meaning, we mean we have discovered it’s most essential, powerful properties and made these as our own. This is hard to do well, but when it works the brand (Propel) and the meaning (stress reduction) are mutually presupposing. When they’re done really, really well, it is now impossible to think about one without thinking about the other.
And that’s the way, I think, to think about Stress Monster. It is part of Propel’s effort to own stress reduction. Does this ad succeed? I have to say they made a pretty good run at it. (No pun intended.) Pam and I were dozing when it came on, and we looked at one another and just laughed with wonder and admiration. Look what just charged through the living room!
If I have a complaint, it’s that the ad insists on a certain literalism. The stress is represented by showing things that cause stress. And running is shown quite literally to make these fall away. And the man takes a drink just as the voice over claims glory for the brand. And the song we hear is the Queen and David Bowie version of Under Pressure. ("Pressure, pressing down on me, pressing down on you.")
I shouldn’t complain. Because all the pieces, and especially the song, work to perfection. We might just as well say that these simple devices are good bones, and the stuff of a marketing clarity. Or, to put this another way, this literalism adds up to so much more than the sum of its parts, that we have no real grounds for complaint.
Someone who was trained in the anthropology of James George Frazer, and his great work, The Golden Bough, might want to point out that the composite man evokes several folkloric creatures, the Leviathan, the Golem, the Chimera, all of them, as he is, desperate, haunted figures, cursed by their complication, feverishly in need of release from same. But then I am not trained in the anthropology of James George Frazer, so never mind.
As I have tried to argue here before, we are compilations of influence, contacts, ideas, loosely assembled and not always well organized or articulated. Stress Monster is the unhappiest face of this new form.
Lazare, Lewis. 2007. Element 79 waters down ad monster. Chicago Sun-Times. March 15, 2007. here.
There is one version of the ad from Propel itself. Click on "Stress Monster" once you’ve gone here.
There is a much clearer reproduction at ‘boards. here.
Hats off the team responsible for Stress Monster:
Agency: Element 79 Partners
Producer: Tom Cronin
Creative Director: Doug Behm/Jon Flannery
Writer: Ron D’Innocenzo
Art Director: Doug Behm/Jon Flannery
Production Company: Harvest Films
Director: Baker Smith
Editorial Company: Lost Planet LA
Executive Producer: Betsy Beale
Producer: Romi Laine/Wade Weliever
Editor: Paul Martinez
Assistant Editor: Ryan Dahlman
Colorist: Stephan Stefan Sonnenfeld, Company 3 LA
VFX Executive Producer: Michael Pardee
VFX Supervisor: Mitch Drain
Senior VFX Producer: Stepahanie Gilgar
CG supervisor: Sean Faden
Lead 3d Animator: Matt Hackett
Online Artist: Robert John Moggach
Mixer: Loren Silber, Lime Studios
Sound Design: 740 Sound Design, Exec Producer Scott Ganary
Commenting on this ad is probably not the smartest thing I’ve ever done considering the fact I didn’t see it. But I feel as if I did, thanks to your vivid description.
While the ad sounds like it’d be fun to watch, I’m wondering how it positions Propel as superior to, say, plain ol’ water for one who exercises. As an advertiser, I’d want to position my product as different/better than competitive products — rather than just showing how exercise relieves stress. From what I’ve read here, it sounds like the product is an after-thought tacked onto an unrelated message.
The imagery is so good, the bones so strong, that water doesn’t even come into play. It follows the old sales adage: don’t criticize the competition, you are the competition. Water is plain, boring, standard. But then there’s Propel, even the name evokes fitness. The message is crafted so soundly that one presupposes superiority so emphatically as to put all other products out mind. Think about the Nike Beat commercials with the basketball players dribbling in time to techno music made from, you guessed it, basketball sounds. The experience was so immersive that it completely eliminated other thoughts. Nike and Gatorade have taken a touch point and turned it into an embrace. The consumer can’t help but hug back.
From the description, I didn’t get the message that Propel would taste better than boring water (water is boring?). But if it does taste wonderful/different/exciting/whatever, that’s what I — were I the owner of Propel — would want to communicate.
I considered the Nike ads to be image ads. If I were selling water, I wouldn’t waste my ad dollars on image ads. I’d sell the product.
Maybe if I actually saw the ad, I’d feel differently. But my 30-plus years in advertising gives me a gut feel about what does and doesn’t work, and my gut’s telling me this ad isn’t serving the client as well as an alternate idea might.
“The Green Man” by Kingsley Amis features a wild, dangerous ghost-like spirit made of all kinds of debris, which runs down the road. It’s one of the best ghost stories I ever read. First time I saw the ad, I thought of this supposedly traditional monster.
Gatorade also targets the industrial market, although these efforts tend to fly under the radar.